Worth the Wait

If there is one thing that I wish I could go back and tell my younger self about publishing, it would be ‘take your time’. With my newest book ramping up for release, I have received a number of emails/IMs/Facebook messages from aspiring authors asking questions about how to get published (or If I can help them get published some of the time). While the answer the second question is “I can help tell you about the publishers with whom I have worked, but no, I can’t go and tell them to publish you”, my general advice is to slow down.

As far as answering questions, I am always happy to help just about anyone who asks for it. Far too often I read posts from new writers stating it’s “impossible” to get a book published. Unfortunately, this sentiment is often what has authors fall into the trap of working with a vanity press (a press which charges authors to put their books out). It makes sense why many new writers fall into that trap (and at least enough do to support all the vanity presses around) but being in that much of a rush only leads to problems later down the line.

Recently, I received a question from an author who had published their first book with a vanity press which shall remain nameless and was unhappy with how sales were going. After having paid over a thousand dollars in “start-up costs” (something no reputable publisher will ask for) she hadn’t made even half of it up in sales over the year. She asked if I thought she should now try to find an agent to go with traditional publishing with the hopes that the time/rejection that meant would lead to better sales.

While I would recommend anything over vanity presses (either self-publishing through a platform like Createspace or Lulu) or pursuing traditional publishing (through a large or small press), that ship has sadly most likely sailed. While it is true that some previously self-published books are picked up by traditional publishers later on in their careers, most publishers contract “first publication rights”. What this means is publishers are buying the right to make your book available to the public before anyone else. Once your book as been published (be it through a self-publisher, vanity press, or public novel blog) those rights have been used up and publishers won’t contract the book outside of it being an independent commercial success. The likelihood of them picking it up from a vanity press, especially with the book not selling particularly well, is slim to nil. It’s just not worth their time, effort, or money.

All is not lost for the question asker, of course, she is not forever blacklisted somewhere. Any new book she writes she can either self-publish through a non-vanity press platform or attempt to traditionally publish. This first book is just a bit of a costly mistake.

And so, never be in a rush to publish. Is pursuing traditional publishing confusing sometimes when you’re starting out? Definitely. Does it mean a lot of rejection/effort? More than likely. Is it better than paying someone to publish your book for you? You can bet your socks.

This is not to say that self publishing is also a bad. There are several writers who have found success through self-publishing. Not, however, by rushing. Authors chose to self publish for a number of reasons, amongst them more creative control or writing something that would have a hard time finding a traditional outlet. “I want it published now” should not be the main reason for pursuing self-publishing either, however. Some self-published books are as good, if not better, than traditionally published books with amazing quality. It is up to the author however to make it that way which can take a fair chunk of time and effort, especially when it comes to paying for editors/cover artists/etc. (in self publishing you will be paying upfront for publishing, but namely for freelancers, not a package from a company. Combined with a platform that lets you post books for free, such as the ones mentioned above, this is almost always cheaper than a vanity press without tying yourself to a less-than-reputable company). Self-publishing will likely be a quicker route to publishing than traditional publishing (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who find a publisher on their first query) but to make a quality product it still takes time. You control the release date, but there is no reason taking another six months or a year to make your book the best it can be will make or break the project.

Especially because, as an author, your name is your product. And the internet has a very long memory. If you pay to have a vanity press produce a book (especially a vanity press that doesn’t do a good job editing) people will end up finding that press and book tied to your name even after you’ve moved one to bigger and better things. If you rush a self-published book that just isn’t ready (one with typos and bad cover art) you might later be able to remove it from print, but copies/traces of it online won’t magically disappear.

As an author you will always be improving. Even now, with my third novel just about to come out and over five years of editing under my belt, I don’t pretend I’m a perfect writer. Each new book that comes out will likely be a little better than the last (I would hope) simply because the more you do something the better you tend to get at it. There is no need to chase perfection, but there is also no need to rush. Do your best to only put things out that your future writer self will be proud to have their name on. True, that’s sometimes easier said than done, but truly, there’s no rush. Take your time to make a brilliant product. After all, as an author, your name is your brand.

