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New Writer – Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books

From the archives of Q&A in mail and message boards, my take on the current status of publishing.

My first novel is being read by a publisher and they said some good things. When will I see a check from them, at acceptance or at publication?

It depends on the publisher, but in a small niche market, generally, neither. You’ll be paid after the publisher is paid by booksellers and distributors. Once that happens, the publisher can send you your percentage of the resulting sales. In some cases, it can be a year from publication until you see any returns.

It’s a frustrating process, and in the interim, your only reward will be reader response. Small market publishers just can’t afford advances—they don’t have the cash flow for it.

What are my chances of getting traditionally published?

Well, they’re not great though they’ve improved over the past few years. I know that’s not very encouraging. Anyone who tells you “Gosh, if it’s good enough of course it’ll get accepted” is just being kind. Unrealistic, but kind. The marketplace for first time novelists is very small and publishers can be quixotic, to say the least. I’m going to paraphrase something that Katherine Forrest told a workshop I went to many moons ago:

  • Of all the people who want to write a book, only 1% will actually begin.
  • Of the 1% that begins, only 1% will finish.
  • Of the 1% that finish, only 1% will be published.

I know, depressing. But there is one thing to consider: just starting a book puts you in an elite group of people. And finishing makes you rarer still. Even if your first completed novel is never published (and mine never has been) you will benefit greatly from the experience. If you intend to continue writing, you can always steal from yourself. No good scene will ever truly be wasted.

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