47

I'm new here, so, please, bear with me.

I had a look at previous answers to similar questions, but my case is (possibly) a bit different.

  • I am not a professional writer, so I wrote this (long) novel for personal amusement.
  • Important "detail": I'm Italian and the novel is written in my mother language.
  • After finishing it, I circulated among friends and it got a surprisingly good reception, with many suggestions to try to publish it.
  • I did an accurate review of the text and it is, for me, definitive.
  • I know quite well, though, professional editing (or, at least, screening) would be necessary before actual publication.
  • I would prefer to go through a regular publisher (an agent isn't in scope; I don't plan to make a living out of this), but I have no connections and I wouldn't know how to submit it (remember, it is in Italian!).
  • I have only a vague idea of what a query is and I'm not sure American rules hold true in Italy.
  • Subject is atypical, because the novel apparently starts in a Fantasy world, but later it will be clear we are on our old Earth, so the genre changes "a posteriori" to (reasonably) Hard Science-fiction.
  • I'm also unsure on how I should present such a thing.

Can someone point me in the right direction?

P.S.: any comment on my command of the English language is welcome.

  • 44
    Your English is far, far better than my Italian. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 21 '17 at 18:10
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    And better than some native English speakers'. – Michael Aug 21 '17 at 18:50
  • 3
    @Michael & Zeiss Ikon: Thanks. very kind. I was actually looking for some "negative" (a.k.a. "useful") comments from professional writers. I know I can make myself understood, but I'm often unsure about strict grammar/syntax/style. The P.S. was not to "fish for compliments" (which are nonetheless appreciated ;) ). Thanks again. – ZioByte Aug 21 '17 at 19:11
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    Oh I see - yes, the placement of that does change the meaning - I misjudged the intention. I still think that it sounds a bit odd to me and might say "I thoroughly reviewed" or "closely" or "carefully" reviewed. – Michael Aug 21 '17 at 21:39
  • 1
    @Walt: this is 900+ pages, so I guess you can count it as "a few books" ;) – ZioByte Aug 22 '17 at 18:26

10 Answers 10

40

I can't speak to the Italian market specifically, but generally speaking the fiction market is totally saturated with manuscripts, most of them completely hopeless. This saturation means that it is very hard to get over the first hurdle of getting a publisher or agent to even pick up and read your manuscript.

Two ways to improve your chances of getting read are referrals and meeting agents and editors in person.

If you don't know anyone in the industry, you can look for a writing teacher in your area who has connections in the publishing industry. Take their class. In that class they will get to read your stuff. If they think it is good enough they may agree (or even volunteer) to refer you to someone they know in the industry (agent or editor). This will greatly increase your chances of being read.

To meet agents or editors directly, go to a writing conference. Most of these offer pitch sessions where you get five minutes to pitch your story to an agent or editor. If they like your pitch they will ask you to send a sample or the whole manuscript. This way you get read, and you have established the beginning of a relationship with someone on the inside.

  • 3
    I can speak neither for Italy nor for the US, but German editors and agents actually work through their slush piles (as several of them emphasized in interviews for an author handbook, encouraging authors to submit), and they actually find publishable manuscripts there (they even gave numbers published from slush pile per year, but I forget). – user26338 Aug 22 '17 at 20:27
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    @user8183921 Yes, there does seem to be a degree of variability on this point between different countries. I read that in the UK and Australia it is difficult to even get agents to read stuff out of slush without some kind of reference. So it would seem that throwing your MS over the transom is a more viable approach in some countries than in others, but I suspect that in all countries, referrals and meeting in person are still more fruitful routes to go. – Mark Baker Aug 22 '17 at 21:15
  • Yes, you are right, personal recommendations are always the best option, if you can manage to get recommended by someone whose opinion the agent or publisher value. – user26338 Aug 22 '17 at 21:23
32

I'm German. The process of submitting manuscripts is almost identical to the one in the USA. I assume it will be similar in Italy, too. What you are expected to do is usually:

  1. Find an appropriate publisher. In your case that would be one that publishes SF, Fantasy, and/or fantastic literature, ideally in a similar style. (If you don't know the right publisher, then go to a bookstore and educate yourself.)

  2. Look at their website. It is very likely that they give detailed instructions on how they expect manuscripts to be submitted to them and to whom.

