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The Road to Zero Day: Agent to Publisher

February 7, 2011 | post a comment | Mark Russinovich

The Road to Zero Day: Agent to Publisher

(Continued from The Road to Zero Day: Idea to Manuscript) The books on novel writing I purchased had listings of agents, organized by genre. I initially targeted twenty specializing in thrillers, sending them a cover letter, bio sheet, and the first 50 pages of the book. All novel writing guide books warn how difficult it is to get a first novel published, but like I mentioned in the last post, I thought that as a recognized expert in the field and with the reach I had with my blog and Sysinternals, I had a better than average chance of attracting interest. It turned out that I was wrong. 

Over the next three months I received around a dozen responses. Half simply wrote that, although the book looked promising, they weren’t interested. The other half essentially said the same, but added that they would love to represent me if I wanted to publish a non-fiction book. 

I was a little surprised at my lack of success, but undaunted, I sent the package to another twenty agents. Three months later I had a repeat of the first batch of responses. I decided I would self-publish instead, but then a friend said he knew someone at a publicity agency who was an “agent agent” – someone who has relationships with agents (what I call a double-agent). I paid him a flat fee and he promised that he’d either get me an agent within three months, or the book was just not good enough for mainstream publication.

The double-agent began contacting his connections and one after the other, got negative responses. This time, the agents read the entire manuscript, but instead of providing any helpful criticism, the feedback was always the same: the book is pretty good, but not a fit for what they were looking to represent.  That's the polite way of saying that the book isn't viable or requires too much work to get into shape. 

Finally, after a month and a half, Ann Collette of the Helen Rees Literary Agency said she thought the book had great potential and would represent it. After I signed her, she edited the manuscript and made several good suggestions for tightening the plot. I made revisions and then the next phase began, finding an editor at a major commercial publisher that liked it. She sent the book to an initial list of ten and over the first several weeks we got back the same kinds of answers I had received in my hunt. Then we got a positive response from an editor at one of the largest publishers. He said that he liked the book a lot and would pitch it to the sales and marketing teams. My hopes were up. A few days later, though, he reported that he couldn't get their backing. So close. He did send some great feedback that I incorporated in the book.  

Ann sent a second wave of submissions to another ten editors. Again, the answers that started  coming back were the same as before. Now I was getting discouraged. It was already two years since I'd finished the first draft and I'd gotten dozens of rejections. I thought it was time to take the hint and told Ann I was ready to give up and self-publish. I even had started researching self-publishing options. Ann told me my experience was common and she was convinced that the book was good enough to get published by a major publisher and to wait until a little longer. I relented.

Then in the fall of 2008, John Schoenfelder at Thomas Dunne Books expressed interest. I did some research on Thomas Dunne Books and learned that it was a division of St. Martin’s Press, one of the big publishers. We sent the full manuscript in January 2009 and a few weeks later got back word that Thomas Dunne had personally read the book and liked it. I was ecstatic. The hunt was over and I was going to have a published novel. Coincidentally, I was reading Dan Brown’s first novel, Digital Fortress, about the same time, and read in the acknowledgements Dan thanking Thomas Dunne for being his editor. I was in good company. 

Stay tuned for my next post, The Road to Zero Day: Publisher to Publication.

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Mark Russinovich works at Microsoft in the Microsoft Azure product team as Chief Technology Officer. Read more...

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