By Laura Childs, New York Times bestselling author of Plum Tea Crazy
Forty-two books ago, when I was writing Death by Darjeeling, my very first Tea Shop Mystery, I scored my first three-book contract based on three sample chapters and a twenty-two-page outline. But I was knock-on-wood lucky. Because what worked for me several years ago no longer works today. The world of publishing has changed big time.
Publishers are large, consolidated businesses that aren’t making the profits they once were. Even though their book releases are top-notch, they’re being undercut by self-published authors as well as hundreds of newly minted small presses. So there’s been a considerable amount of belt-tightening in the industry.
I received an e-mail from a fellow author a few weeks ago. She’s written five mysteries for her publisher, but now they’re not going to renew her contract. Why? Well, she’s making money for them – just not enough money. An agent I talked to recently said he’d just pitched a serial killer thriller to a well-known editor. The editor told him “this is exactly what I'm looking for” – but then he didn’t buy it.
So . . . do editors really know what they’re looking for? Not always. Do they know it when they see it? Sometimes. The radical shift that’s taken place in publishing today is that editors are younger and under a tremendous amount of pressure. Along with editing duties, they’re in charge of acquisitions. They’re tasked with finding the brightest new authors with the brightest new material.
As you would expect, this new breed of editor is constantly on the hunt for the next big thing. They’re looking for breakout books that are different and don’t re-tell the same old story. Books like The Woman in the Window, Little Fires Everywhere, or A Gentleman in Moscow. Books that really stand out in their categories.
So, what can aspiring authors do to increase their chances of success? What can you do if you've got a story to tell and a yearning to be published? Take a look at the various categories. The mystery, thriller, and romance categories seem to be holding strong. Vampire and zombie books aren’t selling like they used to. But editors are still looking for good Young Adult books and what they call New Romance. And if you’ve written a domestic thriller, chances are an editor will want to take a peek.
Today’s tougher market means that aspiring authors have to write and submit a finished manuscript. Authors also need to fully comprehend the internal architecture of a novel. I’m talking plot, pacing, turning points, character development, dialogue, and building suspense.
If you’re an aspiring author, you have to implicitly believe in yourself and not get discouraged by rejections. Know this: John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was turned down by 30 agents and 15 publishers. Mary Higgins Clark, who helped me get started, was rejected 40 times before making her first sale. One editor told her: “Your story is light, slight, and trite.”
You see what I mean about this being a tough business? Persistence is key. If you know deep in your soul that your book has great promise, then you have to believe in yourself and make it happen. Because sooner or later you will bust down that door! And please, please, don’t pay attention to the old maxim of “writing about what you know.” If authors followed that advice we’d never have fantastic novels about outer space, time travel, and dinosaurs. Writing is all about creating imagery – so stretch your imagination and let your words soar!
Laura Childs is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbooking Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Book Riot recently named the Tea Shop Mysteries to their list of “25 of the All Time Best Cozy Mystery Series.” In her previous life Laura was CEO of her own marketing firm, authored several screenplays, and produced a reality TV show. She is married to Dr. Bob, a professor of Chinese art history, enjoys travel, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs. Visit Laura at www.laurachilds.com or on Facebook at Laura Childs Author. Laura Child’s new novel, Plum Tea Crazy, was released March 6, 2018