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Guest post from Laura Lam: The Maze of Publication

Thanks very much to Laura Lam for today’s guest post, highlighting how there’s never just one straight road to publication. Laura is also represented by my agent Juliet Mushens from PFD and her debut YA fantasy novel Pantomime is going to be published by Strange Chemistry in 2013.

You can find her on Twitter here: @LR_Lam
and on her blog: 
Laura Lam

The Maze of Publication

When I was first learning about the path to publication, it seemed like there was one agreed route. First, you write the book. Then, you get an agent. Maybe you edit with the agent. Then, the agent sells it to a publishing house. You edit, edit, edit, and then the book is on the shelf and hopefully sells a million copies. But over the past year I realised there are different ways to get published. And I ended up taking a different fork in the road.

I subbed to Angry Robot’s Open Door Month in March 2011. I nearly didn’t sub, but a few friends encouraged me, and so off it went. To my delight and surprise, it rose through the slush. I remember pinching myself and thinking: this isn’t how it works. I don’t have an agent. I haven’t written 10 books and then subbed the 11th one. I haven’t rewritten this book five times. I just put through a book I really loved and hoped they’d love it, too.

That’s not to say that iteration of that book was perfect. It wasn’t, but through the process of the Open Door, I met some online critique partners who were invaluable. Anne Lyle gets a special shout-out for mentioning in one sentence just what I needed to change.

Angry Robot passed me over to their new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry, and my original reader/now editor technically rejected me. I had a revise & resubmit, and so I threw myself into revising my manuscript. I gutted it, re-arranged it, and added at least 30,000 words of new material. I’m really grateful for that second chance—that I wasn’t just written off for not being quite there yet.

I had queried a bit when I found out I was going to editorial, but my query letter wasn’t perfect (probably because the book still wasn’t). Querying the second time around was very different. My query letter was damn good, if I do say so myself, and saying that I had a publisher interested didn’t harm my chances.

I sent the manuscript to my potential editor of Strange Chemistry while I waited, and 3 days later she emailed me saying it was going to acquisitions. Highest of highs! The next day, I had a few rejections on my full manuscript from agents. Lowest of lows! Any kind of rejection is hard, whether it’s a suggestion to do radical changes or the vague “I liked it but didn’t quite love it enough.” In some cases, I think that second reason is harder. You just want to wail “why didn’t you love it/meee!” like a petulant toddler.

With one of the agents, we had a slightly more informal relationship, and so when he rejected me as a near miss (“Why didn’t you love meee!”), I cheekily asked if he had any agents in mind who might be a good fit. He gave me a few names, and one them was Juliet Mushens of PFD. My book ticked a lot of her boxes, and she read it overnight and offered the next day (“She loved meee! Yaay!”).

I had a publishing deal almost in hand before I nabbed the fabulous Juliet. Two days later, I had an offer from the publisher, and so far everything is going well. But I’m also not the only person who goes about publishing almost backwards. Anne Lyle pitched her book at a convention, Adam Christopher sort of got a deal via Twitter and found his agent that way as well, Scott Lynch and John Scalzi put up some writing online and attracted the attention of publishers. People are self-publishing to great success. That’s not to say the traditional agent->publisher route is bad in any way—it’s not, and it’s how any future deals I have will go! Publishing is changing and that means there are more avenues for getting your work noticed that before, which is exciting and wonderful.

For those of you interested in the Angry Robot and Strange Chemistry Open Door Month, today is actually the LAST day to enter this time around, but keep an eye out on their websites for future entries.