Book Marketing 105: Choosing a Book Distribution System
This vital 96-page mini-guide includes criteria for deciding how you will distribute your books. Also includes complete details on 30 book distributors, 4 library distributors, 89 book publishers who also distribute for other publishers, 3 sales reps to the major chains, 27 bookstore wholesalers, 34 library book wholesalers, and 23 Spanish-language wholesalers. Plus a sample book distribution contract. Ebook download, $30.00.
A successful novel should interrupt the readerís life, make him or her miss appointments, skip meals, forget to walk the dog. - Stephen King
Top 700 Independent Bookstores - This database features 740 stores with address, book buyer, owner, event coordinator, phone, fax, email, website, and more! Cost: $40.00. This data file features an updated list of the largest indie bookstores that work with authors and buy books from indie publishers. The report comes as a data file download (your choice of Microsoft Access, Excel, or rich text format). The data files do require that you know how to use a database or word-processing program.
This is a multi-media course on how to market novels, children's fiction/picture books, memoirs, and other books. It includes a beautiful 200+ page ebook, a
4-hour seminar audio, 4 other audios, a special consultation session with a children's book author, special reports on creating bestsellers, and 3 Q&A teleseminars where you'll be able to ask questions related to marketing your novel, children's book, memoir, or other book.
If you think it's impossible to be a success as a first-time novelist, you need to read the rest of this page. Here are the stories of debut novelists who were successful in selling and promoting a debut novel and establishing a career as a novelist.
969 fiction deals were reported at Publishers Marketplace in 2004. Of those deals, 137 were for first novels. That's 14% of all fiction deals. Of course, only a percentage of all deals are reported to Publishers Marketplace, but the percentage of first novel deals is still probably close to 10% of all novel deals in any one year.
Some famous first novels (bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners) include:
Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel The White Tiger.
Ellen Baker, an aspiring novelist, left her job as a museum curator and became a part-time bookseller at J.W. Beecroft Books in Superior, Wisconsin, so she'd have time to write her novel. Well, it worked for her. She had time to write, supportive co-workers, and a chance to read new novels herself. She was able to get a two-book deal with Random House.
Agent Christopher Schelling sold Christopher Barzak's first novel, One for Sorrow, to Bantam Dell by pitching it as The Lovely Bones meets Catcher in the Rye.
French-Algerian accountant Brahim Benaïcha's first novel Vivre au Paradis won the French literary prize Aimé Barancy, awarded by the S.P.A.F. The book was adapted to the cinema in 1998 and won the Prix Special du Jury at the Venice Film Festival and the Golden Tanit at the Carthage Festival.
Max Brooks' first novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, became a bestseller in the year it was published. Seven years later it was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt.
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's debut novel Madeleine Is Sleeping was nominated for the 2004 National Book Award.
In 2004, the first novel by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, The Rule of Four, hit the #5 slot on the PW bestseller list in its first week out the door. The novel went back to press 10 times in that first week to increase the number of copies from 65,000 to 300,000. The first novel, with its secret codes, ancient text, intrigue, scholarship, art, and treachery, was sold as a perfect follow-up to the 7,000,000-copy bestseller, The DaVinci Code.
Their novel remained at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for more than six months. It sold more than 4 million copies, was translated into more than 25 languages, and was sold to Warner Brothers as a feature film.
After a dozen publishers rejected her, Darcy Chan self-published her first novel, The Mill River Recluse, as an ebook and went on to sell more than 413,000 copies and field a number of movie offers from major studios.
Sonya Kate Childers's first novel Tides of Time merges contemporary women's fiction with country music. Sonya was named as Levy Home Entertainment's Hot New Author Pick for their 2005 Get Caught Reading sea cruise.
"The old traditional way of getting an agent is the best way to get published. It really is the way we get most of our material." - Louise Burke, publisher, Gallery and Pocket Books
Judge Martin Clark's first book, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, was a Book of the Month Club selection, was nominated for the Stephen Crane Award for First Novel of the Year, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and appeared on several bestseller lists.