  3. Follow those instructions closely.

  4. If you cannot find instructions, do this:

    a. Write a polite and brief application, as if for a job. Explain why you chose that publisher. Describe your publication history (in your case, write that you haven't yet published anything).

    b. Attach a two to five page synopsis of your novel. This synopsis must describe all the plot-relevant characters, tell everything that happens, and explain the resolution of your plot. That is, do not try to create suspense by keeping the end secret, as you would with readers. The publisher wants to know if you managed to create a satisfying whole, and for that they need to know all of your text.

    c. Finally, include the first three chapters or 50 pages, whichever comes first.

    d. Submit by email to the editor in charge of SF, F, or fantastic literature, if you can get their name (maybe call the main office and ask).

  5. Wait eight weeks. Do not call. If you hear nothing, they are not interested.

Submitting to an agent works the same, except that you must tell them if you submit elsewhere. You need not include this information when submitting to a publisher directly.

If you know someone in publishing, try to have them recommend you.


Regarding some of the comments:

A note on finding agents and publishers

Ideally, you read what you write and you know the market. If you don't, go to bookstores, ideally more than one and, if possible, repeatedly over the course of several years, and learn which publishers have books (of your genre) in the bookstores. Those are the publishers you want to get published by.

If you publish in a niche that not every bookstore represents, find review publications relevant to that niche and see which publishers they review.

Along with your list of publishers, you will have aggregated a list of authors these publishers publish (in your genre). Now perform a websearch for the name of that author and "literary agency". Agents list their authors on their websites, so you should find every author's agent this way, unless that author does not have an agent.


A note on payments

German author Andreas Eschbach says on his website:

§1: Money always flows from agent to author – never in the opposite direction.

§2: There are no exceptions to rule 1.

§3: If you believe that your case must be an exception, you are mistaken.

I have heard and read similar advice from all kinds of people in the publishing industry, including publishers, editors, agents, and authors.


A note on professionalism

Publishers work and they want their job to run smoothly. They perceive your manuscript submission as a job application. So present yourself as reliable and capable. Take some care and time when you prepare your submission.

German agency AVN even call their submission guidelines "application as author".


A note on following up on your manuscript submission

Do not call the agency or publisher. This may be different in other countries, but German agencies and publishers explicitly tell you not to call them. For example, agency AVN says:

Please do not call us. If we are interested, we will contact you.

Publisher DuMont asks authors:

Please desist from inquiries regarding the state of our review of your manuscript.

Simply do not forget your contact information (see the note on professionalism above).

  • 17
    @FraEnrico What? No, of course not! An agent reviews a manuscript free of cost to the author. Agents get a percentage of the money the pulisher pays to the author. The agent will get no money before the book is taken on by a publisher. If an agents asks money of you, avoid them like the plague. – user26338 Aug 22 '17 at 7:08
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    @DrEval I have this from the information on the websites of several agencies. One explicitly states that if everyone who sent them a manuscript called them, they would no longer be able to read manuscripts. A big agency gets thousands of manuscripts each month. You can do the calculation: How much time does it take if an editor has to talk to a thousand people, look up the state of their application, and (possibly) listen to them whining on the phone? If you cannot put your name and address on your manuscript, you are not professional enought to work with anyway. – user26338 Aug 22 '17 at 14:44
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    @DrEval That is not the worst-case scenario, you may sabotage your borderline case. If you DO call, they will tell you that if you haven't heard from them they have rejected your manuscript -- and please stop calling. They aren't going to go look it up and give you a status. They may block your number, send your emails to spam, and return your snail mail unopened. Do not think you are in charge or an equal in this relationship. Anybody that accepts over-the-transom manuscripts is free to NOT do it for anybody that is proving they are arrogant and contentious and will be difficult to work with. – Amadeus Aug 22 '17 at 19:56
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    @ZioByte If you find vanity publishers and agents, you are looking in the wrong place. If you want to find an agent, go to a book store, look at the shelf with books in your genre, see if the name of the agency is listed on the copyright page or in the acknowledgements, and if not, note down the names of the authors and do a Google query like "Author Name literary agency". – user26338 Aug 22 '17 at 20:38
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    @jpaugh The editor will never even know you called; he or she is at the top of this heap. Underlings will have standing orders to run interference; they are the gatekeepers: the people answering the phones, their supervisors, on up two or three layers. Any organization capable of handling hundreds or thousands of manuscripts a year is also capable of blocking phone calls from strangers to the bosses. It is not "retaliation" but standard business practice to insulate yourself from crazies fast; and if you think you are special and the rules don't apply to you, that is what you are to them. – Amadeus Aug 24 '17 at 9:29
9
  • If you are going to have it professionally edited, do that first before you do any other steps. These days, manuscripts must be 100% print ready before submission.
  • A query is an introductory letter you send before submitting a manuscript so you don't waste your or your prospective publisher or agent's time. If you take the time to learn how to write these well, you can dramatically increase your odds of being published. Writing them is a gatekeeper skill that can be mastered. There are online resources, as well as published instructional manuals for queries.
  • If you aren't looking to make a living off writing, an agent is probably even more important. It's not notably easier to find an agent than to get published, but they'll take over a lot of work you probably neither want to do nor are qualified to do after you get them. (I sold the one book I published traditionally without an agent, but now wish I had gotten one, it would have been well worth the percentage.) If you do wish to approach publishers directly, you can ask one to recommend an agent to you after you are accepted. This is a little unusual, but not completely unheard of.

