In the week of the announcement that Penguin have paid £400,000 to acquire a party planning book by celebrity relative Pippa Middleton, it must be hard for new writers to keep their optimism alive. The temptation to dump your first draft straight onto Kindle and wait for the e-millions to roll in must be a powerful one.
Console yourself with this. That £400,000 is just business. The book will be ghostwritten and will go the way of all such rubbish; bought, gifted, unread, remaindered. It has nothing to do with publishing. It’s regrettable that a great name like Penguin should be attached to such a venture but the writing was on that wall when they paid a fortune for the meretricious Lace, all those years ago.
Every now and again I get an email to the website asking for advice on getting into print or getting an agent. Here’s pretty much what I always say; read on and save me the trouble of saying it again.
Despite a widespread belief that publishers are resistant to new work, they’re all on the lookout for good stuff that they can run with. And it’s always been harder to get an agent than a publisher. You’re asking a publisher to commit to a book, which is a known quantity. An agent commits to a career, which is a major unknown. Often the best time to get a good agent is when you have a publisher’s offer.
The traditional strategy is to study what’s around and note the kind of publishing house that would seem to be a fit for what you’re trying to do. Then find out the name of the fiction editor (a quick phonecall to the switchboard usually does it) and write a brief, polite query letter asking if he or she would be willing to look at your submission. Work on the letter; the verbose, the needy and those who can’t spell rule themselves out at this stage. If they ask to see something, send only your best. Not something unfinished, not work-in-progress; keep your work offline and out of the public eye until it’s done.
It’s an ever-changing market and traditional publishing is under pressure, but it’s still the quality route. I shouldn’t need to tell you to watch out for the predators and never pay anyone to represent or publish your work, but for safety’s sake I’ll say it anyway.