David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

How Did You Get Your Novel Published? (Part 1)

Ever since I signed my book contract with Pyr in January of 2005, I’ve been getting the same question from friends and acquaintances: “How did you get your novel published?” (The unspoken corollary to this question is, of course, “How can I get my novel published too?”)

Here’s the basic story of how Infoquake found its way into print.

Infoquake began as a single novel titled Jump 225.7. I believe the first draft of the first chapter was written as early as 1998 (and one of these days I’ll get around to posting it), but it wasn’t until November 2000 that I decided to take the novel writing enterprise seriously. I quit full-time work, bought a laptop computer and buckled down on my prose.

I’ve already journaled elsewhere about the inspiration for the novel (in my article Why I Wrote Infoquake), so I’ll leave that stand for now.

I originally estimated that it would take me six months to finish the book. It took closer to three years. (Keep in mind that I put the book down several times for months at a stretch. I’m slow, but I’m not that slow.) I had a core group of about half a dozen readers who I could trust to give me the honest scoop, and they made lots of useful suggestions that helped me retune. (Up until I began the third draft, Natch still had a spunky, independent girlfriend named Ferris. Shudder. Biiiiiiig mistake.)

Of course, I also sent the book to my Dad, who I trusted to boost my ego and tell me I was a budding Shakespeare no matter what. (True to form, he claims to this day that Infoquake is vastly superior to tripe like, oh, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, Dune, and Starship Troopers.)

Finally as 2004 dawned — and I finished what was probably Draft #5 of the novel, depending on how you count — I decided that Infoquake was ready for submission.

I had spent a couple of years fresh out of college in the mid-’90s working for a small Baltimore publisher and a Washington, D.C. literary agent, so I was not totally naive about the process. The chances of your novel getting picked up from a publisher or a literary agent’s slush pile are exceedingly rare, and growing rarer by the day. That’s not to say that it never happens; it’s just a rarity.

The easiest path to getting published is to use your personal connections. I saw this at work all the time at the literary agency. Some well-established author would call up and say “My cousin/colleague/student/friend/neighbor wrote a great book that you should take a look at.” If the referring author was reliable — and if the book idea was indeed a good one — the agent would generally take a look. (Or, rather, he’d farm it out to me to take a look for him.) He never looked at the slush pile in the six months I worked there.

My main connection to the publishing world was the author J.D. Landis, author of (among other things) Longing and the criminally-neglected-by-the-public Artist of the Beautiful. (Read my 1995 interview with J.D. Landis. You won’t regret it.) Jim Landis was also an editor at a big New York house for many years, where he edited (among others) Robert Persig, Jacqueline Susann and Naomi Wolf.

Jim was nice enough to get my book in the door with several well-known literary agents, which is half the battle. The problem? All of these agents admitted upfront that they didn’t know much about science fiction. If you read your Miss Snark faithfully, you’ll know that having a publishable book is only part of the calculation for literary agents; they need to be comfortable enough with the genre to know where to send your book, and whom to send it to. So while Infoquake got some good first reads, none of these agents were interested in doing the extra legwork it would take for them to get a good sale.

So back to square one.

I purchased Jeff Herman’s renowned Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. I combed through it diligently with notepad and Post-It notes in hand, looking for all of the agents who a) represented science fiction authors, b) were credentialed with the Association of Authors’ Representatives, c) had some history of previous sales to the big New York publishers, and d) claimed to be looking for new, unpublished talent. It wasn’t as big of a list as I had hoped. When followed up with Internet research, I came up with a list of about twenty solid leads.

I spent weeks prepping the perfect package to send. Bought the fancy paper for the cover letter, invested in a nice Brother laser printer to print out clean, crisp, readable samples, created a spreadsheet to track all the myriad requirements the agencies posted for unsolicited submissions. I took time and care in writing a short, punchy cover letter that actually reads very much like the copy that ended up on the back cover. I printed everything in the correct fonts and point sizes, with the correct margins. When the agent’s website said to include three chapters, I included three chapters. When the agent’s website said to include 50 pages, I included 50 pages. I included SASEs. I paper clipped instead of stapled.

I mailed out around twenty inquiries in spring of 2004 and waited.

Nothing.

Over the next month, I received about twenty form rejection letters. Not a single callback. Not a single e-mail. Not a single manuscript request. Not a single handwritten note. Not a single personalized rejection. No indication whatsoever that a human being had even taken a look at the sample chapters I had sent.

As of June 2004, the score stacked up like this: three and a half years spent writing, several hundred dollars spent on postage and supplies, thousands of hours spent rereading and revising… and rejections from pretty much every major science fiction literary agent in the business.

To be continued in part 2

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  1. Wayne B on December 12, 2006 at 2:20 pm  Chain link

    I am wondering when Part 2 will be written. I am interested in getting some insight into the publishing process from a first hand source. The end of this blog was not encouraging. But since you clearly got your book published there is a happy ending.

  2. David Louis Edelman on December 12, 2006 at 3:07 pm  Chain link

    You’re absolutely right, Wayne… I kind of forgot all about this post. I’ll see if I can get part 2 written soon.

  3. Wayne B on December 13, 2006 at 9:24 pm  Chain link

    Awesome. Thanks. I found this post doing a google search for that subject. Since then I have read a bunch of your blogs and liked them.

  4. site ekle on December 29, 2006 at 8:35 am  Chain link

    It was good to meet you at Word on the Street on Sunday, Jim. I’m really getting into the book now, especially now the defilement has dried properly.

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

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