Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Post by J. Scott Nelson

Joe sez: A reminder to all guest bloggers--if you want to make sure I post your guest blog for Tess you have to email me with the header GUEST BLOG FOR TESS along with the DATE. Email me when your blog is finished, and email me again the day before the blog is supposed to go live, attaching all the cover art and the Word doc file. Today the guest blogger is James Scott Nelson, and he reminded me yesterday with the email GUEST BLOG FOR TESS 2/13/2014. And, of course, attach the receipt for your Tess donation.

The amount of email I get is staggering, and I can't reply to it all, let alone try to schedule dozens of guest posts without you helping me out by following these instructions. You can email me a zillion times, but if there is no date in your email header, I'm going to miss it. And if I did miss it, even though you put the date in, email me again. I had some health issues for a few months, and my email backed up. So email me again and we'll reschedule.

Here's J. Scott Nelson...

J. Scott: Joe evangelizes in favor of self-publishing for a myriad of compelling reasons. For me, I finally gave up on the traditional publishing process because of their complete disregard for my time.

I've always been a writer.  As a kid I wrote mysteries ala The Hardy Boys.  I penned a popular newspaper humor column in high school and won numerous awards in in my college’s literary magazine. In my spare time I wrote fantasy novels.  I knew the first few were not good enough for publication, but I was content to keep learning my craft. 

Then several years ago I started The Riven Blade Saga  -- a gritty, multiple-POV epic trilogy.  It brims with political intrigue, empires warring over resources, and vengeful plots.  Some characters evolve and grow.  Others die.  Each book raises the tension:  “Path of Peril” focuses on two massive battles.  Civil wars erupt in “Road of Rebellion.”  Finally, a genocidal apocalypse is unleashed in “Crucible of Chaos.” 

I queried some agents.  One told me that simultaneous submissions were an insult and he wouldn't even consider me.  So instead I queried one agent at a time to “follow the rules”.  It took about nine months to collect three rejections before an agent called to request the manuscript.  I sent it off that very day.

And waited. 

After about three months, he contacted me and said he loved the characters -- but I would have to cut the word-count in HALF before he would consider sending it to a publisher.  

Both I and my main editor (and now co-publisher) bought the book "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King and got to work.  After following the suggestions in the book we were shocked how much better the book had become at half the size.  So I sent it off to the agent again.

And waited.

Five months later I got a brief email, "I am really enjoying the book, and I am pretty sure already that this is something I want to submit to publishers."  I was so excited!  But he needed to finish it to be sure.

Three more months went by. 

Then I got a call.  The agent wasn't going to work in the fantasy genre anymore, but he had recommended my manuscript to another agent who was willing to take a look.

The next twelve months was spent waiting for the second agent to review the manuscript, making his requested changes, and waiting for him to read the revised manuscript.  He only accepted five unpublished writers a year out of around 2200 queries, but by then the euphoria of having an agent was long gone.  An unpublished writer is at their agent’s mercy.  You sit at the bottom of their to-do list, behind all their published authors who pay their rent today.  While it makes a certain sense, it was a recipe for frustration.  

Finally, he did submit it to the Big Six publisher he felt would be the best home for it.

And I waited again.  

I created a website and offered sample chapters for readers to review.  Hundreds of people sent me emails (which I included on the site under "Raves from Readers") expressing their interest in the rest of the story.  I kept my agent informed of both the traffic and the growing list of “Raves”.  Certainly the publisher would see this positive response as a great sign, right?

But after several months it was rejected.  The editor-in-chief said the genre was crowded and the sales of some current epic series were struggling.  She added that a couple years earlier (when I had actually started this process) it would have been an "easy buy"!  She called my characters interesting and writing style engaging – but vampire stories were hot right now -- did I have any of those?  I outlined a story about a vampire book publisher sucking the life out of would-be writers.  But the vampire kept dying in the first chapter.

After another rejection that also gave mostly-positive comments, my agent said that we should hold off submitting for awhile.  His contacts just didn’t want epic fantasy right now and were looking for urban fantasy instead.  We should wait for the market to turn more positive on my genre. 

Over a year went by.

It began increasingly clear that my agent had lost interest in me.  Several of his other big clients were releasing new books.  I felt lost in the shuffle.  I asked him pointedly for “the plan” and it became clear there was none.

