Thursday, December 18, 2008

Closed for business?

I'm finally ready to start shopping around my YA manuscript, but in the last few weeks I've noticed the publishers and a couple of agents I think are a good fit for me have all put notices on their websites saying they won't be considering unsolicited manuscripts at all, until a few months into 2009.

Is this just due to Christmas breaks and towering slush piles, or is it a sign of things to come -- will the economic downturn see publishers reducing the amount they're publishing? (Thus reducing the already slim chance for a young enthusiastic writer to wedge her foot in the door?)

Both presumptions are correct. And there's something else to consider: it's Christmas time. Everything slows down.

I regularly shut down submissions because I have a large amount to read and I don't think it's fair to keep taking submissions when I know I won't be able to read them. I reopen submissions not when I have nothing left to read - because that has never happened - but when I think I can be reasonably efficient at processing submissions.

It's also true that publishers are wary - for the time being, at least. No one knows whether books will do well this Christmas or not. A lot of us are also very concerned about the looming enquiry into parallel importation of books - if parallel importation is allowed, you can forever kiss goodbye your hopes of being published in this country because there will be very little Australian publishing - we will go back to being an outpost of empire, although this time it will be both the US and the UK who are our imperial masters. Everyone in the industry - except certain booksellers - are worried. On top of the 'global financial crisis' it's created a world of caution and constraint. So things are definitely slower and, in some places, on hold and the first victims are going to be fiction lists. For you, though, the news is a bit brighter: children's books usually do well in a recession, so children's lists aren't under as much threat as other lists. There will be some circumspection, but not as much as you might fear.

The best thing any of us can do is to support the industry and buy Australian books. If you're a writer wanting to get published, I certainly hope you're buying Australian writers. If not, how can you hope for other Australians to buy your book? And if you'd like to understand more about parallel importation, you can read about it here.

Fantasy word counts

I am currently working a young adult fantasy novel that I would like to have published one day. I'm only on the second draft, so it's nowhere near ready to start sending into agents etc but of late I've found myself interested in word counts. What I want to know is if there is a standard range in the amount of words that agents/publishers look for in novels? Or will a book be looked at negatively if it's too long or short?

It's just that I have no idea what sort of range I should be looking at. My ms is currently a touch over 170 000 words and I don't know if that is way too long or just right? If it is the former then I can look to culling sections of the book whilst I'm working on my second draft. Or perhaps it doesn't matter?

Your word length reminds me of why I'm wary of taking on fantasy authors: too many words! That's a lot of words for a young adult book. Possibly not for grown-ups' fantasy novels, because fantasy readers are thinly disguised literary masochists, but I suspect you can only get away with 170 00 words for teens if (a) your story has a character called Edward Cullen or (b) it's set in a place called Hogwarts.

Consider making it a trilogy instead - trilogies are acceptable in fantasy land although strangely not in other genres. Even at half the length, it's still a tad too long for most publishers to consider.