Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Risky Business

Eleven years ago I wrote to a literary agent who advertised for clients in the back of a trade mag. You're wincing already, aren't you? Well, you should. It was a dumb thing to do. But I couldn't get much response from querying editors, and I'd read an article in the same mag that said a literary agent could help.

The agent responded (quickly and warmly) and asked me to send my full manuscript to him (which I did) and then about a week later informed me that I should be (cautiously) excited as I had written a fine novel. All I needed was a little professional help and I'd be in print in no time. He referred me to a "book doctor" agency.

Encouraged, I sent my manuscript on to the agency, and the head book doctor himself responded immediately. Congratulations, I had a good novel, very promising, sure to make it into print, and he was just the man to help me. He'd even pay to call me long distance from New York, so when could we have a teleconference?

I had him call during nap time and we talked. He praised me, my talent, and my novel, which was really good but rough around the edges and desperately needed editing to make it "professional quality." He also told me an industry inside secret: all pros hired book doctors to polish their manuscripts, they just didn't talk about it. And, since I was an unemployed stay-at-home Mom, he would definitely give me a price break. $1300 and he would get my novel ready to be published.

The guy was good. By the time I got off the phone, I was almost convinced. Only one tiny problem: I couldn't pay $1300 to get published because that broke my great big rule of being a pro writer, which is "I don't pay them, they pay me."

I talked it over with the husband, and although we were on a tight budget at the time, he was willing to write the check. But my mantra kept ringing in my head, and while I knew nothing about publishing, I knew I had to be the one who got paid, not the other way around.

It killed me to turn down the book doctor, especially when he called a second time and offered to let me pay in installments. He warned me (gently) that I was making a huge mistake, and that I might not ever get another offer like this one. He almost had me again a few times, too, but my great big fat rule kept smacking me in the head, and finally he accepted the no-thanks and wished me luck.

The book doctor whose wonderful if expensive offer I turned down? Was Bill Appel of Edit Ink.

The book Bill said desperately needed editing? Didn't get any, and still sold to a major publisher a few years later. Five years after publication that book is still in print, with a 91% sell-through on fifty thousand copies to date. In fact, you folks bought another two thousand copies of it over the last six months.

As for making a huge mistake, well, yesterday some royalty statements came in and beefed up my career running total nicely. I now have over one million books in print.

Aspiring writers, make it your mantra: you don't pay them, they pay you.

1 comment:

  1. I'll definitely remember that story when I start sending my stuff out.

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