I doubted other agents would even consider the manuscript now since several Big Six publishers had passed on it.  Life happened, I took a new job that involved a lot of travel and time, and a couple more years went by while I tried to work on some urban fantasy ideas that ultimately just didn’t excite me.

Then one day I got an email from someone who had read the Path of Peril samples online and asked, “I love the first few chapters -- when is this book coming out?”

The traditional process seemed a lost cause, so I started researching self-publishing, found Joe’s blog and here I am. The complete trilogy is available on Amazon in digital and paper format, and I’m starting to work on getting the word out using suggestions from Joe and those of you who have blogged here already.

So how do the two routes to publishing compare?  One was lengthy, uncertain, and I was at the mercy of others to represent my interests.  The other still has uncertainty, but I am in control of representing my interests.  I just need to focus on creating the best stories I can and working to build a reader base. 

I thank Joe for the opportunity to share my story and invite you to check out my books, my website, or the novel trailer for the series here.    

Joe sez: I wasted nine years querying.

Nine whole years.

And once I did sign a pub deal, it took 18 months for that book to be published.

Legacy publishing is not a rocket ride to heaven. It's a very slow frustration train. YMMV, but if Amazon KDP had existed back in 2003, knowing what I know now, I would have never submitted a single query letter.

Figure out your goals and act accordingly, armed with as much information as you can find. 


w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Having been trad published, having had several agents, I feel the average writer is a victim of a misconception. The true function of publishers is to keep you from being published, if not at all, at least prohibiting it from occurring in a timely fashion, and the true function of agents is to aid those publishers in that goal. Agents are very busy doing nothing, and have little time to assist the writer in getting a draconian contract signed with a publisher to insure that the intellectual property rights of the author are eviscerated.. The purpose of a query letter is to aid the Post Office in the sale of stamps. The purpose of an e-mail query letter is to assure that you are ignored for many months at the speed of light. I sincerely hope that the above clears things up.

gniz said...

This was an awesome post, well-written, and it makes me think your books are probably quite good too.

For those of us (like me) who went through the painful years of writing a book, revising and re-revising, sending hundreds (yes hundreds) of queries, waiting months for agents to respond (usually with form letter rejections) and then sometimes close to a year for editors to finally all reject the manuscript before it went in the trunk...

For those who went through that endless merry-go-round from hell, self-publishing is like escaping a siberian prison and ending up in Palm Springs at the Four Seasons.

It really is that much better.

The good thing is that for someone who is battle-tested like yourself, self-publishing success is almost guaranteed.

Best of luck!

gniz said...

Adam M,

I have to agree with your assessment. It used to drive me nuts how agents blogged and wrote articles about how busy they were, how hard they worked, and how writers needed to sit quietly and patiently and not bother them.

Agents never seemed to care about our time, our careers, our books, all of which languished as mostly an afterthought.

I never bought (and still don't buy) the notion that agents, as a group, are hardworking and deserving of their place in the industry.

Almost every agent I had (but one) was close to incompetent, nothing but a glorified salesperson who couldn't have written a book if Hemingway had crawled up their ass and dictated it.

There are good agents who are worth their weight in gold, but those are few and far between.

I am so glad to see their place in the literary landscape regressing to its rightful spot...close to useless.

T.R.Roach said...

Great guest post. It is inspiring to see others reach their dreams regardless of agents or publishers rejecting them. I admire your tenacity and ability to accept the criticism to edit your manuscript as well.

I would like to hear more about the marketing and sales side, once you have gone through it some more. What has worked and what has not.

Great job on staying with it! Can't wait to see what the future holds.

Anonymous said...

@gniz: Love it:

"Almost every agent I had (but one) was close to incompetent, nothing but a glorified salesperson who couldn't have written a book if Hemingway had crawled up their ass and dictated it."

I'd like to try your books.

Merrill Heath said...

I outlined a story about a vampire book publisher sucking the life out of would-be writers. But the vampire kept dying in the first chapter.

This is hilarious. Great post. Thanks for sharing. Hope you have success beyond your wildest dreams.

Anonymous said...

I want to read your book about the bloodsucking publisher who dies in the first chapter. Perhaps he could be continually resurrected only to die again and again for infinity. ;)

I had a similar experience to you except I had a vampire romance trilogy that I queried but was told at the time that vampires were a hard sell and that editors were no longer interested in vampires. This was in 2012. If you look at the bestselling eBooks on Amazon, guess what you find? Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead is #23 in the entire Kindle Store, and A Shade of a Vampire is #21 in Romance and was #1 for quite some time in 2013 and 2014.

