Thursday, May 17, 2012

Navigating the Treacherous Romance Publishing Waters

As I mentioned in a post last month and in one of my (many) little side boxes, I sent a query letter about my first completed novel Unbreak My Heart off to a certain publisher in March, thinking I would hear back in 6-8 weeks. After all, it was only a one page letter and a three page story synopsis, how long could it take?

But surprise, surprise that’s not how it really goes at all in the world of publishing.

So in case any of you are thinking of submitting a manuscript to that huge Romance publisher (you know the one), here’s how the category romance publishing timeline really works:

Step 1) You send a query letter and synopsis. Average response time 3-9 months. TO A ONE-PAGE LETTER.
Possible Response #1 from publisher:  “Your query letter was terrible and your synopsis was boring. Please don’t bother us again with your nonsense.” 
Possible Response #2 from publisher: “Your query letter wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t good enough for us to want your entire manuscript. Send the first 3 chapters and we’ll see.” 
Possible Response  #3 from publisher: “Hey, nice query and synopsis, please send us your full novel right away! We like it and think it may work, but understand we’re not promising anything…”

Step 2) Based on what response you receive, you either commit Hara Kiri or send in the requested document. Let’s just assume you got response #3 above. (That would be the best possible news and all your writer friends would throw an online party for you.)

Then you wait another 6-9 months to get a response for that. 
Possible Response #1: The Bad Rejection Letter (aka, form letter rejection). This is the worst type of rejection, basically: “thanks but no thanks”. Letter is not personalized in any way. They don’t want to hear from you about this manuscript again; no matter what. Your status upon receipt: Distraught. Drink much wine. Consider never writing again.
Possible Response #2: Personalized brief rejection. “We liked your intriguing plot [or hero or internal conflict or whatever] but this manuscript won’t work for us for whatever reason [too many billionaire sheiks already in this year’s publishing schedule or whatever].” So yay, they read it, but they still don’t want it. Believe it or not, this is actually considered a good rejection. Status upon receipt: Sad. Drink a little wine. Consider never writing again. Or self-publishing.

Possible Response #3: Personalized extended rejection. This includes an extended list of all the things the publisher thinks are good and bad in your manuscript. They don’t want you to resubmit this book, but they do think that providing you with detailed feedback will help you write a better, more publishable book in the future.

The great thing about this rejection is that it usually includes the words: “If you have any other projects you feel would suit us, please send them directly to me.” This means you no longer have to start back at the beginning with a query letter the next time you write something. You have a contact person!  Status upon receipt: All your writing buddies are thrilled for you. This is huge! But on the inside you’re a little sad. It’s still a rejection. But after a little wine, you’re back to computer – you’ve got a new book to finish. And someone to send it to.

Possible Response #4: Revise and resubmit. Hooray!! Basically, a list of everything they want you to add, subtract or change PLUS an invitation to send it back once you’ve made the edits. Of course, that does often mean significant changes to your beloved book… Status upon receipt: Everybody, not just your writing buddies, should be happy for you. You should be thrilled yet a little nervous at all the work to be done. And the fact these editors tore your writing apart still has you reaching for the wine, but hey, you’ve accomplished more than most! Get working

Step 3) So, as you can see, even after 9-18 months of waiting, three out four responses lead to an outright rejection. Even a revise & resubmit response may still lead to a rejection even after you make the changes. But you keep writing and submitting until someday you reach the highpoint:

Step 4) The Call. An offer for your book is made. You are going to be a published author!

Where am I in this process? Well, still waiting to hear about about two separate manuscripts. One should be any day now (my fast track submission: Love & Other Dangerous Stunts). The other, Unbreak My Heart... well, it's been in Step 1 for two months now, so that may be awhile before I hear anything.

No matter what, publishing is not a quick process. That’s why the third piece of advice anyone will give you about writing is to start your next project immediately upon finishing your last one – don’t wait to hear from a publisher. (Second piece of advice: Write what you want to read. First piece of advice: Quit trying to make your first draft perfect; done is better than perfect. )

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