In this guest post, first-time author F.M. Deemyad shares her experience with traditional publishing. Her book, The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests, tells the story of the brave women taken captive by the Mongols and how they influenced them from within. The book is available now on NetGalley for viewers and bloggers to download. The print book will be in bookstores on March 2, 2021.
Facing the World of Traditional Publishing
The publishing process is quite intimidating for the first-time novelist who has spent months, and in my case, years trying to complete a work worth reading. Suddenly one feels outside one’s reclusive shell, forced to attend conferences, reach out to agents, and give short speeches to impress them. There is a need to learn the skills necessary to market one’s work, not just remain focused on accomplishing a voluminous manuscript. Marketing is an entirely different world from the world of writing and editing, and most writers find the process intimidating if not downright frightening.
The Agent Search
Finding the right agent/representative is similar to traditional marriage. The parents (here the publishing company, market forces, etc.) have to give their consent for what can turn into a lifelong commitment. Also, the agent and the writer have to be the right match, or the relationship will never take shape or be short-lived.
During the face-to-face conversations, the agents I encountered were mostly young and focused on specific genres. One has a few minutes to convince the agent about the positive outcome of a longtime struggle to accomplish one’s goal. They call it an elevator pitch. That is if one shares the ride when ascending or descending two floors.
Before meeting one agent at a conference last year, I wondered if Shakespeare was alive and had to meet the agent about publishing Romeo and Juliet, what would his pitch sound like?
“My novel is about two young lovers from two feuding families who are left with no choice but to commit suicide at the end.”
The agent would probably politely refuse the work and say, “We don’t do tragedies.”
Considering the magnitude of the novel I had written, which encompassed the entire Mongol era of the thirteenth century and the women taken captive during that time, only two or three agents out of a dozen who interviewed me during numerous conferences requested the first few pages of my work.
Most agents wanted to see the full manuscript, not just a few pages, and they showed interest in my work except for what they called “too much historical fact.” I was reluctant to turn the narrative into a mere novel, void of the details that made it historically authentic.
The other issue was that the process was excruciatingly slow. One publisher reached out to me and accepted my work almost one year after submission. By then, I was already under contract with another publisher.
I found recordkeeping to be of utmost importance. Having the name of the agent, pertinent publishing company, date of submission, and other details handy prevented me from reaching out to them more than once. There are online resources available that are also good for recordkeeping but I generally handle matters the old-fashioned way.
Two resource books that I bought at a conference namely,—“Novel and Short Story Writers Market” and “Guide to Literary Agents”—were useful in finally allowing me to find the right match for my novel.
What Developmental Editors Can Do
I must mention here that utilizing the services of great developmental editors, who understand your work and appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, is helpful not only because they elevate your work but also because they give you the confidence you need before embarking on this journey.
My editor was well versed in classic literature and had studied at the University of Oxford. She also did the line editing of my work and was extremely helpful in identifying modern terminology that did not belong in a book written by a narrator who lived in the thirteenth century. For example, I had used the term “global” when in fact this was an era long before Galileo, and people considered the earth to be flat.
I am glad that I chose the same person for developmental editing as well as the line editing of my work. This allowed my editor to read the work more than once, and even during line-editing after the corrections she had asked for were implemented; she did point out, on more than one occasion, areas that needed further development.
Writers Helping Writers
I must add that attendance at writers’ conferences had its merits, for it allowed me to learn about the publishing process and the choices available to writers. These conferences also are great venues for getting the word out about one’s upcoming novel, poetry book, or other work in progress. Also, reaching out to other writers and book enthusiasts via social media allowed me to learn from their experiences and set the stage for presenting my work when published.
Another benefit of attending conferences for most of us who are introverts is finding and developing relationships with other writers and even established authors. When the time came to find individuals to write blurbs for me, I had a list of outstanding authors to reach out to and ask if they were willing to read nearly 400 pages and evaluate my work. Several authors agreed, and their evaluation certainly helped to make the work more appealing to potential readers.
Finding the right group to workshop with is another important factor in succeeding in this path. At least three individuals in a workshop group that I had joined had their work published, and they provided me with valuable lessons on how to navigate this process. In addition, the workshop placed the right amount of pressure on me to accomplish the work within a limited time frame.
Last but not least are comps. Comps are works that are comparable to your novel or nonfiction book that have sold well and have been written in recent years. Finding the right comps, usually two or three books, will help the agent identify the status of your work. However, you must avoid comparing your work with the most outstanding authors who have sold thousands of books, especially if you are a first-time author. The comps have to be reasonably close to the work you have accomplished if you want to increase your chances of success.
In conclusion, I must mention that as in any serious endeavor in life, obtaining valuable information is the key to success. Whether you are in the habit of doing online research, or you prefer to obtain your information through books and in conferences, diligence, tireless effort, and remaining committed to your goal of becoming a published author pays off. Like gardening, writing is a profession that requires long-term commitment. One cannot expect a tree to grow overnight and bear fruit.
About the Author
F.M. Deemyad is the author of The Sky Worshipers: A Novel of Mongol Conquests. Born in Kermanshah, Iran, she grew up in the capital, Tehran, attending bilingual schools run by Christian and Jewish minorities. Her father, born and raised in India, had come to Iran when he was in his late twenties. Being the son of a linguist who had taught English Literature in India for a number of years, he exposed the author in her preschool years to the English language, and she learned to love classic literature under her father’s instructions. She received a B.A. in Biophysics from the University of Houston and a Master’s degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She currently resides with her husband in Maryland.
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