Googled Questions: Part II

Every once in a while, I like to take a look at what search terms bring people to my blog. Helpful as it is, it’s also fun to see how people stumble upon the site. Sometimes, however, it seems there are questions that are never really answered that still end up with people on the blog. It’s for these people that I like to do a quick Q&A to hopefully answer more thoroughly what they were originally trying to Google (read the my first Q&A post here).

1. Is “shut the light” grammatically correct?

Yes, grammatically it’s fine. As to common…”shut the light” as a phrase is regional–mainly used in Brooklyn/the New York area from my understanding. More commonly you will hear “turn off the light” in common parlance. If your character is from Brooklyn, however, it is grammatically correct and a great way to show some regional differences in speech patterns.

2. What is the DSM diagnosis is for the movie Silver Linings Playbook?

Touched on briefly in this post, Silver Linings Playbook depicts Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, having Bipolar Disorder (seemingly Type 1). I’m not sure if Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, is ever diagnosed, but she seems to admit to suffering from some form of Clinical Depression (Major Depressive Disorder [MDD] in the DSM) and Hypersexuality (currently labeled as Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified [Sexual Disorder NOS] in the DSM, with a push to have Hypersexual Disorder added in the appendix), perhaps caused and/or exacerbated by her husband’s recent death.

3.  Should I accept to be a ghost writer on commission?

Probably originally directed to this article, my advice would be a resounding “no”. If you are looking for a little more experience and don’t especially care about how much you get paid for your work, you can. Unless best sellers, however, books tend to make very little in royalties to start with. If you don’t have Obama offering commission on his next memoir, you’re not likely to see much, if anything, for your work.

4. What is bad about Black Wyrm Publishing’s contract?

Not having any experience with Black Wyrm myself, I turned to Preditors and Editors and Absolute Write Water Cooler to see what other authors have to say (both good sites to look at when you’re looking at publishing with someone who isn’t a “big  name”). Preditors and Editors states “Poor Contract. Not recommended.” and Absolute Write Water Cooler has little about them in general. Their name pops up a few more places as not recommended, but I can not find much other than the fact that something seems to be off about their contracts. Their site, however, does state, “Our typical contract stipulates that BlackWyrm provides the editing, cover design, money for printing, promotion, and ebook conversion. BlackWyrm keeps the revenue until the book breaks even, then splits the money evenly with the author thereafter.” While this sometimes happens in the event of an advance (where the publisher pays X amount of dollars as a down payment to the author to then be made up in royalties) it is not common/accepted if there is no advance to an author. It is the publisher’s duty, as a publisher, to put up money for all they have stated/pay for it out of their share of the royalties. If they have not already given any money, it’s a poor contract to allow them to take all money made from the book until they “break even” (a term that sounds very easy to exploit). I imagine this is the clause to which Preditors and Editors is referring.

5. Is SBPRA (Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency) a scam?

Taking a look at Preditors and Editors once again we find “Poor contract. Strongly not recommended.” along with  “Currently being sued by Florida State Attorney General.” for fraud including showing books which they have not actually published as their “success stories”. So, at best, they are a vanity press (one that charges you to publish your book: read more about those here) and, at worse, a scam. I would recommend staying far away.

6. Why is the Time Turner a plot hole in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

Time travel is a wishy-washy, trip yourself up sort of thing. While it can be done well, and is rather popular for the time being, it also leaves you open to a bunch of possible plot holes along the lines of, “If X happened, then Y happens, but Z happened…so how did X happen?” For Harry Potter specifically, the main plot hole which the Time Turner introduces is, if time travel is readily accessible for the wizards in the Harry Potter universe, why didn’t anyone just go back in time and stop Voldemort at any point along the way? And why do they never use it again after Prisoner? It could come in handy, no doubt.  Good as a plot device for the events in the third book, it opens up a can of worms for the integrity for the rest of the novels.

Guest Post – Bernadette Marie: Why I Became a Publisher

Today’s post comes to us from Bernadette Marie, Romance Author and founder of 5 Prince Publishing. Learn more about her here

Regular posts will resume Monday. In the meantime, you can also read my “Author Spotlight” Interview on World Lit Cafe live today here

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There are always ways to get to where you want to go. Look at an Internet map. Plug in your destination and you will get multiple routes. You chose the one best for you. Becoming a publisher was the best for me.

Let’s start with why I even bothered.

I did my foot work. I put in my time. I sent queries (and I’d done so since I was 16 years old.) I pitched, took classes, had the critique partners…and so on and so on. And like many aspiring authors I was shot down often.

I take everything as learning experience! A “no” is just a stepping stone to the next level. The hardest part knowing what you’re supposed to change to get better.

Self-promotion has always come easy for me. So I began to do so as soon as I decided I was a serious author. I was approached by a publisher who wanted me. What a thrill! Well, let me get that out of the way…publishers do not seek out authors. Authors seek out publishers. Needless to say it was a bad business move.