I. Us. Them.

Recently I started contract work with a small press taking on any extra editing work with which they found themselves (don’t worry, people who have contacted me previously about editing work, I am still taking private projects as well with the same rates as always). What once again working with a press has made me think about, however, is the difference between working with a private editor (whether you intend to self-publish or then move on to submissions) and working with an editor your publisher assigns.

After introducing myself to one of the authors I’m working with for the press, I found myself a little taken aback by the email I received back. Now, nothing about it was rude or combative (I haven’t even started on the manuscript, so I wouldn’t imagine there’s much to argue about at this point–and for the most part authors I know are pretty congenial with their editors) but I didn’t contain a lot of “I” language (“I’d like you to…” “I want help on…” “I think you should…”) which was a little jarring.

Now, before I continue, when you as an author contract me (or any other private editor for that matter), “I” language is the norm. I, as a private editor, am here to help you make your manuscript everything you want it to be. If you want me to focus on X and X alone, that is all I will touch. If you want suggestions on how to substantially alter the manuscript/story, I can do that as well. I am working for you, the author. I am completely honest with my suggestions/changes I believe should be made, but if you just want one thing (or even don’t want to follow a single suggestion I give you) that is up to you. It’s your novel/short story/memoir. You can do absolutely anything you wish to do with it (just try to stay away from things that might get you sued if you’re planning on publishing).

When you have an editor through your publisher, however, the entire dynamic changes. If I am your editor through a press, I am now working for your publisher, not you (just look at who’s paying the bill). While I have never met a press that wishes to entirely railroad an author by unilaterally making changes, by signing that contract, you generally give final editing approval to the press. If you refuse to make those changes, they can either choose to drop your book entirely, or send it to print as they want it, depending on your contract (I know even from reading my own published books I have found one or two instances where a sentence was entirely reworked after I saw the “final” edit. None of them have really mattered all that much as far as the “integrity” of the story, though, so I’ve never really cared. Just something I’ve noted). As your editor in this instance, I am here to make your story the best it can be–but also to make it into what your publisher wants it to be.

For this reason, I’m not used to the “I”s quite so much in this kind of editing. Especially when it comes to big things. You might actually “want suggestions as to adding X subplot” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get them. Not without the okay of your publisher. The reason you should do any substantive edits before you submit to a publisher is, once you’re contracted, you’re not really supposed to change your story that much. If you talked with your publisher ahead of time/have discussed changing X, Y, and Z, I’m more than happy to help you with that. If you have just suddenly decided you don’t like your ending anymore–you better believe I’m not touching that without an okay from the editor-in-chief. A publisher has contracted your book as they have read it. Acquisitions has read both a synopsis (probably) and the full manuscript (I would hope, if it’s any sort of good press), and decided this is something they have wanted to put into print. Your manuscript as you have currently presented it to them. They didn’t, however, agree to publish this general story with other major changes you have now decided you’ve wanted to make. Perhaps they don’t like the idea of the new subplot, maybe they think the current ending will sell better, maybe they don’t want the story to be any longer purely for space reasons. Whatever they think, it is their decision to make (and my job to help execute) not the author’s.

And so, some tips if you are going through editing with your publisher (after you celebrate that you’ve found a publisher, of course):

1. Acknowledge there will be edits. You’ve (hopefully) already edited your novel within an inch of its life by the time you’ve started submitting to agents/publishers, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t go into more edits once it’s contracted. If your publisher “doesn’t do” edits or suggests you hire an editor yourself, consider finding another publisher. It’s your publisher’s job to make sure your book is the best it can be before it hits the shelves, and while that might be subjective, it means more edits before it hits the presses. Even the best-written, magnificent, certain-next-best-seller out there is going to come back to you with red lines in it. Whether it’s just them tweaking things to fit their house style guides or wanting massive changes, there will be edits. Embrace it. There is always room for improvement when it comes to writing.

2. Acknowledge your publisher has different goals than you. You are the author. Your job up until this point has been to tell an interesting story that you love the best way you know how. You are the creative brain behind the project. Your publisher is the business side of things. It is your publisher’s job to print and market your book in a way that will make both of you money. Publishers don’t stay in business by slapping a cover on something and sending it out to bookstores. They do their best to keep an eye on what is selling, figure out why, and then try to make your book do that. If they think they can make your book do that more easily by deciding on some changes, they are going to do that. That is their job/what enables them to sign those paychecks.

