Volume XXI, Issue Two | June 2021
It’s a hard lesson for first-time novelists: Writing is the easy part. It’s publishing that’s tough.
Getting published is Catch 22: Without an agent, it’s almost possible to find a publisher. But you can’t get an agent unless you’ve been published.
I was lucky. I’d had a number of nonfiction books published before I wrote my first novel. And I worked for Business Week, a respected national magazine. I got my agent by a fluke. At a BW conference, a colleague turned to me during a dull presentation and said, “Let’s get out of here. I’ll tell you about a book I just sold.” The colleague was Pat Wright, and the book was On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors. It was one of the first popular business books, and it was a great success. “If you ever need an agent, I’ve got a great one,” Pat told me. So with his recommendation, I contacted Jane Jordan Browne at what is now Browne & Miller Literary Assoc. She took me on and although my early attempts were duds, she stuck with me and eventually sold my first novel, Buster Midnight’s Café. I’ve been with the agency ever since.
You can contact a publisher on your own, but many won’t take manuscripts over the transom. Even with an agent—and a published novel under your belt—it’s not always smooth sailing. The Persian Pickle Club was turned down over and over again before St. Martin’s took a chance on it.
Of course, you can self-publish, but I don’t encourage it, unless you’ve written about something local that’s too narrow to interest a publisher—a guidebook to your town, for instance. Newspapers and magazines rarely review self-published or vanity press (a publisher you pay) books, and bookstores generally won’t sell them. You can end up with a basement full of moldering copies.