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Publishing trends 2012

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Jen Black
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Publishing trends 2012

Post by Jen Black » Fri February 10th, 2012, 7:00 pm

I know times are difficult within the publishing world and wondered if agents and publishers are more likely to accept a novel that is somewhere around 150,000 word count, or would they prefer to break the story into two 90,000 word count volumes? I accept that there won't be a hard and fast rule, and maybe it depends on the story and the quality of the writing - and the genre or market for which it is intended. In this case, I'm thinking of historical novels.
If there is a general trend one way or the other, I'd love to know.

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Post by Vaughn Entwistle » Fri March 23rd, 2012, 8:59 pm

Jen, I recently signed with Kimberley Cameron and Associates, a literary agent based in California.

The book I signed with her for is an historical mystery novel that runs 86,000 words.

I also sent my agent another historical fiction work that runs around 120,000 words. My agent told me it would need to be edited down to around 80,000 words as the cost of printing goes up greatly beyond that word count.

This is a bigger deal with debut novelists than with established authors. Also, it is genre-specific. At a writer's conference I heard an editor say that Fantasy novels (such as Game of Thrones) defy this convention and can often run to 150,000 and more.

I think it's safer to either break your novel into two parts (which may also be a barrier to publication) or try to whittle it down to 80,000 words.

Of course, if an editor falls in love with your novel, all these rules of thumb go out the window.

Best luck, Vaughn

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Post by DianeL » Mon March 26th, 2012, 12:15 am

If you're not already agented, they're probably the more immediate concern than publishing in general. We've all seen publishing "rules" turned on their heads time and again - but it's the agents who get you into publishing, so they're the gatekeepers. Some don't bat an eye at 150k+ (my own started off at 168k, but I'm working to tighten it; my goal, with Dream Agent awaiting revisions, is to get it down to 125k or so - now, if only I had readers who were giving me *feedback* - ack!). Some won't read past the line in your query letter that mentions word count (and don't even get me started on the "rules" of query letters, which say to include wc, or NEVER include wc, and how contradictory all those get!) is anything more than 60k.

I've heard it theorized that histfic provides more leeway for longer novels. In the end, I decided that I needed to write to the story, and not to the (ever-changing) "rules" you read about. At the moment, that is tightening up the count a bit. But wc is not the central critique of my work the agent's feedback focused on. :)
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Post by Justin Swanton » Mon March 26th, 2012, 5:07 pm

My impression, for what it's worth, is that it is a chance contact thing. Publishers are usually certain to take books only by celebrities and other VIPs, or established novelists who already have a readership.

For everyone else....you probably need to know or get a personal introduction to a publisher who a) has a gap in his publishing queue, b) happens at that moment to have a little time on his hands and, c) loves what you write.

I don't know if book length has that much to do with it. Historical novels, certainly, seem to be rather longer than fiction set in the present day, probably because the writer has to do world-building along with plot and character development. My publisher had no problem with 110 000 words, but he is small and not doing it just for the money, so perhaps his case is unusual.

I think it helps things to have a good, strong original story written in faultless prose. A budding writer can do no better than find an honest, perceptive and merciless critic to go over his work with a red pen. Painful but necessary!

If you can marry into the upper hierarchy at Bloomsbury then things of course will go much easier. Makes me wonder - how did J.K. Rowling get their interest in the first place?
Last edited by Justin Swanton on Mon March 26th, 2012, 5:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue March 27th, 2012, 12:31 am

I wouldn't sweat the word count. Just work on writing something that is so compelling that your target reader has to turn the page.

Unless you are unusually fortunate, it's going to be minimum three years between where you are now and having the work polished/ edited/ rewritten enough to attract a publisher's attention. In three years, over half the profit to be made will be in e-format, where word length doesn't matter a whit, only storytelling ability.

Also, with more books sold online, the massive drain of 'returns' (unsold books that must be destroyed at the publisher's expense) will have less and less impact on the bottom line. And with batch print on demand, the expense of storing and shipping paper books is dwindling as well.

