Here at Girl Friday we find a multitude of ways to keep busy, from writing Web content to editing annual reports, yet one of our most perennial clients is the book author who needs help deciding whether to seriously pursue publication through traditional channels. That’s when we Girls Friday stop thinking like editors and start acting like friendly therapists—because our answer has less to do with what we know about the market, and more to do with what we’ve observed of writers’ different sensibilities and sensitivities. As many of you already know, plenty of first-time writers get agents and book deals, and many more do not. Even with top-quality writing and a powerful story, there is simply no formula for knowing who will and who won't land that dream deal. Yes, if you are a celebrity or a tweeter with millions of followers, publication is pretty much guaranteed. But for the rest of us, there are no easy answers (for proof of this, see Girl Friday's own Sad Story of the Horoscope Book on this page). Artistry and marketability are two of the most important determining factors for a book’s chances, of course, but not the sole ones.
The publishing world, though filled with bright and innovative people, runs with the pack when it comes to trends, with all the potential downsides that entails. ("Hey, you're writing cat mysteries. Well, lucky you, they’re all the rage this year! Here's a contract.") We don’t mean to sound critical; as former acquisitions editors sensitive to budget pressures, the Girls Friday have all been guilty of lemming-think ourselves. And beyond trends, there are questions of timing, agents’ personal preferences, editors’ own quests to fill holes in their highly specialized lists, publishers’ budget limitations, bookstores’ limited shelf space, online and digital content, and so on. So many stars have to align perfectly it can seem a wonder any books get published at all!
But let's focus on the positive. For starters, it will help enormously if you are committed to the craft of writing or to your subject, rather than simply eager to see your name on a hardcover at your neighborhood bookstore. If glory is your main goal, then there are probably easier ways to go about getting it. (Reality TV comes to mind.) If, however, you are addicted to writing and are obsessed with your project, then the journey itself, regardless of the end goal, can be an exciting and fulfilling challenge. An experienced editor can help you finesse and polish your writing and show you new ways to think about your own work. We've worked with scores of writers who have found it immensely satisfying to see a book idea evolve and relish the give-and-take of professional and constructive feedback.
Secondly, make sure you shore up a reserve of patience and stamina and recognize that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Although it would indeed be a dream to receive a prompt and encouraging reply from a star agent the moment you send out your first batch of query letters, you should be prepared for multiple rounds of queries and some long wait times.
Finally, don't let rejections get you down. Yes, the market is fickle, and writing is challenging, sometimes lonely work, but reward comes to the writer who expects to earn it. Stories abound of writers who have been rejected dozens of times only to find success once their manuscript finds its champion. And yes, it can happen to you.