Before debuting as a novelist, I was a journalist at a large newspaper for 25 years. So I became accustomed to seeing my words in print. What I wasn't accustomed to was the ugly "R-word" so peculiar to book publishing.
I started out believing that my accomplishments as a journalist would impress the large publishing houses. Man, was I wrong ... at least when it comes to fiction. As far as the editors at the major houses were concerned, I was just another debut novelist writing in an absurdly glutted genre.
I worked at the St. Petersburg Times from 1978-2003 and then was lucky enough to retire while still in my mid-40s and become a full-time novelist. In September 2004, I wrote the first word of Book One (entitled The Pit) of my six-book epic fantasy. Seven-hundred-thousand words later, I am in the final revision process of Book Six. I finished The Pit in January 2005 and immediately began a search for an agent. Through luck as much as anything else, I was accepted by an agent just a month after I sent out my first queries. (At the time, he was relatively new to the business and not yet snowed under. Now he's top of the line, and he rarely has the time to even consider debut novelists, much less sign them. So maybe this is my one big secret to getting published: Find an agent who is relatively new, do as much research as possible to make sure he or she is legit, and then take the plunge.) Needless to say, I was excited. After all, I had heard that only one in a hundred debut novelists manage to secure an agent, while 50 percent of those who do eventually are published.
Immediately, my agent began submitting The Pit to the mega-houses, but first-time fiction is an extremely difficult sell nowadays. In some regards, it would be easier to win the lottery, buy the publishing house, appoint yourself president, and then publish your book than it would be to gain an acceptance in the traditional manner. By the middle of 2005, kindly worded rejections began trickling in. And they kept trickling in. The next thing I knew, it was 2007 and I still didn't have a deal, despite the fact that I was convinced I had written the great fantasy epic of the past ten years. The problem was, me being convinced and them being convinced were two different animals.
Finally in early 2007, a publisher came along that agreed with me. When Rain Publishing Inc. (a mid-sized, traditional house based in Canada) accepted my series, I was thrilled to finally have achieved what to me was a lifelong dream. Yet even then my excitement was muted. I was higher on the ladder than those who had chosen self-publishing, but by no means was I guaranteed to become the next J.K. Rowling. The smaller the house, the smaller the distribution. And don't even get me started on the marketing end of things. I could go on forever.
So now, Books 1-3 already are in print and Books 4-6 will be out by the end of February 2008. It's been a whirlwind, to say the least. But fun at the same time. Will I become the next J.K. Rowling? Probably not. But at least I've got a puncher's chance.
And I throw a nasty overhand write ... er ... right.
Jim Melvin is the author of The Death Wizard Chronicles (Rain Publishing Inc. Sept. 2007), a six-book epic fantasy. Please visit his blog at http://www.deathwizardchronicles.blogspot.com/.