An #SFFPit analysis

This deserves a post of its own. Dan Koboldt has this reasoned and honest breakdown of last months’ #SFFpit Twitter pitch event.

The Fifth SFFpit and Twitter Pitch Fatigue

I’ve linked to it here, because it has some very good info for people just now querying science fiction and fantasy. Some mitigating factors include bad timing in June, ‘twitter pitch fatigue’ because of so many events, and small sample size.

Point 1: YA still dominates the pitch field, so we can draw a rough estimate that there are still at least a third more Young Adult authors than Adult authors trying to break into the field. This is a good thing in one way, because we need to keep pushing the quality and number of SFF books in YA. As long as YA SFF is separated from adult (it wasn’t, until about 15-20 years ago), it’s a main ambassador of SFF to younger readers.

It’s a bad thing for primarily Adult authors, because they may come away with the picture that publishers, agents, their fellow authors, and the market itself supports YA speculative fiction more than it supports adult. I don’t think that’s the whole picture, from looking at publishers’ catalogs, but it does seem to indicate that un-agented writers may have an easier time getting publisher interest if they are writing YA. It also seems to indicate that many agents (whether they openly admit it or not) seem to be more favorably disposed to YA authors.

Point 2: agent and editor participation was down sharply, and seemed to show fewer of what I’d deem responsible professional publishers. There were many more newer publishers and younger agents, often a warning sign meriting a lot more research.

Point 3: Dan ended his analysis with a pitch for the upcoming PitchWars. This may be good for some authors. PitchWars, according to Dan, gives un-agented authors a chance to have ‘published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer critiques on how to make the manuscript shine.’

I’m still dithering about participating in PitchWars, mostly because of timing and market issues. I’m also probably not going to participate in more general Twitter pitching contests. It was a fun experiment, I learned a lot from it, I had valuable feedback…but in the end, I didn’t make any serious headway.

Yeah, that moment

You know the moment when something, even the tiniest something, finally goes right?

I’m querying a mms that might as well be a roller-coaster, for all the ups, downs, and death-spirals it has gone through in the last three years. This current round of querying has only been a month-and-a-half, nowhere near the two years I spent ineffectually hawking Bloodshadow.

Sometimes, an offhand email request opens unexpected doors. A publisher I knew only in passing, is suddenly revealed as A Good Publisher. A publisher already dealing with many of the very good agents on my wish list, so just from that I can infer that both sides are of decent industry standing. And the publisher is actually viable, considering my weird mix of genres that might be homeless anywhere else. Not too small, not so big, a good mix of principals who seem to not only know but adore their business.

Thanks to that one email response, I’ve gone from crickets, slamming doors, and numb exasperation, to a small amount of hope for this new book. My query countdown has been given overtime. It doesn’t matter if no one else says ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’. I have two alternate plans now, not just, ‘Well, then I’ll self-publish.’ Of course it’s not a sure thing – nothing ever is. But it’s a step in the right direction.

The Waiting Game

Publishing…good, effective publishing…has defined stages. Ignoring those stages can lead to career-stalling gaffes like:

Querying before the mms is polished, or even completed. Not researching agents and publishers before querying them. Querying publishers before agents. Not understanding that commercial publishing can have a backlog and/or schedule of years during the publication process.

That’s been the biggest problem I’ve seen with some overeager self-pub authors. They chose that route after realizing it would take at least four to six months before they could write off non-responding agents, and another year or two to query publishers one at a time. Without giving an agent or publisher’s slushpile a chance, they abandoned the process and jumped right into self-pub.

Sure, they got a novel on Kindle very quickly. Is it the best novel it could have been? In many cases, no. I’m seeing some authors who are taking down their early self-published work because it was so bad it was dragging down their later, better work. They’ve grown enough as artists they can now tell the difference.

Reputable literary agents and publishers still have many value-added benefits, which I (and a lot of other people) have talked about before. Good editing. Solid cover design. Effective marketing. Secondary rights management.

The brutal truth is that most unprepared self-published authors won’t be any kind of commercial success. They won’t approach the sales numbers of Hugh Howey, C.S. Pacat, or Andy Weir. Daydeaming won’t make it happen, but some very hard work, skill, and luck might help them carve out niches of their own.

I get all that. I know the responsible drill is: seek agent in your genre>seek commercial publisher in your genre>exhaust those opportunities in a reasonable time-frame>line up self-pub resources>self-pub>write next book. Doesn’t stop me from fidgeting about my own schedules, and planning the next steps along the way. I just have to remember to let those first stages run their due course.