SCWW Conference Faculty Guest Post: Holly McClure

holly mcclure


Next month, I will be presenting at the South Carolina Writers Conference in Myrtle Beach SC.  I’m looking forward to spending time with writers, and with the  impressive staff of publishing professionals this conference assembles.

As I prepare for my presentation, and consider panels and workshops I’m on, I think of the questions we usually hear from writers trying to break into print. The answers I would give today, are very different from the past. Here are a few examples.

How do you feel about hiring an editor?
The stock answer used to be, “Money should always flow to the writer, not away.” We discouraged writers from paying an editor, because a good writer should be able to present a polished manuscript to an agent, ready to be submitted with perhaps a little tightening up.

I question that advice now. Agents are already doing twice as much work for half as much money, and they are swamped with submissions, which doesn’t leave much time for polishing a manuscript. An agent can afford to pick and chose, selecting books that are ready to submit. A good editor, who knows what is expected of a manuscript, can give a new writer a better chance. It’s expensive, so if you go that route, determine the cost, what you want the editor to address, and ask her to explain any changes she wants to make. Treat it like an educational expense and learn from the editor.

A writer with a publisher breathing down his neck, reminding him of an upcoming deadline, might finish writing that book and turn it over to a trusted editor. If his books are selling, his publisher will want them to keep coming, and they have to be good.  That writer you envy, the one with a new book coming out every year from the publisher you would kill for, has one of the hardest jobs in the business. A free lance editor is a godsend to a busy successful author.

How do you feel about self publishing?
That might have earned the questioner a derisive stare a few years ago.  A real author waited, perfecting his craft, until a real publisher, preferable one in New York, accepted her in the club and legitimized her work. Now, some successful authors are rescuing their out of print books and giving them a new life as self published books. Publishers  sometimes see successful self pubs and make offers.

Sometimes when you tell a writer it might be years before they see that first proof copy of their book, They just can’t wait. Once, I explained to a mature writer that even if we sold his book, it wouldn’t be published for two or three years, he said, “I might be dead in two or three years. He self published, and his books are selling enough to make him happy. He has written and published two more since then. He’s happy with his choice and feels like a successful author.

The bottom line, maybe it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket. Keep writing and perfecting your craft. Submit, and pay attention to any comments that come with rejections. Make a decision about a time frame. How long will you give the big houses to discover that best seller you’re sending them before you chose another direction. Will you self publish, or go to a small press?

What about small presses? 
Some are excellent, and some are the stuff of nightmares. Research. Look at the catalog of the publisher and ask a couple of the listed authors for comments.  Find out how many books have been sold, and see if that’s enough for you. If you are offered a contract, read it carefully, and ask a published author or friendly agent to take a look at it for you. Keep as many rights as you possibly can, and be prepared to work like a mule to promote your book.Many small presses have difficulty getting books in book stores. This isn’t the kiss of death it used to be. Ask authors how many of their books were sold on Amazon, or as e books. I’ve been surprised at the number of authors who have a good income from books that seldom see the inside of a book store.  If you decide to submit to a small press, check it out and make an informed decision. If it’s right for you, go for it. It can’t do for your career what one of the big houses can do, but it’s a start. Make the next book better, sell a few thousand copies of your small press book, and keep submitting.Do I need an agent? 

 Probably, if you want a major publishing house to consider your book. Most won’t accept un-agented material. But if you meet an editor, pitch your book, and get an invitation to submit it, send it, and start a serious search for an agent armed with that information.We have complained non-stop about the changes in publishing in recent years, but some of those changes have opened doors to writers who wouldn’t have stood a chance a few years ago. We all want to author the next best seller, but that’s not in the cards for all of us. Some of us will make it to the heights, some will be hometown heroes, and some won’t recoup the investment we sunk in self publishing. But, we can all dream while we keep improving. And look at the fun we’re having. I wouldn’t trade jobs with anybody. Would you?
Holly McClure is the President of the Literary and Film Division of the Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency. She has served as president and conference director for the 30-year-old southeastern Writers Association. She previously worked with another small agency, then left to establish Sullivan Maxx in 2004. Her intention was to represent a few Southern writers, but the agency grew quickly. She is the author of a Young Adult mystery novel, Secrets & Ghost Horses, and an adult thriller, Lightning Creek. Her varied background includes business, marketing, and public relations. Holly is a frequent speaker and writing instructor. The name Sullivan Maxx is taken from Holly’s middle name and a family tradition.

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