David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

How Did You Get Your Novel Published? (Part 2)

I’ve gotten a few requests to finish the story of how Infoquake got published, so I’m going to go ahead and finish that tale now.

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e., me), I had spent several years working on my science fiction manuscript, carefully researched literary agents, and sent out about two dozen packages to all of the major players.

What was my original query letter like? I reproduce it here in its entirety:

Dear [Insert Agent Name Here],

Did a flashy marketing campaign persuade Lando Calrissian to buy the Millennium Falcon? Did the company that built the Star Trek transporters have a branding strategy? Did a military contractor sell arms to the Starship Troopers — and what kind of PowerPoint presentation did he use to sell them?

As a programmer and dot-com executive, I am often frustrated by the short shrift science fiction gives to the business world. Authors who go to great lengths to make their work conform to the laws of physics will completely ignore the laws of economics. This frustration was the impetus for my first novel INFOQUAKE, a literate techno-thriller in the tradition of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

The book’s hero Natch is an entrepreneur in bio/logics, the programming of the human body. He’s a crusader in a war being fought through product demos, press releases and sales pitches. His Holy Grail? The number one spot on the Primo’s bio/logic investment guide.

Now Natch is willing to do anything to get his hands on a radical technology that harnesses the computing power of the mind. But so is the competition in the rough-and-tumble world of bio/logic programming. So is the ruthless Defense and Wellness Council, which sees Natch’s technology as a grave threat to public order. And so is a shadowy organization that wants to bring humanity to its next phase of evolution — ready or not. Eventually Natch must ask himself the eternal question: how far should you go to make a profit?

A little about me: I have trained Members of Congress on computer software, programmed websites for the U.S. Army, and run the marketing departments of biometric and e-commerce companies. My non-fiction has been published in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, and Publishers Weekly. My fiction has been published in Urban Desires and Zeniada.

I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript (120,000 words) or its opening chapters, along with an outline of two proposed sequels in the INFOQUAKE trilogy. An SASE is enclosed for your convenience.

The world’s greatest cover letter? No. Good enough to get someone to crack open the manuscript? I certainly thought so. I used Andrew Zack’s example from Writer magazine as my model (Adobe Acrobat file, 89K), and I think I followed his example pretty closely. If you’ve read the final marketing copy that’s on the final book cover, you’ll see that a lot of that copy comes from this exact cover letter.

So I spent most of the spring of 2004 waiting for some kind of response and trying to decide whether or not to get crackin’ on book 2 of the series, MultiReal, or just to abandon the Jump 225 trilogy altogether and start something new. I said in my last post that of those two dozen packages, I received not a single callback, e-mail, or manuscript request.

That’s not precisely true. I did receive a call from an agent sometime in late 2004. She told me that she really, really liked my manuscript, that she thought it was saleable, that it might need a little bit of editorial work first. I’d have to dig through my notes to verify this for absolute certain, but I’m pretty sure the woman who called me was Cris Robins. She asked if I was nervous. I said yes, a little. She said, don’t be. In the middle of our discussion, she got interrupted by another call. She promised to call me back in five minutes, and gave me her number in case she got tied up.

In that five minutes, I searched for her name on Google. Biiiiiiig mistake on Ms. Robins’ part.

I found this warning from Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I found a number of discussion group posts about her on various writing websites. It’s not worth my time trying to find the original posts, but suffice to say that Victoria Strauss and A.C. Crispin — two real published authors — have since posted many times about what a scam artist Cris Robins is. (The latest: a judgment against her by Washington Superior Court for scamming a writer named Christopher Dahl.)

Turns out there are a lot of so-called “preditors” out there who contact authors with unpublished work and offer to represent them. And then they offer their editorial services to clean up/rewrite/slash up your manuscript. Yessirreebob, just a few thousand dollars, and your novel will be ready to submit to a big-time publisher! What a bargain! Luckily, I had done my homework, so I’d heard about this sort of thing. (I had actually gotten Ms. Robins’ name from a reputable source, believe it or not — Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents.)

Ms. Robins never called back, and I never returned her call.

I was pissed. There is an alternate universe out there in which I’m currently sitting on death row for the murder by rusty chainsaw of one particular scam literary agent. (And in this alternate universe, I’m grinning.)

