Publishing Advice

Pay-To-Play in Traditional Publishing, and Why We Need to Talk About It

A few weeks ago, I was querying when I kept coming across agent after agent who was closed to submissions except from those who they’ve met at conferences. Below that, a list of conferences was provided, where a writer could go and purchase a ticket (often in the hundreds), and then an additional ticket to pitch them (somewhere between $50 and $200 extra). 

I almost went on a Twitter rant about accessibility and paywalls, but decided against it. 

Then I saw this:

Of course discourse followed, many of whom were against the offering. But honestly? It feels a little hypocritical to me. Or, rather, willfully ignoring the overall bigger issue here. 

There are lots of ways to pay-to-play in traditional publishing, and it was only a matter of time before it got egregious.

The traditional publishing landscape has always had issues–nepotism, lack of accessibility, etc.–but what I find the most frustrating is how contradicting the landscape can seem to a new writer. 

One of the first pieces of advice writers will hear is that money should always be flowing to the author. Agents shouldn’t be charging reading fees, editors shouldn’t be charging packaging fees, etc. However, we have created an environment where there’s exclusive conference pitching, MSWL’s e-consultations, and the freelance hiring of editorial staff and agents for query/manuscript critiques. 

As someone who works in library programming where our speakers are often literary agents, editors, and authors, I understand that we all need to make money here, but we’ve largely ignored how this environment has confused up-and-coming writers–many of whom fall prey to scams because of it. A more common issue I’m seeing, though, isn’t necessarily writers falling for scams, but rather writers feeling obligated to pay-to-play. In fact, I have been one of those writers before. I think most writers have at some point. How could you not, when you keep hearing success stories from those who could afford that one conference, service, or MFA program? The odds feel stacked against you. And the truth is, they are.

Networking is an essential role in any business, and networking—more often than not—costs money and time.   

This reality is why so many turn to buying opportunities. In fact, I’ve blogged about one conference I personally attended when I was not in the financial place to do so (but why I didn’t regret it). You can read that piece here: How Writing Conferences Can Surprise You 

I was so desperate to move up in my writing career that I sacrificed my health, wealth, and other well-being for a measly chance at talking to somebody–anyone, really. I didn’t end up with an agent, but I did find some of my best writer friends that I still have to this day. I don’t regret it for that reason. But I haven’t paid that much to attend a conference since. I just can’t justify it. Not when querying is free. In fact, I got my first agent through the slush pile. Not at a fancy conference. Not through a consultation. A free, one-page query I workshopped with fellow writers I found online. (Again, for free.) 

This is why I tell newer writers that conferences/meetings are great, but not to spend money if you are struggling. Querying is FREE. There are lots of free resources and opportunities, including scholarships. 

Here’s a quick list:

  • QueryShark
  • QueryTracker (there is a premium version, but you do not have to use it)
  • MSWL (search the database for free; some classes are also free; other classes and consultations are not.) 
  • Free newsletters and articles through Writer’s Digest, Publishers Weekly, etc. 
  • Google around for writing blogs! Especially from writers you read. 
  • Jami Gold
  • IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) 

We also have free writing and publishing classes at The Story Center, open to anyone in the world. You do not have to have a Mid-Continent Public Library card to use our services or attend our programs.

Speaking of libraries, if you have access to a library near you, you may have free craft books and publishing resources that you can check out. 

These resources are great to help any writer begin their publishing journey. 

You can also apply for scholarships funding memberships and conferences. Many don’t know that you can also volunteer your way into a space. It never hurts to message the conference manager and ask what your options are.   

That said, I’m not asking agents/writers/editors to not charge money for critiques or pitch opportunities. What I am asking for is a greater focus on accessibility and affordability. 

If you’re only going to be open to those who can attend conferences, make sure you’re contributing to conference scholarships. If you’re often sharing your services, make sure you’re sharing free writing blogs/tips you see that you think your followers will find helpful. You may consider doing a giveaway every once in a while. 

On a larger scale, we need to be advocating for publishers to pay their editors a living wage. We need agents/writers to make a living wage, too. That way, we’re not all side hustling ourselves into a pay-to-play model only few can benefit from. 

Most importantly, we need to be championing free resources more often. 

We need to make sure everyone feels welcome in the traditional publishing landscape, not just those who can pay. 

~SAT

Miscellaneous

#MondayBlogs When NaNoWriMo is Over

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a lot of fun for many writers, and it can be that stepping stone that forces you to sit down and finish that draft you’ve been trying to complete for years. Whether you hit that 50,000-word milestone or not, I want to congratulate you, because—guess what??—you sat down, you got to work, and you wrote something that mattered to you.

That is worth celebrating.

But many writers might be asking themselves what to do now. Edit? Query? Write more?

The answer will be different for everyone, but here are my three universal tips for NaNoWriMo writers. (And, again, congratulations! You. Are. Awesome. Never stop writing.)

1. Do Not—and I repeat—DO NOT immediately start querying

NaNoWriMo’s goal is to get 50,000 words down. And while 50,000 words is certainly an accomplishment, it’s definitely a first draft. Querying now will only hurt you. In fact, working on a query letter at this point might not even be necessary—because a lot changes from a first draft to the final product—but that’s different for everyone. Sometimes, I like to write query letters before I write a book, just to make sure I understand my concepts and direction. This, of course, never becomes my final query or synopsis, but it helps to have a first draft of everything all at once. That way, I can see how my story changes and shapes over time.

So what are you supposed to do with a first draft?

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month.
Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month. 

2. EDIT

Well, first, I normally tell writers to walk away for a little bit. Three weeks might seem like a long time, but it’ll distance you from your work…and your blind love might clear up. This is when you can see your plot holes, flat characters, and other flaws that definitely need fixing. Take word count for example. NaNoWriMo only requires a 50,000-word document, and while this is ideal for MG books, 50,000 words isn’t a great word count for an adult novel or even a YA fantasy. While 50,000 is an AMAZING accomplishment (please do not get me wrong), you’re more than likely going to receive automatic rejections because your word count is off. I know. I know. Word count isn’t everything. In fact, I think pacing matters more. But what’s the brutal truth for debuts? When your word count is off, it tells agents and publishers that you don’t know your genre or market (even if you do). Figure out your ideal word count here—and try to get it there. Don’t bank your entire career on being an exception to the rule.

3. Work on that query, synopsis, and pitch

Your novel isn’t the only piece of work needing attention. Now that you have a complete and edited draft, writing that dreaded query comes into play…and more often than not, query letters and pitches take just as long as editing does. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful places to learn about this process, like QueryShark and the Query Critique Calendar (where you can get one-on-one help during competitions).

In the end, NaNoWriMo is a fantastic starting point, and you should be proud of your work and accomplishments. But it’s only one part of this wonderful journey. Take your time. Publishing is never a race. And make friends along the way.

Writing should be fun, after all. Try to enjoy all that comes along with it, including everything after THE END.

~SAT