3. Make all the changes you want before starting to submit. I’m well aware at some point you just sort of have to set your pen down/close your laptop/sign off Google Drive and say DONE when it comes to edits. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a book that I felt there weren’t other possible edits if I just looked at it again. Perhaps this line would sound a little better if I X. Perhaps I shouldn’t have included that other love interest. Perhaps I should have thought to tweak…If you’re anything like me, you’re never 100 percent satisfied when you go back and look at (even published) works a year later. The trick is bringing it up to a point where you are satisfied with it, when it is the best it can possibly be at that exact second, and then casting it off into the world. Otherwise everything would remain a perpetual work in progress. Once you have made that choice (to send it off) accept that it is done. Sure you can make tweaks here and there, but if you think you might want to entirely rewrite the ending you aren’t done. Self-motivated major changes should have no place in your manuscript once you have an agent/publisher interested in it.

4. Listen to what major changes a publisher/agent might want before signing anything. In interest of not getting into fights with authors/ending up having to pull a book after they’ve put a ton of work/money/effort into getting it ready for publication, most publisher will let you know any major changes they’ll want before contracting you (“major” meaning completely writing out a character, changing the ending, or chopping an entire subplot. That sort of thing). If you say “okay” mean it. If it’s something you can’t deal with, turn the contract down. As hard as that might be some times.

5. Don’t try to go behind your publisher’s back. Especially not with your assigned editor. As I stated above, when working for a press, we editors have to primarily be concerned with keeping the publisher happy. If you want a major change, we are most likely going to go to the publisher anyway to get an “okay” it’s not going to happen, have us pass it up and go “Oh well, that’s what the author wants. Too late to change it.” That’s a pretty good way for us to end up not getting paid until we put it back. If you happen to decide at the last minute you need something changed, discuss it with the higher ups. If they say go for it, your editor will likely be more than willing to help you make them.

6. Remember your editor is not the enemy. All that said, your editor does (or at least should) want to work with you and help make your book the best it can be. We didn’t get into the business by hating good books, after all. Yes, we will tell you “no” about your own book if our bosses say “no” to us and sometimes suggest changes you don’t like that lo and behold the publisher decides to go with, but we aren’t doing it because we’re out to get you. We make suggestions we truly believe will make your book better and/or are required by the publisher’s style guide. Please try to be understanding (or at the very least not send us angry emails).

7. If you don’t want anyone touching anything without you having the final say, consider self-publishing. Now, I really don’t intend this tip to sound flippant, but it’s the truth. As soon as your signature is down on a publishing contract you are generally signing away the right to final say over just about anything (check your contract, final say on cover art/edits are generally explicitly given to the publisher). At that point your recourse to keep something you’ll put your foot down over from happening to your story is to try to pull the project all together. As I’ve said before a publisher is more than likely not going to railroad you and turn your heartbreaking tale of two lesbian lovers into a feel-good novel about two best friends out on the prowl for guys. If your publisher were interested in a story completely different from the one you wrote, they would have said no to you and looked for that story instead. Many publishers get hundreds or thousands of submissions a day/week/month. There’s no reason to try to rewrite an entire novel to be something you might find elsewhere. You do, however, have to accept that you might not get the exact cover you want or have that one sentence back the way you think is perfect. If you are worried about those things, you do have a way of publishing while maintaining complete control over your work. Self publishing. Self publishing of course has its own ups and downs, but working with an editor answering to someone other than you is not one of them.

Wishlists and Trends

Last week, agents (and publishers) from all over posted to Twitter with types of stories they were currently looking for using the hashtag “#MSWL” (Manuscript Wishlist). A great (and very helpful) idea to help authors try to connect with agents/publishers who might be interested in the type of story they had written, it also turned out to be rather disheartening for authors who scrolled through not finding a single agent looking anything like their novels. Some accounts even went so far as to post things along the lines of, “I’m swamped with X, NO MORE STORIES WITH X.”