Suzanna Clarke's first novel, the bestselling Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, won the 2005 Hugo award for the best science fiction novel. Her massive novel centers on the clash of egos between a pair of magicians in an alternative history where Napoleon's army is defeated by a fleet of cloud ships.
A struggling screenwriter in Hollywood, Rachel Cline scored with her debut novel, What to Keep, which got a great review in Entertainment Weekly and led to a second novel with Random House.
Suzanne Collins's second novel in the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, was name a top 10 novel in 2009 by Time magazine.
Ed Conlons's first book, a memoir called Blue Blood, not only became a bestseller but it was turned into the CBS TV show Blue Bloods. A fourth-generation New York City cop with an English degree from Harvard, Conlon, according to Writer's Digest magazine, is able to "turn gritty, you-couldn't-make-them-up tales into the stuff of literature."
Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place memoir, received over 4 million views for a video she released just before her book was republished as a trade paperback. Here is what she wrote about the genesis of that first book and how it got published (Oprah magazine):
I had always loved to write, though, and when my dad got sick I started jotting down my childhood memories. I had the idea of self-publishing a book that I could give him. But I told my sister-in-law, "I've written something, and I was wondering if you'd read it." She knew a literary agent, and that's how I was published. So I think that's important: You have to speak your dream out loud.
In 1717 Daniel Dafoe's first novel, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, was published. It became an instant bestseller and has continued to sell thousands of copies every year.
Junot Diaz's first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.
David James Duncan's first novel The River Why, published by Sierra Club Books, was named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the 100 most important novels ever written about the West. In 2009, a movie finally was made from the book.
Kim Edwards found great success with her first novel The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Published in 2005, it sold 55,000 copies in hardcover and more than 2.5 million copies in trade paperback, making it to #1 on USA Today's Bestselling Books list. As a result, USA Today selected her novel as the Book of the Year for 2006. As they put it:
Book clubs and word of mouth helped send MKD to Kite Runner heights, and once you've read this heartwrenching story, it's easy to understand why it has connected with millions of readers.
On a stormy winter's night in the 1960s, a doctor delivers his own twins. One is a perfect son; the other is a daughter with Down syndrome. He tells his wife the little girl died, and his lie reverberates across the years and affects every character.
Prepare for tear-blotched pages and a redemptive, hopeful ending that makes the tears easier to bear.
Patricia Engel's debut story collection Vida was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 as well as Editor's Choice, an NPR Best Book Debut of 2010, Latina Magazine Best Book of 2010, a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year, a Discover Great Writers Selection, and a Los Angeles Times Gift Guide Selection.
Max Evans wrote his first novel, The Rounders, to get out of debt. It worked. As New Mexico magazine noted, "Only a man with a cracked head would plan to escape deep debt by attempting a first novel." That novel as well as his next novel were both made into movies as well as being bestsellers.
Canadian Terry Fallis, a first-time author published his humorous novel The Best Laid Plans via print-on-demand. Besides selling tons of copies, he also won Canada's most prestigious award for literary humor, the Stephen Leacock Medal, in 2008.
Jasper Fforde, author The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, told Newsday that he wrote four other unpublished novels prior to Eyre, and got 76 rejections before getting his first deal. He noted:
I thought, well, they obviously don't know what they're missing. I have a sort of arrogant, stubborn streak that keeps me going when people say no. I just carried on in my own sweet way. Which I think was a great help, because I realized I could just write whatever I wanted. There were no limits.
Jonathan Safran Foer received an advance of almost a million dollars for the publishing rights to his first novel, Everything Is Illuminated. His debut novel was named Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and received the following awards: Guardian First Book Prize, National Jewish Book Award, and New York Public Library Young Lions Prize. The movie, starring Elijah Wood, was released in 2005.
The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank was rejected by 15 publishers before it was published in 1952 by Doubleday. The book now has more than 30 million copies in print.
The archives of the Knopf publishing company includes reader rejections letters for The Diary along with authors Jorge Louis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anaïs Nin, Mordecai Richler, Barbara Tuchman, James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov, R.R. Palmer, J.H. Plumb, William Appleman Williams, and A.J.P. Taylor.