I was about ready to give up — not necessarily on writing, but on Infoquake.

On Friday, June 18, 2004, I drove up to Baltimore to see my old boss (and fellow Johns Hopkins alumnus) Bruce Bortz, who runs Bancroft Press. Bruce gave me my first job out of college, in fact, working at Bancroft on a variety of projects. I wrote dozens of profiles of Florida and Maryland state legislators for a series of his governmental guidebooks back in 1993 and 1994. I did computer work and desktop publishing for him. I was actually under contract to Bancroft way back when to write a how-to book about computers called A Gift from Mr. Wallakahalla, but the book never panned out.

Bruce and I went to lunch at the Mt. Washington Tavern, a place I had dined in many a night during my Baltimore years. I handed Bruce a printout of the book and asked his advice on what to do next. He told me he had acted as literary agent for a handful of novelists before, but knew little about science fiction. I gave him a quick summary of what the field had been up to since the heyday of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov. I remember distinctly spelling out Neal Stephenson’s name for him. (Bruce, scribbling on a napkin: “Is that Stephenson with a ‘V’ or a ‘Ph’? And what did he write again?”) Bruce said he’d take a look at the manuscript and give me his honest verdict.

A few days later, Bruce called me. He had taken Infoquake with him on a train trip to New York, and couldn’t put it down. He loved it, and wanted to represent me. He told me that Bancroft had never published a science fiction novel before, but if he couldn’t find me a publisher, Bancroft would publish it.

My wife and I drove up a week or so later to meet with him and one of his associates. Bruce pointed out a few minor quibbles he had with the book. First: the character of Brone was too cartoonish; he spent most of his screen time (so to speak) cackling and making bad jokes. Two: the chapter on the Shortest Initiation didn’t work. Three: the chapter told from the viewpoint of the data agent was unnecessary and should be cut. I agreed wholeheartedly with Bruce on the first two points, and the third I was willing to compromise on.

We signed a contract. I had an agent.

I spent a couple months smoothing out wrinkles. I had never been satisfied with the Shortest Initiation and welcomed a chance to revisit it. (The draft Bruce read had Natch abandon the initiation camp with a dozen companions, only to have them come trickling back in because Natch had sabotaged their food supply.) Which I did, over and over again. I think the draft that’s in the final product was somewhere around the fifteenth draft. (And that’s not counting partials.) I tried another tack with Brone, and was much more satisfied with the results. It’s amazing how much easier the writing flows once you have an agent actually waiting to read your words.

As 2004 came to a close, I presented Bruce with the finished manuscript for Infoquake and he went to work selling it.

I sat back and waited. I worried tremendously that the book would go nowhere. I wondered what the book’s chances at success would be if Bancroft Press published it.

There were some frustrations over the next couple weeks. One major SF publisher declined to read the book, because they were moving their offices and weren’t accepting any new submissions, period. Another big house loved the book and apparently had some major internal debates about whether to buy it, but decided in the end to pass. One house rejected it, claiming there were too many “confusing shifts of viewpoint.”

My favorite was a major, major SF publisher that sent us an unsigned rejection letter, misspelling the name of the book, the name of the author, and the name of the agent. The letter arrived 18 months later, right about the time that the rave Publishers Weekly review came out.

Finally, in early December 2004, Bruce forwarded me an e-mail he had received from a fellow named Lou Anders, the editor of a new science fiction imprint called Pyr. Lou loved the book and thought it would make a great addition to Pyr’s third season lineup. I discovered later — much later — that it was really only chance that Lou had read the book at all. He had picked up the first page one night expecting to throw it quickly in the “discard” pile, and winded up reading the whole night through. A couple of days later, I got a call on my cell from Bruce while having lunch with my wife. Pyr had made an offer — and it had actual, real money attached to it.

There were still details to take care of. There were calls and e-mails back and forth between other publishers. There was some contract negotiation to be done. The contract was finally signed towards the end of January, 2005. Four years and three months after I quit my full-time job to write a novel, I had a publisher.

And that’s the story of how I became a professional novelist.

