The Path To Publication 2.0: This Thing Is Actually Happening

Back in January 2012 I started a column for this site called "The Path to Publication." I was nearing completion of a novel, and planned to document the process of querying, getting an agent, and everything that came after. The column lasted for four installments before I realized three things: 

  1. I fooled myself into thinking it would be a quick process.
  2. The book needed more work.
  3. I had fallen into the trap of writing about writing instead of just writing.

Bush-league stuff. So I pulled the column and felt like a bit of a dummy. And I want to own that real quick, because I'm back, with what I'll call "The Path to Publication 2.0." Because now the book is actually getting published!

As you might have seen announced on the site last week, Exhibit A Books, an imprint of Angry Robot, has bought my first novel, New Yorked. It'll come out in Winter 2015. So far away it still doesn't feel real. Except, there have been three inquiries into the film and TV rights. I've delivered my notes for the cover designers. This is a thing that's actually happening. Soon it'll be a book that's in bookstores.  

But here's the thing about trying to sell a book and build a career as an author: There is no one, final, ultimate goal. It's about collecting victories and moving on to the next battle. You'd think selling the book would be an endgame, and that's true, in a way. Except now we've got a long road ahead on the book we just sold, plus I have to start thinking about a sequel, plus I need to consider how I'm going to pace the next couple of projects I want to work on.

This is a victory, and it's a good one, and I want to savor it, at least for a couple of minutes. So I figured I'd kick off the return of the column by talking about how I got here from my mea culpa in April 2012. 

Small victories

So the column got pulled and I got back to work on the book. Ground-up rewrite. I chipped at the new draft for months until I finally, finally got it to a place where I could be comfortable. When the book was finished—finished for real—it ended up on the desk of Bree Ogden, LitReactor's agent-in-residence.

But here's the thing about trying to sell a book and build a career as an author: There is no one, final, ultimate goal. It's about collecting victories and moving on to the next battle.

I forget if she asked to read it or if I asked her to read it. I do know she enjoyed a short story I wrote, and my novella. It was a little risky sending it to her, in the sense that we already had a working relationship through the site, and I ran the risk of souring it. But I also liked Bree a lot, and I knew she was smart, and I figured even if she just had some good advice, it would be worth it. 

I didn't think she was going to offer to represent me. Which is what she did, in May of 2013. 

When she offered, saying yes was a no-brainer. She had been a guest on our podcast, and I hung out with her at Wordstock, and I liked her style. And I soon learned that her middle name is Kickass. True fact. 

So landing an agent was great, and I was happy, but it was a step in the process. From there we started a very difficult, frustrating step: Submissions. 

Being on submission is simultaneously the best and worst feeling in the world. Best, because you've got an agent in your corner and you are on the yellow-brick road. Worst, because you live in a constant state of: This could be the moment. I had to give Bree a custom ringtone in my phone, because every time my phone rang, my heart would catch, because I thought it might be her. 

But what I learned quick was: Just because an editor requests your book on Monday doesn't mean you'll hear back on Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Friday, or the week after, or a month later...

Patience is a huge, huge virtue. I should know that—I'm the associate publisher at, so I should know that—but it's easy to get swept up in the process. It got easier as we went along, and I learned how to temper my expectations, but there were some real ups and downs. Some very cool editors at some very cool publishing houses requested the book—and then it would be a shot through the heart when they turned it down.

We were on submission for 10 months before we wound up in front of Bryon Quertermous at Exhibit A. 

Shortly after Bryon asked to read the book, we met up here in New York; he was in town for some meetings and wanted to grab a little face time. So I dragged my ass out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to meet him at a diner for breakfast. I liked him right off, and we had a great talk. About publishing, but also about New Yorked. Leaving that meeting, I was in a dangerous position: I liked him, and I wanted to work with him, and if he said no, it was going to sting. 

It was a risky move. I was setting myself up for a big fall. I could have said something dumb or spilled coffee on him. As luck would have it, I didn't spill coffee on him. And he ended up liking the book. Then the rest of the folks at Exhibit A liked the book. And they made an offer, and here we are. 

The best part about this, really, is that I could not be happier. There were two things I was worried about going into this process: That the book would never sell and I would have to scrap something I loved, or I would have to settle for a deal I wasn't passionate about after exhausting all other options. I don't know which outcome would have been worse.

But Exhibit A puts out awesome books. They’re affiliated with Angry Robot, which puts out awesome books. They’re open to the idea of turning New Yorked into a series. They’re forward-thinking on issues like DRM-free eBooks and print/digital bundling. They’re distributed by Random House, so they’ve got both guts and reach. I couldn't ask for anything better than that. 

I feel lucky. A lot of this is luck. Not all of it. 

Going forward

So that's how I got here. There were definitely some moments where I was ready to throw up my hands and say, Fuck it, I'll just self-publish this fucking thing and move on. A lot of writers talk about how it's not until their third, fourth, or fifth book—sometimes even later—that something catches. 

