This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Mitchell Hogan, author of A CRUCIBLE OF SOULS) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan was given The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to read, and a love of fantasy novels was born. He spent the next ten years reading, rolling dice, and playing computer games, with some school and university thrown in. Along the way he accumulated numerous bookcases’ worth with fantasy and sci- fi novels and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. For ten years he put off his dream of writing, then he quit his job and wrote A CRUCIBLE OF SOULS (Sept. 2015, Harper Voyager). He now writes full- time and is eternally grateful to the readers who took a chance on an unknown self- published author. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Angela, and daughters, Isabelle and Charlotte.
Three years ago I self-published A CRUCIBLE OF SOULS, my first epic fantasy novel. I’d hoped for maybe a few hundred sales in the first six months, knowing I’d have to release more books, and do a ton of self-promotion, before I had a chance of gaining any momentum.
A year and a half later, I signed a six-figure deal with Harper Voyager for my first fantasy series. I’d sold over 41,000 e-books on my own, and before you ask—because I know you will!—most were priced at $7.99. Being new to the industry, it was a steep learning curve, and I was lucky to receive invaluable advice from other authors. Here are a few things I’ve learned…
1. Get professional help. Seriously.
No one leaves their child alone in a room with a piano and says “come out when you’re a virtuoso”. It just doesn’t work. Everyone needs coaching, and that includes writers. One million words to competency? Forget that. It’s the slowest, most inefficient way to become a better writer. Learn from professionals, work on bettering yourself, use beta-readers, critique partners, revision is magical.
2. Get a literary agent, if you can.
Excellent industry contacts, ensure your manuscript will be looked at rather than placed into a pile, negotiate contracts, a wealth of knowledge, able to pitch sub-rights far better than you can on your own. What’s not to love? I favor an agent who understands the ins and outs of self-publishing as well, and is comfortable with authors who are confident enough to take the hybrid route, and make the best decisions for their career. I was lucky enough to sign with Laurie McLean at Fuse Literary, after a recommendation from another author.
3. By signing with a publisher you lose creative control. It’s hard, but it’s also okay.
You give this up when you sign the deal. In my case though it was easier to handle than signing over a new book or series. I had two books of a trilogy already out there (with kick-ass covers!), so I knew anything Harper Voyager did would only improve the series. They tweaked the first two covers, put both of the first two books through a round of vigorous editing, and then came up with their own awesome cover for book three. In short, they took two books I wasn’t going to touch again, and made them better. For that, I can handle losing creative control!
Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.
4. You will most likely earn less.
Let’s face it, with e-books you’re trading royalties of 70% of net for 25% of net. If you’re already selling well, will a publisher sell three times as many books as you can yourself? It’s possible, but unlikely. When I was considering the deal in front of me, I hoped my publisher would at least sell as many books as I had already. But you should be okay with the thought of earning less, because…
5. You hope to make up the lost money on other deals like audio, foreign rights, etc.
Which also expands and reinforces your name and brand. These deals are far harder to acquire yourself if you’re self-published, so this is another area where your agent shines. I have two deals direct with Audible now: one for my fantasy series, and the other for my sci-fi novel. I also currently have two foreign rights offers, which should bear fruit soon.
6. You are going to disagree with some of your publisher’s suggestions and/or decisions.
Not everything will go smoothly, and attempting to please everyone (including yourself) will cause you an endless amount of grief.
7. Your career isn’t now in the hands of a publisher, it’s still in your hands.
Make sure you understand the business of writing, and the industry. Writing is difficult, but the business of writing is harder. Take it seriously, and learn as much as you can about the industry and the business of writing. An essential first step is to define your goals. What do you want to achieve? If you know this, then you can plan, and explore different options. Make decisions based on what you feel is best for your career at the time—just be courteous and professional. Each option you have—a traditional deal, Apub deal, self-publishing—has its pros and cons.
You are an author. You are also CEO of You, Inc, a Global Media Empire. You decide what works for you, and at the end of the day, your success depends on you.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
- Oct. 28–30, 2016: Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
- Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- Feb. 26–March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (conference/cruise departing Miami)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writers Workshop (Nashville, TN)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Ask Not What Your Readers Can Do For You.
- 3 Good Things About Disturbing Fiction.
- Happily Ever After: Romances Aren’t Meant To Be Reality TV.
- Agent Spotlight: Cate Hart (Corvisiero Literary Agency) seeks YA, MG, Romance and select Erotica and LGBT.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.