Editor’s Note: Questions have been edited for length.
From Belinda Joy: I have 15 books I have self-published and have shopped many of them around to literary agents in the hopes getting published, no such luck. How did you get your start and how many (if any) rejections did you receive before that first publisher saw something in your writings?
Also, do you think it is best for a writer to stick with a genre of writing so that they are “known” for that style of writing? Example, you are a mystery writer. I have written, mystery/thrillers, romance and reality books. Am I doing myself disservice for being all over the place?
Sandra Brown: Hi, Belinda. I can appreciate your frustration, as all new authors confront the problems of acquiring an agent and getting a book published. Neither is easily done, but I feel that the first step is necessary and shouldn’t be skipped. Having an agent is essential to getting your work to a publisher. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t recommend that you wait, hoping to be that exception. I commend you for publishing fifteen books on your own! That’s impressive. But if you’re seeking national or global distribution, you need a publisher with that reach, and none I know of read unsolicited material these days.
You’re taking the right course by submitting your work to agents. I advise that you streamline your process a bit. Do a Google search for literary representatives or literary agents and you’ll get several websites with lists of reputable agencies. Some agents charge a reading fee, but that doesn’t mean they’re crooks.
Send out only query letters at first. Briefly describe your book(s). Compare it to something recognizable, but cite an element that sets your book apart. For example: “It’s as scary as a Stephen King, but the voice is very tongue-in-cheek.” Then ask if the agent would like to see a sample, either chapters, an outline or the entire manuscript.
Hearing back from them can take weeks, even months, so be prepared for this to be a slow, tedious process of elimination. In the meantime, keep writing!
It’s wonderful that you’re writing in several genres, but perhaps you should focus on one at a time. Then, when you’ve retained an agent, you can expand.
I hope you find these recommendations useful. Like all markets in our present economy, publishing is tight, but there’s always room for the next bestselling author!
From Andrea Brandon: What is the one nonfiction book you’ve always wanted to write?
Sandra Brown: Hi, Andrea, and thank you for your question. I have a difficult time writing articles or essays, so I’ve never even considered writing a nonfiction book. I’ve read several this past year, and they were wonderful. To turn factual events into fascinating storytelling is, sadly, a talent I don’t have. I’m much more comfortable dreaming up stories.
From Sally K: Are there any workshops, seminars or conferences you can suggest for an aspiring writer, any you think are better than the others? Thank you.