After years of basically having my books held hostage and no royalties paid, I had to move on. With my experience as an entrepreneur I knew I could do this myself. I was right.

The purpose of 5 Prince Publishing was to give me an actual business to publish under. Yes, in 2011, the independent publisher and author was still not a fully accepted method of publishing. Here we sit in 2013 and the format is the way to go.

What I quickly found out was authors wanted to embrace the smaller houses and have more control over their work.

I certainly wasn’t ready or thinking of publishing others. However, authors didn’t want to hear that. They liked my format for my business and they wanted me to publish them. So I began to accept other authors.

Taking my business seriously, as I was doing, to be a 5 Prince Publishing author, you had to be willing to have an understanding of how small my company was, work with me through the growing pains, and of course you had to write a good book.

I made some mistakes. I helped some friends and that didn’t go so well. Now I don’t accept the books, someone else with a fresh look at it does that. I have a great team of editors and line editors and the submissions just fly in. Our cover artist is amazing. Our authors interactive in the big picture, understanding that every little it helps when you help each other.

In January 2014 5 Prince Publishing will turn three years old and will have over 60 titles in its catalog. I can’t say I ever saw it coming. We have multiple bestselling authors and revenue grows as we continue to learn this new frontier of publishing.

5 Prince Publishing

Click to find more about 5 Prince Publishing

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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Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Prior Works

Submitting a novel can be a nerve-wracking experience. You’re putting your baby out there into the world, and knowing that it’s most likely going to be shot down over and over again. It can be especially bad for first-time novelists, especially when it comes to that part in the submission guidelines where agnets/publishers want to see a list of past works. This is your first novel, you don’t have any past works. What are you supposed to do? Do you have to have already been published to get published.

Short answer, no, whether you have never been published or a dozen times, a book still has to stand for itself. If you’ve written a good book, people will look at it.

So what do you do when people want a list of prior works? Or what do you put into that last paragraph in a query letter that’s supposed to be about you? There are a couple of different options:

1. Leave it out. If you don’t write that you have any prior works, most publishers/agents are going to assume you don’t have any and leave it at that.

2. Give other relevant credentials. Do you have an English degree? Feel free to throw that in to a query letter where you’d be listing works if you had them. Did you with an award for writing something unpublished? Put that in. Did you write a book about a farm? Maybe put in that you’ve worked on a farm all your life. You can fill in that empty spot with things that show you are qualified to write the book you have written instead of a list of prior novels you’ve had published.

But what if you don’t want to leave it out or don’t have any relevant credentials? What to do then?

Well, to start off, I’d like to strongly urge first time submitters to go with one of the above options. For those who will go with another choice, however, I at least offer some don’ts.

1. Don’t give credentials that aren’t relevant. Ok, you don’t have anything relevant to say in that last paragraph in a query letter, but you don’t want to tell the agent/publisher nothing about you. So let’s throw in that you were a computer science major in college, live with your three dogs on Long Island, really enjoy writing… It’s better than leaving the space blank, right? Actually, not really. Coming from working submissions, you never seem to be caught up. There’s a reason query letters should be kept to one page. Short and to the point is good. When you start cluttering put a letter with things that don’t show either a) You’re most likely a good writer or b) You’re qualified in some way to cover the books topic, it’s just more to wade through. Dogs, family, irrelevant hobbies, those should all be kept out of a query letter if you want to stay on the good side of a slush pile reader.

2. Don’t say this is your first novel. As I said above, by not saying anything about other novels, agents/publishers are 9 times out of 10 going to assume you haven’t published anything before. There is no reason to draw attention to your inexperience. Especially stay away from “This is my first novel, but…” statements (“This is my first novel, but I’ve been writing since I was three” “This is my first novel, but I’ve always loved science fiction” etc.) When you do that, you’re not only highlighting your inexperience, but sounding inexperienced and like someone who has something to prove. Not a good combination when trying to find someone easy to work with. You could have the best novel in the world and still get passed over if an agent/publisher doesn’t like your attitude in your query letter. Afterall, they know they’re going to be working with you for as long as the contract lasts.

3. Don’t talk up your self-published/vanity-published book. At least don’t if it isn’t wildly popular. If you self published a novel and it ended up on the best seller chart, but all means, mention it. If you self published a novel and your friends have read it, it’s at best a sign that you like writing, at worst, a sign you think you’re a much better writer than you actually are (a type of author people in submissions are loath to pass off to their editors). Vanity-published books are no better. The reason agents/publishers like to see prior publishing credits is because it tells them something about you are a writer. Someone else has read your stuff and at least thinks it’s good enough to publish, they’ve vetted/vouched for you. Perhaps have even shown how profitable you are. If you’ve paid someone to publish your book, that endorsement is moot. It’s no better than if you had self-published the book.

