What I learned about publishers at Mount Hermon writer's Conference
I don't really have any experience with book publishers that are secular and precious little with the Christian houses. But I did learn some at the conference. Let's see what YOU know!
Question 1: How many Christian publishers are there in the U.S.A.?
According to four agents (more on these later)who I heard in a workshop, there are only about twenty. Many of them print only Bibles or resource material or non-fiction. So, one needs to know what genre each house publishes and can do that by checking their web-page.
Question 2: So, if a publishing house does publish fiction, what's the chance they will publish my novel?
I don't have statistics or percentages here but I feel confident in saying, your chances are SLIM TO NONE! Here's some solid reasons as to why I say that:
A)Your book may stink!
Yep. Lots of people think they can write and many of them do a lot of work and absorb huge expenses to bring a manuscript to editors that is just not print worthy. Even if that is NOT true of your work (and, of course, I consider my novel to be pretty darn good!) editors are posed to expect sub-standard work since they see so much of it. And may I repeat SO MUCH OF IT! Especially at these Christian conferences where 500 people have a book (or two or three) to pitch to five editors. So, even if your book is in the top ten percent...
B)You might present your book poorly.
If you check the conference website before you come you will find an opportunity to meet with editors comes with warnings and disclaimers that no author, especially a new author, should for a moment think that submitting a book proposal to an editor at the conference will necessarily reap a published book--in fact, they almost promise it won't. Several chances to talk face to face with an editor are provided for attendees, but if your written proposal or pitch doesn't convince them this is the next "Purpose Driven Life" in the first 5 seconds, you're pretty much outta luck. Here is where a good agent might help because...
C) Some Publishers won't deal with an author without an agent.
I have to say that I am not a very good source when considering an agent. I have had interaction with two agents, both of which were not very encouraging. But I have heard lots of success stories from other authors--who are published, I might add--unlike myself! And I have heard that agents not only have insider knowledge of what is happening within publishing houses, and friendships with the publishers that give them a natural "in", the agents at the conference were saying something about the salary they earn from pitching your books is paid for by the publisher, not by the author. But I am suspicious as the price of the book does not go up when an agent is employed. But they would know things that would help you approach different publishers that you don't know like...
D) The publisher has stopped accepting books in your genre.
Even Publishers which publish the exact genre (type) of book you write have sometimes taken all the projects on that their house can afford to promote. When I met at one of those lunch-type meetings with one editor and told her I had a novel she immediately told me her publishing company was not accepting any new fiction for two years. BTW, this could be a sign that publishers are pulling back to wait out the huge changes in the publishing world right now. Now, talking about being out of touch...
E) Some publishers won't accept manuscripts written by someone outside of their denomination or with values outside of their cultural norms.
When I first started publishing I sent an query (a request to send a manuscript for review to publish) to a denominational magazine. A very thoughtful, well written magazine. I was surprised to receive a rejection e-mail fifteen minutes later. They explained that they never accepted an article written by someone outside their denomination. My feathers were a bit ruffled, especially because my husband and I were paying tons of money to send out daughter to one of the colleges established by the denomination.
At the Mt. Hermon conference, I sat at a table with an editor of a well known publishing company. She asked me to tell her about my book. At one point I explained a character's past was hidden since she had had an affair years before with a married man. The editor interrupted me to end the conversation, saying, "We would never publish a book with that in the plot." She continued to explain that the publishing house was owned by a conservative denomination and most of the board was comprised of pastors. Then she said something almost comical, "If we published that we would immediately receive calls from all of those pastor's wives!" I calmly responded that perhaps this was a regional issue for in the Northwest we have many Christians who engage in this sin.
That was a true story, but it is only an example of the culture standards one publishing house may employ to decide whether or not your book is something they want to publish. Now, foul language or explicit sex scenes and maybe some other sexual sins would probably put up stops for most Christian publishers. Actually, I'm personally happy when I read a book that filters out some of the harshness of the real world long enough to unfold a story without the "f-bomb" inserted in every other sentence (language one can hear on most high school campuses in our city.)
Still, I've got to admit when writing fiction it is difficult to write an entire book, set in contemporary times, without having expletives exploding in crisis-- especially by the villain. I mean the expression, "I curse you, Bad Bart!", or "He swore at the man who had stabbed his daughter to death" are both pretty lame expressions of anger.
Still, if you want to publish with a certain house, you gotta go by the rules. They're not going to change the rules for your baby. How do you know what those rules are? These "rules" are often cultural norms so they are not on their web page. Try asking your writer friends, confernce leaders, or, if desperate, the phone receptionist at the company--from your non-writer friend's cell phone, of course!
F) Do you have to pay a traditional publisher to publish your book?
Nope. That's the beauty of the old publishing houses--they pay you! But how much? Let's talk about that tomorrow. Gotta go to bed.