In 2006, Charles Frazier toured to promote his second novel Thirteen Moons, set in the Great Smoky Mountains in the early 19th century and steeped in the history of the Cherokees. As part of his tour, he asked that two books by an author he consulted with be on the signing table at the stores he visits.
The author is Barbara Duncan, education director of the Museum of the Cherokee Nation in Cherokee, North Carolina. Her books are Living Stories of the Cherokees and Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook, both from the University of North Carolina Press.
At Frazier's first book signing at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina, Duncan joined him to sign her books as well.
Brittany Geragotelis found an agent and a foreign rights representive for her self-published novel, Life’s A Witch, after getting 16.5 million readers on Wattpad and being featured in a major story in Pubisher's Weekly.
Her new agent, Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, specializes in teen lit and has worked with other self-publishers. Find out more about him in the Literary, Subsidiary Rights, and Foreign Rights Agents report (only $6).
Robert Goolrick's debut novel, A Reliable Wife, sold about 60,000 copies in hardcover and hit the New York Times bestseller list at #2 when it was published as a trade paperback.
At the request of Algonquin's marketing director, many independent booksellers took the time to read Sara Gruen's first novel, Water for Elephant, and fell in love with it. In addition, many advanced review copies were distributed at the American Booksellers Association's first Winter Institute in February of 2006. Many booksellers requested additional galley copies from Algonquin because they were getting tired of sharing their dog-eared copies.
Algonquin ended up printing 3,500 copies of the galley. Publishers Weekly wrote about the novel once in March and twice in April. The novel soon became a bestseller because of the early enthusiasm from independent booksellers. As a sign of their enthusiasm, the novel hit #3 on the June 8th Book Sense Bestseller List and #1 on the July 13th list.
The American Booksellers Association noticed their member's excitement for the book and decided to track its progress. As Avin Mark Domnitz, the ABA CEO, noted, "Our thinking was to create a case study that if independent booksellers get behind a book, a certain kind of book, they can make it happen in a big way, where it might not have happened otherwise." You can read their case study at: http://www.bookweb.org/graphics/pdfs/BScasestudy.pdf.
The first novel has since become a wonderful movie.
New novelist Jane Guill, author of Nectar From a Stone, provides the following advice: "Getting short stories published in magazines eventually brought a call from Nat Sobel, a great literary agent."
Bob Guiney sold his inspirational memoir, The Funny Guy from The Bachelorette, to Amy Hertz for Tarcher/Putnam after she sat behind him on an airplane. That's why it pays to talk about your book everywhere. His memoir was about being dumped by his wife, gaining 40 pounds, auditioning for the Bachelorette and, though not winning the girl's hand, winning America's heart.
After receiving a $650,000 advance and heaps of advance praise, Chad Harbach's debut baseball novel The Art of Fielding hit the bestseller lists in September 2011. His first novel made many year-end best novels lists.
At the age of 40, journalist Melinda Haynes discovered her love for writing fiction. She would work late every night writing short stories and a novel. While she loved telling stories, she was not a salesperson. She just didn't get around to trying to sell her work (she suffers from panic disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome). So her husband Ray mailed out her first two short stories to a literary journal - where they were accepted immediately. He then secretly sent a literary agent the first 117 pages of the novel she was working on.
The agent loved the book and within a few months sold the novel, Mother of Pearl, to Hyperion. Her novel was published in 1999 and soon became a bestseller, which allowed Melinda to become a full-time author.
Even before they knew the book would be a bestseller, Ray quit his job to accompany her on her book tour. A year later, though, he returned to full time work so he could feel like he, too, was contributing to the family's fortunes.
Putnam senior editor David Highfill notes, "Anything truly fresh can be catnip to reviewers and readers alike."
Susan E. Hinton wrote her bestselling novel of the rift between upper and lower class teens in Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Outsiders, when she was only 15 years old. The book was published in 1967 when she was only 17.
The novel has since sold more than 14 million copies, including more than 400,000 in 2005. In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola released a movie starring Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, and Emilio Estevez.