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  1. Wayne B on December 22, 2006 at 7:20 pm  Chain link

    I have been writing as a hobby for the last 15yrs or so. I started my current project about a year and a half ago. My wife recently got a new job and we moved. I am a high school teacher and since we moved after the school year started there were no openings available. So for the last 4 months or so I have had a lot of time on my hands. I have been writing frequently during that time and just recently completed what I would call the beta 1 version of my story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. My wife is currently reading it and I know I will have significant work still to do on it. But as this is the first time I got to the point of actually finishing a story that might be novel length (81k words currently) I have hopes of getting it published.
    Your story sounds similar to others I have heard, where its all chance and having contacts that allow people to succeed in getting their story published. What do you think your chances would have been if you hadn’t known the guy at Bancroft?

  2. David Louis Edelman on December 22, 2006 at 10:17 pm  Chain link

    I can only speak from my experience, Wayne — but it seems to me that continually beating down the door and picking yourself up off the floor after you lose is the lesson I got out of this. (Which is kind of interesting, considering it’s the lesson the protagonist of my book gets out of his experiences too.)

    I just rewatched that sappy Ron Howard movie Parenthood yesterday. There’s a scene where Steve Martin’s little boy, after being the suckiest kid on the Little League team all season, finally catches a pop fly to win the game at the end. Steve Martin tells his wife Mary Steenburgen afterwards that he can’t believe so much happiness could ride on something so capricious as whether a little boy catches a ball. What if he’d missed? To which his wife replies: you spent all summer hitting a million pop flies to the kid in the backyard. You cut the odds that he’d miss considerably, don’t you think?

    I’m not saying chance and connections play no role in this. They totally do. But if you keep stepping up to the plate over and over again — and if you actually have a publishable manuscript to begin with — I think you can dramatically increase the odds of getting published.

  3. David Louis Edelman on December 22, 2006 at 10:18 pm  Chain link

    Hope that comment wasn’t too self-important. I’m rootin’ for ya, Wayne.

  4. Wayne B on December 22, 2006 at 10:36 pm  Chain link

    Haha yeah. That is true in most aspects of life. Still working on that first step, publishable manuscript, then I can start the continually knocking at doors part. I just want to get every insight and trick I can ahead of time. That way I know what to expect and can increase my odds. Thanks for the advice.
    Oh btw, I saw Infoquake at Borders the other day and decided to buy it. Your subtle blogvertisement worked. Merry Christmas!

  5. Josh on December 23, 2006 at 2:28 pm  Chain link

    Thank God for Writer Beware! to say the least and all they’ve done to alert people to those preditor scams. It’s fun to see the weird, interconnected ways that people’s work gets out there in the first place, through whatever networking quirks that we have. Yours is the example of that ultimate determining factor, I believe: Perseverance. Certainly not self-important, just a reality of the business side of the craft.

    Here’s a question though—since getting this first novel accepted and obviously having more contracted out for the next couple of years, have you found yourself under more pressure/less pressure/just a different kind of pressure in your writing life? (Does that question make sense?)

  6. David Louis Edelman on December 23, 2006 at 3:23 pm  Chain link

    Oh yeah, Josh — totally more pressure, but of a different kind. The second book “proves” you’re not just a flash in the pan, that you can continue writing decent work, that you’re moving up and not moving down, etc.

    I wrote a bit about these pressures a while back in my post On the Writing of Sequels.

  7. Josh on December 23, 2006 at 5:06 pm  Chain link

    Aha. So I see. Great post on that, pointed out a few things I hadn’t even considered. Well, still looking forward to getting that first title out there so I can experience the sequel pressure-cooker for myself. Yehaw.

  8. Victoria Strauss on December 27, 2006 at 10:11 am  Chain link

    Hi, David–I’m thrilled to learn that the Writer Beware blog helped you avoid Cris Robins. So many people seem to think that only unpublishable wannabees get entangled in literary scams; your story proves–yet again–that this isn’t so.

    BTW, I loved Infoquake (that was my review in Fantasy magazine) and can’t wait for the next installment.

  9. David Louis Edelman on December 27, 2006 at 10:41 am  Chain link

    Thanks, Victoria! At the time I read your warnings, I was an unpublished wannabe, though thankfully not unpublishable. So you’ve definitely done me (and many others) a great service.

