Publishing Novels Traditionally: The Submission Process

Continuing on from Monday’s post about the ways to have a novel traditionally published, and Wednesday’s post about agents. If you haven’t read those and also aren’t familiar with those topics, you might want to start there.

So, let’s say you’ve decided whether you’re going to approach publishers directly or work on getting an agent (or a mixture of both), that you’ve made a list of publishers/agents who you think will be a good fit for your novel and that you know are reputable, you’ve done your research so you know what material each publisher/agent wants with your query, and you’ve put together your query, synopsis, sample pages, and whatever else you might need.

NOTE: You may find it helpful to run your query letters/synopses by other writers. Many writing communities offer forums for this purpose. In exchange for looking at your materials, you’re expected to look at other authors’ and help them out as well. This can be especially helpful if you are new to querying. These forums also often include a place for other members to post their queries when they get an agent and/or a book deal so you can see what’s working.

After you have everything ready to go, you can start sending out queries, making sure you are following the literary agencies/publishing house’s submission guidelines as to where to send it and what to send.

Many authors wonder how many queries they should be sending at a time. This is a personal decision. It can run the gamut from a single query at a time to an author’s entire list, but many authors like to send out 5 to 10 at a time so they can gauge how their query letter is performing and whether they need to change anything before sending things out to the next batch.

WARNING: Make sure you personalize each query to the agent/publisher! Mass emails to several people at a time are an almost certain way to get yourself rejected. Besides, since many agencies and publishers have different submission guidelines, it can be near impossible to match things up properly. Each agent/publisher gets their own email, and make sure you’re spelling people’s names right, and that you have the right gender. (No one likes to get an email for Mr. Smith if they’re a Ms. Smith, for example.)

NOTE: Response times for queries can vary wildly. Some agents will get back to you within a week or so; others may take months. Some agents/publishers never respond if they’re not interested. You can send an email asking for status if it’s been a reasonable amount of time (often several months–agencies’/publishers’ websites might include how long their response times are, and if you’re past that, you’re generally safe to ask) but this is why many people prefer to send out a few queries at a time.

If an agent or publisher is interested in your novel, they’ll generally ask for either a “partial” or a “full” manuscript. A partial is generally the first three chapters or the first 50 pages, though this depends and the agent/publisher will generally tell you what exactly to send. In some cases, if they haven’t asked for it already, they’ll ask for a partial plus the synopsis. A full is exactly what it sounds like–you send the entire thing.

NOTE: An agent or publisher may ask for an “exclusive”–meaning that they want to be the only person looking at your manuscript until they make a decision. It’s up to you whether or not you want to grant this; if you’re getting a lot of interest in your manuscript, it might not be worth it. Whatever your decision is, make sure you let the agent/publisher know. Most won’t reject a manuscript just because you wouldn’t go exclusive with them.

If an agent/publisher likes your partial, they will generally ask for a full. Decisions are then made off of the full manuscript. An agent/publisher may reject at this point, usually with the inclusion of details of why, which can be useful to the author for revising the manuscript if they deem it necessary. They might offer what’s called a “revise and resubmit (R&R)” where they’re interested in the book, but would need some revisions done before they offer representation/a book deal. The author can make the decision about whether or not to do so–if the changes seem like they would be beneficial to the story, it usually doesn’t hurt to make them. However, if you’re getting interest from other agents without the changes, it may be best to leave the story alone.

Representation/a book deal may also be offered at this point. You may have a single offer, or you may get many. It’s important to make sure that the agent/publisher is someone you are comfortable working with. Several websites and books offer lists of questions to ask potential agents/publishers to make sure you’re making a good choice.

Tuesday we’ll go over what happens after you’ve got an agent/publisher. Questions, squiders? Comments? Cheez-Its for the Landsquid?

Publishing Novels Traditionally: Agents

The most common way to have a novel published traditionally is with the help of an agent. An agent is a representative for the author and their work who helps the author sell said work and hopefully get a good deal out of it.

An agent:

  • Helps the author edit their work to make it better
  • Approaches publishers about buying the author’s work
  • Deals with contracts and other legal sundry

Some agents also:

  • Help the author sell the book to foreign publishers
  • Help the novel (short story, etc.) get optioned for television or a movie

An agent is hopefully with you for your career, so you’ll want to find one who understands you and with whom you work well.

WARNING: You do not pay an agent! An agent gets paid when you sell a novel or something else. Typically the publisher pays your agent, and then your agent takes their cut (generally 15%, but make sure you understand how your particular agent works) and sends the rest of the money to you. If an agent is asking for money up front, beware. Check them out on the Internet, as they might be a scammer. (Writer Beware is an excellent resource whenever you are unsure about the legitimacy of something.)

Like we discussed in the previous section, to approach an agent, you generally send them a query letter plus whatever other materials (synopsis, first chapter, etc.) they ask for. It can help to have some other contact with an agent first, such as following and interacting with them on their blogs or social media, or talking or pitching them at a conference. This allows you to personalize your query letter more and may help an agent give you higher priority.

NOTE: Make sure you’re interacting with an agent in a professional, non-annoying manner. Do not badger them or press them about your novel unless directly asked to.

Alternative Pitching Methods

While the querying method is the most standard, there are some alternatives that can be used instead in some circumstances.

The most traditional alternative method is the “elevator pitch” which is basically a short oral pitch given to an agent, most often at a writers’ conference, though there are now online ones as well. Your pitch functions like your query letter does, with the intention to garner enough attention from the agent for them to ask to see more of the novel.

