When You Know, You Know: Signing with an Agent

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of posts about the writing and editing process, as well as posts about publishing in general. But there’s one aspect of the writer’s journey I’ve yet to explore/talk about: the process of landing an agent. Since that’s outside my own experience as either an author or editor, I’ve invited A.M. Ruggirello to come share the story of how she successfully signed with her agent. So, without further ado — and buckets of congratulations — I give you Ms. Ruggirello.

When You Know, You Know

by A.M. Ruggirello

This post’s title can (surprisingly) apply to many facets of my life. For instance, I knew I wanted to marry my husband the moment I walked away from the table we both sat at, at a mutual friend’s wedding. I also knew my husband and I (yes, the same one from the wedding, now ten years later) were supposed to move into the house we stumbled upon one morning, and proceeded to purchase with an accepted offer that evening — and we weren’t even planning on moving anytime soon.

When you know, you know.

Nothing solidifies this phrase more than the experience I’ve had writing, querying, and eventually signing with my wonderful agent, Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency. If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a loose understanding of this publishing process, from drafting, to editing, to agents, and finally, publication — seeing your book on bookshelves. But because I have a lot of IRL family and friends who aren’t as familiar, here’s a little background:

After you draft a story, you go through multiple rounds of revisions based on critique partner (the people who see your story likely as you’re drafting) and beta reader (the people who see your story closer to completion) feedback. This is done before any agents or editors see your story.

Once you feel your manuscript is in submitting-shape, you create a query letter (one page explanation of you and your story) as well as a synopsis (one to three page summary of your story as a whole). These pieces are necessary when submitting to agents and/or publishers. (Also, for the sake of reminding, if you’re querying, you should focus on agents or publishers independently, not both at the same time. They are two very different routes to take your writing career, and you should determine which is the best fit/one you’d like to pursue before sending out a query.)

The process of querying agents (the route I took) takes time. Heck, most phases of publishing take time. I began my querying journey in November, after having been selected as a finalist in a writing competition called Pitch 2 Publication, where an editor (the blog host and great Kisa Whipkey!) worked with me and my manuscript to prepare it for an agent round at the end of the month. The agent round came and went, and no requests were made. But I continued querying, understanding that the end of the year + the beginning of the year are busy months for agents, and to keep my hopes and expectations in check. Months passed with rejection after rejection, the occasional full or partial manuscript request, and even more rejection.

But, when you know, you know . . . right?

Right.

That’s what all the blog posts and articles I read said, anyway. You want an agent and/or editor who’s as passionate and enthusiastic about your story as you are. Anything less isn’t worth your time. What’s the point of an agent or editor who isn’t? Sure, there may be the monetary motivation to sell your book, but a book can be a hard sell if those invested in it aren’t . . . well . . . fully invested.

As a querying author, that’s the last thing you think about though. All your mind can process is the line from point A to point B, from hitting “Send” on your email to receiving the response (positive or negative) from the agent/editor. All you want is someone to say “YES, I’ll take the chance on you.” But what you don’t realize until you’re in the thick of it is that you really should be searching for the agent/editor who gives your enthusiasm a run for its money. I’ll admit, never having been through the agent querying process before, I saw this as the elusive unicorn, only existing in fairy tale and folklore, not reality.

But then something even more magical than a unicorn came into my life. Or, rather, appeared as a notification in my inbox. After having received a few more rejections (a la Dan in Real Live: “Put it on my tab”), I decided to send out one more query. It was to the owner of a literary agency who also happened to be the author of eleven books (Holy catz! I later exclaimed during our initial phone call. I can’t believe I finished one book, let alone ELEVEN!!!! She laughed.). I felt it was a long shot. At this point in querying, when you’ve received more rejections than interest, everything seems like a long shot.

But I hit send, and it was off into the interwebs. Nothing more to do but wait . . .

Six minutes.

That’s right. It took six minutes for me to receive a full request off the query I had just sent. But that’s just a fluke, I thought. It’ll probably take a while to hear back from them.

It didn’t.

I sent my query on a Saturday morning — March 18th, 2017, to be exact. After a slew of exciting, but don’t-read-too-much-into-it tweets from Mandy, the agent in question, I received an email requesting a call. THE CALL. But . . . it had been less than twenty-four hours. That can’t be.

Except, when you know, you know.

Seriously.

