Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Gary Slaughter

When an aspiring author sits down for the first time to write their novel, they dream of publishing companies fighting each other for the rights to the manuscript. They envision the yacht and beach house they will purchase with their first royalty check. They imagine the book flying up the NYT Best Seller List in a matter of weeks, nay, days after it hits the bookstore shelves.

But the cold reality is... the chances of that happening is very slim. Most authors share the same backstory - years of hard work, severe revisions, hundreds of pitch queries sent out and hundreds of rejection letters sent back. Especially for a debut author, am I right?

Indie author Gary Slaughter (of the Cottonwood series) has been through it all, and he's decided to help aspiring and debut authors by sharing his own experiences in the form of an informational letter:

Advice for Prospective Authors

Like other published authors, I am constantly asked by prospective authors how they should go about getting their book published. I have developed the pro forma letter below to answer them.

Dear Prospective Author:

You have asked my advice on how to publish your book. To answer your question, I have outlined the steps to follow and mentioned some pitfalls to avoid. Here is what you must to do:

1.      Make sure your manuscript is perfect. For an unpublished fiction author, it should be no more than 80,000 words.

2.      Show your manuscript to someone who reads the kind of novel you have written and who knows how to write. This person should be objective and willing to give you honest feedback. 

3.      Incorporate that person’s feedback into your manuscript.

4.      Purchase the annual Guide to Literary Agents (GLA). You can find it at most bookstores.

5.      Read the preliminary information, including essays and articles, in the GLA. Then identify a number of candidate agents, i.e., those who deal with your kind of book.

6.      Visit the websites of the agents you have selected to learn of these agents’ latest submission requirements. They often differ from what is printed in the GLA.

7.      Start to think about developing a query letter, synopses of differing lengths, and a writer’s resume.

8.      If you don’t know what these things are, search the Internet to learn. There are volumes written on these subjects.

9.      There are also good books on preparing your query package and your manuscript to meet publishing industry standards. Incorporate these standards into your query package.

10.  Following the agent’s submission standards, submit your query packages to as many agents as you can. Avoid agents who want to charge for their services. Preferably the prospective agents you select are members of the AAR, The Association of Authors’ Representatives. AAR has a very stringent code of ethics. AAR agents do not charge for their services.  

11.  Secure an agent and take his or her advice from there. Be very careful here. There many charlatans out there who take advantage of unsuspecting people with manuscripts to place. As a rule, legitimate publishers do not accept manuscripts from new writers without agents.

This is the process for finding a publisher. There are no shortcuts.

I hope you have the stamina to succeed. Most people do not. It took my wife and me a year-and-a-half and 170 tailored query packages to agents to secure my agent. It took another year of rewrites to make my agent happy with my first book. After that, it took another six months to find a publisher.

Given the number of hours that we have devoted to the five novels in the Cottonwood series, despite having sold a respectable number of books, we have made mere pennies an hour. The point is, most writers of books published today cannot live on their royalties. So don’t quit your day job.

Keep in mind that the competition is stiff. 81% of Americans think they have a book in them. From those people, there are currently six million unpublished manuscripts making the rounds of agents and publishers today.

If my advice seems unduly pessimistic, it’s because I want to protect you from unrealistic expectations

Good luck,

Gary Slaughter
Published Author

Fruits of Our Labor

We have worked long and hard to find a publisher for the Cottonwood Series and to produce five, 400-page novels. So far, my wife Joanne and I have each invested about 15,000 hours to date.

Has it been worthwhile? We invite you to judge for yourself:


GarySlaughter is the multi-award-winning author of the Cottonwood books. His critically acclaimed series includes five novels based on home-front America during World War II.

 Cottonwood Summer (2004), the first in his series and winner of the PIAS Award of Excellence. He followed with Cottonwood Fall (2006), a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist in the Popular Fiction category; Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story (2008), a ForeWord Book of the Year Award finalist for Adult Fiction and a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in both General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction; Cottonwood Spring (2009), a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist in Popular Fiction and a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in Young Adult Fiction; and finally his latest, to be released in the summer of 2012, called Cottonwood Summer ’45.

 When not writing, he presents his “Behind the Book” talk to audiences of all ages. And because of his extensive knowledge of POWs in America during World War II, he frequently speaks on that subject as well.

1 comment:

  1. Steps #1-3, great advice, Gary.
    Steps #4-11, though still excellent suggestions, are precisely why I chose to self-publish (though not necessarily from lack of trying. I used to be a die-hard traditionalist!). Mostly I just didn't have the heart for it after the last of the final revisions (you experience a number of these "lasts" on five-year long projects).

    It is great how technology is opening the doors for writers who write great stuff but fail to get it published because the one sheet of paper that leads to that dream, the query, fails to cross the right desk or it crosses the right desk at the wrong time. It still feels like a crap shoot no matter how well you prepare. That said, the door is open for anyone, so your points #1-3 cannot be taken lightly.

    Excellent commentary.