Granted, the publishing industry is a sluggish dinosaur that may not have awoken to the fact that page count no longer matters nearly as much to the profit-loss statements. But if they haven't got that worked out in three years, they won't be important enough for you to tweak your story for anymore.

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Post by DianeL » Tue March 27th, 2012, 11:01 pm

[quote=""Justin Swanton""]My impression, for what it's worth, is that it is a chance contact thing. Publishers are usually certain to take books only by celebrities and other VIPs, or established novelists who already have a readership.

For everyone else....you probably need to know or get a personal introduction to a publisher who a) has a gap in his publishing queue, b) happens at that moment to have a little time on his hands and, c) loves what you write.[/quote]

Justin, quite respectfully, in terms of traditional publication, I'd disagree. You seem to have missed the agent relationship completely.

The scenario you're talking about is vanishingly rare not because it's just so darn hard to marry a publisher, but because that's not how traditional publishing works. Publishers work with *agents* - not with authors directly. That's why authors query agencies by the gross, that's why we research them by the thousand, that's why we have to manage rejection and be open to and extremely responsive to feedback. Because the agent is the person who will be able to sell the work to a publisher.

Even if it were a matter of chance meetings or romances - as vanishingly slender as the likelihood of getting a publisher are on the terms you're noting - the chances of getting a publisher *who even works in your genre* is even thinner.

I have queried, myself, countless agents who rep historical fiction. Some like my work, but SOME don't define histfic the way I do. For many, the term equates to romance in a corset, or maybe genre-within-genre like historical mysteries, or specific eras of history or areas of the world. I researched ALL of them before I queried, probably actually reaching out to as few as one in a dozen, and of the ones I did contact (when I was querying actively; at the moment, I'm working on revisions to re-query my DREAM agent, whose feedback was outstanding and encouraging), not all of those even got around to rejecting the manuscript.

Research and organization are far, far better friends of an author in need of a sell than serendipity will ever be. :)
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Post by Justin Swanton » Thu March 29th, 2012, 6:16 pm

[quote=""DianeL""]Justin, quite respectfully, in terms of traditional publication, I'd disagree. You seem to have missed the agent relationship completely.

The scenario you're talking about is vanishingly rare not because it's just so darn hard to marry a publisher, but because that's not how traditional publishing works. Publishers work with *agents* - not with authors directly. That's why authors query agencies by the gross, that's why we research them by the thousand, that's why we have to manage rejection and be open to and extremely responsive to feedback. Because the agent is the person who will be able to sell the work to a publisher.

Even if it were a matter of chance meetings or romances - as vanishingly slender as the likelihood of getting a publisher are on the terms you're noting - the chances of getting a publisher *who even works in your genre* is even thinner.

I have queried, myself, countless agents who rep historical fiction. Some like my work, but SOME don't define histfic the way I do. For many, the term equates to romance in a corset, or maybe genre-within-genre like historical mysteries, or specific eras of history or areas of the world. I researched ALL of them before I queried, probably actually reaching out to as few as one in a dozen, and of the ones I did contact (when I was querying actively; at the moment, I'm working on revisions to re-query my DREAM agent, whose feedback was outstanding and encouraging), not all of those even got around to rejecting the manuscript.

Research and organization are far, far better friends of an author in need of a sell than serendipity will ever be. :) [/quote]

Sorry Diane, I didn't make myself clear.

I meant that you need to try and bypass the literary agency link and get direct access to the publisher, or more exactly, editor (I'm speaking of a publisher/editor of a major publishing house). The usual process of MS selection - in literary agencies as well as publishers - is largely superficial and random and results in 99.9% or 99.99% rejections, rejections which do not depend on the quality of the MSS submitted. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but that's the way things are.

The direct method can be effective. Frederick Forsyth, after, I think, about 40 rejections of The Day of the Jackal, walked into the editor's office and stood there at his full six foot four whilst the hapless man read through his 30-page synopsis - and liked it.

