Getting Your First Professional Sale


Getting Your First Professional Sale
Annie Bellet, (Eric) E.E. Knight, Edward Morris, Jess Hartley, Mary Robinette Kowal
OryCon 33
  • Annie Bellet: Got first professional sale on August 2010, sold 9 stories so far. Short fiction to magazines.
  • E.E. Knight: novels, 15 or so. First professional sale of fiction was 1991. First time I cashed a check was for non-fiction for bridal magazine. To this day, that was the best money I made per word.
  • Edward Morris: Sold 85 short stories globally, six books in a small press. First professional sale was in 2000 to Interzone. A lucky break: on duotrope.com trying to figure out where to sell my fiction.
  • Jess Hartley: writing for RPG industry for the last 10 years. First sale was a novel for a RPG tie-in.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal: First professional sale to New Horizon in 2006. Just won the Hugo for short story. About 65 short stories published.
  • Bloody Pitfalls
    • Mary: I went to research cover letters. Completely different for non-fiction than for short stories. Made sure you have the right one. 
    • Short stories: cover letter is very minimal.
    • Novels: Just enough to know that it is the type of material they publish.
  • A publishing house that says “We will not take unsolicited manuscripts” will take an unsolicited query letter. It’s exactly the same as a cover letter, with a “May I send you a manuscript?”
    • Lots of times you may get a positive response.
  • Q: I’m working on something that may best be a graphic novel.
    • Morris: Look for graphic novel scripts. Frank Miller’s batman scripts are available out there. That’s the format you want to submit.
  • Q: How long should my cover letter be?
    • Only a single page.
    • Tell them what it is about, not what happens.
    • Think about it as the back cover copy on a book.
  • Eric: Networking is another path to an editor. I know a number of authors who went to World Fantasy and hooked up with editors in the bar, and they chat, and they get invited to send a manuscript to them. 
    • They want to know you’re not crazy. They want to know they could buy 12 manuscripts from you, not just one.
    • Jim Butcher was having trouble selling the Dresdon Files, and met an editor at the bar at World Fantasy, and got the editor to pick it up off the slush pile and read it.
  • Mary: The traditional wisdom is to do short stories and to go to conventions. But Jim Hine did a survey and found that there is no commonality: as many people got their first sale that way as that didn’t.
    • Jess: Did it the way you are most comfortable. If you are an extrovert, so to 
    • Mary: I teach a class called Schmoozing 101. 
      • Have your elevator pitch ready. But DO NOT be the first person to bring up business. Just have a conversation. At some point they will ask what you are working on. Then it’s time for your pitch.
      • Have an exit strategy. 
  • Q: How long to wait before OK to submit elsewhere?
    • Mary: I knew the editor, had just won the Campbell, and had an agent, and it still took a year to hear back on a novel.
    • If it’s been more than their standard period of time, send a query letter. Just three lines: I sent this manuscript. I just want to make sure you have received it. Thank you.
    • You can send queries to lots of people. It’s only when they have the manuscript that you have to wait.
  • Duotrope.com 
  • Ralan.com
  • Submitting to the black hole: http://critters.org/blackholes/index.ht
  • Q: How long before you give up on a short story:
    • Annie: never
    • Mary: never, but...
    • Edward: five years, but then new markets are always opening up
  • Mary: But before you sell anything, you have to be writing something good. 
    • Mary: I just critiqued someone who didn’t know what a contraction was.
  • Q: Are there editors more open to new writers?
    • Mary: All of them. They want to find the next big thing.
    • Knight: You shouldn’t be afraid just because you don’t have publishing credits. Just go to the top.
  • For short fiction sales, if you can write short stories that are around 4,000 words, you are more likely to make a sale. Editors have a fixed word count, and they cannot go over this count. They are more likely to take a chance on a new writer if it is short. Too much shorter than 4,000 words, and it gets harder to craft a enriching story. As soon as you start getting longer, you are taking up words from other stories.
  • Q: How do you keep track of where you’ve submitted?
    • Mary: Duotrope.com
    • Annie: Excel file. The most stories I had out at one time was 37.
    • It’s really important to keep good records of where stuff is out. 
    • WritersPlanner is another good one, just for tracking submissions.
    • It’s important to track not just who has accepted, but who has paid you.
      • If you have 20 stories out, it’s hard to keep track of who has paid.
  • Shop for publishers and agents at the same time.
  • A bad agent is worse than no agent. There is no criteria you have to pass to call yourself a literary agent. There’s no oversight.
    • Take the decision of selecting an agent as seriously as you would getting married.
    • Consider not just the single agent but the agencies: if it is a single agent, and they drop dead...
  • Q: Markets going to electronic submissions vs. paper. How does that affect things?
    • Mary: the only difference is that it’s faster to submit things, so now they get a lot more crap. But for you, as a writer, it’s makes no difference in the process.
  • Q: Are the electronic markets as effective as the paper ones?
    • Mary: More so now, because the electronic markets do not have a shelf life. if I publish in a paper market, it’s but now, but it’s gone in a few months. If it is online, I can always point people to it.
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