Trying to act like the vanity publisher is a reputable press is even worse. Working in publishing, you know the names of the big vanity publishers, thus having a book from one of them is discounted as basically self-published right away, and when I was in submissions, I’d check out any publishers I wasn’t familiar with. Indie presses I always liked to get to know, and vanity presses I liked to add to the list. (This is one more reason going through a vanity press really isn’t worth it. You aren’t “self published” but you’ve paid a ton of money for a name that means nothing along with editing/lay out services you could get cheaper from a freelancer). Trying to talk up a vanity-published novel is also a red flag to people in submissions as someone who possibly has something to prove and thus are not going to be fun to work with.

Long story short, it is best to not point out your inexperience, but not try to pretend to be something you aren’t either. After all, agents and publishers are looking for good, profitable stories and authors who won’t be a headache to work with.

So take a deep breath, and get those submissions out there. First, third, or fifteenth novel.

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

Submissions 101

As annoying as it can be to wait the weeks (if not months) it takes to hear back from publishers, one unforeseen bonus of it is the fact that you can still get good news even months after you take a break from submitting. While in the midst of house closings and packing and half a million other things it feels like I’m busy doing right now, I got the good type of letter from a publisher about a short story I submitted back in January. I’m now waiting on a contract and a check for the story to be in an anthology this fall. As always, I’m very happy (always nice to make money off your writing!) but it got me thinking that I’d take a short break from packing to answer some questions about querying that bright new shiny (thoroughly edited) novel/short story of yours.  I’ll start with some general questions, then go to a step-by-step.

Q. I was told you need a literary agent to get published. Aren’t you going to submit to them?

A. It depends what you want to do. Literary agents (good literary agents) can be worth their weight in gold. They will help you with the business side of things and are all but your only shot of having your book published by one of “the big six” For many indie presses, however, you certainly don’t need one, and when submitting short stories I’d personally think of one as overkill.

Q. All of these publishers/agents want a bio with previous writing/relevant experience. This is my first time writing. Am I sunk?

A. It’s like the old job hunting problem, they only want to hire people with experience, but you can’t get experience until you have a job. I think the vast majority of us have been there, and truly it’s annoying as  [expletive deleted]. After all, how are you supposed to get work experience if no one will hire you without it? When people start wanting to see a resume for your writing, it feels like the same thing (I have to have published something to get published…) The good news is, as a writer, all that truly matters is how good your work is. People like seeing a list of credits because it means you (most likely) aren’t a bad writer. Someone else has vouched for you. If your writing is amazing, however, not having a page long list of credits isn’t going to hurt you. A good book is a good book, no matter who’s writing it.

Q. Is there a way I can be sure I’ll be published?

A. Sure, self-publish–or pay a vanity press thousands to publish your book for you. Otherwise, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, getting published is some combination of talent, perseverance, and luck. Yep, luck.  You have to write a book that someone else thinks is good (which is entirely subjective) while they are looking for new projects (a publisher may generally like your story, but their catalogue is full right now, so not worth sitting on it…) Really, it’s about writing something interesting, and trying until the stars align for traditional publishing. If you aren’t going the self-publishing/vanity publishing route and someone is promising to get you published, be wary. They’re probably selling something…or, you know, scamming.

***Submissions Step-by-Step***

Before you submit:

1. EDIT. First drafts generally have some big problems in them. You fix these during the editing stage. Even if your book is perfect from the get-go (was dictated by some higher power or what not) still go over it. Nothing is quite so off-putting as seeing a dozen typos per page when going through submissions. Either it means you aren’t a very good writer (in which case, why keep reading) or you don’t care enough to actually fix your story up a little (in which case, we generally won’t want to work with you since we will be editing). Put your best foot forward, which means editing until it’s as perfect as you can make it.

2. Consider your goals. What are you looking for in publishing this work? Is it a short story you wrote to just try to get some writing credits? In that case, you still want a reputable publisher, but you don’t have to limit yourself to the top name publishers with giant paychecks. A nice college review would be a great place to look. Do you want your novel published by one of the big six and seen on every bookshelf? You’re probably best off trying for an agent. Do you just want your novel published professionally and to see some royalties? Indie presses might not be a bad idea. It’s all about what you want from your work. There’s no right or wrong answer, just different goals.

3. Do your research. Sadly, with as many want-to-be authors out there writing for the first time, dying to see their books published, there are some disreputable “publishers” out there (I complied a list of some of them at the bottom of this post about publishing contracts earlier. Sadly there are many more). Before submitting somewhere that isn’t well known (not a big name or, perhaps, a university press) try looking at Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write Water Cooler, or even just google [Press you’re interested in] scam, and you should get any complaints that might be. For example, here is a google search for a publisher that is becoming known as a back-door vanity press (using “Press Name Scam” as the search criteria). Note the multiple threads about contract problems, scams, other things you don’t want to see surrounding a press to which you’re submitting. On the other hand, here is a search for a very small, but generally good reputation indie press (again, using “Press Name Scam”). No complaints come up, and better it shows some of their catalogue popping up at Barnes and Noble. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re completely legit, but it’s a very good sign in that direction.

