I met with my mentor this week at Lougheed Mall. This was a bit nerve-wracking for me because recently I’ve really been trying to write without boundaries. Some of the stuff I put in my document was really embarrassing because I didn’t allow myself to erase anything, including an illiterate paragraph where I typed in all caps about how frustrated I was with the story. I intended to erase this, but forgot, so I;m sure that my mentor saw it.
During this meeting, we didn’t really discuss my writing itself. This meeting was mainly focusing on learning about publishing and the literature industry. During our meetings, I took handwritten notes to reread and recall what we talked about.
Firstly, I started the conversation by talking about my writing. I was almost done my first draft, which is truly and honestly a mess filled with holes. (Like, think crater-sized.) I realized through my process that I wanted to move a subplot into the role of a main plot, and move the main plot into a subplot. My mentor was understanding and supportive; he said that it’s OK to abandon a story.
We talked about the process of publishing (traditionally, not self-publishing). I’m learning a bit about my mentor’s life as an authour. My mentor currently had three books in submission for publishing, which, according to my mentor, can take three months to a year to receive communication.
Publishing, like any other industry, is dominated by a few major companies. These are referred to as “The Big Six”, but since the merger of Penguin and Random HOuse, had been reduced to the Big Five. They include:
- Georg von Hotzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillan
- Penguin Books
- Random House
- Simon & Schuster
If you take a few books off of any store bookshelf, you’re likely to see one of these names.
There are a few mid-size publishers that are well known as well, such as Orca Book Publishers, Lorimer Publishers, and Pyjama Press.
Most publishers only take agents nowadays, meaning that an author’s book must be submitted by an agent to a publishing company for it to be considered. The author must pay the agent, and the agent usually receives a percentage of the profits. When submitting a book, publishers usually require a summary, a chapter summary, and a query letter, which is like a cover letter for the book (why it’s good, why it should be published).
I have always been a cynic of the music industry, especially after past interest and research into celebrity marketing, management, and the nasty world of PR and publicity. I never thought the same (ugly) society would apply to books Until now, I did not have a good idea of that the publishing business was like. I saw books as art, as something shared with the world. The truth is, the publishing industry is just that – an industry. A business.
I’m not saying that this is bad, but it does take away some of the magic of books, knowing that some books end up on the shelves for different reasons that you’d expect.
Like the music industry, the modern book industry is all about marketing. Often publishers will pay for the tools needed to market a book, but the author will be the one in charge of creating that publicity. Nowadays, publishers don’t just care about the book. They care about how well the authour will be able to sell the book. An authour cannot simply be a writer anymore; they should be able to plan events, travel (on book tours), and be savvy on social media. A good example of this is the influx of books written by YouTubers that were released at the peak of YouTuber influence. (I’m not saying that all these books were badly written, necessarily, but… Let’s just say that some people are more articulate on camera than in words.)
Books that are published are not the best material that could be sent out into the world, it’s who’s the best package. The publishing industry, like the fast fashion or entertainment industry, follows trends. This is something called “commercial fiction”. When Harry Potter was published, the fantasy genre blew up. When The Hunger Games became popular, we saw the future-dystopia-tragic-teen story industry blow up. Think Divergent and The Maze Runner. My mentor put it this way: There is usually one original, genuine article, but then a bunch of “copycats” follow along, trying to make a profit.
To reinforce and accelerate my learning, I can go to publishing websites and read online about their submission guidelines and read a few books published by them.
This is why he told me that when you get an idea, jump on it. There is probably someone writing the same story as you – it’s like a race to get published first. For example. my mentor wrote a book about werewolves versus vampires that was published just months before Twilight came out. If he had been published a few months later, he would have been regarded as another copycat.
I asked him how long it usually takes him to write a book. For him it takes about a year, but he said that writing has no time limit. It can take as long as it needs, which is nice to hear because I’m considering revising my whole story (oops).
My mentor provided my learning opportunities this week by suggesting a few goals for me:
- Find a publisher that would fit my writing.
- Read a similar book.
- Pretend my mentor is a publisher and submit a summary and query letter to him.
We talked about in-depth night, and my mentor suggested creating a “mock-up” book to display, which I think I’m going to do.
To wrap up, these have been a productive few weeks in my learning process. I’m still struggling with writing, but I have an idea of what I want to complete for in-depth night.