Khaled Hosseini, author of the bestselling novel, The Kite Runner, almost never finished the novel. He started by writing a short story in 1999 after viewing a TV news report about his native Afghanistan. Then, as he reports:
The short story sat around for two years. Then I went back to it in March 2001. My wife had dug it up. I found her reading it, and she was kind of crying, and she said, "This is really a nice short story."
She gave it to my father-in-law, and he loved it. He said, "I wish it had been longer." So then I said maybe there's something in the story that's really touching people. Maybe I should think about going back to it and see if there's a book in it.
The moral? Don't give up. Keep writing. You never know who you will touch with your story.
The novel sold more than 4 million copies in three years. The movie version was released in 2007.
Bestselling mystery novelist Jonathan Kellerman wrote eight or nine unpublished novels when he was a psychologist, before selling his first book for $6,000 in 1983.
Erica Kennedy's debut novel Bling was published by Miramax in 2004. It became the favorite beach read that summer.
Here's what Sue Monk Kidd, author of the bestselling first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, has to say about book tours: "You work in isolation so much, and here's this moment when you are face-to-face with these people who are reading your work."
As for writing novels, she says, "I work primarily out of my imagination. ... My life wasn't that interesting."
Her first novel, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for a year and a half, has sold more than 4 million copies. Her second novel, The Mermaid Chair, also hit the bestseller list.
Elizabeth Kostova, author of the compelling debut novel The Historian, won the 2006 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for fiction, winning out over many established authors. Her novel is about a teenage girl's discovery of a medieval book that spurs her on a quest to find the murderous ruler Vlad the Impaler, better known today as the fiendish Dracula.
Chad Kultgen, formerly a writer with the Weekly World News tabloid, sold rights to his first novel Average American Male to Harper Perennial with the help of agent Alex Glass of Trident Media. His agent also sold TV rights to Showtime for a scripted series produced by Section 8 Productions (owned by actor George Clooney and Grant Heslov). Harper published his first novel in the summer of 2007. Kultgen is a graduate of the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California.
Robert Kurson's nonfiction adventure story, Shadow Divers, stayed on the bestseller lists for a long time. In addition, it earned $1.5 million for the movie rights.
First time thriller writer Michael Lawson got the attention of his agent, David Gernert, with his short pitch letter and the first sentence to his prologue. That first sentence was so sharp and poignant that the agent immediately picked up the phone and asked Michael to send him the rest of the manuscript.
If his pitch letter hadn't been short, Gernert would not have read it. If the first sentence hadn't been extraordinary, he would never have asked Michael for the rest of his novel. But because they were, Gernert signed Lawson up as a client and soon had a two-book deal with Doubleday for The Inside Ring and a second book called Miss July. Foreign rights were soon sold to the U.K. and Holland with other countries also interested. As a result, Lawson took early retirement from a shipyard job to devote himself to writing fiction.
Harper Lee wrote only one novel, the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Her novel still sells 750,000 copies every year!
Children's book author Madeleine L'Engle was in her 40s when her children's fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time was finally published. Originally rejected by 26 publishers, it won the Newberry Award. The book is a perennial bestseller.
Bookseller Valerie Ryan loved Jim Lynch's first novel, The Highest Tide, so much that she made others promise to read the book. Her review: "Such flat-out good writing that it brings pleasure on every page. The best book I have read in ages."
Marilyn Dahl, a reviewer for the Shelf Awareness ezine wrote "Lynch's prose compels one to read passages aloud to whomever is within earshot. And I'm surprised at my unexpected desire to be at the shore in the dark, during low tide, headlamp alight, turning over rocks and really looking, like Miles in the story, observing the wonders at hand and underfoot. ... This is a book to keep and to cherish. It is a perfect gift. Along with a flashlight and waders."
Alyana Mathis's debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, was selected as an Oprah Book Club feature novel. Oprah nevers picks a debut novel unless she really, really likes it. Oprah noted that before she finished the first chapter of the book, she knew she would select it. It's that good.
I knew I was having the privilege of witnessing a great writer's career begin. - Oprah Winfrey
Back in 1897, novelist W. Somerset Maugham, now known as the author of Of Human Bondage, was having trouble selling his first novel Liza of Lambeth because his publisher wasn't interested in advertising the book.