4. Put together a list of agents/presses you are interested in. Once you figure out your goals and know these presses aren’t scams, decided whom you are going to query. Also check if they allow simultaneous submissions (submitting to more than one agent/publisher at the same time). It’s good to stay organized so you don’t get into problems later on (including submitting twice, or even three times, to the same publisher…I’ve sadly seen it happen as a slush pile reader).

What you will need to submit:

Submission guidelines vary from agent to agent (and publisher to publisher) so always be sure to read guidelines on a site before submitting, but in general, you will need:

– A complete, fully edited manuscript. Non-fiction authors may find that they can get a publishing contract with just a book proposal, but I have yet to find an agent or publisher who is willing to take fiction (from non-established authors) without the author having the manuscript completely finished. For Short Stories, you probably will be submitting the full manuscript from the start. For novels, you will generally be submitting the first 3 (or so) chapters with the initial submission. This does not, however, mean you should only have 3 chapters edited. It may say on their website you won’t hear back from an initial query for 4-6 weeks, but always be ready to send a full manuscript the next day, just in case.

– A query letter, basically, your book’s cover letter. It will generally include a “hook”, a short blurb about your book, and a bio/why you are the person to write the book (it’s ok to skimp on the bio if you don’t have any other writing credits. It’s worse to try to fill it in with unhelpful information than leave it blank altogether).

– A synopsis. The full story, from beginning to end. You generally won’t need this for short stories (they have the full story, after all) but since you tend to only send in a bit of your novel as a sample, this lets the acquisitions editor know if they’re interested in how the story turns out. Do NOT try to leave it with a cliff hanger (“leave them wanting more”) outline in about one single-spaced page how your characters go from point A to point B and finally end up at pont C.

– Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). This only comes in to play if you’re mailing in your submission rather than emailing it (some publishers insist one form or the other, but more and more are turning to email-only submissions, in my experience). Still, you may see requests for a SASE on submission guidelines. This is so that the agent/publisher is able to mail you a response simply by sticking it in the envelope you sent and mailing it back to you.

– Anything else the press/agent asks for in their submission guidelines. The above three things will cover most places, but some want you to have written a cover blurb (what would be on the back of your book while it’s sitting on the shelf) a separate author bio (generally what would likewise be on your book [Jessica Dall is the author of… etc.]) a break down of whom you are targeting with this book (children, stay-at-home moms, murder-mystery enthusiasts, etc.) or other things of those nature. Don’t give out sensitive information (bank account info, Social Security Numbers, anything that feels scammy) but be ready for extra requests from some agents/presses.

Putting together your submission:

1. Read the full submission guidelines of the agent/publisher you are querying. Make sure they are currently accepting submissions (some agents/publishers have closed and open submission periods. Make sure you’re only sending your query while they’re reading them or the submission may possibly be deleted without being read), and make sure you have exactly what they want (Query, Synopsis, First Three Chapters? Just Query? Query and Full Manuscript? Query, Synopsis, First Two Chapters, Marketing Plan, Author Bio, Back-Cover Blurb?)

2. Put together your submission. If you are mailing it in, put everything requested in a manila envelope to mail. If emailing (and there are no guidelines as to attachments) it is generally best to have your query letter in the body of the email, and then attach the synopsis and first three chapters in an easy-to-open file format (generally .doc/.docx or .rtf work best). If there are no guidelines as to titling the files, it is generally best to structure them with all the important information up front, for example: LastName.PartofSubmission.Title (e.g. Dall.Synopsis.TheBleedingCrowd). Again, be sure to check guidelines about attachments and file names, some agents/publishers are highly specific.

3. Proofread  your query letter a final time. It’s just as bad (if not worse) to have typos in your query letter. You want to come off as a good writer at all stages of your submission.

4. Mail/Send your submission to the agent/publisher’s prefered mailing/email address.

What Happens Next?

1. Wait. It’s possible for Agents and Publishers to get hundreds of submissions daily. It’s possible you’ll hear back the next day, or even the same day, if you just happen to send something in while they’re reading submissions, but it’s just as likely you won’t hear back for weeks (or months). Don’t try to read meaning into it, it’s just how long it can take to work through a backlog of submissions.

2. Hear back (maybe…) As much as rejections aren’t fun, it’s better than one alternative–not hearing back at all. While some agents/publishers are really good about getting back to everyone who submits to them, some you won’t hear back from unless they’re interested in seeing more/publishing you.

If you receive a rejection letter:

1. Brush it off. Yeah, rejection always sucks, but it’s part of being an author. Perhaps they’ll let you know why they weren’t interested, more than likely it will just be a form “due to the high number of submissions we receive, we must be highly selective… blah blah blah. We don’t feel this project is right for us at this time.” It’s possible you were rejected because your novel reads like something a second grader would do, but it’s far more likely they don’t feel the genre’s really right for them, they think it could use a little more editing, or simply their catalogue is full and they aren’t looking for anything more for the time being.

