Upholding My Update

Since my last post about my publishing journey, I didn’t get the results I was hoping for, perhaps from my own doing.

My submissions to literary agents seldom yielded even a rejection. Then I connected with two agents via their workshops. One asked for a full (my entire manuscript plus my book proposal), and the other for a partial (a 10-page sample and book proposal).

When these agents took my manuscript “under consideration,” I was thrilled but kept in mind that agents take under contract approximately one percent only of the work submitted. It means that while there was interest in my work, under consideration meant that the agent hadn’t read my entire manuscript yet. If she was still interested after she did, it would then become “under review” (being evaluated by the agent’s peers). If accepted, it would then be undergoing a similar process at a publisher.

As it happened, after eight months, Agent #1 replied, twice, that my manuscript was still under consideration: it would “take time to sell my story.” After six months, I boldly shared with Agent #2 that I was considering publishing independently unless she could decide on my submission: it would still take up to two years from acceptance to publication. Her reply: “No one would find my book” if I went rogue. And I left both opportunities at that.

Much is going on in the publishing industry, some call it the perfect storm. Although Penguin Random House wasn’t allowed to shrink the competition by acquiring Simon & Schuster, authors have become weary of their lengthy operating process, an overall frustrating situation for agents, too. Instead, authors are turning to traditional yet independent book publishers, known as small presses.

Small presses operate like the Big Five (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster) but without the filter of an agent. Within six months, a manuscript could see the light of day as a book—at last, since the writing often takes years.

Their editorial team screens the manuscripts, then their in-house services—hence, at a cost—offer full editing and designing of those manuscripts that made the cut. Independent publishers are not vanity press operators—they do not accept any written work they are commissioned to print. I learned this from Ella Harvey, a fellow writer who submitted her travel memoir, A Time of Light and Shadow, to twenty small publishers before getting a contract.

Moreover, I’d have to self-promote my book either way: Big Five or small presses. It’s a gruelling task with rewards like a drop in a bucket—selling one book at a time. This was Agent #2’s point. Without a significant platform, unknown authors won’t get significant exposure, especially for a memoir. That’s why the Big Five eagerly publish personalities (celebrities have a huge platform). Their books sell, regardless of the substance sometimes.

My interest in a small press was reinforced by an article in WordsWorks (p.32), the Federation of British Columbia Writers’ magazine. “The small press is on the rise, both in terms of proliferation and prestige… small presses tend to value their authors… the Big Five focus purely on profit… restrict the diversity of authors and ideas.”

As I take stock of where I stand, I am grateful to those agents who validated (a sample of) my work enough to take it under consideration. I am also indirectly encouraged by the words of an agent on an acquiring site, “I am still looking for a good story about a female friendship.”

I believe I have an inspiring one to share.