Friday, April 20, 2012

Q & A 187

I am a high school student who has tracked the publishing industry for the past few years. I'm planning to write a how-to guide, and I'd love to hear your comments. 

1. I helped co-found a teen writing website called Teens Writing For Teens. I want to write a writing manual for people my age, but I'm not sure if my platform is big enough. I've won a Scholastic Award for writing, but I've never been published before.

Your site looks very professional. If that's you who has an agent, as one of the articles on the site says, the agent should know whether any publishers would be interested in your writing manual for teens. Publishers mainly care whether they can make lots of money to help pay not only the expenses of editing and proofreading and printing books and designing covers and shipping the books to bookstores, but also stuff that has nothing to do with your book like paying the ridiculous salary of the CEO and tipping the guy who delivers my daily cheese danishes from Andre's Hungarian. If they don't think they can unload at least five or ten thousand copies of your book, they can't be bothered. The good news is that if your site has hundreds of loyal readers who think you're the cat's meow, you could print up 50 or 100 copies and maybe they'll buy them. The bad news is that you've just turned 20, and your teen readers now consider you old and out of touch.  

2. I'm competing with professors and adults who've gotten MFA's. Believe me--my experience querying previous manuscripts leaves me with no illusions about how competitive the industry can get (I've been a reader of your blog since I was twelve years old, by the way). However, I'm writing from a unique point of view. Shouldn't that count for something?

It might, but the query and sample pages you or your agent prepares had better show how unique your point of view is. Even those writing manuals by professors and MFA snobs don't sell like Harry Potter and the Spell Book of Scorpio will when it comes out next year. (Oops, I wasn't supposed to reveal that yet.) In fact, with the exceptions of Evil Editor's Why You Don't Get Published, vols. 1 & 2, no writing manual has ever been read start to finish, and few have sold more than 50 copies. If I were your agent I'd suggest that you self-publish the writing manual and start work on a paranormal YA novel now, while you still remember what it's like to be a YA. But I'm not your agent, so I recommend trusting her rather than me.


BuffySquirrel said...

And there I thought the next HP book was going to be called Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Money.

150 said...

My three thoughts, in order:

1. If that's you with the agent, DO NOT PROCEED without talking to her. Anything you do related to publishing from here on out WILL affect her; don't surprise her!

2. This is the exact kind of thing that does well as a self-published project, and one of the few situations where I recommend considering it.

3. But why would I take writing advice from someone who hadn't managed to sell their writing yet? It's great to form a writing community with people at the same stage of their careers as you are, but you want to get advice from someone who's a couple rungs up the ladder.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I've thought about writing a book about writing, but then I say, sheesh, with only half a dozen books out, who's gonna listen to me? I gotta wait till I at least have a dozen or so.

That said, there are a lot of books about writing by people who have never had anything published. Or by people (this is true) whose only previous publication is a book about toasters.

Run it by your agent. But honestly? Write.