THE STORY OF MY QUEST FOR PUBLISHING SUCCESS
Where should I start? The beginning, I guess.
My historical novel, Black Iron Mercy, began as a notebook filled with research more than four-and-a-half years ago. The project started as a pledge to tell the story of the Iron Brigade from the viewpoint of a common soldier, inserting a fictional protagonist among the actual participants. Nine months of research followed, utilizing 19 books, countless articles, and the help of many friends, colleagues, and experts, to produce a rich, historically accurate and entertaining epic about one Wisconsinite’s exploits before, during, and after the American Civil War. The result was a poignant tale of love and faith, war and discord; a family shattered by loss and sorrow, and a man who struggles every day to hold onto hope. Deeds Publishing, of Athens, Georgia, is the company that has changed my life forever. The advance reading copies, for endorsements and reviews, will be out later this month. The expected launch date for the general public is mid-June.
Success! Oh, it feels so sweet.
How did I get here? More research! Even as the research stage of this project was ending, I began to research the publishing industry in earnest. Over the last few years I spent nearly twice as much time researching the business as I did the novel, because failure was not an option. For new authors, there is no advice I can give you that is more important than “Do the research.” Learn the industry, including things like literary agents and agencies, query letters, synopses and synopsis writing, book marketing, book publicity, and formatting. Nothing will lead to failure faster than showing the publishing world that you’ve spent zero time getting to know their business. This blog was created strictly because I did my homework. The publishing industry wants you to have a nest in order to promote and sell your work when the time comes to do so.
In June of 2015, I was ready for the querying process to begin. I had a notebook filled with literary agents willing to take on historical novels. I knew each of their expectations, their quirks, their requirements, and their attitudes toward eager, new authors. You must remember that each literary agent has a very strict, detailed list of requirements. If you stray from them even a little, you’ll be rejected before any of your material is even looked at.
Allowing myself one full year to find an agent, I sent out a total of 66 queries… usually in groups of five to eight. Some contained only a query letter. Some contained a synopsis and the first three chapters. Some contained a synopsis, the first fifty pages, a photo of me, and a bio. And although it felt like some contained the kitchen sink, not one of them contained the entire manuscript for Black Iron Mercy.
In time, I received 32 rejections. Yes, the first couple were difficult. Nobody likes to be rejected. Not for a date, not on the dance floor, not in the publishing world. But after a while, even I could appreciate being rejected, because receiving a rejection letter is better than being rejected without notice. Many literary agents will warn you up front that they do not have the time to respond to all queries. Because of this, I actually looked forward to receiving a rejection. Quite frankly, I felt like I deserved a notice when rejected. It’s not difficult to fire off an email that reads, “Not for us, thanks.” (an actual rejection, my favorite… because it’s not a form letter. It may be short, but it’s personal.)
MY ORGANIZED BOARDS OF QUERY LETTER FAILURE
By November, I had grown weary of the whole query process. Sure, I had received 32 rejections, but I had actually been rejected all 66 times, whether they had sent notice or not. But here’s the kicker: NOT ONE OF THE 66 REJECTIONS WAS BASED ON THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT! No one had even seen the entire manuscript. Few, if any, had more than fifty pages of the double-spaced document, which equated to one-sixth of the entire novel.
Now, wholly bitter about agents and the agent process, I decided to forgo the agent course, and began researching publishers in the same way I had researched agents six-months prior. I needed a publisher who would not only publish a historical novel, but who would do so for a first-time, unagented author. So, I took five weeks to explore this option, compiling a list of 86 possible publishers, and whittled it down to the top three. These, I queried on December 29, 2015, sending each of them a query letter, a synopsis, and the entire manuscript. To one of them, I attached a comprehensive, six-page marketing plan aimed specifically at their company.
The very next day, I received a warm, personal note from the CEO of Deeds Publishing, saying that he would try to read at least 10% of my manuscript over the next week.
Wow! I couldn’t believe it! I was so emotional, I sat and read his message over and over and over. Someone was actually gonna read my manuscript. Life couldn’t have been any better than at this moment. Or could it?
From an email dated January 2, 2016, just three days later:
“I am reporting that here at 8:00am on Saturday, January 2, I had read 10% of your book – and it grabbed me so completely that this morning I finished the last 10 pages. I have read your whole book – cover to cover.”
I wept. I sobbed uncontrollably. I’m not ashamed to admit this. This book has been my life for the last five years.
After much discussion, Deeds Publishing, LLC offered me a contract. I sat on it a while, an excruciatingly painful thing to do, while I obtained some legal advice. Then, on the 15th day of January, another extraordinary event occurred: I was offered a second contract by one of the other publishers I queried.
Are you effing kidding me? A month ago I couldn’t get anyone in the world of publishing to look at my material. Now? I’ve got choices! I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening! I’m still in disbelief.
THE FIRST TWO PUBLISHERS TO SEE MY MANUSCRIPT OFFERED ME CONTRACTS!
I signed with Deeds on January 21st. The book is in layout, and a front cover is being designed as I write this.
Authors: Don’t give up. If you’re being rejected, keep trying. If you’re still being rejected, circumvent. There’s always a way. Don’t allow anyone else to be responsible for your failure. Sooner or later, you’ll find the one that says, “Yes.”