Never having been in THE CALL situation before, I took the appropriate amount of time to freak out, try to research the questions to ask, and — most importantly — keep the bile rising in my throat in check. Don’t puke. Don’t puke. PLEASE don’t puke.

Thankfully, I didn’t puke. And the call with Mandy went above and beyond expectation. But there’s a process to follow once you’ve been offered representation. Even if you know they’re the agent you want to sign with. And, as we’ve already established, when you know, you totally, abso-freaking-lutely know. Except you can’t say it just yet. Because: professional courtesy. So you do the dance. You inform all the agents you’ve queried that you’ve received an offer of representation to see if they’d be interested in countering. You have to. It’s the nature of the business. Believe me, I wanted to scream yes, yes, YES! from the mountaintops after talking with Mandy.

Because when I knew, I knew.

But I did the dance. I waited a week, receiving interest from other agents along the way. Here’s the thing, though. Yes, it’s exciting to get THE CALL and then THE OFFER. It’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before in my life. But there’s something that made it even more special, and that’s that it came from Mandy. Over the weekend, as I was traveling to visit family, I continued to stalk her Twitter feed (sorry, Mandy!). And she continued to tweet about my story. A lot. With the same enthusiasm and anticipation I’d had while drafting and querying my story. It felt like kismet, like it was meant to be. I’ve said it already, so you know what’s coming: when you know, you know.

And then it was Monday. The letter accepting representation was drafted. I’d received a few preliminary edit suggestions from Mandy, which further solidified my decision, and then I hit send. Better yet, I hit send with at least one GIF included in the email. (I say at least because there may have been two, and at this point everything’s a blur to me.) She responded, and in her email . . . there were GIFs. Yes, multiple, this I remember for sure.

I know I’ve been saying it a lot, but—c’mon. WHEN YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW.

As a querying author, there’s a fine line we walk in searching for representation and finding someone who will do our stories justice. You don’t want to say YES just because they’ve said YES. There were others who were interested in my story, but I can assure you that no one shared the same love and enthusiasm for it quite like Mandy. I couldn’t imagine myself with another agent. And that should be the primary goal in finding an agent. Yes, you look at their history, credentials, sales, etc . . . but does any of it really matter if they aren’t the biggest champion of your story?

That’s why, looking back on the experience, I wish I could tell myself the one thing I knew all along: when you know . . . well, you just know.

What is “New Adult”?

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Last weekend, while at the PNWA writers’ conference in Seattle (which I highly recommend), I inadvertently found myself at the heart of a pretty fascinating debate. Namely, what exactly is “new adult” literature? What started off as an innocent question by an attendee quickly turned into a point of keen interest for industry professionals and writers alike.

And little old me was one-half of the inciting incident. Oops.

But while the conversations that arose from the kerfuffle were accidental, they were a great way to discuss something that is still rather tenuously defined. New Adult has been a largely confusing label for a while now — is it a genre, or a marketing category? Is it a legit thing, or was it a passing trend that’s already died? No one seems to know, and the answers will vary drastically, even among industry pros.

The History

Originally coined as a marketing category by St. Martin’s Press in 2009, the idea behind New Adult has always been that of any literature category: connect readers with the type of books that resonate with them. So why all the confusion? Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

Well, the confusion seems to have stemmed from both a lack of bookseller and sales support (stuck somewhere between YA and adult literature, booksellers weren’t quite sure what to do with NA titles and readers weren’t aware of them) and a surge of genre-specific entries spawned in part by one very infamous title. So, while traditional publishing tried to figure out what to do with NA, and whether or not there truly was a need for it, independent/self-published writers (particularly romance writers) adopted it wholeheartedly.

From there, it sort of became synonymous with steamy, college-aged contemporary romance, to the point that it started to be known as a romance sub-genre rather than a market category. Now, I believe the reason this happened is entirely because of sales. Romance readers are voracious (seriously, there’s a reason this is one of the best-selling forms of literature out there), and indie publishing moves at light speed when compared to traditional methods. So not only was there suddenly a flood of titles in this specific genre, but the sales figures were there to support it. Making it seem like a viable sub-sect of romance, and not much else.

The Present

Which brings us to today, where you’ll hear people say that NA is “contemporary romance only,” and then turn around to hear people like me say that NA is a market category and does in fact exist in speculative fiction too. (This is the heart of the kerfuffle I referenced above, by the way.)

