As August draws to a close, regardless of whether you have children, it is hard to ignore the barrage of back-to-school photos on the newsfeed, never-ending paper and pencil advertisements on television, and increased commuter traffic on every thoroughfare. As the kids head back to class and life picks up at a more hurried pace, publishing too sees a pretty radical uptick. Around the office, the beginning of September brings a fresh air of excitement as schedules become more predictable and everyone seems eager to get back to work. My inbox has been filling up with projects, and it feels like I’m standing in the corral waiting for someone to yell “GO!” as we await with anticipation the fall publishing season that resumes after Labor Day.
Publishing is a funny business, one in which the hours are long (never-ending really) but the vacations seem plentiful. Publishing houses have long since adopted “summer hours” from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with offices emptying on long hot Friday afternoons. In August many European countries take month-long sabbaticals, and foreign transactions grind to a halt during the latter part of summer. We often receive month-long out-of-office messages as entire staffs—from contracts to royalties to sales—take leave.
Likewise, our stateside counterparts seem to use August as a key time to check out as well. Schools are still out of session; the mega-cons of BEA, Thrillerfest, SCWBI, ComicCon, and RWA are finished; and families are eager to enjoy the final dog days of summer. It is not uncommon to receive a dozen out-of-office notices on any given weekday during this time. Due to these unavoidable and widespread absences, it can be a more difficult time to get things done. As agents we often use this lull as a time to regroup and strategize for the fall. While submissions don’t come to a standstill in August, it can often be a more difficult time to garner a lot of excitement for a project. Editors may have more limited resources to turn to for second and third reads, and may have difficulty getting additional approval due to higher-ups also being on leave.
This is similarly true in mid-to-late December as the holidays and end of the year approach, as well as around Easter and Good Friday, and again at the Fourth of July. These are all times when office staffs are lighter and publishing is quieter. Of course in some instances editors can take advantage of a silent office to work through some outstanding submissions, and perhaps fall in love with and buy the discovered project; however, by and large late summer is not the high season of deal-making.
So what does this mean for you? It might mean that in putting the brakes on later in the summer, your agent is applying a strategy. They likely aren’t just sitting around tossing beach balls into the air, but instead are making deliberate decisions as to when is the perfect time to garner the most excitement for your project. It may be frustrating having to sit on your hands for a few weeks as the days just tick by, but remember, you’ve spent months getting your manuscript just right, so taking a few more weeks to find the right deal with the right publisher is worth the wait!
Agents of the Roundtable
Question: If you could go back in time to the first day you became an agent, what advice would you give yourself?
Looking back on some of my earliest endeavors, I wish I had more definitively remembered that it’s always about loving the writing first and foremost. The market will rise and fall, trends will come and go, but if you love an author’s voice and writing, over time these things will prevail and the relationship can endure all the other fluctuations.
“It won’t always be this easy.” Easy? you ask. Well, in a word, yes. When I first entered the business twenty-two years and a wrinkle in time ago (because, of course, I’m still only twenty-six!), it was before the series of changes that altered the face of publishing. Back then, there were hundreds of distributors, and bookstores made decisions based on their regional needs, so there was a lot more diversity in what was on the shelves. But then a major outlet decided to take bids to have just one distributor nationally. That decision put a lot of the smaller distributors out of business. Beyond Baker & Taylor and Ingram, how many can you name? Other booksellers changed their business models because of this. My first sales came quickly, both in the same week and both for the same author. (I’m looking at you, Christie Golden!) Since then, some years have been more challenging than others. There’ve been a lot of changes, but I’m excited to see how much diversity is returning to the marketplace because of the changes that allow more small presses and independent authors to succeed.
I think I’d tell myself what I tell my clients, and what I still have to remind myself occasionally even now: Publishing is very much a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to write a good book, time to polish and perfect, time to read, time to submit, time to market and gain a readership, and the key is to just keep at it, keep going through the process. Building a great career for a writer is the work of a career, like laying on bricks one by one to make a sturdy house. Nothing wonderful happens overnight.