I was lucky to have a kickass agent in my corner. I love this book. I really do. It was written during a time of great uncertainty (my 20s), which I wanted to reflect in the narrative. The book is about growing up and finding your moral compass and what it means to be a man, but with an amateur private investigator and a drag queen crime boss and a hipster turf war. It was the best way I could think to tell the truth of what I wanted to say. 

And this time next year, hopefully, you'll be able to read it. 

Until then, I've got stuff to do: A follow-up, another series I've been toying with, an idea I just got that might be brilliant (we'll see what Bree says). Plus I've got my responsibilities here at LitReactor, and with It's going to be a packed year. My wife is a fucking saint, because she never complains, always encourages.

Busy is good. Better than the alternative. 

Still, I wanted to resurrect this column. I can finally get to the original intent, which is talk about the process, in the hopes of generating discussion, and informing, and learning. For example, I talked a bit about risk above. My path wasn't a typical one. And I can't pretend like my gigs with LitReactor and didn't help me along a little.

But, also helpful: Attending events and conventions. Sending out short stories and getting my name out. Saying 'yes.' Being nice. Learning the value of patience, and working hard, even when you don't want to work hard. All in name of that one victory, and then being able to move on to the next one.   

So, ask questions, or comment, or pillory me for shameless self-promotion. Whatever works. 

I'll be here monthly. If there's stuff you want me to cover, let me know. There's some things I'm planning to talk about, but would love to make this interactive. Because this is fucking fun, and a bright day, and I am happy to be here. 

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Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books February 17, 2014 - 12:19pm

What I want to know is: What happened to the W?

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 18, 2014 - 9:16am

Congratulations! Really happy to hear this, and thanks for sharing your joy with us.

Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this February 18, 2014 - 9:44am

Thanks Renee! 

Josh: Long story. Or not really. Maybe I'll dedicate some column space to it...

Cameron Lawrence Merker's picture
Cameron Lawrenc... from Twin Cities is reading Watership Down February 18, 2014 - 10:04am

Congrats Rob!! I've really enjoyed your articles and your novella!! I can't wait to read New Yorked and the forthcoming articles on your continuing journey. I'm definitely interested in reading about the small details of the journey, from the inquiries into tv/film rights to how the cover will be chosen to planning the promotion of New Yorked. I don't think those topics are really covered in detail from "new" authors. Cheers!!

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like February 18, 2014 - 10:13am

Congrats, Rob.

One thing I'd to see covered in column (if it hasn't been already) is experience with online advertising, e.g. Litbreaker. How quickly do the clicks run out? Ratio of incresed pageviews to increased sales. Etc.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago February 18, 2014 - 10:21am

Congratulations! It's reassuring to see a fellow writer's hard work bear fruit. Best wishes for your novel, I'll certainly be checking it out.

While you were trying to find a publisher for your novel did you consider self-publishing?

Kevin Lynn Helmick's picture
Kevin Lynn Helmick from Lake Villa IL is reading Train, Pete Dexter February 18, 2014 - 10:45am

That's great!

When I read the 1st run on, Path to Publication way back when I thought, oh shit, this guys got a pair. Glad it's not me writing that, haha.

I'm happy it worked out though. Congrats, Rob and keep it goin.


Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this February 18, 2014 - 10:59am

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

Cameron, I'm definitely hoping to share the details of the process. The little stuff I haven't heard much about before. Like I said, I'm not going to pretend like this isn't self-promotion, but at the same time, I really do hope that there'll be things here people can find helpful. 

JYH, Not familiar with Litbreaker, actually. But it's something I'll look at--and for sure, I plan on talking about advertising and promo, because that's really the toughest nut to crack. I'm not sure yet how much will be handled by Exhibit A versus what I'll be doing, especially because I have a background in promotion, but that's another thing that'll bear out.  

Tom, I flirted with the idea of self-publishing, in some very dark moment, but never got close to following through. First because Bree was out there working very hard on selling the book, and if I pulled it, that wouldn't be fair to her. (And I'm sure my contract with her would have prevented that anyway). Second, is that I'm commited to this "hybrid author" thing. I self-published my novella, and I'm slowly prepping a collection of my short stories that I'll probably self-pub sometime next year. But as for the novel--I really wanted to go through a house for that. 

Kevin, Looking back I'm a little embarassed at starting the column so early in the process. It was naive, definitely. Glad I can finally do it now and not be full of shit. 

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day February 18, 2014 - 11:34am

Congrats, Rob - looking forward to buying the book in 2015!!

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 18, 2014 - 2:37pm

Here's a question: You say you are "committed" to being a hybrid author and I wonder what influenced that/why it is important to you. I can definitely see some pros and cons, but I found the word choice interesting, it implies that doing it both ways is important to you, and I'm curious about that.

DavidC's picture
DavidC from Charleston, SC is reading Wool by Hugh Howey February 18, 2014 - 2:52pm

Rob - What did the rewrite bring to your book that was lacking in the first draft? (generally speaking)

Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this February 18, 2014 - 2:57pm


And Renee, this is a much longer conversation, but: I do truly believe that self-publishing is a good and viable option, and I want those benefits it confers, specifically: Creative control, maintaining rights, keeping profits for the life of the work.