But where does that leave querying authors? If the industry itself can’t decide whether or not NA is a thing, what are you guys supposed to do? Well, I may have stumbled on the answer. But before I elaborate on the conclusion I came to over the course of the weekend, let me talk about NA as a market category in general. Because trust me, it is still very much a thing — in certain circles.

As you all likely know by now, I work for REUTS Publications, a boutique publisher specializing in YA and — you guessed it — NA fiction. And all three of our current top-sellers are NA spec-fic. So we’re fairly confident in our stance that NA is still a marketing category and that there is a readership out there for non-romance NA.

Part of the reason we feel that way is because REUTS, and many other small/independent publishers, have heard readers ask for it. We’ve heard people complain about the lack of non-romance NA, heard them wish for books that contain characters more like them: people who are crossing into that post-adolescence stage of life and want to see their struggles reflected in the fiction they read.

There is an entire sect of readers who are more or less aging out of YA, but feel left adrift in adult. Too old for the high school shenanigans and angst of YA, but too young to identify with the 40+ mature characters often found in adult (and speculative fiction especially), this is a category of readers with nothing to read. And more importantly, they’re a group who grew up loving books and who are used to having an entire section of bookstores and libraries cater to them. Are you really going to tell me that those people aren’t prime material for a category like NA?

The Definition

So now that we’ve established the backstory of the debate, let’s answer the original question. What the heck is “new adult” literature?

REUTS defines it as a marketing category targeting readers aged 18-25 (I’ve seen it go as high as 30, but that’s really just adult at that point, don’t you think?). It can be any genre, but much like YA, it has to revolve around themes which resonate with early twenty-something readers. This includes things like leaving home for the first time, discovering/exploring sexuality, establishing a career, forming serious relationships, having children, and otherwise transitioning from being an adolescent to an adult.

You’ll notice that some of those themes are also covered by YA, but the difference between the two is that YA is very insular. It focuses on the internal growth of a character coming into their own identity and independence. NA is external; it’s about that character finding where they fit in the larger world. Their sense of identity is a little more fully formed, and now they’re stepping out into the world to make their stamp on it. So yes, the two categories are very similar, but they’re also different enough that readers yearn for the added maturity NA brings to the table.

This maturity also translates to the writing styles seen in YA and NA. YA features simplistic, to-the-point narration, with mature content being carefully administered as necessary. (Mature content = sex, swearing, etc.) NA takes the character-driven narration of YA and layers the more sophisticated, sometimes wandering sentence structure of adult over the top. Swearing is fine, sex is definitely present and often very explicit, and the prose just has a more mature feel than its YA counterpart, which, again, points back to this idea of NA being a bridge for readers graduating from the ranks of YA and moving into those of adulthood.

But that’s not the definition many in the industry will tell you. Which brings us full circle to the conclusion I came to — NA is largely a small press, indie-publishing thing.

So, Now What?

The consensus from agents is that the Big 5 presses have more or less given up on NA being a lucrative category, with the exception of contemporary romance. But NA is doing well, and even sort of thriving in the ecosystem of small press, indie-publishing. There is a readership demanding these kinds of books, and authors can find homes for them. But, as with all things publishing, it comes back to understanding the industry and which of the many publication paths is best for your particular project.

If you’re targeting agents with something other than contemporary romance, don’t mention “new adult,” unless they specifically say they represent that in other genres. If you’re targeting small presses or self-publishing, slap that NA tag on your work. It won’t be a deterrent. But understand the difference. Publishing really is an ecosystem. There are many layers, many ways to find publication. Figure out which is the right fit for you, and adjust your approach accordingly. And who knows, maybe NA will eventually become a bookstore staple. After all, I remember the days before YA was a legitimate thing too. 😉

 

The Types and Importance of Queries

Scattered Books Photo

Queries. Pitches. Synopses. Three words that strike fear into every author’s heart. And rightfully so — selling your book to an agent or editor depends on your ability to encapsulate your story’s heart into a few simple sentences. For most people, that’s a nearly impossible challenge. But perhaps if we look at why this practice is necessary, it will help you understand how to do it. So, I’m going to show you what I look for in a query. Keep in mind that these are solely my opinions, and other agents or editors may look for something else, but if you plan to follow along with #REUTSsubs in the near future (I’m currently working on resurrecting that feature), this will give you a glimpse at the thought process behind my decisions.