2. Move on to the next batch of submissions. If you’re querying one at a time (by choice, or if you are submitting to people who don’t accept simultaneous submissions), go to the next name on your list and prepare your submission following their guidelines. If you’re querying in groups, pick the next few submissions you’re going to send off and send those.

3. Repeat until you get something other than a rejection.

If you don’t hear back:

Like I said, it can take forever to hear back from some agents/publishers for a number of reason (I submitted the story that was just accepted in February I think…) but at some point it can be fair to assume you aren’t going to hear back. There are no hard and fast rules as to when to give up, but:

1. If the publisher has time estimates (you should hear back in 4-6 weeks, three months, etc.) feel free to follow up at the end of that estimate. For example, if it says 4-6 weeks for the initial query, and it’s been six weeks, feel free to write a quick “I emailed this query six weeks ago, I just wanted to make sure you had it” email. Hopefully they’re still working on it. If you still don’t hear anything in the next week or so, start feeling free to move on.

2. If there’s no time estimate as to when you’ll hear back, give the acquisitions editor 6-8 weeks, roughly, before writing them off. You may still hear from a long-lost submission much later on, but if 8 weeks have passed and you still have no answer, personally I find it safe to assume you won’t be hearing from that agent/publisher. And, again in my personal experience, I don’t find even people who don’t allow simultaneous submissions getting upset if they email back months later to find you’ve submitted elsewhere. There may be some, but if they don’t state you will hear back from them, after a few months it’s generally accepted that you aren’t supposed to sit around waiting to hear forever, especially those who know you won’t be submitting elsewhere while waiting for them. (For example, someone accepted a story of mine six months after I submitted to them once, which caused me to have to pull it from another “no simultaneous submissions” publisher. They were very understanding, as it had been long enough that I shouldn’t have reasonably expected a reply from the first press).

3. Submit to the next batch of agents/publishers. Once again, you keep going until you get something other than a rejection or no response.

You get a “we’d like to see more” letter:

1. First, be happy. Speaking from experience, approximately 95 percent of stories/novels (sent to reputable publishers) don’t even get this far in the submissions process. It means that you have a story interesting enough that someone wants to read it, and your writing is actually pretty good (in their opinion). You aren’t getting published yet, but it’s definitely something to be proud about.

2. Follow the guidelines sent to you in the letter or email to submit additional materials. Generally this is going to be the rest of your novel (if you only submitted a sample) but they may ask for other things as well. Make sure to follow their guidelines exactly (what file format, where to send it, what to include) and send off anything else they want as quickly as possible (if you keep them waiting around for a month after they request a full manuscript, you may have lost your chance. It’s possible they’ve signed someone else and their catalogue/client list is now full).

3. Wait. Yes, more waiting. And for possibly longer this time. It takes more time reading and judging a full novel than it does a submission for the most part. You also should not be sending out more queries/submissions at this point. It is good manners to wait to hear back from someone reading your full novel rather than keep submitting to others. If you don’t hear back for a while, feel free to follow up. As “fulls” (full manuscripts) are requested from fewer authors, it’s general practice that youwill hear one way or the other about the agent/publisher’s decision.

You get a “We liked the submission, but we aren’t actually going to publish you after reading the full” letter.

1. Be bummed, but brush it off. It happens. You’re trying to make it from the 5 percent who get fulls requested to the 1 percent that gets published, some times you are in the 4 percent who don’t end up with a publishing contract at the end of it, sadly. It’s a let down, but think of it positively. Someone liked you enough to put you in the top 5 percent. Hopefully you’ll find someone else who likes it just that little bit extra. All signs are pointing positive.

2. Go back and start submitting to the new batch of agents/publishers. If you run out of your first list, do some more research and look for more reputable agents/publishers to submit to.

You get a “We want to publish you” letter:

This can come either right after the initial submission (generally will for short stories, or can possibly happen if you send in your full manuscript to start with), or it can come after submitting a full manuscript. Either way, it is certainly the best type of letter.

1. Be happy. Jump up and down if you’re the type. Smile. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it to the 1 percent (and not the 1 percent that will have Occupy Wall Street after you). It’s a big accomplishment. HOWEVER, don’t write back/call everyone you know until you’ve calmed down.

2. Ask to review the contract. This is why you want to calm down some before responding/telling everyone. Publishing is a business. You need to protect your interests. Perhaps where you submitted didn’t come up with any scam reports, but there’s something fishy when you look at the contract. Read it fully, ask questions, and if you can’t work it out, walk away. Yes, it’s painful after all the submitting and work you’ve done to get this far, but it’s a bad idea to sign the first thing people put in front of you just because you want to be published. Make sure you maintain the rights of your work, that you aren’t paying for anything (you don’t pay agents or publishers, they get paid when they sell your book), and the contract terms are favorable. If it’s your first time looking at a publishing/agent contract, perhaps try to talk someone who might know what to look for. Publishing contracts, like any contract, are legally binding. You don’t want to hurt yourself before you even get your book out.