At the same time, I want the benefits of traditional publishing too. I'm greedy, and I like attention. And I've got enough projects in the planning stages that I think I can pursue both ends of the spectrum. I just need to get better about budgeting my time...

Also, I'd lose my mind if I had to edit, design, and sell everything I wrote. The same if I didn't have the opportunity to put my own mark or spin on something. Diversifying is fun, and it keeps me engaged. 

Incidentally--and this is weird and I'm starting to get really nervous--I'm sitting with a documentary crew in three hours--they're doing a piece on the evolution of publishing. They found me through my stuff here, and the piece I wrote for Salon, and they want to speak to someone who takes a middle view between self and traditional, because most people are acolytes for one or the other. 

I wore a white shirt. I shouldn't have worn a white shirt. Three hours to go, and I'm sure I'm going to spill something on it before then...

Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this February 18, 2014 - 3:01pm

David--that's a tough question to answer. There were elements of it that weren't working, and overall it needed to simmer longer. I'm a slow writer. I probably went through 20 drafts of the book. Maybe more. I lost count.

But when I "finished" it and started the first Path to Pub column... I felt OK with the book, but I didn't put enough weight on outside perspective. When a writer I respect went through it, and sat me down, and explained what was wrong and what needed fixing... I got it. I think I might have known it and didn't want to acknowledge it because I wanted the book to be done. 

Patience. It's the one single best thing you can know. 

As for knowing the book was actually done... I was seeing less mistakes, and less problems. The story was cut down a little and felt more cohesive. And I got an outside opinion on it, which helped. 

The hard thing about that first book--or one of the hard things--is that you're finding your voice and your process. You're learning what works for you and what doesn't. I can say that I feel more confident as writer--I've gotten nine short stories published in the past three years, and I've got a few more out on sub, and I can look at them and see where I'm losing my bad habits and gaining good ones. 

I'm excited to really dive into the New Yorked follow-up. To see how much caught hold. 

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb February 18, 2014 - 3:19pm

Having listened to the Blog so many times I'm looking forward to actually getting my hands on a novel you've written! Too bad it's going to take so long, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin February 19, 2014 - 2:02am

Congrats Rob, and so cool that there are talks of a TV series too :)

Looking forward to reading your future columns about the whole process. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list February 19, 2014 - 2:05am

I've said it before, but I'm super happy for you. I look forward to reading your future additions to this column too. Annnnd! The book sounds freaking awesome. Bad Robot does some really great stuff on TV/in film, so you are in good hands for sure :)

Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this February 19, 2014 - 8:28am


voodoo--I don't even think it would work as a TV series or film, but still! Can't say no to that. And maybe it would have a better chance once I'm a few books into the series...

Sammy--quick distinction: Bad Robot is JJ Abrams production company, and Angry Robot is different from that. But still awesome! They publish Chris Holm and Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig. Fantastic company to be in. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list February 19, 2014 - 5:16pm

Oh, sorry. I totally had a ditz moment :)

I do love Chuck Wendig. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami February 20, 2014 - 11:51am

I am kind of wondering how submitting a bunch of short stories would help these days. It seems like the expectation is to finish a book. But even then I'd have to think of it like a collection of short stories with the same characters, it's just seems like this insurmountable goal.

Which brings me to this, it seems a little funny that a forth book in a series (of any author) would even catch on. I mean I guess it's not bad if someone goes back and reads the rest, but I'd feel a little guilty not having something self contained.

Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this February 20, 2014 - 12:01pm

Sarah--A couple of interesting points here. First is, I would say short stories are incredibly valuable. Bryon was already familiar with my work before he requested my book. So that helped. Plus, as a learning tool, they're invaluable. I'm growing into a better writer by pushing myself on short stories. Plus, there's the psychological boost, which pushes you a little more every time you publish one, and in general, laying the groundwork for building an audience. All good things. Not that you should force it. But I was never a big short story guy, and have really come around to it. Three on submission right now. 

And, I do think it's important that you pick up a book and it's self-contained enough that you don't need to read the other books. That's my plan, now that I'm plotting out the second entry in this. It's going to refer to the first, and be part of a bigger picture, but you won't lose anything if you don't read the others. Though you will gain things if you do. Plus, if you're got a strong series, with a strong voice and a solid hook, it makes it easier to get readers to follow you across multiple books. Again, I wouldn't say to force a series, and I wouldn't be considering a series if I didn't want to stick with this character... but there are certainly benefits. 

Rob Blair Young's picture
Rob Blair Young from Utah is reading Driven March 5, 2014 - 5:45pm

Ooooh ... intersting. Rob, I had an idea and just sent you an email. Let me know what you think.

Matt L.'s picture
Matt L. from Texas is reading Tenth of December: Stories March 21, 2014 - 12:48am

Rob, I'm a little late to this post but glad to see this and congratualtions. I read The Last Safe Place and really enjoyed it. I had only wished it was longer! I also enjoyed your series of posts on self-publishing and look forward to P2P 2.0. Will snag a copy of New Yorked when it drops.

Rob's picture
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Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this March 21, 2014 - 9:00am

Thanks kindly, Matt! I hope you dig it.