Let’s start by looking at the three potential ways you go about introducing your work to an agent or editor. They are:

  1. The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis
  2. Pitching in Person
  3. Elevator Pitches on Social Media

All three serve the same purpose — hooking your audience into asking for more. That’s a phrase I’m sure you’ve all heard thrown around in writing seminars, but what does it actually mean? In essence, it means you break through someone’s focus enough to grab their full, complete attention and get them to react. In other words, it’s a sales tactic.

Now, I know many of you just groaned. Sales is about as far from writing and creativity as you can possibly get. But the truth is, publishing is a business. There are bottom lines to be met, production costs to worry about, returns on investments that have to happen, etc. So when you send in a proposal (which, let’s face it, is what these things really are — sales proposals), what you’re really doing is arguing why we should become your business partner for this venture. And you’d darn well better be convincing. Don’t you think?

So, how do you achieve that? What makes a sales proposal appealing to the potential buyer? How do you turn indifference into “OMG, yes, I must read this”? Well, I look for a couple of key ingredients:

  • Interesting concept and premise
  • Unique attributes
  • Market potential

That’s it. Every time. Seriously.

Whenever I’m reviewing a pitch/query/etc, I ask myself the same three questions:

“Does this make me excited as a reader?” (This is more of a visceral reaction than a true question. Basically, I’m looking for that internal pique of interest, that “oooooo” factor.)

“What makes it different from everything else in its genre?” (The more specific the better on this front. Diverse cast? Unique twist or angle on the familiar? New setting?)

“What is it similar to/where would I put it on a shelf?” (This is ultimately the most important because it tells me A: where it fits within the REUTS catalog, and B: where it fits in the larger market and who its readership might be.)

All right, now let’s look at how you apply that insight, shall we? Because each type of pitch listed above is a slightly different opportunity to sell your work, and you shouldn’t use the same blanket strategy for each.

The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis

First off, a query is not a synopsis and vice versa. They’re two separate entities used to achieve the same goal, but one is the lead singer, and the other is the band. You need both, but they serve completely different roles in the process.

Your query letter should be no more than 3-5 paragraphs, and its sole job is to pique the reader’s interest. It has to fit that criteria I listed above. It needs to give just enough information for me to tell whether or not it could be a fit for REUTS. So focus only on the most important aspects — the conflict and stakes that drive your story, sprinkled with a little info on the world/character and just a hint of what makes your manuscript different from the rest. Give me the heart of the tale; I don’t care about the rest yet.

Other things I need to know are genre, target audience, and comp titles (comparable books that might bear similarity to yours). Genre tells me where it fits in the bookstore and who it might appeal to, target audience tells me who I’m going to get to read it, and comp titles give me an instant snapshot of what to expect in terms of feel/tone/theme/style, etc. (One caveat on choosing comp titles: aim for ones that aren’t genre heavy-hitters, but that are prominent enough I’m likely to have heard of them. Also, the more unique the mash-up, the quicker I’ll be able to pin-point my expectations as reader.)

And that’s it. 3-4 paragraphs should easily be enough room to capture all of that, once you isolate the key things an agent/editor looks for. Your final paragraph should be about you, what you bring to the table in terms of experience, etc. Honestly though, most of the time, we kind of skim that info. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to us, just that more weight is placed on the content of the story than your particular pedigree.

IF you’ve achieved your goal and hooked my interest, I’ll dive right into the sample pages (because a great pitch does not always mean great execution), and if those pass the quality test, I’ll check out the synopsis. A synopsis is a glorified outline. It tells me the highlights of your story in 1-3 pages. It should capture the emotions, the main conflicts, some of the character motivations, and the entire narrative arc. The details of your world, sub-plots, supporting cast, etc, aren’t as important; the structure of your overall story is.

Manage to hold my interest through all of that, and guess what? You’ve just earned a full manuscript request. (I’m pretty sure this is the process most agents/editors go through, but some of the particulars may vary a little.)

Pitching in Person

Ah, now, this is a whole different game — one part speed dating, one part American Idol audition, all rolled into a giant ball of anxiety for everyone involved. But it’s a very viable option if you have the chance. Out of 55 total pitches I heard at the Willamette Writers Conference last summer, I requested samples (and even some fulls!) of 48 manuscripts. The idea behind this is much the same as the process above, except you only have 4-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, and have to talk to an actual person. Terrifying stuff, for sure.