Bevgray has just posted a link to a very interesting essay On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile. Well worth a read. The author basically suggests that budding writers should strike out alone, using the internet as the means of airing their books, getting perhaps a little money on the side and even a small enthusiastic readership, but without thinking of becoming blockbuster bestselling authors, as that depends on pure serendipity.

But if you already have a literary agent who loves your book and who can convince a publisher to love it too then obviously I have nothing to say. Bonne chance!

Hope this clarifies things.
Last edited by Justin Swanton on Thu March 29th, 2012, 6:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by oldhousejunkie » Wed June 27th, 2012, 6:17 pm

[quote=""Justin Swanton""]Sorry Diane, I didn't make myself clear.

I meant that you need to try and bypass the literary agency link and get direct access to the publisher, or more exactly, editor (I'm speaking of a publisher/editor of a major publishing house). The usual process of MS selection - in literary agencies as well as publishers - is largely superficial and random and results in 99.9% or 99.99% rejections, rejections which do not depend on the quality of the MSS submitted. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but that's the way things are.

The direct method can be effective. Frederick Forsyth, after, I think, about 40 rejections of The Day of the Jackal, walked into the editor's office and stood there at his full six foot four whilst the hapless man read through his 30-page synopsis - and liked it.

Bevgray has just posted a link to a very interesting essay On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile. Well worth a read. The author basically suggests that budding writers should strike out alone, using the internet as the means of airing their books, getting perhaps a little money on the side and even a small enthusiastic readership, but without thinking of becoming blockbuster bestselling authors, as that depends on pure serendipity.

But if you already have a literary agent who loves your book and who can convince a publisher to love it too then obviously I have nothing to say. Bonne chance!

Hope this clarifies things.[/quote]

I've gradually come to see things your way, Justin. After receiving multiple requests and being told that I was very talented, it was a great story, etc BUT we can't market the time period, I'm going out on my own. I may try traditional again with another more "marketable" book in the future, but right now, I'm gradually being won over to the ranks of the self-publishing.

To the OP -- I would definitely try to whittle down your novel. I originally clocked in at 110,000 words. Simple editing can reduce your word count by several thousands words. I also thought about scenes that were superfluous and axed those as well. I ended up at 92k words and got four requests as a result. Good luck!
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Post by Justin Swanton » Wed July 4th, 2012, 5:56 am

I think it would be very instructive to learn just exactly how The Help made it to the big time, seeing that it started out as a work by an unknown author put out by a small publisher. Anyone know its secret? (or is it just the subject matter?)
Last edited by Justin Swanton on Wed July 4th, 2012, 5:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Elizabeth » Wed July 4th, 2012, 12:46 pm

[quote=""Justin Swanton""]I think it would be very instructive to learn just exactly how The Help made it to the big time, seeing that it started out as a work by an unknown author put out by a small publisher. Anyone know its secret? (or is it just the subject matter?)[/quote]

The Help was published by Amy Einhorn Books, which is an imprint of the Penguin Group. So not a small publisher. According to Kathryn Stockett's interviews, she queried agents and collected a good number of passes before signing with an agent, who subsequently sold the book to Penguin. Although Stockett lived in New York and worked in magazine publishing, she doesn't appear to have had any unusual personal contacts in the book publishing business.

For what it may be worth, I had no publishing-industry contacts at all and simply started querying agents cold, via email. I also had passes, but eventually signed with an agent who then sold my first book to NAL, which is another of Penguin's imprints. So it does happen. (Although this was in 2009, and even in three years the publishing world has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.)

Length-wise, my first book was about 120k, which was what NAL wanted. It's considered pretty straight "historical fiction." Historical mysteries are generally (not always) shorter and historical romances can be longer. I agree with MLE that the best idea is to write the story at the length it needs to be, and then see where it fits.

Good luck!
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