Publishing Contract Signed! Here’s what I learned.

Not wanting to jinx it, I’ve been waiting to make the announcement that my novel, A Footnote to Plato, will be published with Wipf and Stock, an academic publisher that deals primarily in theology and philosophy—and apparently novels too.

Y’all, I’ve been working on this thing for nearly a decade. A decade. I’ve spent the past year querying agents and publishers, and finally, at last, I can stop. At least for this novel. At least for this querying process. I’ve learned a lot, and probably not nearly enough. Here’s my takeaway from the whole process:

  1. Get ready for rejections? You hear, “Such-and-such famous author got rejected a gazillion times before…” yadda, yadda. Okay, fine, you think, I’m ready for it. Go on then. Reject me! But that’s not quite right. What you should be bracing yourself for is an emotional roller coaster ride. Every time you get a request to read your full manuscript, you’ll think, “This is it!” Uh, no, it’s not. The rejections aren’t really the thing, you see, not in themselves. What really sucks is when a publisher gets your hopes up, then rejects you. One publisher who requested to read the full MS wanted me to strip my novel of all formatting, print it out, and mail it to them. So I did. And as I did I thought, Well, anyone who asks me to do all this will surely give me some decent feedback, right? After waiting several months beyond the time frame they have listed on their website, I got a form rejection. On the other hand, there once was a time when you always had to snail mail your MS to publishers—think of all the paper, the postage, the trips to the post office!—so I have nothing to complain about.
  2. Rejections are rare; you’ll wish you had more of them. What I mean is, most literary agents and even some small publishers won’t even bother to send you a form rejection. Not even, “We’re sorry, the manuscript you submitted is not for us.” The way it works is, you submit, they don’t respond for a few months (or even a year), and that means no. Publishers are more likely to let you know where you stand, but they’re all different. It’s up to you to keep track of your submissions and make sure you take note of when you should expect a response, if any (sometimes response times are listed on the agent’s/publisher’s website).
  3. Real feedback is almost non-existent. That makes sense, given the above, right? I did get feedback from one publisher who requested a full before rejecting my MS, but that was it. So if you get any sort of feedback, especially detailed feedback, you really are lucky. (Thank you, William, from Flexible Press.)
  4. File chaos. I always imagined I’d put together a single submission package with my novel file, stick that in an email, hit “send”, and wait for responses to come rolling in. Instead I spent many hours putting together many different submissions, sometimes even writing new elements just to please a certain publisher. Some want a character list. Some want only a query letter and the first 50 pages of the MS. Some want a query letter, the first three chapters or the first 50 pages, along with a summary. Some want a query letter, chapter one, and tip sheet. Some want… well, you get the idea. I wish I’d been more organized from the beginning because at this point I can barely find my latest draft in all the clutter. In fact, I’ve come to rely on email to organize my files. Maybe that says something about me.
  5. One year is nuh-thing! When I told my writing group I was sick and tired of querying, I’d been at it for an entire year (boo hoo hoo), their response was, “That’s it? Girl, that’s nuh-thing!”
  6. But don’t bang your head against the wall. The wall will find your head. It’s a fact. So don’t just stand there, ask for help! If you’re sending your MS to the same type of agent or publisher, try something new. If you’re not getting any full MS requests, ask your writer friends to take a look at your query letter and other materials. Make changes. Send a batch, listen, evaluate your strategy. Repeat. In my case, I needed to try out a different kind of publisher.

Well, there’s that. But wait, that’s only half the game! Maybe not even half. Hm. Now I need to learn about book promotion, and I won’t have a decade to learn about it.

How about you? Do you have any ideas/experiences with publishing, querying, book promotion? What did you learn?

25 thoughts on “Publishing Contract Signed! Here’s what I learned.

      • Wow, what a long hard and complicated road! I’ve never had the urge to write a novel, and now I’m kind of glad I’ve skipped all that effort and heartache. Definitely not my cup of tea; you’re a braver and more industrious person than I am!

        But I am glad I was able to lend a small hand with those diagrams. That was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it. (Got a couple good posts out of it, too!)

        Congrats again, and I’ll look forward to your first book signing tour! Be sure to stop in Minneapolis. I’ll be first in line!


  1. Congratulations, Tina 🙂 Hahaha, “The wall will find your head.” That’s my new favorite thing. Also, the bit about the file chaos reminds me of the modern job application process. 1 ) Create resume and cover letter. 2) Log into employer’s website and enter all your personal information which is all in the resume. 3) Upload resume. 4) Ask yourself why they asked for a resume. 5) Wash, rinse, repeat, hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations Tina!

    Your story sounds all too familiar, and it’s not surprising to me that actually experiencing it is worse. Glad you were able to fight through it! We’ll have to ask you for advice on this now.

    If I ever do knuckle down and write something, I don’t know if I’ll have the patience to go through that process. I’m inclined to just self publish. But the viability of that option varies by genre, and the traditional route still offers a bigger audience.