What does that tell me? Editors and agents don't always know what will sell.

The whole process of querying to find an agent is frustrating. It makes you feel like a worthless piece of crap when people don't answer your email or when they hold onto your full manuscript for months and months after requesting it. It's like they don't want to commit yes or no because they don't really know what will sell.

You have to believe in your own book and keep at it. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Stick with it. People love stories and if you've written something readers will enjoy, you will find your audience if your book is out there. It may not be a huge audience, but there are hundreds of millions of readers. Once you have a finished polished book, you have to get it in front of readers. Joe's blog and the resources he references for self-published authors will help get it out there.

Good luck!


Laura Resnick said...

" An unpublished writer is at their agent’s mercy. You sit at the bottom of their to-do list, behind all their published authors who pay their rent today."

Actually, no, we (steadily working published authors) are ALSO at the bottom of an agent's To Do list. This was one of the many, many reasons I quit the agent-author business model by 2007 after leaving four agencies. I got tired of my agents pocketing 15% of my earnings while doing 1% of the work and consistently heel-dragging and sulking (or, on other occasions, refusing to communicate with me at all, or throwing abusive tantrums at me) every time I asked them to do anything.

This was true, for example, when I hired an agent when I already had a good offer on the table from a major house. The agent collected about $11,000 in commission just for making a couple of phone calls... and yet, thereafter, I was always clearly at the very, very bottom of her To Do list, and whenever I contacted her, there was always a noticeably bored, exasperated impatience in her attitude to me (-if- I could get a response, which wasn't always the case), a clear implication that contact from me was a rude intrusion on her valuable time. This was also true with another agent, for example, when my advances rose to mid-five-figures per book; he described me as a "disappointing" writer whose work "isn't worth much" and told me that the arrival of my advance check "makes no difference to the agency's bottom line this week." And I was treated in accordance with that description—only even more rudely than you'd suppose.

It's not universal, but it's a too-too common experience that only bestsellers get treated by their literary agents with businesslike courtesy and efficiency.

McVickers said...

@Laura Resnick,

Wow. Just ... WOW. That is... WOW. I'm speechless. I'm so glad I decided to pursue self-publishing when I decided to sit down and write last year. The other path is just ... WOW.

Anonymous said...

"There are good agents who are worth their weight in gold, but those are few and far between."

And you can't tell a good agent from a bad one until you've already been burned. They all claim to do the same things.

Laura Resnick said...

McVickersd, just wanted to add that I am speaking of literary agents, not publishers, which is a separate subject. The belief that working with traditional publishers necessarily means working with literary agents is widely circulated (by everyone, in all aspects of writing and the biz) but completely erroneous.

I have made most of my 30+ book sales to traditional publishers WITHOUT an agent, including my first 9 book sales, my 10+ most-recent sales, and a number of my sales in-between. (Because the agents who "worked for" me so often refused to send out my material, I often sold my work to publishers myself even while I was "agented"--and then they often demanded 15%, anyhow! That's how absent ethical standards or practices are in that profession.)

Out of all my book sales to traditional publishers, agents only "made" 7 (though I paid commission on 5-6 others, since I was "agented" at the time I made the sales myself).

And, of course, now that agents aren't cluttering up my business, I pay a literary lawyer to negotiate my contractual clauses. The upshot is that I get better contracts, as well as more work being sent out (since -I- send it out), and pocketing a LOT more money than I used to (since I'm no longer donating 15% of my income to literary agents). I also, as it happens, get better advances, better response times, and have far less stress than I used to. :)

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

James, thanks for sharing this story. Best of luck with your books! Keep writing!

Jude Hardin said...

Congrats on getting your books out there, J. Scott. The rankings on your first book have improved dramatically since this morning, so the blog post obviously helped. Hope your audience finds you now!

And in today's publishing news, James Patterson and Clive Cussler are merging.

Stunning! The sky is falling! And according to two officers of the Author's Guild, it's all Amazon's fault!


Jude Hardin said...

It's Larry poking fun at the industry. Looks like you might have some competition, Joe. ;)

NJMANGA said...

Just purchased the vol.1 after watching your trailer, and I enjoyed it, well worth the read, good job releasing it, screw the agents they don't know what's a great read they only want guaranteed sales and don't take into account what makes a good book not a one hit wonder but a story that can carry itself beyond the honey moon phase. I'm enjoying the first volume i'm looking forward to next volume.

