Reflections on the Strange World of Publishing

It’s almost the end of the year! This time last year I had just signed with my agent and So Many things have happened since then. I went on sub, changed my agent, finished editing a second book… Seriously, where did all that time go? Here is a short reflection on some things that I’ve learned about publishing over the past year and a little advice if you’re going through a rough patch and wondering if your dream of getting published will ever come true 🙂

  1. Publishing does not function on normal-people-time.

    You always hear people talking about how slow things move in publishing, and if you’ve been feeling that way then know that you are not alone. It is True. There are times I wonder if publishing houses are staffed by a handful of gremlins in a broom closet (Answer: No, they are not. They are staffed by a handful of underpaid workers who can’t get their a decent wage out of their rich execs. Solidarity with the HarperCollins union) because waiting for things to happen, whether it’s querying, being on sub or prepping your book for publication, takes ABSOLUTELY FOREVER. As authors, there’s unfortunately not much we can do about it, because the speed of publishing is limited by larger systemic issues that can’t be solved in a day. But in realising this, there are some things we can do to plan ahead and move our author journeys along:
    • Introduce some flexibility to your querying strategy. There’s not much point sticking to advice from pre-COVID times about querying in small batches and tweaking as you go along, because if you do that, you could end up stalling for years given how long agents take to respond these days. When I was querying, I found myself shifting to a rolling querying strategy to speed things up. Whenever I got a rejection/request, I would send out a new query, so I always had a set of ~10 queries out at any one time. If agents didn’t respond within 2-3 months (usually that’s what’s stated in agency timelines), I take it as CNR and send out a new query to another agent in the agency.
    • Write more books. It can be hard to do this while you’re feeling anxious about how your querying/sub is going, or when you’re feeling dejected because of the rejections you’ve been receiving, but there is no better use of waiting time than to write more books. At one point I was querying two books at the same time, and it was a good thing I did that because it was the second book that got me my agent!
  2. Publishing is subjective. Period.

    There’s so much gatekeeping involved in publishing that it sometimes gives you terrible imposter syndrome and makes you feel like your work is worthless. I got so many agent rejections with all sorts of different reasons (e.g. pacing too slow, too fast, can’t ground myself in world building, hard to sell in the market etc.) that I considered shelving my first book. But let me tell you, since going on sub, I realised that OH HEY sometimes agents don’t know what the market (read: editors) is looking for either! It’s wild. It’s just one giant guessing game where people are trying to predict what each other want (agents second-guess editors, editors/publishers second-guess readers blah blah) and some people are better or luckier than others at this game. So bottomline is, don’t get demoralised if you haven’t received your “Yes!” yet. It will come, and even if it doesn’t for this book that you’re trying to query/sell right now, it will come for your next book, so write the next book.
  3. If you’re an author who’s not in the US/UK, know that it’s That much harder for you. We don’t all start the race from the same starting line.

    This is my own (sad) reflection as an author who’s not based in the US/UK, because trad publishing is so, so West-centric. There are already biases against marginalised authors who live in the US/UK, and those biases just get stacked even higher if you live outside of those borders. Many of us live in places that have significantly different contexts (historical, cultural, political) and that means the way we write and the things we write are based off very different understandings from what publishing folk and readers in the West have. That’s when you start seeing common hurtful refrains like “oh, I can’t relate” or “this is not accurate” or “you don’t have the right to tell this story” and the 1* reviews roll in for those absurd reasons, simply because we didn’t share the same life experiences. If this is you, let me tell you – don’t give up! Ngl it’s going to be tough, but it’s not impossible. Do it for the thousands of readers out there who are like you and who need and appreciate your stories in their lives. Trust me, they exist.

(P.s. while being bored with waiting for publishing things to happen, I fell into the TikTok hole. Link to my TikTok profile below!)

Amber is a PitchWars ’20 alum and a Wattpad Creator. One of her Wattpad novels, The Cutting Edge, has recently been adapted for television and is streaming on meWATCH. She is represented by Meg Davis at The Ki Agency.

Website | Twitter | Wattpad | Instagram / TikTok

4 thoughts on “Reflections on the Strange World of Publishing

  1. “At one point I was querying two books at the same time, and it was a good thing I did that because it was the second book that got me my agent!”
    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve seen advise saying writers should work on another book while querying, but the advise doesn’t usually extend to putting the BOTH of them out simultaneously. It usually has more a tone of ‘write another so that if the first dies in the trenches, you can put out the next’. I think it makes more sense to put both out and save oneself the feeling that comes with having to shelve a work if that particular one doesn’t work out. I hope this makes sense, haha


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