Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Carts and Horses

What are people thinking lately?
If you’re not familiar with Query Letter Hell, it’s a section of the Absolute Write forum where you can post your query or synopsis and get it shredded, along with your ego, by anyone with an Absolute Write account. It’s like Matt’s QQQE, though folks at QLH are less likely to soften the blows (the people at both places are motivated by the same thing: the desire to help writers turn out winning queries). At any rate, last month two different writers posted query letters in the span of a week that had one amazing similarity: they were both for books that had already been published. The letters went up, and no one noticed the sig lines with pictures of the book, or the link to Amazon.
The first letter received a good amount of critique. If you’ve ever spent any time critiquing another writer’s work, you know it’s a time-consuming process; this querier received a great deal of thoughtful, constructive criticism, criticism that took time and effort from each of the posters (and was met with flippant-bordering-on-rude replies from the querier). Someone finally noticed, and said, “Hey, this book has already been published!” and the thread got locked. The second one arrived a day or two before the first one got shut down. This one was noticed much quicker, did not get as much feedback, and died on the vine.
My question: What gives, people?
The time to query is before you publish the book. Say it again: the time to query is before you publish your book. Publishers generally don’t want books that have already been printed. Not unless you’re selling books at at the rate of Amanda Hocking or E.L. James, in which case, congratulations, they’ll probably be coming to you with a query of their own. – Ian Britton

I’m all about dreams, folks. I’m writing these stories because they’re in me, because I love to write, and I want to share them. Part of that dream is to get published (traditionally), have people read and enjoy them, and, yes, make money. In my Big Dreams I’m on book tours and talk shows and NPR (yeah, I know I’ve done this before, forgive me for repeating myself. At least it’s not a bathroom scene.). If I call it a Goal maybe it doesn’t sound so silly. Anyway, within that framework of dream is a reality built on knowledge of how the system works. Yes, there are people who go from self-published nobody to members of the Millionaire’s Club, but the reason we hear so much about them is because of how rare it truly is. Can it happen? Can you turn a self-published book into a Big 5 deal, movie rights, and millions of dollars? Sure. But if you’re trying to do it that way, if you’re trying to use self-publishing as a short-cut to riches and fame, you’re going about it the wrong way. Especially if you’re book is not really, really good.

HUGE congratulations to my friend Lisa L. Regan, who has revealed the cover for Aberration, her second book, which will be released in June. Head on over to her blog to take a peek. She also received printed copies of Finding Claire Fletcher, which will be released in less than a month. I will have an interview here with Lisa next month, watch for it.
Finally, I must be on to something, posting about potty scenes. I eyeballed my stats for the week and was shocked, shocked I tell you, about the number of page views The Potty Post has gotten. Now I just need to figure out why….
Anyway, have a great weekend, all. See you Monday.

10 Responses

  1. Wow. Do you think they were really looking for feedback or were they playing a nasty joke on the forum people? There's some apocryphal story that Jerzy Kozinski once pitched his already bestselling novel to a number of publishers and they all turned it down, including the publisher who had actually published it! From what I've read, his point was that everything is subjective and it's all about the timing. But yeah, you should do all that kind of stuff BEFORE you publish your book.

    And THANKS!!!! Next week I'll have a post about getting my books. I already wrote it but I have today's and Monday's pre-scheduled, so I am going to wait! Exciting stuff!

  2. I agree, using writing as a way to make a lot of money probably isn't the best idea, particularly if you're not invested in writing itself. The chances of scoring a major deal aren't high.

  3. I think they were looking for honest feedback. And I've seen at least one person try that trick, to prove the point. It doesn't go over very well. Looking forward to your posts!

  4. Well, we can't say for sure whether the two involved were invested in writing itself or not, and there's nothing wrong with hoping to make piles of money from writing, but this seems like someone trying to have their cake and eating it, too. Self-pub if that's the way you want to go. If the book is THAT good, and attracts a ton of attention, you'll get noticed.

  5. So… were the people putting the already published book queries up the author's of those books, self-published, or…? Doesn't make sense!

    Well let's face it, everybody loves potty scenes, there is so much humour in them just because of the setting 🙂

  6. It was the authors doing it. Maybe they were just practicing for the Next Novel. Maybe they thought they could get an agent now that they were published authors, I don't know. I looked at both of the books on Amazon. They could have used more work.

    Maybe I can set an entire short story or book in a bathroom and I'll be a millionaire! Wait, wait! A whole series! The Toilet Trilogy!

  7. I don't think that's necessarily true anymore, Jeff. Many agents and editors are more open now to considering self-published work, and some are actively looking for it. (I just heard that a major new publisher whose first acquisition was a big, successful book is now specifically looking to acquire self-published books that are already doing well with readers.) It may be that the writers who posted these queries felt their sales were good enough that they were going to query agents to secure print and/or subsidiary rights, while maintaining control of their electronic rights (which are far more lucrative if they stay in the writer's own hands.)

    I recently approached one of my former agents to propose that very thing for The Sekhmet Bed. She hasn't gotten back to me yet, so no word on whether it's a go, but she was a good agent and I'd rather work with her than with anybody else. Now that I can say TSB is selling 1000+ copies per month on the Kindle alone, and now that it's spent a few months in Top 100 lists, she may know how to pitch it for print and sub rights. However, there are a LOT of self-pub books out there, and no agent or editor can spend all their time tracking them all. No doubt those who are open to selling partial rights to successful books will appreciate being approached by authors rather than having to do the legwork for themselves.

    It seems to me that the attitude of "If your self-published book is good enough to get picked up by a publisher, it will get noticed" is just the same fallacious AWism "All good books get published," re-packaged to grudgingly accept that some good books aren't getting published (the traditional way.) And it is just as incorrect. Many authors are now retaining their electronic rights and selling print and subsidiaries via agents, effectively having their cake and eating it too. And those who can manage those deals seem to be the happiest writers I know.

    Or maybe the writers who posted these letters are just looking for practice for the next book, which they may want to pitch to agents for some ungodly reason. I would never approach an agent with a fresh, new book again, personally. I am fine with bringing them one that's already selling like gangbusters on the Kindle and seeing if they can get me into a brick-and-mortar store, but giving up one's ebook rights on future works just seems like a losing proposition to me.

  8. You make some great points, Libbie. I'm guilty of jumping to conclusions about the motivations of people I've never met, based solely on a few forum posts. You're right, there are many reasons for someone to do this that aren't necessarily an attempts to be the next "self-pub to Big 5 superstar", and there are no guarantees that big self-pub sales will lead to the golden publishing contract and a life of fame and fortune, just as there are no guarantees that a great book will be noticed, no matter how it's published.

    Hmm. I have to say, I find myself reconsidering my initial reaction to this whole thing as I think this out. I'll have to put further thought into this one and examine more closely why it rubs me the wrong way. It *feels* dishonest, like asking out a girl just so you can get closer to her sister or best friend, but in publishing, who really gets hurt by it?

    Meanwhile, congratulations on the success of The Sekhmet Bed. I eyeballed Amazon and it looks like Baptism is doing pretty well, too. Excellent!

  9. Thanks! Baptism is hanging in there, but I'd like to see its sales take off more. I have a couple of radio and podcast interviews coming up about Baptism, so hopefully that will help.

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