So what’s the key in this scenario? Be a human. Don’t stiffly recite your memorized query letter while you stare at the table. Engage with us! Take that query you wrote above and hone it even more. In a 10 minute pitch session, your pitch should take up no more than 2-3 minutes, max. Give us the bare bones, the core of your story, and then let us come to you. Think of it like baiting a wild animal; you don’t give away the whole dinner up front, you toss out some crumbs and lure us into the trap. Or, in other, less poetic words, give us time to ask questions.

A face-to-face pitch session should feel more like a conversation, and every agent/editor will hone in on something different. So leave yourself room to answer those questions. If you don’t, and you babble through all 10 minutes, you might end up not getting a request at all. Because that tidbit in the middle that you glossed over? Yeah, that was the one thing that agent/editor was looking for, and you didn’t give them time to find that out.

Your mission in an in-person pitch is simply to get that business card (See? American Idol golden ticket, right?) and a request to see more. That’s it. You’re not going to be signed on the spot, and you’re not going to give us your entire book on a silver platter. It’s simply the first step to a longer conversation.

Elevator Pitches on Social Media

Have you guessed the reason behind this order yet? It’s because they get progressively shorter and shorter. Much like pitching in person, an elevator pitch on social media should comprise the basics of your story. It should only contain the hook, the thing that is most likely to get people to stop and say “ooo, that sounds good.” You have 140 characters, so every letter has to count. Which is why you really only want two things (aside from genre/audience): the stakes/conflict, and what makes your story different. Again, you’re not trying to cram your whole book into 140 characters; that’s madness. You’re only trying to get us to want more. Which is why including that unique-factor is crucial.

To win this round, all you have to do is get a favorite from one of the stalking agents/editors, which then results in a submission of what? The first type of pitch: a traditional query letter and synopsis. It all comes back around to create a massive circle of Submission Hell.

But there you have it, a breakdown of both why pitching is necessary and my particular thought process for evaluating them. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this article originally appeared on the REUTS Publications blog, and I have syndicated it here for a couple reasons. One, I realized I have yet to actually talk about queries over here, and I hate trying to rewrite something I’ve already written. And two, I wanted to bring that blog to your attention, in case you didn’t know we had one. As the Acquisitions and Editorial Director for REUTS, it’s my sometimes job to add helpful articles and info over there too, specifically in regards to a post series titled Adventures in the Slush Pile, which will showcase the query/response process in real time. So if you’re a fan of #tenqueries on Twitter, that might be something you’re interested in. And if not, then don’t worry. I’ll syndicate some of the more helpful articles here as well, when time and permissions allow.

Until next week, happy pitching! 😉

Featured From the Archives: Video Games — The Future of Book Publishing?

The post I was gearing up for this week, featuring a look at the way the author/editor relationship works, isn’t quite ready for the world (though you can catch a glimpse of the same insights in this article by author Drew Hayes). Which means, I had to do the dreaded archive diving again. Sorry!

Fortunately, I have the perfect post to pull back into the light and send through the reading circuit again. See, lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence of people talking about this very thing. Interestingly enough, it seemed to fade away last year, so I’m not sure what’s prompted it to resurface, but once again, I’m seeing people claim that video games represent the future of publishing. Rather than go over the topic at length again, I’ll just post my rebuttal to that assertion from November of 2014, because it’s still as relevant now as it was then.

So, I give you:

Video Games: The Future of Book Publishing?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 11/21/14

There are whispers in the halls of publishing about how the future of books will slowly evolve into the business model seen in the video game industry. But no one seems to be able to define exactly how that will happen, or which facets will be adopted. And frankly, I just don’t see it. In fact, I’d even go so far as to posit that the people spreading these whispers have little to no understanding of how the video game world actually works. I realize that’s a potentially polarizing assertion to make, but here’s why I think this: see, I actually come from the video game industry. I have a degree (that I rarely talk about) in video game art and design, and I’ve been to the Game Developer’s Conference multiple times. So I know how the video game industry works. And publishing is already structured similarly; there’s nothing left to glean from the video game industry that hasn’t already been incorporated into publishing, or vice versa.

But, just for the sake of argument (and because no one else out there seems willing to break this prediction down and explain it), let’s do a little compare/contrast analysis.