3. Negotiate. Even if you aren’t planning on walking away from the contract, you can always feel free to try to negotiate. Agents/Publishers do tend to have the upper hand (if they don’t publish you, there are another hundred people happy to take  your place) so don’t be demanding/outrageous (I demand a 1 million book initial run with 75 percent royalties!) but you certainly don’t have to be a pushover. Really, if you’re being reasonable, the worst they can say is no. For my two books coming out this summer, one I negotiated slightly higher royalties, the other I negotiated having a print run at the same time as the ebook run, rather than ebook and then print later on. If the publisher/agent likes your book enough to want to print it/represent it, they’ll probably be willing to work with you a little on contract terms. If they aren’t just decide if it’s something you can live with, or if it’s worth trying to find someone else.

4. Sign the contract. Once you have a contract with any changes you’ve agreed upon, sign it and send it off to the agent/publisher. Some groups will accept electronic signatures/scanned signatures. Some want a hard copy/ink signature. The bigger the project, the more likely you’re going to be sending a signed contract in the mail. In that case, the publisher/agent should then likewise sign the contract and send a copy back to you.

5. Celebrate. Now comes the time when you call all your friends and family, taunt those who belittled your writing, whatever you plan on doing to celebrate. You’ll have edits, and covers, and who knows what else in the next few months in preparation of your book launch, but for now, enjoy it. It’s an accomplishment.

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“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’.”

Novel Blogs

First things first, I think blogs are awesome (I’m not sure what it would say about me if I didn’t think so with, you know, me writing this in a blog). Sure there are inane blogs out there, and they are the subject of some ridicule, but there are also hundreds of great blogs out there. I fully support anyone interested in keeping up a blog–especially if they have something interesting to say.

But that leads me to today’s post: Novel Blogs.

Writers of all kinds keep blogs. They can be portfolios for ghostwriters, writing tips (like this one), updates on publicity tours, or any number of other things. One popular type of blog for some writers is to set up a blog for their work in progress (WIP) where they post a chapter up at a time.

Now, depending on what your final goals are for your writing, these types of blogs can be a good or a bad thing.

On the positive side, a novel blog can get you some outside critiques, get your name up on the web as a writer, and–if you’re lucky–get you some publicity.

Negatively, however, these novel blogs can also seriously hurt your chances at traditional publishing in the future–at least for that particular WIP.

Having been in the middle of many arguments about this topic, I know there are some varying opinions on this topic (most of which hinge on how self-publishing is changing the publishing industry) but the long and short of it is:

When you sell your manuscript to a publisher (a reputable publisher) you aren’t selling the work or copyright. You are selling them the rights to publish your work. When you sign the contract with your publisher, you aren’t saying they own your novel (at least you shouldn’t be, always read your contract fully) you’re saying they can produce and sell your.

Almost always, the rights you are selling are exclusive (only that publisher may sell the book for however long the contract states), and more often or not, publishers are looking to contract First Publication Rights, that is, the right to be the first people to put your book out there.

As one blogger puts it: “the instant that you first publish your work you’ve used up your first publication rights… This is true no matter how that publication is achieved: whether you publish through one of the big conglomerates like Random House, a tiny independent like Salt or Bluechrome (which are growing in stature and reputation every day), whether you self-publish or get to market through one of the many murky vanity presses which lurk on the periphery of the industry: your book has been published and those first rights are irretrievably gone. ”

That blogger is pointing out how important looking into your publisher is, but what he/she doesn’t say is that self publishing isn’t solely what happens when you go through some company and ready your book for sale online. Most publishers go off the simpler definition of “publish”, that is: “to disseminate to the public.” So, it doesn’t matter if your work is in book form, an e-book, or if you’re even getting paid for it. If your work is available in its entirety to the public, in print or online, many publishers consider your work “published” and your first rights already used. If the publisher you are hoping to work with only considers buying first publication rights, having your book online can make them pass on it–even if you only “published” the book on a blog.

Now, this is where that controversy I was talking about earlier comes in. While I never suggest people post works they want to publish traditionally online, some people like to point out that some authors have been picked up by big publishing houses because of their popularity online.

It’s possible, I won’t say that it isn’t. There are cases where “self-published” works online become such hits that they are picked up by big name companies. Cases like that may even become more common in the future. For now, though, at least in my opinion, chances of getting noticed as an internet sensation fall into the realm of possible, but not probable. And so, for now, it is always my suggestion that authors think before posting WIPs online:

1. Are you planning on trying to traditionally publish this WIP once you are done with it? If so, consider keeping it offline, or only publish an excerpt. Publishing a scene of a chapter of your current WIP on your site or blog won’t use your first publication rights the way posting the entire work will.

