Picking Your Path in Publishing
Getting published is hard. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m stating a well-known fact. I just wanted to get that out there, let it sink in a little before we get to the main feature of this article. Getting published is hard. Yep, I said it again.
It. Is. Hard.
But with dedication and perseverance, you can do it. No matter what happens, you cannot give up. That’s the only way to guarantee you’ll never get published. But since it’s so difficult, sometimes you have to make difficult choices.
Like giving up writing two marketplaces, and focusing all your efforts on one.
Now, quickly about me—I’m a YA writer (mostly thrillers and horror). Earlier this year, I landed my lovely agent Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency (querying authors: check her out, she’s wonderful). Before that, I was an intern at Astraea Press (the publisher that brilliantly published Maria’s book, IN THE REARVIEW). Before that, I spent a little over six month as an intern for P.S. Literary Agency (querying authors: another great agency to check out). I’m a publishing industry obsessive, and a devote follower of Publisher’s Marketplace, Publishing Crawl, and many more blogs and websites. I’m also a freelance editor at Wild Things Editing with Maria.
Why do I feel the need to tell you this? Because some of you aren’t going to like what I’m about to say, but I wanted you to know that I have experience in this business and I do know what I’m talking about. So…
How Do You Pick Your Path in Publishing? First, evaluate your writing and answer the following questions:
1) What Marketplace do you write for? (Young Adult, New Adult, Middle Grade, Adult, Picture Books?)
2) What genre do you write? (Check out Maria’s great series on genres if you aren’t sure.)
3) What is your favorite type of book to read? (Both marketplace wise, and genre wise.)
4) Are you writing to chase a trend? (Whatever is hot—or whatever you think is hot—but not really what your heart is telling you to write?)
Yep, that’s it. Four easy questions that you have to know the answer to—not just to understand the rest of this article, but to understand your writing better. It’s vital that you know what your genre is and what your marketplace is in order to properly query your book (if you are a traditional author) or properly market your book (if you self-published).
Let’s start with the easy one: what was your answer to number four?
You can probably tell by what was inside the parentheses that you SHOULD NOT be doing this. Never write to follow a trend. Chances are, by the time you finish that book and it’s ready to query, the trend will be over. Whatever is hitting the shelves right now from publishers are things that they bought two years ago. You’ve missed the boat. Write what you want to write, not what you think you should because it’s a trendy topic.
Now, we’ll get into the harder parts: did you have more than one answer to question one and two?
For example, did you say you write YA and Adult? Or did you say you write Horror, Contemporary Romance, and Crime Thrillers? It’s true that some writers can write a variety of genres and marketplaces, and they can do it very well. But remember this: they tend to be established writers, and you’re a debut. You’re still making your way through the publishing world. As much as that sucks, it means you don’t usually get to do what well-established, big earning authors get to do.
If you only had one answer for question one, then awesome! You’re doing great so far. You’ve picked a marketplace and are determined to make it in that one. If you had more than one answer to question one, you might have a problem.
If you said YA and MG, you’re fine. Those two are interrelated enough that you could easily write in both genres, a lot of agents who represent YA are also interested in MG (though not all, so when you are querying agents, make sure to only query agents that are interested in both marketplaces).
If you said YA and NA, you’re also fine. Those two are interrelated enough, but again make sure to query agents that are interested in both marketplaces.
Pretty much if you have any combination of the children’s marketplace (YA, MG, Picture Books), you’ll be fine.
If you said MG and NA, that’ll be tricky. Those are so vastly different and have such vastly different readers that you’re probably going to have some problems.
If you said MG and Adult = problems.
If you said YA and Adult = problems.
Why would writing in multiple marketplaces be a problem if you are a self-published author?
Because they are different marketplaces, and they aren’t interconnected. I know, again, I’m stating the obvious, but think about it. They don’t tend to share the same readership. If you are a self-publishing author, you are making it harder on yourself. You’re marketing to two different types of readers. Hugh Howey is an awesome self-publish success story that authors should look to for guidance on how it’s done—and how did he establish himself so that when he wrote WOOL it become such a huge hit? It was by writing sci-fi, over and over again and engraving himself in that readership and building up his audience.
I’m not saying you can never break away from what you’re doing, but don’t flip-flop around too much at the start. Establish yourself, then break away from your norm and hope those readers decide to follow into a new genre/marketplace.
Why would writing in multiple marketplaces be a problem if you are a going the traditional route?
If you are mixing it up with the children’s marketplace and the adult marketplace, not a lot of agents represent both. YA, MG, Picture Books – they are interrelated. They have overlapping readers and editors and publishing imprints. Once you go Adult, it’s a whole different ball game—different editors, different publishing imprints, and usually different agents. You’re making it more difficult for yourself to really get out there. NA could work for the Adult world and for YA, because publishing imprints aren’t sure what to do with it yet and readers tend to come from both Adult and YA. But NA and MG readers aren’t going to be the same, for rather obvious reasons.
I’m not saying that you can never write YA and Adult. There are plenty of Adult writers who branch into YA, and YA writers that break out into Adult. But that tends to be after they’ve written a few books under their first marketplace, like Lauren Oliver. She wrote the YA Delirium series (and more MG/YA books), and released her debut Adult novel ROOMS this year. She was established and a proven seller in the YA marketplace, so publishers believed in her to do the same in Adult.
Because of this, I tend to recommend that writers pick one marketplace and stick with it for a while. This is where question number three comes in handy—what books really make your heart go crazy? Look at your favorites, and decide whether that’s your marketplace or not. If you read all over the place and have an even number of favorites in both marketplaces, then think about your story ideas. Not just for this novel, but for your future novels—which marketplace do they fall under? Pick it, and go with it.
Onto the question number two, do you write in multiple genres? This one is less complicated than the above marketplace situation. The fact of the matter is if you write in the children marketplace, it doesn’t matter if you write multiple genres. Authors in YA and MG genre jump from book to book all the time, because readers are more flexible in that marketplace. Kendare Blake, for example, jumped from a contemporary YA for her debut, to a horror series, to a fantasy series—and she does wonderfully.
If, however, you write adult and write multiple genres, you’re in a stickier situation. If they are similar (mysteries and thrillers, for example), you’re fine. They are close enough and have a readership that goes back and forth—and a lot of agents and editors tend to be interested in both. If you write something very different, such as horror and romantic comedy, you’re in a jam. Most agents don’t represent both, and I can’t think of a single imprint that publishes both. Pick one, stick with it, and once you’re a proven seller, your agent will help you get into the other marketplace (probably with a pen name).
Some of you probably hate me a little after that, am I right? You love writing in both Adult and MG, or Adult and YA, and don’t want to stop. There’s a chance you’ll do just fine like that. But when you get an agent, you’ll have to pick a marketplace to start out in.
But one of the most important lessons I learned as I started taking writing seriously is this: you are not the exception to the rule. It’s harsh, I know, but it’s probably true. You aren’t going to get to write a 118,000 word YA paranormal romance when the standard tends to be closer to 80,000 words—even though Stephanie Meyers did just that.
There are a lot of benefits to picking one marketplace, and sticking with it. It won’t just make your life easier writing and querying wise, but it’ll allow you to focus more time and effort on that marketplace. It’ll give you a chance to interact more with writers in that marketplace, and become a part of it. Trust me when I say making connections and networking as a writer is a big deal.
So, even if you hated my advice, take a little bit and think about it.