    Anyway, delighted to hear your book will be published. Is there any time frame yet on when we’ll see it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was coming close to self publishing when I decided to try a different sort of publisher. As much as I love the idea of doing it myself, I didn’t love the idea of doing all the work. It’s plenty of work as it is. Plus it’s not quite as easy for literary fiction, but if you’re thinking about doing science fiction, that’s perfect for self publishing. On the other hand, it’s also perfect for traditional publishing…there are a lot of opportunities out there, it’s a popular genre. Just about anything is better than literary fiction, which sort of surprised me when I found out since that’s almost all I’ve ever read.

      As for bigger audience, that sort of depends. For me, definitely. But sometimes authors bring their own audience, and in those cases you have to wonder whether traditional publishing is worth it. Those lucky folks don’t need to bother with query letters and such; they’ll have agents knocking on their doors.


      • Trying a different type of publisher reminds me of Frank Herbert and his efforts to get Dune published. Even though he was already a published author, and Dune had already been serialized in Analog magazine, he wracked up rejections. He eventually got it published by Chilton Books, more known for their car manuals. And of course, in the 1960s, self publishing wasn’t a real option.

        I noticed years ago that a lot of popular authors were going hybrid, adding in some self published titles. But haven’t kept close tabs on it. I know once you have an audience, you’re definitely treated differently by publishers. But some of my favorite authors are self published, including one who came back into the business only once it was an option.

        One thing self publishing can be good for, if you’re successful, is getting the attention of traditional publishers. But from what I’ve read, those publishers are rarely interested in already published titles. They usually want to talk about new work. If I’d spent 10 years on a book, I definitely would try hard not to self publish it. So (in my utterly inexpert opinion), I think you took the right track.


        • Interesting story about Dune. I wonder if Herbert had trouble getting it published because it had already been published in the magazine. Many publishers won’t take anything that’s already been put out in the world. But I’ve also heard that publishing a chapter in a magazine is usually not counted against you. Quite the opposite I would think. Of course, that’s not the same as putting the whole MS out there in serialized form.

          Yeah, I wouldn’t use self publishing to get the attention of traditional publishers. Ideally you do it when you have your own audience and don’t need a traditional publisher. The nice thing is you get control over your work, and you get a much larger chunk of the sales, though you’ll still have to pay for distribution and the like. Really a great thing if you know what you’re doing.

          But either way it’s a whole lot of work.


          • There used to be a tradition, at least in sci-fi, of book publishers republishing popular stories that had previously been published in magazines. Many of the classics went that route. I know it was still a thing in the 1950s, but not sure about the 60s. Obviously that changed over the decades as the magazine markets shrank. And I think Herbert had been shopping it around prior to the Analog serials, but wasn’t finding any takers. So he probably didn’t have a lot to lose.

            Yeah, from what I’ve read, most authors have to do their own promotion, regardless of whether it’s self or traditional published. But your chances of seeing your book in an airport bookstore are much higher with the traditional route.

            Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been thinking about what you said here and I wanted to add: You do “write something”! I know you’re talking about fiction, but still, you’ve got an extraordinary level of engagement on your blog, and getting immediate feedback is a wonderful thing. I don’t think publishing a novel will give you as much bang for your buck. That said, if you’re still interested in writing fiction but aren’t sure you want to go through the process of publishing a novel, you might try writing a short story. There are a million places to submit to, especially for Sci-Fi, and the process isn’t nearly as grueling. Getting even a short piece good and polished for publication is still work, but I promise you, after being on the evaluating end of a slush pile, it’s not nearly as hard as you might think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. Thanks Tina. On the blog engagement, I actually learned some of it from your posts, and how you used them to initiate conversations. It changed my approach from just opinion dumping to more of a priming strategy (albeit still with opinion because I am opinionated 🙂 ). Much of the rest is just persistent posting through the years, and participating in other people’s conversations on blogs and social media.

        On the feedback factor, I know what you mean. I’m pretty sure I’m not the type of writer who could slave away for years without it. No ten year projects for me, not to mention something like Tolkien’s multi-decade polishing. Another reason the traditional publishing process repels me.

        I did consider the short story route years ago, and did some fairly heavy reading in the major sci-fi markets. The problem is I’m not into the form followed by most of those markets, and conforming to them felt too much like the kind of thing I have to do at work, compromising to get the paycheck.

        But I’m grateful for the encouragement! It means more than you can know.


          • Definitely I learned from you. The biggest was the practice of asking priming questions at the end of the post. It seems to generate a lot more conversation.

            To the extent I do write, it’s been science fiction. Also a little dabbling with fantasy. But lamentably it’s all covered in dust right now.

            Liked by 1 person

            • If any of it happens to have a philosophical theme or question, you could submit it to After Dinner Conversation. I’d be happy to have a look at your draft, whether it’s philosophical or not. Of course if you do submit to ADC, I’d let someone else evaluate it if I saw it in the slush pile.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind. I probably should read some of the magazine’s stories to get an idea of the market. Just got the first fee issue on Kindle. Any others in particular you’d recommend?

                Most of my older stuff was adventure and worldbuilding (and honestly looks juvenile to me now). But I think it would take effort to avoid philosophical themes in anything I’d write now.


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