So there I was with a 135,000 word novel I had just completed. What next?
With some encouragement from people I trust, I started doing research into what it would take to have it published. That involved hours . . . upon hours . . . upon hours, of scouring the internet, joining countless writing forums, and reading numerous creative writing magazines & books. What I found out was eye-opening, to say the least.
The most common way to see your work end up on a bookshelf is to find representation. Usually that's an literary agent. You can try to send your stuff straight to a publisher, but most of the reputable ones won't even look at it unless you have representation. The agents job is to match and sell your work with the right publisher. If they are successful they get a percentage of the book sales. So an aspiring authors first step is to find an agent that believes in your work as much as you do.
Agents, much like publishers, are very specialized. You don't want to send your mystery novel to an agent who only represents romance, or Sci-Fi. You have make up a list of the agents who take-on new writers in your genre, as well as what their unique submission requirements are. Some only except e-mail correspondence while others prefer snail-mail. The details of their submission steps are very important, because that will be your first encounter with the GATE KEEPERS.
The gate keepers are the people who work for these Agents who do the initial screening of the hundreds of submissions they receive each and every week. If your submission deviates from the guidelines as they have been layed out - REJECTED! Your material won't even have a chance to be read. The process is very un-forgiving.
Let's say you've followed the submission rules and your novel ends up in front of a prospective agent. There are certain characteristics of a book by a new author that the agent will be looking for that will help him/her quickly determine whether the sample of your book is even worth the time of reading. You see, the agents are looking for reasons to eliminate you from contention, not the other way around. They see so many submissions every day that it becomes a process of weeding the stack down to a manageable level. One way they do that is looking at word count.
As a general rule, a novel by a first time author that is over 100,000 words long will be tossed aside. Why? Because publishers won't see it as being worth the risk. The more words it is, the more it will cost to print, and the less likely they can recoup their money if the book turns out to be a flop. Books in the Sci-fi and fantasy genre by new authors have a little more leeway in the word count, but for everything else 100K is pretty standard.
Slow Dancer, at 135K, was doomed already. In order for me to get it in shape to be considered I would have to cut 35K words, or 26% of the book. I found out there were some other problems with it (structure issues, POV problems, etc.) but those were all fixable. I just couldn't see myself lobbing off a quarter of the story.
There was always self-publishing, which is becoming a growing area of the industry. I'm still considering that angle. But I came up with another idea that I'm actively pursuing. I'll write more about that next time.
Thanks for reading!