If writing a book isn’t difficult enough, once written, a book’s journey towards finding a publisher, particularly a traditional publisher, is surely a dramatic story all in itself. I thought I’d share some of my experiences as I approach the publication of my first fantasy novel for adults, GRAYNELORE.
Let me amuse you with a little historical detail. I began writing children’s fantasy books in the early 1990’s. (That would be the ‘olden days’ to many of you, and it makes me sound like a dinosaur!) Firstly, it must be said: getting a book published has never been easy. I remember the odds when I started writing were something like one hundred to one. That’s one book published for every one hundred books written. Mind you, the publishing industry was a very different animal back then! Most of the large publishers were still independently owned and to approach a publisher you simply wrote them a polite letter, informing them that you had written a book, and asking if they’d care to take a look at it.
In this way my very first book, ‘Spilling the Magic’ ended up on the slush pile of Hodder Children’s Books and, in due course, was accepted for publication. (A process that perhaps sounds far easier than in fact it was.)
I published books with Hodder for several years. Though in that time the industry went through a fundamental change. The large independent publishers began to buy up one other, until eventually a handful of parent companies came to own almost all of them. A situation we still find ourselves in today. And, as the publishing houses became corporate bodies, the very way they did business altered. The major publishers largely stopped accepting unsolicited work direct from authors, instead relying on agents to bring new work to their attention. To land a major publisher authors now had to first find themselves a good agent (no mean feat in itself). Indeed, my last children’s book (to-date) was finally published by a small independent Scottish press in 2006.
In the following years the publishing industry was in for yet more major upheaval with the arrival of the online retail giants, such as Amazon, and then later, the revolutionary ebook. Large chains of traditional bookshops began to disappear as online retailers took an ever greater share of the market. And authors found themselves suddenly faced with a new choice: self-publishing! This heralded the rise of indie-published authors who began to compete with the traditional publishers, and a state of market you are probably very familiar with.
That is, no doubt, a simplified and potted history, with many omissions (all of them mine). Anyway, it was in early 2008 that I began to have ideas for a new work, which finally became a completed manuscript called, ‘Graynelore’ in late 2010. (The writing of the book is another tale for another day!) As you can imagine, I found myself faced with a very different publishing world to the one I had last dealt with. If in the end, I decided to continue down the traditional publishing route. I spent almost a year approaching agents with my manuscript: writing letters, providing synopsis upon synopsis… and in return receiving rejection upon rejection. To be fair to those agents we must remember; they have to earn their living on the backs of the author’s they decide to champion. It’s all a gamble! It’s all educated guess work! And they don’t always get it right. Agents are looking for books that they believe have a chance of becoming best sellers, not simply books that are good enough to be published. (The difference is crucial.)
After a solid year of rejections, I – as a relatively successful published author – was beginning to think that I’d maybe penned myself a stinker! I was even toying with the idea of calling it a day as a writer… Then, in 2012 the publisher HarperVoyager (the fantasy/scifi imprint of HarperCollins) decided to open a short window of time in which they would accept unsolicited manuscripts from un-agented authors. Something they had not done for almost a decade. There were very strict guidelines to follow and only two weeks in which to make a submission. Which I duly did…
Time passed. The date by which a decision was to be made on my submission came and went. The publisher had made it very clear: if I heard nothing by this date then I was to assume that my submission had been unsuccessful. Oh dear… Another rejection!
Or so I thought…
More time passed. Actually a very long time passed. It was in early 2014 that I received an email from HarpVoyager. They were, after all, very interested in publishing, ‘Graynelore’. If I was still interested in being published by them!
Why the huge delay? It is remarkable: in that short two week time window for open submissions, way back in 2012, the publisher had received almost five thousand manuscripts. Five thousand! With the very best of intentions, they had landed themselves with the monster of a task!
Out of those original five thousand manuscripts, to my knowledge, they found a total of just fifteen that they wanted to publish. And so, cutting a long story short, a deal was finally made between us. And very soon now, I will have a brand new book out!*
As I come to the end of this tale, it’s worth taking a second look at those submission figures… Of around five thousand submitted manuscripts only fifteen were finally accepted. I make the odds of success something in the region of: three hundred and thirty to one. That’s one book to be published for every three hundred and thirty written. It makes you think…
*Stephen Moore’s GRAYNELORE (published by HarperVoyager in papaerback and ebook).