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“Connections are important, not going to lie.” Courtney Maum on how to get published.

Emily Temple

January 8, 2020, 1:20pm

Yesterday, Courtney Maum, whose Before and After the Book Deal hit shelves this week, popped over to Reddit to do an AMA about getting published. The whole Q&A session is worth a look for all aspiring and new writers (actually there is one very odd question towards the end that I think everyone should get to read) but if you’re pressed for time, here are a few highlights:

On whether it’s easier to publish novels or children’s books:

Everything depends on content and context. Novels are VERY VERY hard to publish right now, and fiction sales aren’t doing well generally. As I haven’t published a children’s book I don’t think I can speak to what the market is like there, but because the cost of a children’s book is lower than that of a hardcover novel (usually!), there is a bit let risk involved for the publisher, so maybe they are more willing to take a chance on a new author. Also, I find that some people have success getting self-published children’s books into bookstores, more so than with fiction.

On whether you have a chance in the literary world without any literary connections:

Connections are important, not going to lie. One thing I love to recommend is that you volunteer as a reader for a literary magazine. You’ll start meeting people in the industry that way. Volunteer for a literary festival or book conference, that really helps as well. Attend readings in your local area, follow the writers you admire online. You’ll slowly start to develop friendships that will help you in the long run. And when you like someone’s work, let them know! I have a big section in my book about this. I don’t have an MFA so I had to build my community from the ground up.

On how you should get started if you’re a teenaged novelist:

You should subscribe to “One Teen Story” and go to as many literary festivals and conferences (like AWP) as you can find in your community and attend panels on these topics. YA is actually doing REALLY well right now (adult fiction sales are down 25%!) and the community of writers and readers there are so supportive of one another. Follow your favorite YA authors online and make a list of what hashtags they use. Then follow those hashtags– people will lead you to great advice and community forums where you will find your people!

On self-publishing:

I self published a collection of short stories! I really liked the experience. I went with a press called “The Troy Bookstore” near Albany NY that has great relationships with local bookstores so it ended up feeling really editorial and personal and “real.” I like vanity presses for that reason. I would recommend that everyone hire an outside editor, at the very least for grammar, before something goes to print. You should plan on doing a lot of the promotion yourself as hiring outside help for self published books is risky, expensive, and doesn’t often pay off. We have a big section on this topic in my book with success and horror stories, both!

On how to write a good query letter:

Regarding query letters, honestly, something very important is that you give the agent a sense of how you are marketable. Of course they need to love the MS that you are trying to get them to sign on for, but they also need to believe you are the kind of writer who has a second and third book in them, who can be sent out to promote their work, do speaking engagements…both you and your manuscript need to be salable. That isn’t pleasant to hear, but I’m afraid it’s true for the most part.

On what to look for in an agent:

In my personal experience, it’s been really useful to have an agent who is great at business development: who always advocates to get you paid more than you are originally offered, who has a sense of how to develop your career. Regarding communication style, it’s essential to ask, upfront, how they like to communicate. Email? Text? Weekly emails? Phone?

On self-promotion:

Self promotion is hard to get right. My best advice (other than the section about this in my new book) is to follow the authors online who you think are doing this right. Observe how they do it. How do they share good news that might make other people jealous? What kind of lifestyle/intimate content do they share? Chloe Benjamin does a fantastic job of this, for example.

On touring:

If your publisher is going to foot the bill for your travel and lodging, I think it’s always worth it. If you have to pay for it yourself, then you really need to do the legwork to make sure that you are going to get decent crowds at your events. One way to protect against this is to do events with other people. I find that getting on podcasts is a WONDERFUL way to tour without leaving your home. For my tour for this book, I’ll be lecturing and teaching in all the cities I’m going to—which ensures that I will have an engaged community of likeminded readers at my events. IN my book, we outline the 5 different kinds of tours that you can arrange, including a DIY tour! . . . I wanted to add that when you are on tour, what’s really essential is that you forge relationships with booksellers. Send them thank you notes! Remember their names!

On the publishing breakdown:

I’d say it’s: 25% connections, 73% hard work, 2% luck.

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