From where I stand, there are only four possible areas where the business models of the video game industry and publishing coincide:

  • Distribution
  • Interactivity
  • Production
  • Content

So let’s explore each one and see if we can’t figure out exactly what these vague whispers and predictions are talking about.

Distribution

Since I’ve heard these claims from people who are largely on the indie side of the spectrum in publishing, this is my top contender for what they’re looking at. And largely why I suspect people haven’t done their research. There seems to be a misconception floating around about the distribution channels involved in producing a video game. The assumption is that games go direct from the developer to the audience. That’s not exactly true. Even for casual games (otherwise known as the time-killing awesomeness on your phone).

Games, just like books, have multiple parties involved in the making and publishing of a title. It starts with a developer, yes, but that developer then has to secure the interest of a publisher (sound familiar?), and then said publisher needs to find a distributor to actually disperse the thing into the world. So, to simplify, it looks like this:

Game Developer –> Publisher –> Distributor –> Audience

And, in comparison, this is what traditional publishing looks like:

Author –> Publisher –> Distributor –> Reader

There are varying steps that factor into each that I’m not documenting (such as agents in publishing or outside investors in video games), but the basic formula is, at its heart, very similar. Even if you look at the indie side of things in both industries, the model is the same, minus one step in the middle:

Game Developer/Author –> Distributor –> Reader/Audience

Video games also struggle with the same divide between traditional publishing and indie, where the AAA titles (as they’re called) are the ones that are mass distributed to brick-and-mortar stores and garner media attention, acclaim, and the all-important exposure needed to succeed. While, on the other hand, the indie titles are left to duke it out for visibility in the digital jungle of the various app stores. Again, it all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? So where is the innovation and industry-changing business model we’re supposed to be looking to for guidance? Not here, unless I’m missing something. So let’s move on.

Interactivity

This would be another possibility for what the self-proclaimed Seers of Publishing are predicting, and in some ways, I can see why they’d say it. But I still don’t think it will ultimately come to pass, and here’s why:

Video games are a very different form of entertainment from books. Both rely on the idea of escapism, of transporting the consumer to another world where they can step outside their own reality and immerse themselves in someone else’s. But the way they accomplish it is fundamentally different. Games are an active form of entertainment, requiring the user to literally interact with the game world. Books are passive, relying on the reader’s ability to visualize and imagine the words on the page as a real scenario. (Note that I’m basing this observation on a scale of interactivity, and not on the level of imagination/brain involvement required.)

So, in theory, if books were to go this direction, we’d need to increase the level of interactivity to simulate the gaming experience, right? Well, let me point you to these lovely things then, which already happen to exist:

  • Choose your own adventure books: Immensely popular with young readers in the 80s, these books required their audiences to put themselves in the character’s place, choosing how they would handle the scenario and seeing the immediate consequences of that action. Notice I said they were popular in the 80s, though. Meaning they fell out of favor almost as quickly as they rose. They still exist, but they’re rare and outnumbered, by far, by the more traditional forms of reading material.
  • Enhanced books/eBooks: Yes, this is a thing. There are experimental authors and publishers out there who are trying to find ways to bridge the gap between traditional print and multimedia. Some examples include Booktracks (which pairs a soundtrack with your novel, using auditory cues and music to create a richer immersion for the reader), puzzles deciphered while reading, and enhanced books that are almost more like apps, featuring animations and sound effects. Cool ideas, yes, but again, not very popular with readers.
  • Supplemental Materials: These are almost more marketing related than anything, but I’ve seen authors create real-life scavenger hunts and multimedia apps that go along with their story and world, engaging their fans in new and immersive ways. Essentially, they quite literally marry the video game industry with publishing, but not in a way that truly enhances the reading experience. It’s in addition to that basic action, rather than replacing/modifying it.

Which brings us to my point, the reason why I don’t see books becoming more like video games — books were never meant to be truly interactive. If anything, they compete with film for their audience’s attention, because film is another passive form of entertainment. Both of these mediums have always been about observing. Yes, they can affect us, making us feel emotions and form bonds with fictitious beings in ways that might have us wondering about our sanity, but their point is to detail observations, impart information, and deliver messages that transcend our day-to-day lives and make us empathize with, or understand, the world around us. Gaming is entirely different, more akin to physical activity in the way it engages the brain. You won’t often find gamers who spend hours mulling over the morality of murdering that NPC (non-player character) they saw appear on the screen for half a second. Because the act of gaming is about reflex, instinct, and less about deep philosophical thoughts and musings.

