Short Saturday: Hearing From a Young Novelist

I’ll be frank: I did not like the title of this article (“‘I sold my book for $25,000’: A debut novelist’s experiment with radical honesty”), not least because of the slang-ish use of radical in the headline, but the article itself is a good one. A first-time-published novelist (Ted Thompson) tells us six things about publishing he wishes he’d known:

  1. Subject matters most
  2. People in the book biz actually want to love your book
  3. It’s slow for a reason
  4. People talk
  5. Don’t respond to critics
  6. Selling a book won’t change your life—except it kind of will

Even these headings don’t give you the full scope of material here, though. I thought this was interesting in the first section:

But here was Lesson One in my publishing education: Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question “What’s your book about?” in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold, how it’s marketed and publicized, and largely how it finds its way to readers. In the glut of a given publishing week, where reviewers and editors have galleys piled by the dates on their spines, books are judged by their covers — or at least by their tag lines. This is just the reality: The people deciding which books to push and which ones to skip don’t have time to read everything. So while I still think it’s a mistake to consider the market as a primary factor in writing anything, in the future if I’m drawn to two projects equally, I might start with the novel about conjoined-twin assassins before the quiet, semi-autobiographical coming of age tale. Or better yet, a quiet, semi-autobiographical coming of age tale about conjoined-twin assassins. You’re welcome to steal that.

Thompson has a sense of humor and he’s insightful too. And in spite of that blaring headline, he notes: “For a writer financial concerns will never go away.” This is true.

Have a look.

Tweet: A debut author tells what he’s learned about publishing.
Tweet: “For a writer financial concerns will never go away.” This is true.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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  1. This is a very significant post and both Mr. Thompson and you are to be commended for bringing this to our attention.

    So many agents, with their public voice, say that craft is vital.

    It’s not. It’s nice, but if the subject matter is compelling, I will overlook errors of technique. On the other hand, I typically will NOT overlook the lack of a compelling subject simply to enjoy the author’s control of the language.

    Had Shakespeare not understood the common experience that connects us with Hamlet, with Macbeth, with Richard III, he would have sunk into the miserable abyss that claimed so many writers of the past, individuals who thought themselves the inheritors of a greater destiny.