Grab a cuppa and settle in. Today, multi-published women’s fiction author, Cathy Lamb, shares her personal publishing story as well as some unconventional advice for aspiring authors.
Cathy Lamb is the author of nine novels. NINE! (And she’s working on number ten! Yay!) She has been one of my favorite authors since the day a friend handed me Henry’s Sisters. I was hooked. I’ve read all of Cathy’s books and recently finished What I Remember Most, a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resilience, friendship, and love. I adore Cathy’s characters, they—even with their many flaws and sometimes gut-wrenching backstories—are people I wish I knew. I want to step inside the story and be part of it.
One of the best perks of being an author is making author friends. Cathy and I have become friends through various writer groups. I’m thrilled to say she recently read The Glass Wives. Can you imagine? Her work has inspired me and she has read MY book. You can poke around on Facebook and see more about that here.
But first, read the post, and welcome Cathy Lamb to Women’s Fiction Writers.
And if you haven’t read any of Cathy’s books, why not start today? I recommend her first book, mentioned below, Julia’s Chocolates. I was hooked with the first line: “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.” Aren’t you?
Share your rocky road to publishing in the comments! Or ask a question!
The Rocky Road To Publishing
by Cathy Lamb
I am asked all the time how one should go about getting traditionally published.
I will assume that you want to know how to do this without losing your mind.
Here is my answer.
You need to write something good. Really good. You need to write something that a publishing house believes will sell.
So work, work, work on that story of yours.
Write when you’re crying. Write when you’re daydreaming. Write when you’re hopeless. Write when you’re exhausted and miss your hippie days. Write when grief is overwhelming you, write after you kick your husband out, write after a weekend with your sisters where you laughed so hard you wet your pants.
Write when all is well, write when all seems black.
Study writing. Go to writing classes. Study your favorite books and ask yourself why you like them. If you read a dull book, ask yourself, “Why did this not work for me?” Make sure you don’t replicate those problems.
Read fiction, non fiction, memoirs, thrillers, biographies, etc. Read all over.
Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. On Writing by Stephen King. Writing Out The Storm by Jessica Morrell. And read Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing for advice and inspiration.
Study more. Write more. Read more. Begin again. Edit, edit, edit. Use that delete button.
When you’re ready to submit your work, you need to get yourself an agent. (Remember, this article is not addressing self publishing or publishing with Amazon. That is a whole other massive and mind numbing article with conflicting opinions.)
Should you finish writing your book before you try to get an agent?
Probably anyone else, in any magazine article or speech about “how – to – publish,” here or on Jupiter, will tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent for her review with the hopes that she’ll love it and ask for the full manuscript.
This is enormously good advice in many ways. Writing a full book before sending it to an agent makes you nail down those characters. It forces you into the writing process.
You learn about pacing, character arcs, character development, word choice, descriptions, dialogue, narration, setting, voice, and a hundred other things, including whether or not you are capable of sitting your butt down and finishing a book. All excellent points.
I, however, will not tell you to write a full manuscript before sending the first chapter off to an agent to review.
Why? Because of my own personal and miserable publishing history which involves piles of rejection slips from rejected, full manuscripts.
Let me share my literary misery.
(Skip this part if you can’t stand to listen to people whine. I’ll understand, I will.)
After years spending time writing full manuscripts, as a certain category romance publishing house kept asking for more, they would be rejected. Repeatedly.
I wanted to bash my head through a wall. All those months of work…trashed. For nothing.
Looking back, the writing was bad. The idea was bad. The characters were bad. The organization and dialogue and narration were bad. Bad, bad, bad. I’m surprised I got as far as I did.
On my LAST attempt at writing a book, when I completely changed genres to women’s fiction from romance, I wrote the first 40 -ish pages of my book, Julia’s Chocolates, no more. I sent it to four agents and a famous editor. The famous editor never responded. All the agents, based on those first forty pages, requested the full manuscript.
I waited until my favorite agent – the one I have now – asked for the full manuscript. I lied and told him I needed to do “a little editing,” and worked my butt off for about four months, writing from ten o’clock at night until two in the morning, while taking care of three young kids, a house, and working a freelance writing job for our state’s newspaper.
I used to edit Julia’s Chocolates while my kids were playing at Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds. I lost a lot of that fake money to the games.
