irysangel posted these very good questions in the comments. I thought I would just go ahead and respond here:
You sold TIGER-EYE through slush to Dorchester, correct? Do you feel that unpubbed authors have a better shot with slush or with an agent? I know a few people that say to go the agent-route, but they started OUT with an agent, so naturally they’re biased. I’m curious to know what you think.
That’s a really hard question, and I’m not sure there’s a right answer. All I have is personal experience, and in my case, I tried submitting to agents first. All I received were rejections. Enough, that I thought it was time to move on—submitting directly to the publisher. So I did my research, found all the publishing houses that accepted slush, and then methodically began the submission process all over again. Dorchester was the only one who bit—although Luna sent me a very nice letter, which I appreciated tremendously.
As soon as I got “the call”, I hung up the phone and began contacting agents all over again. The agency at the top of my list was Spectrum, and I’ve been happy ever since.
The moral of the story? Be flexible, do whatever works, but at the end of the day—get an agent, one way or another. Preferably before you sign your first contract. Folks thought that because I’m a lawyer, I wouldn’t need one, but trust me, that’s not the way it works. Or at least, that’s not the way I wanted to work.
Do you think publishers are generally more willing to give authors a shot than say, agents who might have to wade through (as Kristin Nelson mentioned) 20,000 query letters a year to take on eight clients?
I think the difference is that when you submit to a publisher’s slush pile, you’re also sending the first three chapters of your book. Whereas, with most agencies, it’s just a query letter, and maybe a synopsis. In my mind, neither of those things can really capture the flavor of a person’s writing to the degree that an actual story can. I mean, the skills are the same—a synopsis still requires good storytelling, except on a very condensed level—but let’s face it, I’ve read descriptions of books that are as dull as dirt, only to discover that beneath the cover is a delightful, delicious, tale. So in that sense, I think it’s easier for something really great to stand out when submitting directly to a publisher. You’ve got a better opportunity to prove yourself.
But don’t forget—the whole package has to be good, too. Good query, good synopsis—because the editorial assistants who go through the submissions might just read those first as a way of culling the herd. You have to make sure that what you’re sending is absolutely the best, and most polished, piece of work you’ve ever created. No half-ass projects. Because there are a lot of folks sending in their books, and the key is to be better than every other submission out there.
Which, actually, sounds a lot like being graded on the curve. I’m having flashbacks to my law school finals.
Any others questions? Oh, and I recommend this book for those of you ready to submit your manuscript: Your Novel Proposal: The Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses, and Proposals for Agents and Editors by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook. Very helpful reading. I used it when sending out Tiger Eye.