And more importantly:

2. Why do you want to post this WIP? Are you just looking for outside critiques? It’s possible to have people read your work without having it considered “published”. After all, the important part of the earlier definition of “publish” is the word “public”. If it isn’t possible for anyone to come across it and read it (such as you have a password to get to your site, are on a members-only site, or are just emailing the manuscript around to a few people) you have not “published” your work as you would have on a blog that is available to the world. Are you hoping to catch someone’s attention with it? Then put up an excerpt that you’re especially proud of. There are plenty of ways to do what you want without throwing an obsticle in your path later on.

Of course, if you just want to get your work out there and don’t especially want to publish traditionally, don’t worry about your novel blog. It’s just important to always think before you act as a writer–especially on the internet.

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Word Limits

Today’s post: Word Limits or: Why won’t they publish my 300,000 word novel?

People write some long novels. James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans is 145,469 words long. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead 311,596. And, of course, as the king of long novels, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is 587,287. With most novels clocking in around 100,000 words (give or take 20,000), Tolstoy has arguably written six books in one, and Rand a one-book trilogy (with the shorter of her two most famous works).

Word counts can be funny things. Interestingly enough, I seem to have some sort of power over my novels. If I’m aiming for a 80,000 word book, I tend to get one somewhere within that range give or take 5,000. My first NaNoWriMo novel, which had the goal of 50,000 words, wrapped up at around 50,500. Aiming for 80,000 with my latest project The Copper Witch (which has just moved into the submission stage) I finished up around 86,000.

Continuously managing to write a story within a general word count, though (be it through subconscious tinkering, or anything else) , doesn’t seem to be a universal trait amongst writers. And that’s something I completely understand. A story has a natural progression. It’s done when it’s done.

So what is there to be done when how long (or short) your novel is seems to be what’s keeping it from being published? Aren’t the word counts they give generally arbitrary anyway? As one NaNoWriMo Forum poster puts it:

I’ve read somewhere that 120 K is the upper limit for a new fantasy writer, which seems really… short for a fantasy novel…I still can’t believe it’s set as the upper limit.”

Now, first, I’d like to say I’ve never found 120,000 words short. My fantasy novels tend to be around 80,000, but perhaps that’s because I don’t write Tolkien-style epics.

Second, as the earlier books I’ve listed in this blog show, it’s possible to get a book published that is more than 120,000 words. You should never say “can’t” when it comes to publishing. Doing certain things can make it harder to get published, but nothing I have yet seen makes it impossible to get a book published.

But why do publishers even care about word counts? Sure, if the story drags on and on, that’s a problem, but if it’s action-packed and engaging for those 200,000 words, what’s the problem?

Having worked on both sides of publishing–as a writer and as someone working at a publishers–I can only point to one fact that is all to easy to forget as a writer. Your manuscript might be your baby as an author, but as a publisher, the manuscript is a product. Writing might be art to you, but writing is business to a publisher. Unless writing is your only source of income, money is something that might just be an added perk to us writers that coincides with seeing our books in print. To a publisher, however, those books are all business. It’s an added plus sometimes to give a first time novelist a shot at their big break, but if even a book you love isn’t likely to make a profit, it just isn’t something a publisher with a good business plan will take on.

So why does a publisher keep putting out the same generic vampire books? Because they sell. Why doesn’t a publisher put out any more vampire books? Because the market seems oversaturated and they aren’t as likely to sell (or the acquisition editor is sick to death of them).

And word counts come from this same need to mitigate risk and maximize profits. Beyond the fact that it’s likely many long manuscripts could do with a harsh paring down, there are two big problems with books over 120,000-150,000 words:

1. The longer the book is, the more expensive it is to produce. Unless you are going through a vanity publisher (and thus paying the press to put your book out) the general rule is money flows to the author, not from. A reputable publisher will pay for formatting, cover art, editing…and just about every other “start-up” cost there is to putting out a book. Focusing on the editing aspect of that, the longer your book is, the more they’re going to end up paying there editors. After all, there’s a reason I charge more editing a 200,000-word book than a 10,000-word one. The longer the book is, the longer it will take to edit. Especially edit well. If you’re paying an editor per project, you’re going to be paying for them more for a long project. If you’re paying an editor hourly, they’re going to have to take much more time to edit a long book. Even if you’re paying an editor a set salary, they may only be able to get one book done when  they generally would have three ready to go. Since most publishers worried about quality have at least three rounds of edits, that can add up to a lot of extra man-hours.

And then, of course, there’s just the production cost in general. With ebooks it’s changing a little, but as long as print books are popular, the longer a book is the more it will cost to print (ink, paper, etc.) Printing an initial run of 1,000 300,000-word books basically uses the same amount of supplies as 3,000 100,000-word books.