Anyhow, I sent the full manuscript to my favorite agent, blurry eyed and exhausted. He loved it and I signed with him in a couple of weeks. A few weeks after that he sold Julia’s Chocolates as part of a two – book deal to the publishing house I’m with now. I was ecstatic and I still love both my agent and my editor.
So my advice is to write a bang up 20 pages. Yes, I did say twenty.
But why write only 20 pages? Because then you won’t waste your time. If the subject matter/characters of your book are not appealing, if it is not going to sell, you have not wasted a year, or many endless years, of your life writing a book that no publishing house wants. With twenty pages you have limited your loss of time and effort and, unfortunately, tears.
The brutal truth is – and here I will say something that will be offensive so put on your tough alligator skin – what you’re writing may not be anything anyone wants. It could be the topic. Could be the market. Could be the wildly insane competition out there.
It could well be the writing. It’s just not good/intriguing/gripping/fun enough.
So write twenty pages.
When the twenty pages are perfect and wildly wonderful, write a short cover letter to the agents describing the plot in the first two paragraphs, the ending paragraph should be about you, your writing history, etc.
Your packet out to agents, online or by snail mail, looks like this: Cover letter, one page. Twenty pages of your story. Synopsis, one page.
Send this packet out to ten agents at a time. Yes, I did say ten.
Everything you hear or read, here or on Jupiter, will tell you to send your partial manuscript to one agent at a time. Don’t follow that rule either. As you can see, I don’t really like rules. Too confining, too dull.
Why submit to multiple agents at the same time? Many agents will never, ever respond to you or your pages. Other agents will take months to read it. With others, the rejection slips will come back so fast, you will think the agent didn’t even read your book. And, he may not have. He may not be taking on clients.
Want more mean truths? An agent will read the first paragraph of your work, MAYBE the first page, of your book, before he tosses it if his attention is not grabbed. If he likes the first paragraph, he reads the first page, then the second page, then the third.
He knows QUICKLY if your book is something he can sell to a publishing house. They’re experienced, they’re smart, they’re efficient. Never forget: They are BURIED in manuscripts.
You will probably be surprised at how fast the rejections come back. It is disheartening, I know it. I lived it. Bang my brain against the keyboard, this part is not fun, and I so feel for you.
But buck up on the rejections or get out of writing. Rejections are a part of being a writer. Even multi published, successful authors still get rejections. Cry. Throw a fit. Take thirty minutes then get over yourself and your pride and your belief that your book should be Number One on the NY Times bestseller list by Tuesday.
If your book keeps getting rejected, analyze it without emotion and figure out what’s wrong with it. You must put your ego aside. Do not give it to your mother or wife to analyze it, they are too close to you and probably won’t be honest.
Hire a reputable editor. (Like Amy) An editor does not like or love you, which is how it should be. You are paying her to be honest and to help you improve. Do not hire an editor if you are afraid your feelings will be hurt. Listen to what she tells you, be open to the criticisms and suggestions.
(Side note: Do not hire an editor if you want her to flatter you and tell you that your book is perfect. A good editor is blunt and honest and knows her stuff. Most of the time she is polite, but not always. Only hire her if you want to hear the truth, you won’t get defensive, you want her criticisms, you’re okay with her shredding your prose, and you are mature enough and smart enough to turn around and use the criticisms to write a better book.)
You may have to eventually change genres, like I did, from romance to women’s fiction, which worked splendidly, and I am now writing my tenth novel. I wish I had changed genres years before I did. I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and heartache. I would encourage you to do the same after repeated rejections in one genre.
But, lickety split, let’s go back to agent talk.
If an agent likes those twenty pages, he will ask you for the full manuscript. This is where you write your heart out, like I did, above. Make it the best writing of your life. Give up sleep. Get up early, go to bed late, write during the weekend.
You may have to edit that sucker four or ten times. I edit all my books eight times before I send it the first time to my agent and editor, and I have been writing for years. Address the stuff I mentioned above about compelling characters and believable character arcs, word choice, description, setting and PACING. Pacing is key. Too slow and you’ll put people to sleep.
Many people will say that this approach, where only 20 – ish pages are actually done when you first send it to an agent, will result in a rushed, poor manuscript if it’s requested by an agent.
Here’s the key: Don’t send in a rushed, poor manuscript. Duh. Send in an excellent manuscript. The very best you can do.