Pretty much there’s no way to react to that other than, “Ouch, harsh.”

So what do you do if you’re grouped in with the great “X” no agent seems to want? Scrap the novel you spent however long on and start on something it seems agents actually want? No and no.

The first thing all authors have to remember is publishing is a business. Our novels are our babies. Something creative that we see (most of the time) as great/worthy of being read. Publishers, sadly, don’t look at manuscripts with an eye towards what they think the world should read, they look at manuscripts trying to find something that will make them money. If that means thirty-thousand vampire novels or the same generic love story over and over again, that’s what they are going to pick up. Since agents only get paid when they sell your story to a publisher (or at least should only get paid when they sell your manuscript, if not get a new agent) they need to look for things they think publishers will think are going to sell. This is not to say publishers are some faceless, greedy, corrupt organizations–most people get into publishing because they love books–it’s simply if they can’t sell what they publish, everyone’s paycheck is going to bounce and they’ll soon be out of a job.

And so agents/publishers often end up buying on trends. A couple years back vampires were hot. Judging on new books I know are coming out/what many agents seemed to mention in #MSWL, time travel is the next thing on the rise (as far as fantasy goes).  Obviously these aren’t the only kind of stories that will be published during the life of the trend, but if they are what publishers are finding sell, they’re going to be easier to get published.

So you should set your other novel aside and get to work on a time travel novel, right?

Again…no. The tricky thing with trends is that they’re fleeting. They don’t all last the same amount of time, but each one always hits a point where it starts dying off and publishers stop buying them as much (if at all, depending on how saturated the market gets). And publishing takes time. First you have to write the book. Then you have to edit it. Then you have to make sure it’s polished. Then you have to submit it. An agent might take a couple of months to get back to you and ask for a full manuscript. Then they might take another month to let you know if they decide to take it. Then they may want to work with you to polish it even more. Even if you get through all of this and get to start shopping your manuscript while still at the height of a trend…you’re already too late. It’s taken you several months at this point after however long it took you to write the darn book in the first place, and it will take at least another year for it to come out (the publisher will send it through several rounds of edits, it has to go to layout, a cover has to be designed, you have to pre-market…publishing is a slow, slow beast). If publishers only start looking at your manuscript at the peak of the trend, they will probably assume the trend will be dying by the time your book gets out, and will be just as likely to pass on it as any other book at that point. Following the trend hasn’t given you quite the edge you were looking for.

So the only way to capitalize on a trend is to already have a completed book ready to shop when a trend hits. And since there’s no way to know when a trend is going to hit, what good does that do you? It just seems like dumb luck whether or not you have written a book that ends up being “on trend”.

And yes, yes it is. Like much else in publishing, hitting a trend or not is mostly just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

So why even bring this up? Just to be more depressing?

No, to make the simple point: Don’t force yourself to write a story just because it fits whatever’s big at the moment. Maybe you want to write a time travel story. Great, then go for it. If it’s a plot that interests you, you might do something amazing with it. If you’re only trying to capitalize on a trend, however, you’re likely to be disappointed. You forced yourself to write something you only sort of wanted just because it would sell–and now no one wants it because you’re too late to the party. Trying to find an agent and publisher can be frustrating enough as it is. No need to add to that frustration by making yourself miserable during the fun part (actually writing the thing).

And so, I think a tip @KMWeiland posted earlier today on Twitter fits the moral of the story perfectly:

“Don’t worry about what the world considers the perfect novel. Write your perfect novel, and let the world come to you.”

Who knows? Maybe by the time you’re finished, you just might catch the next trend.

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Why You Need to Pay Your Ghostwriter

Nearly happy fourth of July to all my readers out there who celebrate it (I’ll do my best to get a post up tomorrow as well as I have the day off).

Now, as most of the people who read this (I believe) are writers themselves, this might not be relevant. I’ll do my best to write something more interesting for you very soon. For those who have ideas, but don’t necessarily feel like they’ve got what it takes to write a story, this might be a little more enlightening.