As a side note, you'll want to submit exclusively to Italian language publishers and/or agents. There's no possible reason to submit your Italian-language book to an English oriented firm or agent. According to this site there are nearly 300 Italian publishers.

BTW, user8183921's advice is excellent, and can be equally applied to agents. For English speaking agents, this is a good starting place: AgentQuery --I'd be surprised if there isn't an analog for other languages as well.

6

Another italian non-professional here, ciao :)

I have no experience in publishing, and I am going through similar questions myself. What I understood so far is pretty much what the others already said. I add a few more opinions:

  • Don't rely too much on your friends' opinions. However good is their taste, they are your friends, and they will always read what you write with those lenses, encouraging you and being biased on the familiarity with the author more than with the book. If the book is terrible they will tell you, I'm sure, but their encouragement, useful as it can be, it's not objective.
  • On the other hand, rely to a community of readers. There are many online communities and book clubs that you can find where to share your ideas and works with people with similar taste, especially if your novel falls into a genre. Science fiction and fantasy fans are very hard-core passioned about anything, so they could give you powerful feedback and support.
  • Sending unsolicited manuscripts is free-of-cost and needs to be attempted in any case, but you must be aware that the odds are very low. Self publishing is a viable alternative way, but it requires a lot of self-promotion work to make your book emerge.
  • Consider contests ("concorsi"): sometimes they are just scam, but they can be useful to get noticed by a community.
  • 1
    Being Italian, can you suggest some specific community of readers to contact and/or Italian agents (if such a beast exists, I have a feeling Italian market is much more closed than other ones, with most publishers falling into the "vanity" class). – ZioByte Aug 22 '17 at 7:37
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    I have time only for a top-of-my-head answer here: scrivo.me is a generic community, hyperborea.live is dedicated to sword & sorcercy fantasy. The italian NaNoWriMo community is pretty active as well. There are many specialized forums around but I don't participate in them. About the agents, I once found an extensive list of all italian agencies with the different services provided, including if they require fee or not (hence my comment above). I don't have it at hand, but again, for all of this google is your friend. – FraEnrico Aug 22 '17 at 9:32
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    Yes, agents and publishers actually do look at contests and recruit authors from there. Have seen it quite often (in Germany and Austria). – user26338 Aug 22 '17 at 20:39
4

I'd suggest contacting other Italian authors who self-publish. Amazon is a global publisher and distributor, and after you're satisfied your material is sufficiently edited, proofread, and "beta read" (read by readers for reaction and things they notice, more or less what your friends have already done), you can format the work, make or buy a cover for it, and upload it directly.

Don't expect to make a lot on the sales, but no one can buy your book if you don't make it available. Realistically, chances are hardly anyone will pay to read your book even if you do, but as the lottery advertising says here, "you can't win if you don't play."

Once your book is available to buy, then you have to do the most important thing: write another, better one.

  • Self-publishing may make the book available, but a publisher does considerably more than that. So in order to really "play" you would have to also somehow advertise your book. Could be another question "How to advertise a self-published book?". – Trilarion Aug 23 '17 at 9:56
4

As Mark Baker's answer states, one way to a "get foot in the door" is to meet editors or publishers in person. His suggestion of a writing conference is certainly a good one.

