2019, Personal

On Trying to Publish My Fourth Book

I published my first book in 2011. I worked for five years on it and made a lot of stupid decisions, particularly with regard to the publisher. But in the next couple years I pumped out two other books, on some kind of crazy roll. All three were basically self-published, though my first book was “assisted” by a vanity publisher, which I deeply regret.

I decided that my next book would be published by an actual publisher because I have learned that I absolutely hate – hate! – marketing my own books – I can barely stomach telling someone I am an author.

To this end, I have been trying to sell my latest book for the last couple of years. First, I tried to sell it to literary agents. I had all sorts of problems with that and literally zero success.

I long believed, from my first book, that a publisher would not even look at me without a literary agent. However, someone with experience in the industry explained to me that many publishers actually do so my latest experience is trying to sell my book directly to small publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors. I have been loathe to talk about this experience publicly for the simple reason that I worried it would hurt my chances of getting a book deal.

But I am getting very frustrated.

We have been told at various times over the last few decades that print media is in trouble. I for one am a little skeptical of that claim but I do believe that it’s entirely possible that hard copies of long-form publications may one day cease to exist, even if many of us do like to hold things in our hands and turn pages. Regardless, newspaper circulations are going down, hard copy book sales are going down, there are all sorts of ways to publish “books” without recourse to established publishers, some of which I have personally used to publish my earlier books.

But you wouldn’t know that from visiting the websites of your average literary agent of publisher. These people remain in another century, for the most part, oblivious to the world around them, presumably because they are still able to get enough business from suckers like me, who want the prestige and muscle of a real publisher, so that they do not have to recognize the new reality just yet. Here are some of the things I have encountered in the last couple of years. Please note I am paraphrasing.

  • We only accept query letters/submissions in this file format, which is different than the formats our competitors use.
  • We do not accept simultaneous submissions but we will not get back to you for six months.
  • We do not accept queries/proposals by email because spam.
  • We only accept perfectly formatted email queries/proposals.
  • We do not accept email attachments because viruses.
  • We only accept queries/submissions by email attachment.
  • We only accept queries/submissions through a third party submission website but not the third party submission website that our competition uses.
  • We only accept submissions through our contact form, which has a character limit which cannot possibly accommodate a book proposal.
  • We only accept queries/submissions through our contact form, which has a bunch of mandatory but irrelevant fields you need to fill out.
  • We only accept queries/submissions through our contact form as attachments which will presumably sit on our server in perpetuity.
  • We only accept queries/submissions through our contact form, which is currently broken because nobody checks it because who even uses websites anyway?
  • Our website was designed in the 1990s and takes up half your screen.
  • Our own internal links are broken.
  • We don’t have an SSL certificate.
  • We got an SSL certificate but forgot to point http pages to https meaning all the old links to our site on the entire internet are now broken. We haven’t noticed.

Do you understand why I find this frustrating?

I have customize my query or proposal for every agent and publisher. I have to either lie to them or not submit it, because I cannot wait six months for a rejection. (I should note that, at his point, I have received a rejection maybe 10% of the time, which is being kind, and we are past two years on my first submissions.)

I have to submit it a different way every time because some of these people think it’s 2009 and every word doc or pdf attachment in an email contains malware.

I cannot follow their own submission rules because they haven’t bothered to set up their websites properly.

I cannot even find their damn webpages because they haven’t bothered to set up their websites properly!

Another industry doing this would be dead. Fortunately, people like to read.

Here’s a recent example that sent me over the edge:

Please include the following material in your query:

1. A synopsis, no more than one page in length;
2. The first chapter or two of the book (10 – 20 pages) and its overall length (approximate number of words);
3. Biographical information, including details of your previous publications and related work as well as confirmation of Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status; no more than one page in length.
4. A short cover note.

All material should be pasted into the text of your email…

NOTE: Paste all material into your email. For security reasons, we do not open attachments unless we ask for them.

[Publisher] does not consider simultaneous submissions.

They demand you send your “query” in an email but want to limit your “query” by page lengths. (This particular request for a query letter is more of a request for a proposal.) Emails are paginated, right?

They apparently want me to send a copy of my birth certificate or passport to them so they know I’m Canadian.

And then they want a “cover” letter. It’s an email. There are no covers on emails.

By the way: do you think this site had a secure connection? First three guesses don’t count.

I wish I was so fucking successful that I could be incredibly unreasonable in my demands of others yet not be aware of how unreasonable I am.

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