As it will say at the end of this post, my top suggestion is just to try. Your first novel might suck, it very likely will suck. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my first novel was awful. Writing is a skill. Some people are naturally better at it right off the bat than others, but you will get better when you actually sit down and force yourself to practice. You can always edit that novel within an inch of its life once you’ve finished. You can join writing groups, hire and editor, completely rewrite, it’s just important to actually start putting words down on paper.

That said, if you are still convinced that you have a story that needs to be written, but you aren’t the one to write it, it’s always possible to hire a ghostwriter.

Right off the bat, I’m a little conflicted about ghostwriting. On one side, it pays well, being a ghostwriter. I’ve done some work as one (generally for non-fiction) and I can’t say I don’t like getting a paycheck. Hiring a ghost writer for a work of fiction, however, doesn’t make sense to me. Perhaps your idea might turn into a best seller, but between paying a ghostwriter and getting the book edited, finding an agent, finding a publisher, and getting your book out there, it will be a while before you make your money back. If you ever do.

Of course, some people think they can get around that little problem by offering their ghostwriter a percentage of their sales. Often I come across these sorts of ads on Craigslist. Earlier, I touched on the idea of why you definitely shouldn’t look for an agent on Craigslist, today I’m going to answer this ad (edited [some] for punctuation/grammar):

“I have writers block, and I believe that the reason is because I am not a writer, but i have a good, actually a few good ideas (stories) and I believe they are good, and the people that I have shared the stories with believe so too. My problem is that I can tell you the whole story with details, but when it comes down to writing it I just don’t know where or how to begin. So here is the catch, I don’t have much money. How about if we in fill some paperwork before I share my stories, then I relate them to you… If you want to venture with me on this, then you will have 50% of whatever the book makes of it… If you are looking to get paid along the way while we write the manuscript then don’t reply to this ad .

Some points to start:

1) “My friends think my story/story idea is good” is always a bad way of judging your writing/ideas. Non-writers/people not in publishing don’t generally know what sells/how original/good something is. My friends loved my first novel. Actual writers would rip it completely to shreds.
2) I’m not sure writer’s block describes not starting a story. I’ve always heard it meaning you’ve hit a point where you can’t continue writing a story. Anyone who has thoughts about how we should use that term, I’m happy to hear it.

Anyway, my response:

Hi,

I don’t generally email people looking for a ghostwriter on commission, but as a writer/editor, I wanted to take the chance to explain a couple of things about the publishing world before you get started. You can feel free to ignore them or use them, it is up to you.

1) Ideas don’t sell books. Ideas are easy, and there are few original ideas out there. Tell someone who reads a lot/sees a lot of movies your idea, and they will most likely have something that sounds similar (It’s so common I wrote a blog post about it. You can also see many new writers complaining about this fact if you go to a writer’s board such as the NaNoWriMo forums [nanowrimo.org]).

2) As ideas don’t sell books, it’s the writing’s that important. Writing the book  is the actual work. If someone weren’t paying me as a ghostwriter, I would maybe give them 5% for an idea. More than likely, they would just end up in the acknowledgements. I’m a writer, I can come up with my own ideas. Most of us have more than a few bouncing around in our own heads. Those who don’t can go look at writing prompts and figure something out without help. There are even entire story plots up for grabs places such as this for free. There is very little reason to fork over 50% of your profits to someone just to ghostwrite for them.

3) As that it’s the writing that’s important, you’re more than likely not going to make any money if you don’t get a good writer. More so, you more than likely aren’t going to find a good writer if you don’t pay them. Professionals don’t work on commission because we know that novels are hard to sell. Just because you have a book doesn’t mean that publishers are ever going to look at it. Having a good writer means you’re more likely to make it through the first cut, but part of getting published is really luck. A publisher has to be A) looking to fill a spot in their publishing line up B) Like the idea C) Like the writing D) Think they can make money off of it. They will also take a large cut. You will likely make 10-30% royalties off the book (depending on the publisher, that’s an estimate). So if your book is selling for $7.99, you are getting probably at most a couple of dollars each copy sold, if you’re then sharing that 50-50, each of you is getting about $1 a book sold. You likely won’t sell enough to make any sort of money off them unless you’re lucky again there/have a publisher who is willing to market the heck out of your book.