Yes, your manuscript arrives later than the agent wanted but, trust me on this one: If it’s a heckuva manuscript, he won’t give a rip. He’ll lean back in his chair, throw up his arms, look to the ceiling as if in “Hallelujah,” and try to sell your manuscript for as much as he can get.
If you get ONE reputable agent who is interested in your work, you should click your heels together in joy. I have heard unpublished authors fret, hands wringing, all uptight, “What would I do if I send my manuscript to more than one agent at a time and they all want it?”
This happens so rarely, stop your worrying.
If you are very fortunate and two agents or more ask for the full manuscript, send it to your favorite agent first, wait a month, send an email to see if they’re interested, and if they don’t respond in a timely manner, send the full to the second agent. Or, send it to both agents at the same time, (this is what I would do) and let them know another agent is looking at it, too.
If the agent likes your manuscript and thinks he can sell it, he will call or email you. It is unlikely that he will send a smoke signal.
If you still like that agent after that conversation, you will sign a contract with that agent. This means he will represent your book to the publishing houses, which basically means he will contact the editors he knows, either at lunch or a cocktail party or a meeting or a bar, and talk your book up. He will contact editors in houses who sell your type of genre.
Hopefully an editor is interested. If he is, the agent will send the editor your manuscript. If the editor believes his house can sell it and make loads of money off it, he will then buy the book. This involves more contracts. All the contracts are in legalese and are quite long and detailed. They will bore you silly. Get an attorney to review it.
The contracts from the editor/publishing house will go through your agent. You will sign the contracts if you agree to the upfront money the publishing house is offering, and the royalties they offer after the book sells and your upfront money is paid off.
Please people. The number of writers who get upfront six figures – plus is tiny. Miniscule. Do not expect anywhere near this, especially for your first book. I know writers who get all the money they can upfront, because they know they will earn no royalties. Be aware that the vast majority of people who call themselves writers (probably 97%) cannot make a living writing, that’s why they keep their day jobs.
Remember, you will also give a portion of your earnings to your agent (15%) once you are under contract with a publishing house. All monies go from the publishing house, to the agent, then to you. Royalties are paid twice a year.
Once the contract is signed, you’ve sold your book. It is now time to skip and cheer so the aliens on Jupiter can hear you.
There is a WHOLE TON of stuff that you need to do at that time, social media, etc. but that is another article and I do not want to make you cry.
Hopefully there will be more contracts to come and you’ll be on your merry, lovely way. I wish that for you, I truly do.
In the meantime, always remember….
You must keep writing all the time if you want to publish.
You must keep reading excellent books, and learning from them, if you want to publish. I am still learning. Still studying. Still critically analyzing my work and doing the same to other authors’ work whose skills I admire.
Don’t you dare ever read crappy books. It will affect your writing.
Understand that this is an incredibly competitive industry. There are so many freakishly talented authors out there it is head spinning. You are competing against them. Never forget it. Bring your best to the table.
You must live a full life if you want to publish. Love. Laugh. Be with family and friends. Dance. Sing. Go have adventures. For heaven’s sakes, travel. Listen to people. Think new thoughts. Open your brain up to new ideas. Read the newspaper. Take an art class. Try photography. Go to the mountains. Play in the waves. Make new friends. Be interested in others. Be interesting yourself. Be compassionate and kind. All this will fuel the writer in you.
Good luck. I mean that.
***** A little more on agents, even though you are probably sick of this topic…
Do you need an agent? Unless you are writing category romance, like Silhouette or Harlequin, or you’re self – publishing, you need an agent. An agent acts as a screener. If you cannot get an agent to represent you, the general rule is that the publishing house won’t look at your work. In other words, if an agent didn’t like it, they won’t either.
How do you contact an agent in the first place? If you’re in writers’ groups, agents’ names will start floating around. Pay attention to those names. You might also meet agents at writing conferences or workshops. Your best friend’s brother’s half sister may be an agent.
Or, pick up this book, 2015 Writer’s Market and find an agent in there under your genre. If you’re writing romance, look for romance book agents, writing thrillers, go for agents representing thriller writers
Make sure you are sending your work to good, honest agents. Go to this website http://pred-ed.com/ to check. Reputable agents NEVER ask for upfront money or reader’s fees. If yours does, drop him and move on.