But that’s a conversation for a later day. Today’s point is that readers don’t necessarily want to interact with books. They simply want to read them. And until that changes, I don’t see interactivity becoming the hot trend publishing will steal from the gaming industry.

Production

Ah yes, production. This is where I most often see a lack of understanding about how games are made. There’s this underlying idea out there that games are easy to create, that the time invested in them is minimal in comparison to the profit. And just like my first point — distribution — that’s not entirely true.

The AAA titles — the big ones everyone hears about, the Halos and Dragon Ages and Skyrims of the world — take, on average, 3-5 years to produce. And that’s with teams of several hundred people. You have game designers, artists/animators, programmers, actors, PR/marketing/administrative staff, and sound engineers all involved, and it’s as time intensive as creating a feature film. The reason these are considered AAA titles is because they have budgets that rival cinema blockbusters. It’s no small feat to release a game of this scale, and with the advances in technology, gamers are becoming more and more expectant of this level of quality. Anything that falls below this often earns derision and ridicule.

The casual games (think the ones on your phone that most people consider mindless wastes of time) are less intense, but still generally require at least a small team of people to invest months or even years of their life into their creation. There are a few really astounding individuals that have found success doing it all on their own, but those are the exception, not the rule.

Now, how much of what I just said sounded familiar to all you writers out there? I’m guessing all of it. Because again, it’s not dissimilar to the way the book industry already operates. You have the Big 5 publishers (with the equivalent of blockbuster budgets) publishing a select few, super prominent titles, and guess what? On average, it takes 2-3 years from the time they sign you to the time your book is in stores. And then we have the indies, where the timeline is much shorter, but you still have a team of experts (editors, cover designers, formatters, etc.) helping you put out a product that is largely under-respected by the world.

So what’s to be learned from the gaming industry here? They’re fighting the same equality battle that publishing is, and frankly, they’re not doing any better than we are on that front.

Content

This is the last possible area that could potentially be what the predictions are talking about. But they have it backward. See, the divide between gaming and books isn’t being bridged because books are becoming more like games, it’s because games are becoming more like books. There’s a movement within the gaming industry to include stronger storytelling in games. Let’s face it, up until maybe five years ago, games were not hailed for their storytelling prowess. And that’s because 90% of games were written by game designers, people who focus more on what makes a game fun than anything else. They created the game mechanics (the rules) and built from there.

And then along came companies like Bioware and Bethesda and Square Enix, and suddenly storytelling started to become more important, leading to the employment of actual game writers. So now we have video games that actually include epic narratives with quality writing, bringing the worlds of literature and gaming one step closer together. But that’s not publishing noticing the strengths in the gaming industry and adjusting accordingly, that’s the gaming industry glomming onto the strength publishing already had — story.

Which brings us to the conclusion of our analysis. As you can see, for someone standing with a foot in both industries, this prediction of publishing turning into the gaming industry makes little sense. I simply don’t see the shiny new path these people are touting. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If someone out there has a better understanding of exactly what this vague statement for publishing’s future means, I would love to be enlightened. Please share  your thoughts on this interesting topic in the comments. Do you see publishing moving toward video games, and if so, in what way? I’m sure I’m not the only one out there dying to know.

Publishing: The Industry of Disappointment

Yesterday, I had to do one of my least favorite parts of being a professional editor — disappoint people. And it started me thinking. We hear all the time about how much the publishing industry sucks for writers, how its fraught with rejection and heartache and nightmare creatures waiting to rip out your soul and feast on it like rabid vultures. But rarely do you hear about it from the other side of the fence. If you do, it’s usually one of three things: advice, a distraught plea for sympathy from publishing professionals pushed to their limits (like me), or a pretentious dish of judgment from jaded pros who no longer remember why, in all that’s holy, they thought this was a good career choice (not me). But what about those people in the middle? Those times when it’s not an extreme day at the office, but just an average, run-of-the-mill blip in a long string of nondescript blips.

Well, guess what? There’s disappointment, rejection, heartache, and nightmare creatures waiting to rip out your soul on our side of publishing too. It’s just not what people think of or consider very often when they picture the glamorous world of publishing. Trust me, I did it too.

