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Welcome back to another installment of “Publishing Ins and Outs.” Please keep the questions coming, at email@example.com.
Q: I just received my very first rejection from a publisher who read the entire manuscript. My question: the feedback is so positive, do you think it merits inclusion when I contact other small publishers?
A: You should definitely be proud of any positive feedback you receive in a rejection letter, but I wouldn’t recommend mentioning other rejections in your query. It tells a publisher that they weren’t your first choice (which they probably assume, but nobody likes to hear it), and it tells them that other people didn’t want the book. That may color the way they view the praise, whether they want it to or not. If you provide feedback from other rejections, even positive feedback, they may end up reading with an eye for what someone else didn’t like (or an “If they liked it so much, why didn’t they publish it?” attitude). Even if the issue is something as simple as “the sex is too graphic for our publishing house, but the book itself is excellent.” What to some agents/publishers is a deal-breaker, may be just a negotiating point to others. But if you mention other rejections, they’ll be predisposed to finding problems and judging, instead of making an unbiased decision. You want to make the absolute best first impression you can, and let a publisher or agent come to your manuscript with an open mind about whether it will meet their market.
Q: I am gay speculative fiction writer who is trying to raise some awareness around my book. Are there any conferences/book fairs that I should attend that would enable me to spread awareness about my novel. Are some conferences/ book fairs more LGBT friendly then others? And if so, is it usually worth getting a table at one of these events?
A: I’ve been to a lot of conferences and conventions, and at many of them I’m working at a publisher’s table. I’ve done this with as few as two people and as many as a dozen, so I can state this fairly confidently: If there’s someone else to go in on it with you, a table can be a great way to increase your visibility. BUT, you don’t want to get a table alone.
If you’re tethered to your table, you’re missing out on all the amazing stuff that could benefit you as a writer: panel discussions, presentations, scouting the rest of the dealer’s room for loot, networking opportunities…not to mention meals and bathroom breaks. Chances are, publishers and big name authors aren’t going to come up and spontaneously schmooze with you, so if you want to talk to them, you’ve got to have enough free time to seek them out. If you’ve got at least one partner with whom you can trade off so that each of you can pee without being afraid of losing sales, then you can squeak by. With three people, it’s even easier. Then you can each go to check out content you want to see (or sit down for half an hour with that publisher from across the room), and the two people remaining at the table can still cover for each other.
Depending on the conference, tables can be expensive or hard to come by. There may be a waiting list of vendors wanting tables, and the folks who were there last year usually get priority. Look at the cost of the table, and consider how many books you’ll be likely to sell. I’ve seen tables at various-sized conferences go for anywhere from $40 to $1500 for a weekend. Can you expect to break even? This is another good reason to share a table with other people.
At many conferences, there are general booksellers that aren’t affiliated with individual publishers or authors. The local indie bookshop might have a table, for instance, where they’re selling the books of authors who are at the conference. If you’re on your own, a better plan is to approach that bookseller and ask them if they’ll sell your books on their table. They will often have a standard consignment deal, where they get a percentage for making the sale, but this gives you the freedom to roam, hand out business cards or postcards or bookmarks, and tell people that your book is available at a particular table in the dealer’s room. That makes you sound impressive!
As for the LGBT angle, I think you could spin the argument either way. I could argue that going to LGBT book fairs or conferences is a way to make better connections with LGBT-friendly publishers and agents. It might be a good place to find community. You mention speculative fiction in your question, and spec fic is a very LGBT-friendly genre. (Cons like Gaylaxicon or Outlanta come to mind.) But I could also argue that many publishers and agents are LGBT-friendly, and going to mainstream book fairs or conferences for your genre (a local book fair, or writers conference, or even a trade show like BEA, or one of the zillion science fiction conventions each year that have a literary track) might get you more attention. If yours is the only LGBT book on the row, it might stand out better to an LGBT reader than if it’s one in a vast sea of LGBT books. I’d say, go to some local events and get a feel for them. You may get a different audience, and experience different benefits, at each.