When I talk to new writers who are trying to interest an agent and/or publisher in their work, I can’t help thinking that their ambition is a little misguided.
True, agents remain the gatekeepers of the major publishing houses, most of whom no longer look at manuscripts submitted directly from authors. And yes, those big publishers have major distribution and clout. They will see that your book is stocked on the bookstore shelves, and they will pay you an advance (sometimes a very healthy one) against future royalties.
I won’t make the argument that, for writers pursuing that route, the odds are slim to none. First, because I think such statements are made too often and do nothing but add to the general angst of an aspiring artist. Secondly, because I don’t think any art form is a game of odds.
I will say, though, that writers who sign those fat contracts have, in most cases, already discovered their audience – or at least a sizable part of it. Look at the bigger-name authors and do a little research on their backgrounds.
Most fall into one of three categories: (1) They built name recognition for themselves by writing and publishing short fiction and/or articles, (2) They self-published their first novel(s) and sold enough copies through their own promotional efforts and word of mouth to attract an agent or editor, or (3) They were highly visible in another career – i.e., they were rock stars, sports figures, T.V. personalities, etc.
Basically what I’m arguing is that writers should devote their time and energy to attracting READERS, not agents or editors. The powers that be in the publishing world want a sure and safe sell anyway. Forget about them for the time being and think about who your potential audience might be. Then build up a strategy for reaching those readers.
The internet is your friend here. For every subject and interest you can name, there is a place on the web where people congregate to discuss it. Boil your book down to its most essential themes and then do some keyword searching. You’ll find discussion groups, ezines, weblogs, interview and review sites, special interest newsletters, etc.
What’s next? Once you’ve isolated those sites, consider the most time-effective strategy for interesting those people in your work. Get a feel for a particular ezine’s preferences and then write and submit some short stories or articles. You should consider offering the articles for free. The increased likelihood of publication – and resultant exposure – is worth the sacrifice.
Once you have increased web presence you can consider either approaching those agents again or else self-publishing. Remember this: even if you DO sign a contract with a publisher, you’ll still be responsible for doing most of your own promotion. The time you spent exposing you writing to other enthusiasts of your subject will put you in good stead and give you many more options than you would’ve had otherwise.