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A colleague of mine finished her manuscript over a year ago.  It is a tight little mystery with a paranormal twist.  She's considering self-publishing because attempting to be noticed in the world of New York publishing houses is like going after a Ph.D except a Ph.D is more likely.  If authors helped each other, if the world of literary agents and publishing acquisitions wasn't comparable to pledging a fraternity, the reader might have a greater variety of books from which to choose with the stamp of traditional publishers.

I've been writing novels and short stories since 2006 and have sold sufficient copies to be considered a real author as opposed to a hobbyist.  At least that's how my tax accountant sees it - sales numbers make the difference.  Yet, I can't recommend an agent.  I don't have a clue.  Oh, I've read all the "lists" and the "bewares;" but I haven't had one author colleague say, "John is my agent and I would be happy to pass your manuscript on to him;" or "I'll recommend to my agent, Mary, at XYZ that she take a look at your manuscript."  No, instead there's advice about the querry letter, offers from ghostwriters of querry letters for hire and advice to just not bother and go with a small publisher or publishing house that does not require an agent.

It makes a difference.  A small publisher does not pay the "secret" advance amount required to be an Author's Guild member.  A small press might use Print on Demand technology, another "no, no" in the fraternity of "real publishers."  Thus, the secret fraternity of authors who know where a manuscript needs to go for notice keeps their secret from the new authors who may have something important to say but wander in small press, vanity press and self-publishing land rather than be caught by an agent without recommendations.

Connections in general are another way for a new author to gain name recognition.  Where are the authors stepping up to help connect new authors to television talk shows, syndicated radio programs, podcasts, press outlets?  What about celebrity spokespersons?  Wonderful forums abound with the new authors seeking info and their only slightly more informed colleagues providing information they have gleaned on their own, with or without validity.  Of course, the Internet is full of "agents" and "publicists" with up front costs to vulnerable, starving authors to buy their information, often an ebook that is a disguise to sell more services.

I remember the day when mentoring was in vogue.  Where is a mentor for my friend with the hot manuscript?  How can her work rise above the thousands of poorly written manuscripts currently equal to hers in a pool without contacts, swimming with the sharks?

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Mentors...

mentors are everywhere, including friends who have already been published. The problem is that traditional publishers want a proven product (that is, authors that have already made millions) and it is hard for a new writer to break in. While it hurts, it is the reality.

 

Just a thought about getting your work out there (although if your friend decides to self-publish, I would say the same to her) is go to bookcrossing.com, register, and then put some of your books out there for readers.  The books will get read, talked about, and possibly build a readership. 

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Thanks for your insights

The mentors are there - like my friend turned to me. I gave her everything I know but not the name of an agent because I don't have one. In thinking about that missing piece from my own publishing (since the popular "Ghost Orchid" was published by a small press that does not require an agent), I also realized that with all the authors, friends, and potential mentors in my camp, even those with agents, the agent referrals are non-existent; and authors with mega-sales are quite guarded about the details of their success and their contacts with celebrities (the ace in the hole).

I doubt that my friend will post her book at bookcrossing.com or any of the reader-rating sites. She is seeking a more traditional route. I don't blame her. It's more exciting to see one's book in print with a small press where promotional support is limited and expected sales more conservative or worst case, self-published than not to see it published at all.

It's difficult to critique a friend's manuscript, especially since I am familiar with the small towns in her book and the type of characters whose lives fill the pages; but I could not put it down until finished, and I don't have much reading time. It has elements that are popular: family secrets, mystery, espionage, and a paranormal twist for good measure. The ending is a total surprise in spite of the clues. She's a journalist and experienced writer; funny how important it is to have a published book in spite of a long career of publishing in newspapers and magazines.