So he took matters into his own hands. He placed a few classified ads in a few daily newspapers in London. The copy read:
Young millionaire, lover of sports, cultivated, with good taste of music and a patient and empathetic character wishes to marry any young and beautiful girl that resembles the heroine of W.S. Maugham's new novel.
By the end of the week, the first edition had sold out. The novel went on to get critical praise and popular sales.
Stephenie Meyer's first novel Twilight (a young adult novel about vampires) was plucked from the slush pile at Little, Brown and so excited the editors that they offered her a three-book $750,000 deal. Her first two novels sold more than a million copies. Her third novel, Eclipse, created such prepublication excitement after the 2007 BEA that Little, Brown increased the initial print run to one million copies. The three books have sold over six million copies in the U.S. alone.
The fourth book in the series sold over 3 million copies in the first month. The movies based on the book series have become some of the most-viewed movies of the past ten years.
Stephenie was named by Time magazine as one of the Top 100 influential people in the world for 2008.
A debut novel Love Sky by Mika was read by 20 million people on their cellphones or on websites where the novels were hosted as well. When the novel was published in book form, it became the #1 selling novel in Japan for all of 2007. In addition, the novel was made into a movie. Not bad for what was essentially a self-published novel.
After finishing the first six chapters of her novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard sold the novel and a second one to Viking Press for half a million dollars. Her novel was the first book to be chosen by Oprah Winfrey for Oprah's Book Club (September 17, 1996). In its first two years, the book sold more than 3 million copies. Film rights were sold for $300,000.
As the debut novel of 2006, USA Today selected Thomas Mullen's The Last Town on Earth, which they called "an absorbing depiction of a utopian town that attempts to keep the 1918 flu epidemic at bay."
Audrey Niffenberger, author of the bestselling first novel The Time Traveler's Wife, sold the rights to her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, to Scribner for almost $5 million.
Téa Obreht won Britain's 2011 Orange prize for fiction for her debut novel, The Tiger's Wife. At 25, she was the youngest author to win this award for women's writing. The judges called her a “truly exciting” literary talent.
After a week of radio debates, the Canada Reads competition selected Heather O'Neill's debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals as their next book for the entire country to read.
James Patterson, author of many bestselling thrillers, had his first novel rejected 31 times before Little, Brown published The Thomas Berryman Number in 1976. That first novel sold 10,000 copies, but led to more books being published.
Known as much for her good looks as for her talent, Marisha Pessl hit the bestseller lists for her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. To get her book published, she cold emailed 15 literary agents about her novel. Agent Susan Golomb fell in love with her description of the novel:
A funny, encyclopedia and wildly ambitious literary tale about love and loss, youth and yearning, treachery and terror.
Viking offered her an advance of $615,000 for her debut novel.
Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar, submitted 45 pieces to Seventeen magazine before her first story was published. All the other submissions were rejected.
Tom Rachman's first novel, The Imperfectionists, sat on the bottom half of the bestseller lists, but it still caught the eye of Brad Pitt who snapped up the film rights.
From Sharon Silvas, Editorial Director of Spinsters Ink:
Good news for first time novelists! As Editorial Director for Spinsters Ink, I chose The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish as my first book for our newly acquired company. I was halfway through the manuscript and was so very excited by this book that I called Kris and asked her if it was a multiple submission. It was not. I told her I was halfway through it and that I wanted it! Her reply was, "But you're only halfway through it!" Nevermind.
Long story short: we published the book in July. It made the pick for Small Press Review Sept/Oct., BookSense 76 pick for Nov./Dec., and Publishers Weekly pick in December. It caught the eye of a book buyer for BookWorks in Albuquerque, Susan Wasson, who put it in the hands of every publisher's rep she could find. The book is phenomenal and has become a favorite of book clubs. Now the best news! We have sold world rights to Bantam/Dell! They will come out with the trade paperback in June.