I would just add that especially in the genre area of fantasy & science fiction, you can also usually meet publishers and related people on cons or similar events focused on fantasy & sci-fi as such instead of primarily on literature. There's usually an opportunity in between the official programme to treat someone to an appropriate local beverage and chat, effectively creating your own opportunity for a five-minute pitch. Of course, you shouldn't start a chat with "you should publish me," but you should be able to work yourself into the normal flow of conversation.

3

I don't know why you say "an agent isn't in scope". An agent's job is to make sure you don't get cheated, and you will get cheated if you don't have an agent. As an author, you have no negotiating power, so they will only present you with a contract that is most favorable to them and least favorable to you, and they won't negotiate the terms with you because they know you're not an agent. An agent will be able to negotiate with the publisher and you will make more money than the agent's fee. Even agents who write books will get other agents to represent them (I can cite Nathan Bransford as a specific example of a former agent who got another agent to represent him).

So the correct answer is to try to get an agent. There is literally no reason not to do it.

  • Thanks, I stand corrected. I assumed (evidently wrongly) agents are just for "professionals". Can You suggest a reliable Agent operating in Italy? I have no connections whatsoever. – ZioByte Aug 24 '17 at 11:17
1

I myself did the same sort of thing. I was out of work at the time and wrote a novel as something to keep the mind working and active. I allowed a few people to read it and as I had some positive feelback I decided to self-publish. I used a site called https://www.lulu.com/ as my portal, and found them to be simple and easy to use.

Ok now I have not sold a lot of copies, yet, but that is mainly down to not marketing it as I did not have a lot of money at the time. I would not use Amazon for many reasons, although mainly down to their treatment of staff and 3rd party sellers, but thats my decision.

I would look for somewhere that gives you good tools, links to sites such as Amazon and google books. Also finding out what the various costs, geogrphical areas they deliver too and various formats such as ebooks etc.

  • 2
    The OP specifically says that they want to go the traditional publishing route. – Mark Baker Aug 22 '17 at 11:31
  • It can be used as a stepping stone. Many self publishing sites have routes to push your books to traditional publishers some via referals or book shows etc. – Kuulmonk Aug 22 '17 at 13:33
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    Maybe so, but not relevant to the question that was asked. – Mark Baker Aug 22 '17 at 13:40
1

Generally speaking, a new Fantasy author will have much higher chances of being published if their novel fits an existing book series the editor is publishing. This is because selling a totally new book requires marketing effort, and unless you're willing to pay for the marketing or your name is selling itself, the publisher won't take the risks.

E.g. if the publisher has several books about "goblins in space", you'll have a better chance being published if you novel also revolves around goblins and / or space, or can somehow be adapted to fit the series. So look around for publishers who have books similar to yours, and target them specifically.

Oh, and provide a short abstract of your novel, perhaps 1 page long, describing the plot. Make it as factual as possible, avoid describing your characters in detail, and state who did what and what happened to them. Something like

A, a goblin who dreamed to go to space, hides in the cargo bay of a space ship and travels to Callisto, where he meets B, a space alien. B needs to return to their home planet but is stuck on Callisto due to a crash-landing. A helps B to steal a research vessel, and they both set off to B's homeworld, but because of a navigation error they land on a planet inhabited by super mutants. etc. etc.

Without the abstract, it's hard for publishers to judge whether your novel is suitable for them (they won't read the whole thing just to find out it doesn't fit), and your manuscript will almost certainly be rejected.

1

As I understand you'd prefer to go through a regular publisher, I'm afraid it is a tough way. Now, I only know Denmark (where I am from), but sci-fi is a complete no-go to publishers, unless you are well-known name. I wrote a sci-fi novel a couple of years ago, and I got nothing but rejections (even though it's great! I should know, I wrote it after all ;-) ) Now, I decided to publish it through someone called BoD. They're located in Germany, but operates in a couple of different european countries. I believe they understand english, so with your english skills communication should not be an issue. They made the book for approximately 65$, with ISBN, free eBook, available on Amazon and every other bookstore. Just remember to be careful: They'll print exactly what you give to them. You'll have to set it up the way you want it yourself, but they do have a lot of very good descriptions of what to do, and how to do it.

One last note: I had my book translated into english. THAT was an expensive gig! But Denmark is a very small country, so it was translation or nothing. Italy is much bigger, but nevertheless you maybe should consider a translation. I could easily imagine translation between italian and english would be a lot cheaper, since there are way more translators between these languages than between danish and any language on the planet.

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