4) The only sure way of getting published is self-publishing or a vanity press. Of course, those royalties are based on actually getting published. You may never find a publisher, even with a great idea. In that case, to get the book even available for sale, you’re going to have to self publish or go through a vanity publisher. Self-publishing is a hard road, you probably won’t make a lot unless you have a lot of time to spend promoting it, especially because a lot of places you generally can rely on for some free publicity (like many book reviewers) won’t look at self-published books (as a reviewer, I understand that on some level. You can get really burned by self-published people who think their books are much better than they really are). If you go through a vanity publisher, you’re going to spend thousands out of pocket to get your book published and are truly not likely to make that money back.

Long story short, you aren’t likely to get a good ghostwriter on commission, meaning it’s unlikely your book will sell well, meaning neither of you are going to make money more than likely, if someone is willing to give you a cut for just the idea (I won’t say it’s completely impossible, just unlikely, as anything is possible, but it would be a 1 in 100 [if that] chance in my opinion). Either try writing yourself, then go to a writing group and work on it until it’s polished, offer to pay a ghostwriter, or write it and then hire an editor to polish it for you (again, not on commission, professionals who know what they’re doing won’t work on it for the same reasons listed above making any editing help much less helpful). That’s my advice at least. 

As I said above, you can take that advice or leave it. Just wanted to share.

Good luck,
Jessica


Related Articles: “Craigslist Agents” , Self, Vanity, Traditional Publishing , How to Get Published

“Craigslist Agents”

Note: Another short story of mine has been published, for those interested in reading it. You can find it online at http://20minutetales.com/ , or, if you happen to live in the DC Metro area, you can look for a paper copy of the new, local lit paper.

Note 2: Thank you Thomas Halvë (Writing with Water blogger) for the link on your site as a favorite blog (and thank you to all my new followers as a whole).

Now, on to the actual blog!

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Every once in a while I come across ads on Craigslist similar to this one today:

I’m looking for a reputable book/literary agent. I have two book manuscripts that I believe are gold (but I’m also the writer). I need an agent who has experience working with the top publishing companies in the country and knows how to pitch and markert it well.”

Now, the first thing I always want to say to these posters is, “A reputable agent isn’t going to be looking for clients on Craigslist” let alone one who has experience working with top publishing companies (especially the big six: Hachette, HaperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster). In all honesty, any agent worth their salt more than likely isn’t going to be looking/advertising for clients at all.

Having worked as both an author and a publisher (or at least as an employee at a publishers) I can speak first hand as to what a disadvantage authors are at when it comes to getting published traditionally. Part of this comes down to the relatively common complaint I hear from people who work on the editing/publishing side of creative writing, “Everyone thinks they’re a writer.” Now, I talked earlier about my problem with people trying to separate novelists into writers and “real” writers, but I can understand the general sentiment for “Everyone thinks they’re a writer.” It takes a lot of work, but as a whole, it isn’t that hard to write a novel. Most people who have gone through grade school are capable of writing a generally understandable sentence in their native language (and perhaps non-native languages if they took those sorts of classes), so it’s just a matter of coming up with some idea for a plot and writing a bunch of those sentences over and over again, and sticking with it until you have a novel. The trick isn’t being able to write a novel, it’s about being able to write a good novel.

And one big problem in the writing community is the inability for authors to objectively judge their own novels. You put so much work into writing one, it’s your baby. Of course it’s amazing. You can see this in the Craigslist ad: “I have two book manuscripts that I believe are gold (but I’m also the writer).” I don’t blame the author at all for thinking that (lord knows I have some early manuscripts that are awful by my standards now that I thought were brilliant when I wrote them at sixteen), and hey, it’s even possible that they are amazing, even as a first novel (My former editing client, Allyson Marrs [@allymarrs] just recently got her first request for a full manuscript from an agent on her first novel, that’s further than my first novel ever got). It’s just really, really hard to judge your own work.

And so, there is a surplus of novels out there. Even taking out novels that I believe slush pile readers have every right to stop reading after a paragraph (my first novel, cough) authors still put out far more novels a year than even all the big and indie publishers combined could ever print. And thus, as authors, we are on the bum end of a supply vs. demand equation. Working in submissions, you can reject novels for a plot you aren’t interested in, typos, a writing style you don’t like, or even just because the author sounds like a diva in their cover letter. You don’t need more of a reason than any one of those. For every novel you reject there are three more that just landed in your inbox.