2. The longer a book is, the harder it is to sell. Now, this isn’t a “people don’t like reading long books” point. Obviously people are willing to read books that are longer than “average”. Going back to the fact that the larger a (print) book is, the more paper is needed to print it–the more paper in a book means the more it will cost to ship, and the more shelf space it takes up. Most bookstores prefer to have a range of books out, and thus don’t like taking many thick books, especially ones by unknown authors.

Likewise, with shipping and printing costs quite a bit higher for long books versus short ones, to make money off longer books they need to be priced higher. Now, not only do you have  to sell the story to someone (since not all plots are loved by all people) but you have to find someone who is willing to foot the cost of all that extra time and material. Someone who’s willing to pay for a book at $14.99 might not be so willing to by it at $24.99. There’s a psychology to marketing, and how you’re able to price things is a big part of that.

Add the fact that you have fewer books in general to sell in one run to the fewer buyers, and publishers see a lot of warning lights going off.

With the growing popularity of ebooks, perhaps the word count barriers will start to come down. The cost of pixels doesn’t go up with how long a book is. Even if you can’t decrease editing costs, you at least would be able to save money on printing and be able to price a long book close to a shorter book. But for now, limits on length when it comes to submissions makes complete sense to me.

Limits might be annoying to writers, but publishing isn’t about pleasing writers. You want the authors you work  with to be happy with edits, and cover art, and all of that stuff. But as a publisher, how the book sells dictates whether or not you get a raise, get promoted, or heck, even still have a job next month.

And so, with the surplus of manuscripts floating around out there, publishers can be picky about where they spend their time and money. While anything can happen based on whose desk a manuscript comes across, things that pose a financial risk (too long a book, an unknown author, a plot that doesn’t quite seem to fit any one genre) are often looked at critically.

After all, a book is art to an author, but business to a publisher.

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How to Get Published

As people who have read earlier posts should know, I’ve recently signed a publishing contract (two, actually [yay] but one is being published under a pen name, so I’ll leave that for other places). After congratulations, what I have heard most since telling people is “How do you get published?”

So far I have refrained from the two-step answer:

1. Write a good book.

2. Find someone who wants to publish it.

Truly, that might be the simple answer, but I doubt it’s what the people who ask the question want to hear. Hearing how those people talk, it sounds like they think publishing is some large maze that you just need some pointers to get through before you get the ultimate goal of that book print in your hands. Perhaps there are some pointers someone could give about how to get on the fast track to publishing, but sadly I don’t have one. It just comes down to writing a book that someone thinks is good enough to publish and then finding that person.

But, in the interest of actually giving people something more substantial when asking about publishing, I’ll try to offer a few more pointers, answer a few more questions.

– Don’t let rejections bother you. Personally, I hate those statistics people throw around when trying to be encouraging about this. Stephan King was turned down by this many publishers, J.K. Rowling by this many… I don’t keep my rejection letters like some of my writer friends do, I couldn’t tell you how many  times the two manuscripts were rejected before someone wanted to publish them (more than a couple, less than a ton). I don’t gain any sort of motivation from my rejections like it seems some people do. Rejection letters are a part of life as a writer–at least if you’re not a best seller. Some will be form “thanks but no thanks” some will be very nice (one of the most recent rejections I have gotten stated “I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish” which I thought very sweet) and give words of encouragement, but I always expect some rejections to come. Don’t let them bother you, all you need is that one yes.

– Nothing replaces a great manuscript. Writing credits can help (have you published a novel before? great) but not having any isn’t the end of the world. From my years working in acquisitions, I can completely honestly say that the manuscript is what is most important to selling your novel. Having a long line of previous credits and a PhD is not going to make up for having a bad plot, flat writing, or three typos a paragraph. What won’t help you is putting in things that are vaguely related as a way of trying to fill in credits you don’t have. Writing “This is my first novel, but I have worked X years as a technical writer” tells me that you probably have good spelling and grammar, but nothing else. Creative writing is an entirely different skill than technical writing. Trust your writing to prove what your lack of writing credits can’t.

– It’s easier to get short stories published than novels. That said, if you feel better having something to put in that final paragraph of a query letter, you should probably focus on publishing short stories. They’re cheaper than a Master’s in Creative Writing, and easier to get published than a novel. I’ve never seen a reason to spend the money entering writing contests, but there are plenty of publishers who put out literary magazines and anthologies on a regular basis. As it costs them less, and it’s less of a risk than backing you for a novel, you will generally find your short stories up against at least less scrutiny than any novel submissions. They are also a good way to get some money off your writing while trying to score that big novel deal. 1,000 word story isn’t going to take you as long to write as a 100,000 word novel and–even if you don’t make as much off it–you’ll have enough money for a few cups of coffee and a professional writing credit to put to your name.

As unhelpful as that might be for any “insider” publishing secrets, I hope it helps shed some light into getting published. I am always willing to answer questions if you want to contact me (comment, or find my contact info on the contact page above) I’m happy to share what not-so-sage wisdom I might have from my years on both sides of publishing.

But yeah. Two steps. Write good book. Find someone who thinks it’s good.

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