I’d tell my new agent self to learn to read and make decisions faster. My first year as an agent, I was inundated with submissions and missed a few great projects because I just didn’t get to them soon enough or was a bit on the fence when I should have jumped and taken a chance. I’ve learned a lot in the years since I started as an agent, but I think we all wish we could read faster these days.
Chloe Neill is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Chicagoland Vampires series, the Dark Elite series, and her latest series, Devil’s Isle, which includes THE VEIL. She was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest.
When not writing, she bakes, works, and scours the Internet for good recipes and great graphic design.
TKA: concept of THE VEIL is truly amazing. Where did you first get the idea of writing a series about a supernatural war in which those with paranormal powers are confined in a walled community?
Chloe: Thank you! Although the supernaturals in my Chicagoland Vampires series often face danger, they’ve been relatively lucky when it comes to humans’ reactions to their existence. They’ve been mostly accepted by the mainstream public. I tried to imagine what might happen if humans had discovered supernaturals in a more violent way—if they met in war instead of peace—and not all supernaturals were killed in the conflict. Humans would either have to kill all the remaining supernaturals—which I didn’t think was likely—or they’d have to set them free—which was definitely unlikely. An eternal prison seemed the more unfortunate, and most likely, choice. I started researching from there, including the internment of Americans during World War II.
TKA: Why did you decide to set THE VEIL in New Orleans? Have you visited the area a lot and what did you find most interesting about it?
I’m originally from Arkansas, so I visited Louisiana a lot growing up, although never as far south as New Orleans. I visited NOLA several times in my twenties, and then again in 2014 for RT Booklovers. (I was actually researching THE VEIL at the time!) New Orleans, much like Chicago, is a city of contrasts. Wealth and poverty, art and decay. It has a complex history, a fascinating food culture, and a very strong sense of magic. I want the cities in my urban fantasy novels to feel like independent and important characters, and New Orleans has personality in spades.
TKA: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How do you manage your time, and what do you consider a great writing day?
Chloe: I have a full-time job (which I love!) so I write in the evenings and on weekends. When I’m on deadline, I have a daily word count goal. A great writing “day” is a speedy and efficient one—when the words are flowing so I finish my goal with time to spare.
TKA: Many aspiring authors who love urban fantasy are having a hard time getting deals in the genre because it's so crowded. What advice would you give them on how to get noticed?
Chloe: That’s a tough one! I’ve heard agents and publishers are looking for strong, unique voices and urban fantasy territories (whether places, mythologies, or time periods) that haven’t been explored before. As a published author, making connections with readers in a very crowded romance and urban fantasy market remains an ongoing challenge. In addition to trying to write the best book I can, I try to be available to fans, help them engage in the series, and be sensitive about overpromoting.
TKA: How many novels do you have planned for the Devil's Isle series, and what can we expect in Book Two?
Chloe: There are currently three books under contract in the Devil’s Isle series. THE VEIL introduced the world and the characters, and showed us how the war created conflict between those who retained magic and those who abhor it. In Book Two, we’ll see more danger and magic—and definitely more romance.
Tammy Kaehler is the author of award-winning racing adventures, including her latest release, AVOIDABLE CONTACT.
Tammy's tip: A writer has to be two different people (at least) to create a finished manuscript. Ernest Hemingway put it one way: "Write drunk, edit sober." And he's right (in theory; if not about the alcohol). Your first draft should be written with some amount of wild, creative abandon. You should follow your muse, go with that new weird idea that pops into your head, and listen to your characters’ voices. You should NOT look at the blank page and think you need to write perfect words. Write words and fix them later. You can't fix a blank page, but you can fix a hot mess of a manuscript. (Really, I've done it.)
There's a saying in auto racing: "To finish first, first you have to finish." Make sure you finish. Write without filters. #fixitlater