Where Do Books Come From?

Apparently it’s embarrassing to discuss it with the “kids:” the innocents out there, like me, spinning their tales oblivious to the unseemly adult wrestling in the dark that must take place before the new baby emerges in the marketplace. The Writers League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference was a chance to think about the question posed but I didn’t get a perfectly clear picture of who does what to whom in the publishing industry.

Fortunately, my manuscript from last year has an agent, Liz Kracht from Kimberley Cameron Agency, experts in mystery who really do know the ropes. She hasn’t sold it yet, so we need to find an editor who shares our vision of the dark story I wrote. Unfortunately, there were few editors present at the conference. Nevertheless, I was able to meet two who said, yes, tell Liz to send it along for their review.

I was a step ahead of most of the writers in attendance who were looking for agents. For the writer, the frustrating catch is, most publishing houses will look only at manuscripts sent by an agent. The agents are looking for manuscripts they can sell tomorrow preferably, and authors who will have long, successful careers. They are besieged by requests, thousands of unsolicited emailed query letters.

Editors want to invest in manuscripts that will make money. They have to analyze their estimated sales and revenues and decide what they can afford to offer the author as an advance, plus what they can spend on advertising. It’s a business. A business with a slim profit margin, I think.

Authors are at the mercy of the system. They must find an agent, or go to self-publishing, which is a different system altogether, not for the faint-hearted. Self-promotion on Facebook, begging and trading for favorable reviews on-line, selling copies from the trunk of the car – you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes but if you succeed, the profits are yours.

I was in a good position this time because I won the manuscript competition for Mystery. I had a blue ribbon on my nametag to help me stand out in a throng of writers. The winners were recognized in a ceremony at the opening reception. My “prize” was the opportunity to talk with Mitch Hoffman who has twenty years of experience in the industry and has edited mystery/suspense legends Baldacci, Coben and Deaver. Wow.

These days, Mr. Hoffman’s not acquiring manuscripts or editing for the best-seller list. He’s now an agent, and he had no interest in interfering in the relationship I have with Liz, but he gave me general encouragement about the future of my kind of story. He liked my protagonist, Susanna Lucid, and says there’s still room for another debut mystery with a female sleuth. This is “the bread and butter” of many publishing houses.

Back home, not sure what I accomplished, but it was interesting. I wanted to meet mystery writers from Houston, but I never did. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm is rekindled. My goal is to write a mystery so entertaining that everyone, editors and mystery fans alike, will tell each other, “You have to read this. It’s really good.” Time to get back to work on this year’s manuscript, You Can Tell Me.

If I learn any more nitty-gritty about how the germ of a book is delivered to the front table at Barnes & Noble, you’ll read about it here.