    Oh, and thanks for the Fantasy mag review as well.

  10. Richard Rogers Whitson on March 2, 2007 at 9:16 am  Chain link

    I haven’t read your book but certainly will. I googled Science fiction publishers and your site immediately popped up. Bravo to you for assisting those with aspirations. I am writing and looking for a publisher. Finding a SCI FI publisher seems to be very difficult indeed. Let me thank you for all of us who are searching.

  11. David Louis Edelman on March 2, 2007 at 9:27 am  Chain link

    Richard: Well, you’ve got a pen name with three words in it, so that’s a good start. :-) Good luck to you.

  12. […] To be continued in part 2… […]

  13. AK Goodrich on May 17, 2007 at 4:28 pm  Chain link

    Hi David,
    First off, belated congrats on your success, and wishing you continued good fortune!
    I am currently playing the “search for the right agent” game and seemingly getting lost in the slush piles. Feeling I need to switch gears, I stumbled across Bancroft Press website and noted Mr. Bortz’s editorial services. I did just as you, and unfortunately my hopes dampened when I found that Bancroft Press is “Not Recommended” (- in red) in Preditor’s and Editors website… Any light on this claim? I would be very much interested in why these claims, particularly after reading the testimonials of some of his authors…

    AK Goodrich

  14. David Louis Edelman on May 17, 2007 at 5:35 pm  Chain link

    AK: Thanks for the congratulations. I worked for Bruce back in the early ’90s, right out of college. Several years after I had moved on, the Baltimore City Paper published a really scathing cover story about him and his business practices. You can find it on the web somewhere. I don’t really know the truth about any of the allegations in that article, but you can find Bruce’s detailed rebuttal on his website.

    All I can say is that I’ve never had any problems with Bruce or Bancroft. Feel free to email me if you want more detail.

  15. Frank on September 14, 2007 at 1:25 pm  Chain link

    WOW. Finally a SUCCESS story by an author. You not only got your novel published but it was a financial success too. But as I understand it, not only are the odds a hundred to one that an author will succeed in getting his work published, but it’s another hundred to one that he’ll make any money in so doing. Not meaning to pry but are the monies paid by most publishers (for most works) as advances even worth the effort?
    Kudos to you for helping the poor and the downtrodden.

  16. David Louis Edelman on September 14, 2007 at 1:43 pm  Chain link

    Frank: Yeah, the money is generally pretty lousy until you make it big. And even the authors I know who have made it big still make more money in their day jobs.

    I’m generally not comfortable disclosing particulars, but you should check out my pal Tobias Buckell’s SF author advance survey. It’s very informative and very sobering, as well.

  17. Mabel A Hearn on January 28, 2008 at 9:12 pm  Chain link

    I have written 3 or 4 love stories and 1 childrens book that I have never had published. I just sent the childrens book to Authorhouse for them to help me get it published.They are a place that you have to pay them to do it. Can you tell me anything about them? And is it really the right way to get my book published. Thank you for your time Mabel A. Hearn

  18. David Louis Edelman on January 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm  Chain link

    Mabel: I don’t specifically know much about Authorhouse. But keep in mind that self-publishing a book through a place like Authorhouse is a much different thing than publishing through a traditional New York publisher. Chain bookstores don’t carry self-published books, for one, and you’re unlikely to get any reviews. In fact, it’s very very rare for self-published authors to sell more than a couple hundred copies or to make any money at all. And getting your book self-published will not help you get a contract with a big New York publisher.

    But that might all be just fine with you. If your stories are just going to be gathering digital dust on your computer otherwise, and you’d like a nice bound book to sell to your friends and associates, why not? Just keep your expectations realistic.

  19. Cam on December 2, 2009 at 4:53 am  Chain link

    I’ve found this very uplifting. It’s a very similar story to that of my own (except the getting an agent part). I’ve written a fantasy story which has gone through at least ten drafts and thousand of hours work. Like yourself I feel that it is as close to publish quality as I can get it, and also like you I have spent many hours researching agents, constructing query letters, adhering to submission outlines and all the rest. As of now the only responses I have recieved have been standard rejection letters. Unfortunately I do not have any connections within the business at all, and I think living in Australia does not help the situation. I have become quite disheartend of late, yet reading your story has lifted my hopes.
    Cheers Cam.