Now, that certainly doesn’t mean that you should just not try or bend over backwards for the first publisher or agent that sounds interested in your book. It does, however, mean that it’s important to understand where, as an author, you fall into the publishing hierarchy. You are the one who is going to be shopping your manuscript around. You are the one who is going to have to prove that your novel is better than the other hundred novels the agent/publisher got at the same time as yours. And that’s why you aren’t going to be able to advertise for an agent or publisher–at least not for one that’s any good. Sadly, authors are the ones applying for a job, not the ones hiring.

And so, for anyone just starting to look into trying to find an agent and/or publisher, here are some quick tips.

1. Don’t advertise for an agent/publisher. It might be tempting to save some time and have someone contact you rather than having to go around querying, but as I’ve stated above, reputable publishers and agents can have hundreds (if not thousands) of submissions each month from writers looking to be published/represented. There is no need for one of them to be browsing Craigslist or similar sites looking for clients. Advertising like that simply opens you up to getting contacted by people running vanity presses, people who are running scams, and “agents” with no experience/contacts in publishing.

1b. Not all agents are created equal. Simply having someone representing you isn’t a work around for a good lit agent. Working in submissions, every once in a while I would see a submission made by the author’s friend “working as their lit agent” who obviously had no more idea what they were doing than the author. “Agent” isn’t a magic word to get your submission ranked higher than other author-submitted manuscripts. If you aren’t working with an agent that is at least somewhat established, known to the press, or at least obviously is a professional with some experience in publishing, your submission is going into the slush pile with all the other submissions “agent” or not.

2. Be wary of “top agents” who are looking for clients on sites such as Craigslist. Now, there are some reputable agents/publishers who will let authors know they have an open submission period or are “actively growing their client base” (or something along those line). You don’t have to write someone off just because they have a post up saying they are accepting queries. What you should be wary of is agents who are looking for clients on general classified sites, especially ones that seem willing to accept any client (double points for any client without any sort of querying process).

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. If someone’s promising you something that seems too good to be true, be careful. No agent should promise they can get you published. Even top agents who do have a working relationship with the big six publishers can’t promise that those publishers will want your book. Sad fact is, even if you get an agent, it doesn’t necessarily mean your book is going to get published. It just means you have a much better chance than some other people in the slush pile. Pie in the sky promises should be a big red flag.

4. Always do your research. Big, well-established lit agencies are a good place to start when looking for a reputable agent. Also, agents which have a posted client list (especially one that lists books that have sold) are generally better than ones that have no track record of client sales. If something seems fishy about an agent’s website, be cautious. When in doubt, you can always look at sites such as Preditors and Editors which will list if the agent has any verified sales to publishers, if they are a member of a respected organization, and if other authors have not recommended them with a list of reasons (poor contract, unrealistic promises, etc.)

5. NEVER PAY SOMEONE TO REPRESENT/PUBLISH YOU. And, of course, the big one. Remember the general rule in publishing is money flows to the author, not from. Yes, authors are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding an agent/publisher, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have to start shelling out big money to get one. No reputable agent will ask for money. They make their money by selling your story (generally around 15% of the final amount they get you from the publisher [e.g. $150 of a $1000 advance, etc.]) Likewise, reputable agents and publishers won’t ask for a “reading fee” (money to cover their time considering your query).

As author Holly Lisle puts it:

Here is the unspoken translation to the agent’s reason for requiring a reading fee. ‘I absolutely suck as an agent. I cannot make as much money off of my sales of books for my clients as I can by ripping off naive writers who don’t know that my job as an agent should be to sell books and make money for my clients, and that my search for new clients should be part of my cost for doing business, just as the writer’s investment of time, talent, office supplies and postage is part of his. Furthermore, I have the ethics of the scum you scrape off the underside of a dead tree, and I’ve found that P.T. Barnum was right: There is a sucker born every minute. I’m out to milk my share of them’.”