We've been talking about the little odds and ends that beginning writers NEED to know, but often aren't TOLD. Things that it's useful to know about to avoid making mistakes. So far we've covered a pre-tidbit, Tidbit One, which was about finding out how long a novel is FOR YOUR GENRE, and shooting for that length; Tidbit Two, which was about not OVERSHOOTING your novel length, and Tidbit Three, which set up the social structure of the writing society. We're picking up today with Tidbits Four, Five, and Five-A.
Tidbit Four: The old adage, “You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without being published,” isn’t true – but it isn’t far from it. Many of the big publishers won’t even look at anything that isn’t handed to them by an agent. With some of them, it’s impossible to even find contact information for the budding author. Contrariwise, most agents won’t look at anyone who isn’t published. But there are some good publishing houses out there that DO accept unagented submissions. The trick to these is that, unless you know somebody, your submission goes into a “slush pile” and will remain there for some time. Slush pile submissions are read in the order received, so your baby will be there for however long it takes for the company’s readers to dig down to it. So be prepared to be patient.
Tidbit Five: A mentor helps. He or she should be someone already experienced in the business, and willing to take on a protégé. HE is the “somebody you know,” your entrée into the business. He can act as your reviewer, your advisor, your agent, your friend, and your shoulder to cry on when an editor says your beloved baby is a pile of horse manure.
Tidbit Five-A: Editors do sometimes say this. Or words to that effect.
Yes, once again, it happened to me. The gist of what was said was, "I hate the beginning, I hate the ending, and everything in between needs to be rewritten." My mentor gently told me through my sobs that it was obvious that that particular editor did not understand my style, and to ask my publisher for another editor. I mopped my face and my nose and had a frank conversation with my publisher. It wasn't that that was a bad editor, or that I was a bad writer. Now, some years later, I do see some of the things he was getting at. But in general, the situation was simply having an incompatibility between writer and editor. It does happen.
Your mentor can point you in new directions, and tell you if and when someone is trying to take advantage of you. Sometimes he even becomes a co-author, and then it’s really fun.
And once again, that's what happened to me, too. My mentor, and now co-author a couple of times over, is a certain guy named Travis S. "Doc" Taylor, New York Times best-selling author and star of National Geographic Channel's Rocket City Rednecks. (He wasn't a TV star when I met him, though. I don't think he was a best-seller yet either. But he was good and he was in the business and he was willing to "pass it forward.") It's been, and continues to be, a great collaboration. We've written a science fiction novel called Extraction Point! which is the first in a series through Twilight Times Books, and we've written a nonfiction book called A New American Space Plan, which is scheduled to be released by Baen Books November 2012.