So much for first time novelists! Kris did have two nonfiction books in her bag and she is a professional journalist, so her credentials are there. We loved the book and marketed it with all our power. It is often the small publishers that stick their necks out, take the plunge, and only occasionally come up with the prize! This is the first time in Spinsters Ink 25-year history that such a sale has been made. Let's hear it for small book publishers!
Kathy Reichs, author of the bestselling Temperance Brennan mystery series, bases her novels on her own practice as a forensic anthropologist. Her debut novel, Déjà Dead, was a New York Times bestseller and won the 1997 Ellis Award for best first novel. Her books now form the basis of the hit CBS TV show, Bones.
The larger publishers like to publish new authors and help break them out. As Warner Books publicist Susan Richman notes, "A discovery is what really makes this business exciting. We love publishing our big-name authors, but when a new writer breaks out of the pack, that's a special thrill - to spread the word to fans who are eager to read someone new and terrific."
Japanese novelist Rin wrote her novel If You over a six-month period during her senior year in high school. She would tap out passages on her cellphone while commuting to a part-time job or whenever she had some free time. Then she would upload the passages on to a popular Japanese website, Maho no i-rando, to share the novel with other cellphone and computer users.
By the time she had finished the novel, cellphone readers ranked her novel #1, a very good read. A publisher bought the rights and soon published her novel as a 142-page hardcover. The novel sold 400,000 copies in 2007, becoming the #5 bestselling novel in Japan for that year.
Law professor and first-time novelist Jed Rubenfeld got the full court marketing press from Holt for his first novel The Interpretation of Murder. According to the New York Times, Holt prepared a $500,000 marketing campaign that included sending 3,000 galleys to booksellers and media in April, 2006; distribution of 5,000 more galleys at BookExpo America in May; and lunches with booksellers in New York, Boston, and San Francisco (Still don't know where the other $450,000 was spent).
One bookseller, Elaine Petrocelli of Book Passage became so enthusiastic that she ordered 275 copies of the book.
Sessalee Hensley, the main fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, reported that the campaign got her interest. "If a publisher is fully committed to a title, that's what we need to see. When it comes to looking at if the book did better or worse, a lot of times it comes down to marketing."
Karen Russell's first novel Swamplandia! landed on many a year-end best list during 2011.
Dr. Seuss's first children's book was originally titled A Story That No One Can Beat. The book was rejected by 27 publishers.
The book became a bestseller under the title: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, a much more interesting and intriguing title.
Growing from a story in Harper's magazine, Ken Silverstein's novel The Radioactive Boy Scout was published by Random House. It earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Boston Glove, and Time magazine.
Johanna Skibsrud's debut novel The Sentimentalists won Canada's most prestigious fiction award, the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2010. Her publisher Gaspereau Press, because of its commitment to artisanal quality, had a hard time keeping up with demand after the award was announced.
Kathryn Stockett's debut novel The Help became a sleeper hit during the spring and summer of 2009 (80+ weeks on the New York Times bestseller list). Stockett did phone-ins with more than 50 reading groups as well as visited more than 30 communities to promote her new novel.
Director Tate Taylor, a friend of Stockett's since growing up together in Jackson, Mississippi, optioned her novel for a movie even before she had an agent!
She was rejected by 60 literary agents over a period of 3 and a half years before Susan Ramer of Don Congdon Associates read her letter and fell in love with the novel. Kathryn's advice:
Never give up. The same manuscript may appeal to one agent and not to another. It's a matter of taste, and it's all about the writing.
What if I had give up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?
The point is, I can't tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won't take you anywhere.
Peter Straub wrote his first novel in his late 20's. He sent it out to one publisher and sold it write away. The book became a bestseller.
In 2002, British vicar Graham Taylor sold his motorcyle to pay for self-publishing his young adult novel Shadowmancer, a tale of Christianity and black magic set in the 17th century. The book went on to sell well in Waterstone's. Faber & Faber then published the book in paperback in the United Kingdom and sold 20,000 copies within a month. The book quickly went to #1 in the UK.
In the fall of 2003, Penguin Putnam bought US rights for $500,000. When released, the novel quickly hit #1 on the New York Times children's bestseller list.
