By Al Kalar
If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.
Your book is cleaned up. You’ve created a masterpiece that will appeal to a targeted segment of readers (or who knows, a blockbuster best seller?). The first paragraph of your book “sings” and will hook the reader into a ride that won’t let him/her go until the last sentence. You’ve passed it by competent story and copy editors and it’s as clean as you can make it.
So, how do you go about finding a publisher?
With AKW Books, it was easy. Just go to the author site and step through the process. If your book is scholarly, well-written prose; or well written, engrossing fiction, and not porn or erotica, AND has sales potential, they’s probably be glad to publish it in eBook format. There are still a number of similar publishers out there.
But suppose you want to be published elsewhere in paper format (or in addition to an eBook)? This can be a bit more daunting, but the rewards can be worth it.
First let’s make one thing clear: there are no guarantees in this business. The book selling industry is in trouble. Production costs are up and you have a lot of competition. The advent of the computer word processor has made it easier for anyone who can peck at a keyboard to write a book.
The upshot is that publishers are faced with a huge volume of new manuscripts which have to be skimmed (yes skimmed) and very few available slots for actual publication, especially for new, untested writers. An acquisitions editor will skim your cover letter, your plot, and your first few pages. If anything bothers her, she’ll dump the manuscript and go on to the next. She has a lot of manuscripts to go through before she can go home and she desperately wants to find a good one with profit potential in the mess.
Many publishers won’t even look at un-agented work. Rather than paying a host of editors to go through manuscripts, they push the job down to the agents who will, hopefully, only send them good stuff.
So, the first thing you need is to do your homework to find out what a publisher is looking for and how they want you to approach them. Your library reference section may have a copy of Writer’s Market. This has been a “standard” for years and includes a lot of the information you need including market served, submission requirements, names of editors who handle various genre’s, some contract information, how to submit, etc.
If you submit directly to a publisher (and some small presses will still take direct submissions), follow the submission guidelines carefully and address your package to the editor by name. Since editors migrate from one house to another, be sure to use the latest edition of whatever reference you’re using so you’ll be more likely to get the name right.
If you need to find an agent first (and the big New York houses all require agents these days), you’ll have to search far a wide to find a good one. If you know someone who has an agent, perhaps he’ll share his agent’s name with you. Sometimes a book will mention the author’s agent in the front matter. If you write romances and you see an agent’s name in a romance novel, you might try to approach that individual.
Now the bad news. The world is full of predators and the publishing industry is loaded with them. They prey on “author wanna be’s” and range from vanity presses to “agents” that will charge you to read your manuscript and then charge more to help you “fix” it. Stay away from them.
Remember; a “real” publisher pays you. A “real” agent will make his money from his “cut” when he sells your work (although some may want you to participate in the cost of mailing your manuscript to various publishers). If you just want your baby published and don’t care about being “legitimate”, a vanity press may be an option. But this blog is aimed at writers who want to publish for profit. A few rare individuals can make a good income using a self-publishing press, but they are great at marketing or already have a good following.
Your final package to a publisher or agent will probably include such items as a cover letter, an outline of your work, and either a sample or the complete manuscript. Every piece must be done well. You’re selling your ability as a writer, so make sure it shows in the material you submit.
Keep the cover letter and outline as short as you can while still covering the bases. Don’t be cute here. This isn’t a “teaser” ad to a reader that just hints at what’s to come. Lay it all out, including the climax and resolution. Show the plot lines and describe the conflict (or the expository material you’ve written if this is non-fiction). Don’t leave anything to the editor’s imagination, that’s for later when you try to sell your book to a reader.
If you want your manuscript back, include a self-addressed stamped package (or postage stamps and a label to slap onto the package you sent). Always send a SASE (Self-addressed stamped envelope) so the editor can send you an acceptance letter (or the rejection).
More agents and publishers are accepting electronic submissions, but make sure they do before you spam their IN box.
If you get a rejection, give it a close look. If it’s a form note or letter, add it to your collection and take your child somewhere else. If the editor actually writes you a personal note, you’re very close to selling something. Read it closely and follow any advice you receive. The average editor won’t bother with poor writing, but if your writing is close to her standards, she may take a minute out to pen you some encouragement and advice.
Don’t let a couple of rejection letters kill your enthusiasm. Star Wars was shopped around to several studios before one took a chance on it. Harry Potter was shopped all over England before Rowlings found a publisher willing to take a chance. However, if you stack up a quantity of rejections, none with any encouragement, it may be that your infant isn’t as beautiful as you think it is. It might be time to go back to the drawing board with a different project or to get some professional or peer help. I’m a big fan of peer to peer critique, writing workshops (not the workshops run by some big name author or editor). If you can get in with a good peer group, they may be able to whip your prose/poetry into shape and you can help others in the group (which can also be a learning process).