  20. Garry McElherron on April 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm  Chain link

    Sitting here in sunny northern Ireland, which is funny in itself because it is 10.40pm and dark outside. My chest is being gently warmed by my new 3 month old who is snoring like her mother does.
    I digress , just came across your story and thought it inspirational. I too have finished draft 1 of a children’s fantasy novel based on the Mourne Mountains , set in real time using real locations but with a historical twist on the place names. I’d love some advice. It’s 45000 words and aimed at me, eventhough I’m 40 , but hope the harry potter age group would like it. Thanks for your time .

    Garry mcelherron

  21. Paul Sekulich on April 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm  Chain link

    I’m a fellow Baltimoron who writes and has had a run-in with the infamous Ms. Robins. One of her co-conspirators, in their actual digs in Boca Raton, FL, I believe (Ironic that Boca Raton means “rat mouth” in Spanish), wanted $90 to evaluate a screnplay I had written. After the evaluation, usually called “coverage” in the scripting world, they expressed their jubilant invitaion to me to join their publishing dynasty by allowing them to do a full-scale edit of my script at some additional cost. I searched for scam publishers and agents on the web and contacted Virginia Strauss who confirmed what I suspected about The World Publishing Agency, or whatever they were calling themslves at that time. The good news was that I actually got what I thought was a decent review of my script at no cost since I never sent them a dime (I had already had coverage done on the script by a reputable reviewer in Hollywood). Cris Robins’ people made several efforts thereafter to pull me into their “stable of successful writers” without success, needless to say.

    Not to blow my own horn, which would be a very small one probably resembling a kazoo, I’ve included the Cliff Notes version of a bio on me so you might get some idea of my background. It appears below:

    Paul Sekulich is a thoroughly traveled Marylander who has lived in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Palm Beach, Los Angeles and Hollywood, California. He holds a B.A. degree in Theatre from the University of Maryland and Masters of Fine Arts and film school credits from Towson University and the University of Southern California.

    He has written, acted in, produced and directed films, commercials and stage productions since he was 18 and has won awards for his work. He owned and operated The Limestone Dinner Theatre from 1991-1994 and now tours the country teaching seminars on screenwriting for television and the movies.
    He was a contributing writer for Cheers and Head of the Class TV sitcoms in Hollywood and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Actors Equity Association. He has just completed a new screenplay titled Sally McKay’s MacGuffin and is working on a millennium thriller called Annulla, due to be completed this winter.

    Paul’s company, Cinemagic Productions, has just completed the 4-hour documentary, The Forgotten Birds, chronicling the history of the International League Baltimore Orioles from 1903-1953.

    Back to the present. I have concluded that no one in Hollywood knows how to actually read a marketable screenplay, but persists in producing the onslaught of crap that some loosely call movies. I’ve often said the if I had my entire life to live over I would do everything exactly the same except I wouldn’t go see Ishtar. Things weren’t much better when I lived out in L.A. and I had to resort to TV work to make a living.

    I have decided to write a novel on the advice of Elmore Leonard who went down several similar screenwriting dead-ends until he shifted his work to novel writing. We both agree that what could serve as a better outline for a novel than a well-plotted, character-driven, screen script. The conversion of script-to-novel is eased by the fact that you already have the dialog and story line, so all you need to add is the narrative. I realize that while rolls off the lips easily it actually can be somewhat more arduous and daunting in the doing. However, I’m having a ball with it and hope to finish my script’s conversion to first draft in about 30 days.

    I have ten screenplays completed so far, so if I should be lucky enought to find an agent/publisher that likes fiction that converts well to the silver screen, I’ll have plenty of literary ammo to throw at them. My primary genre has been comedy, action-adventure and action-crime stories, but I like variety and will stayopen to almost anything as long as it doesn’t include rap or Bradford Dillman.

    Best to you and your writing career. Next time you’re in Balto, give me a whistle and I’ll treat you to lunch at a place where the waitresses still say “Hon” and the men at the bars still call everyone “Smoke” or “Bunky.”

    Paul Sekulich [see-que-lik]

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