When I first dipped my toes into the world of editing, it was done under a shower of fortunate happenstance (you can read all about that here, if you wish). The only thing I knew about being an editor was that it involved reading, and lots of it, and OH MY GOD BOOKS.

read-all-the-books-meme

Looking back on that moment, just three short years ago, I can so clearly see just how naive I was. And I see that same optimism, that same wide-eyed awe and joy and all things positivity shining in the eyes and voices of the next generation of fledgling editors. They hold their badge of editorship high, crying out to the monolith of publishing that they’ll be different, that they’ll never fall to the blades of cynicism and bitterness, that they’ll uphold the virtues of all manuscripts and none shall ever be left behind. And then reality strikes.

Publishing is a business.

Yes, I know you know that, but read it again and really pause to let it sink in. Publishing is a business. It’s not a grand order of literary superheros, it’s not full of shiny editor-fairies who landed the holy grail of impossible jobs, it’s not some promised land akin to literary Eden. It’s a business. A cold, impartial, focused-on-the-bottom-line, money-driven business. Basically, it’s the antithesis of everything art and creativity hold dear.

And it will very quickly turn those fledgling feathers into razor-edged bits of armor. Why? Because if it doesn’t, if you so valiantly try to keep your idealism and your positivity and your dedication to championing every book, it will eat you alive.

Authors tend to view editors, agents, and other publishing professionals as the enemy. We’re the fire-breathing, demon-eyed gatekeepers standing between them and their dreams of New York Times Bestsellerdom. It’s easy to villainize us, to underappreciate, bully, and slay us until they get their way. That’s right, authors, you may view us as cruel, brutal creatures who live on the tears of rejected writers everywhere, but you can be just as bad.

Don’t believe me? Think about this for a moment:

Think about what it’s like to receive a manuscript, to fall in love with those pages, to give your heart on a silver platter to that author’s brilliance, imagining the beautiful and wonderful relationship the two of you will have in your quest for success . . . only to have it be ripped out of your hands and given to someone else. (Yes, editors and agents get rejected too. A lot more than you’d think.)

Think about how it feels to stand on the precipice of a production schedule that holds not one, or two, or even six (if you’re a truly prolific writer) full projects, but twenty-two. TWENTY-TWO manuscripts, all scheduled within a single twelve-month time period, and all expecting to be in that first slot.

Think about what it’s like to dread opening your inbox, or Facebook, or Twitter, not because there might be more heartbreaking rejection notices in there, but because it’s akin to jumping head-first into the seagulls from Finding Nemo, with all 250 new messages screaming some variation of “MINE, MINE, MINE.”

Think about the hours and hours of work you pour into helping an author polish and perfect their baby. All the emails, the late nights, the carpel tunnel, the mind-numbing exhaustion . . . just to be left out of the acknowledgements and receive no appreciation or credit whatsoever for that part of your soul you gave to someone else’s work.

Still think only the writers get the short end of the stick? The point I’m trying to make is not that publishing is one massive pity party, but that its an industry built on disappointment, no matter which side of it you’re in. It’s an industry that survives on the brilliance of creative people — those sensitive, passionate, empathetic people-pleasers.

No editor or agent likes sending a rejection notice; no author likes to have their dreams crushed. No production manager likes telling people they’re not the first one in line; no writer likes to feel like their book is just another notch in the title-mill wheel. And that’s just it, there are an awful lot of “no one likes” when it comes to publishing. Because — say it with me now — publishing is a business. That’s just as true for authors as it is for freelance editors and designers, as it is for agents and acquisitions editors, as it is for publishing houses and distribution centers and booksellers.

So how are we — tender, creative souls that we are — meant to survive in such a bloodthirsty, money-hungry industry?  Honestly, I don’t know. I’m still figuring that out myself. I believe the key lies in understanding that age-old crucial point — it’s not personal, it’s business. But I also believe that business should be tempered with humanity. So my approach is this: hold on to those ideals you started with, whether it was a dream of gracing your local bookstore’s shelves or of helping greatness into the hands of readers. Keep that part of you that first craved a place in this industry, and remember how to find it again when the darkness tries to pry all the joy from your fingers. Be compassionate and empathetic, but fight for yourself too. Define your boundaries and be prepared to defend them. And above all, remember that there are no battle lines to be drawn; we are, all of us, no matter which side of the publishing spectrum we fall on, in this together. So be kind to one another, and let the vindictive anger, the soul-crushing guilt, the heartbreak, and the disappointment fall under our mutual love for the written word.