Richard Stooker said...

You guys don't know how good you have it.

I used to send novel manuscripts to publishers (no agents until the 1990s), and it wasn't unusual to wait a year for a form rejection letter.

And receive the manuscript in a shoddy envelope so I had to retype half the pages before submitting to another publisher.

No email submissions. All paper. All typed. I supported the Post Office through buying so many stamps.

Thank you, self-publishing. A finished book can be live on Kindle before, in the "good old days," I would have been able to drive to the Post Office.

Alan Spade said...

"a very slow frustration train." Indeed. Great formula.

It was one of the main reason I decided to self-publish, a publisher making me wait 6 months just to read the first three chapters of my book, after having rejected a first manuscript and asked me to write a specific type of book.

As Kris Rusch said (a subject of one of her blogs), publishers are definitely on the scarcity business.

J. Scott Nelson said...

I appreciate all the supportive comments, and empathize with those who had to muddle through the traditional process for longer than I did.

There was certainly the enjoyment and feeling of progress of being able to produce the book and get it released on my own schedule. Now begins the challenge of figuring out how to get noticed out of the vast numbers of books out there. I resisted the urge to try to pack my reviews with positive (and not authentic) ones from family -- but getting actual reviews has then been slow.

I have been encouraged that the sales of all three books are nearly equal -- so if a reader "finds" book one, they tend to go on and buy book two and three as well.

As I search for marketing support, it seems that a primary route seems to be indie book review sites. They are a great service, but it seems to be a new gatekeeper system. Many are inundated, have limited time, and thus need to put limitations on what they will accept -- and the time-lines to be covered are long.

So that is the conundrum now. How to stand out enough to get some readers who will spark word-of-mouth (if it is good)? That is the next challenge. I welcome suggestions.

Thanks again for your thoughts and best of luck to those of you on the same journey.

J. Scott Nelson

Anonymous said...

@laura resnick.

Wow. I hate to say this, but your post made me feel better. My advances are much lower than yours, I feel forgotten by my agent.

I'm genre published with a Big 6. I went the agent route because I didn't want to do that part of the process. While it's quite easy to read about how publishers rip off authors, the agent relationship is worse in some ways. (My current agent is considered one of the "good ones," and yet...)

For two years now, my agent has rejected every single proposal on phone pitch that isn't exactly what I'm doing now--won't even consider sending my stuff out.

Every error on my royalty statement, I have found and the agent "thanked" me for bringing it to their attention. (This has been true of all my agents). And collected their 15%.

I still don't have royalty statements from last Sept because the advance on the book hasn't earned out yet and earning authors are handled first. Four months later, nothing. This has happened before and I've never received statements unless I specifically asked.

The ridiculous side-effect of publisher contract terms of life plus 70 years? I'm stuck paying two former agents 15% for that same time period FOR DOING NOTHING* unless the books finally tank and I can finally sever business relationships that went bad years ago.

*I mean just that--one agent, by own admission, had not pitched my book in two years and "accidentally" sold it when an editor turned down other clients and asked if the agent had "something like X." Another book, my editor asked me for, I told my agent and got a rubber-stamped contract, i.e., no negotiation. They still are collecting commission years later. I had to have the publisher send me statements directly for both those books because the agents literally refused to send them to me.

I tell people now that if your agent tells you should take a four-figure deal from a Big 6 publisher, say "no thank you." Then fire that agent and move on.

It baffled me for a long time why agents take on people like me (and I am not unique). Then, I realized it's just about the commission.

If you gather enough crumbs, eventually you have a nice cake.

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Resnick said...

Anonymous said: "Wow. I hate to say this, but your post made me feel better. My advances are much lower than yours, I feel forgotten by my agent."

Anonymous, no reason to feel bad about saying it. The key reason I have talked publicly about this issue for 6+ years is that, until recently, almost no one talked about it and everyone who had this problem (and a LOT of writers have this problem) felt completely unique, isolated, and alone with behavior in their agents which is, in fact, common and widespread and SHOULD be addressed, acknowledged, and challenged. Most writers feel it's just them, because usually the only things writers have been willing to say in public about agents are "you need one" and "mine is terrific." I know writers who've had five bad agent experiences in a row... and then shopped for agent #6. Well, really, what does FIVE bad experiences in a row tell you about the BUSINESS MODEL, for goodness sake?!

gamevui said...

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Could you please make font a bigger !