Australian Carrie Tiffany's first novel Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living was nominated for the Orange Prize. The Orange prize is an international award given to the best full-length novel, written in English, by a woman. For more on the prize, see http://www.orangeprize.co.uk.
Clare Vanderpool's first novel Moon Over Manifest won the 2011 Newbery Medel for the best young adult novel in American children's literature. Before winning the Newbery, the book sold best in Kansas, where the novel was set. The young adult novel went on to become a bestseller.
Before selling Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan's first novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life to Little, Brown, literary agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of William Morris referred the author to 17th Street Productions, a packager who helped the author to develop her fiction ideas.
As Walsh noted in an interview, "We all recognized that Kaavya had the craftsmanship. She's beautiful and charming. She just needed to find the right novel that would speak to her generation and to people beyond her years as well. We worked on it some more and sold it for oodles and boodles of money."
Kaavya is a product of admissions frenzy (her novel is described as chick lit meets admissions frenzy). Her parents paid at least $10,000 to a college applications counseling service. Admiring Kaavya's writing, the head of the service put her in touch with the William Morris Agency which sold the novel to Little, Brown.
But, don't do what she did in writing the novel. Don't plagiarize. That's just stupid.
Unknown author Jennifer Weiner was turned down by 23 agents before finding one who thought a novel about a plus-size heroine would sell. Her book, Good in Bed, became a bestseller. The lesson? Don't take 23 agents word for it. Find the 24th that believes in you and your book.
Lolly Winston's first novel Good Grief hit the New York Times bestseller list in the first week it was out. It was also the BookSense top pick for the months of March and April in 2004. As a result, she got a two-book contract for additional novels from Warner Books. She also sold a number of articles and short stories in magazines as well.
Here's an edited story from the London Sunday Times, January 1, 2006:
They can't judge a book without its cover. British publishers and agents have rejected two Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors. One of the books considered unworthy was by V. S. Naipaul, who won the Nobel prize for literature.
Typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of Naipaul's In a Free State and Stanley Middleton's Holiday were sent to 20 publishers and agents. None recognized them as Booker prizewinners from the 1970s that were lauded as British novel writing at its best. Of the 21 replies, all but one were rejections.
Only Barbara Levy, a London literary agent, expressed an interest, and that was for Middleton's novel. She was unimpressed by Naipaul: "In the end though I'm afraid we just weren't quite enthusiastic enough to be able to offer to take things further."
Most large publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts from first-time authors, leaving the literary agencies to discover new talent. Many of the agencies find it hard to cope with the volume of submissions. One said last week that she receives up to 50 manuscripts a day, but takes on a maximum of only six new writers a year.
Leading literary figures expressed surprise that Naipaul had not been talent spotted. Doris Lessing, who was once rejected by her own publishers when she submitted a novel under a pseudonym, said: "I'm astounded as Naipaul is an absolutely wonderful writer."
Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, who teaches creative writing, said: "It is surprising that the people who read it (Naipaul's book) didn't recognize it. He is certainly up there as one of our greatest living writers."
Middleton, 86, wasn't surprised, "People don't seem to know what a good novel is nowadays."
Naipaul, 73, said the "world had moved on" since he wrote the novel. He added: "To see that something is well written and appetizingly written takes a lot of talent and there is not a great deal of that around."
In January 2007, the Manchester Guardian analyzed their 2006 annual list of 100 top-selling books in the United Kingdom. They found that new authors prevailed over longstanding big fiction authors. As they noted:
"Richard and Judy [top talk show hosts in the U.K.] like making discoveries, and supermarkets want sellable novelty in books, just as they do in other products; the result is a boom time for new or newish authors. Most of those in the top 20 have only emerged as hit-makers within the past three or four years, and you have to look as far down as No 17 - Patricia Cornwell - to find a 90s survivor; several of the novelists occupying the top spots, including Hislop, Kostova and Bourne, are first-timers."
One publisher turned down Pearl Buck's The Good Earth because Americans are "not interested in anything on China."
An agent dumped novelist Tony Hillerman and recommended that he get rid of "all that Indian stuff."
Another publisher rejected George Orwell's fable Animal Farm because it's "impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S."
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