NOTE: Some agents will ask for material from a pitch, but some will still ask that the author send them a query letter with a note about the pitch included.

A more recent innovation, there are now Twitter-based pitching opportunities. These are normally scheduled days where an organizer rounds up a selection of agents and authors post Twitter-length pitches. How an agent indicates interest varies, but usually they will “like” a pitch they’re interested in, at which point the author can send said agent their manuscript. (This, too, varies, and agents will have listed somewhere what exactly they want sent to them.)

There are also pitching “contests,” where authors submit some material in the hopes of being selected by a mentor (normally a published author or an editor or someone experienced in some way). If selected, they work with the mentor for a period time, improving both their manuscripts and their querying materials. At the end of the time period, the authors’ revised work is ready and a selected group of agents take a look and ask for material for any they’re interested in. Pitch Wars is an example of this type on contest.

How to Find an Agent

The most important thing to remember when querying agents is to make sure you are querying agents who are interested in your genre. Someone who reps romance is going to have no time for your science fiction magnum opus. Querying can be a long process, so there’s no reason to waste your time.

One recommended way to identify agents that might be interested in your novel is to look at recently-published books in your genre, and look at the agents representing those authors. These agents are probably interested in what you write, and have sold books, so you know they can get the job done.

You can also talk to authors directly about their agents–whether they would recommend them, how they are to work with, etc. DO NOT ask authors to send your work to their agent or to recommend you to their agent unless you would count said author as a close friend.

Several databases exist that list agents and allow authors a way to keep track of both who they’ve queries and what the response times were. You can search these databases by genre or specific agent or agency name to get an idea of who might be a good fit.

NOTE: You should always check an agent and/or agency’s page directly before querying to make sure they sound like a good fit for you and your book, and also to make sure nothing’s changed from the information in the database. It would be a waste of time to query an agent about your thriller if a quick look at their website would have told you that they’ve temporarily stopped looking at thrillers.

There are both free and paid options for researching agents.

Free:

Paid:

Several blogs also keep track of agents, including when new ones come into the scene or when new agencies are formed. Some people recommend targeting newer agents because they are actively building their author lists and may be more willing to take a risk.

So that’s agents, squiders! Friday we’ll talk about the submission process in greater detail. Let me know if I’m missing anything or if you have any questions!

Traditionally Publishing Novels: Two Paths

Okay, moving on to novels! (If you have any suggestions or questions on short stories, please let me know!)

There are two routes one can take when publishing a novel traditionally. The first method is to get an agent, and the second is to deal directly with a publisher.

NOTE: Not all publishers will take submissions from an unagented author. It may be a good idea to look at major publishers in your area and see what seems to be the norm.

A publisher will note in their guidelines whether or not they accept “unsolicited” submissions. It is more common among smaller presses, or those that specialize in nonfiction, but some larger publishers also accept them.

The initial process for submitting a novel to either an agent or a publisher is essentially the same–you will need a query letter to introduce your work to the agent/publisher. Some agents/publishers will also ask for additional materials, such as a synopsis (which could be between 1 and 4 pages, depending on preference, so some experts recommend having multiple versions of yours available of varying lengths), the beginning pages of your manuscript, or, in rarer cases, a marketing plan.

WARNING: There are several “publishers” out there that might not be legitimate. A good thing to remember for traditional publishing is that the money flows to the writer. If an agent or publisher asks you for money up front, such as a “reading fee,” they may just be a scammer. There are websites where you can check to see if an agent/publisher is legitimate, such as the forums at Absolute Write or Preditors and Editors. (Note to self: P&E is currently down, looking for a new caretaker, so do not include if it doesn’t go back up.)

There are several books, websites, and articles available on the proper way to put together a query letter and/or a synopsis, so we’ll just touch on the basics here. A query letter is a short letter of 200-300 words that acts a lot like a cover letter for a job application. If you have a specific reason for querying the agent/editor (you talked to them at a con and they asked you to send them something, you looked at their wishlist and your story will be a good fit, etc.), you start your query with that. Then you spend a few paragraphs hooking your story (it shouldn’t be a summary, and it shouldn’t reveal the ending), and you finalize with a short, relevant bio (which includes previous publications, if any, awards won, life experience that might show that you’re qualified to write this particular story). You also include the title, word count, and genre of your story.

A synopsis can be of varying lengths and is a recital of the events of your story from beginning to end. Depending on the length you’re trying to hit, you may have to leave out some characters or subplots. You do include your ending in the synopsis–agents/publishers that ask for them are often using them to make sure the story makes logical sense all the way through.

If an agent/publisher asks for pages to be included, you send the beginning of the book. Some people consider sending what they consider the “best” pages for this, but this is frowned upon for a few reasons:

  • Agents/publishers may be unable to get into the pages because they lack the context for them
  • Agents/publishers may assume that you didn’t send the beginning because it isn’t good

The main point of your query letter is to garner enough attention that the agent/publisher is willing to look at more. The rest of your work will need to stand on its own, so make sure you’re only querying a finished, edited, and polished manuscript.

On Wednesday we’ll look at the querying process, as well as the rest of the submission process. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on the basic set-up of the querying process for novels, or if you feel like I’m leaving anything out!

Amazon Singles (Hybrid Publishing for Short Stories)

I want to take a moment to discuss Amazon Singles while we’re talking about self-publishing short stories.

Amazon Singles is a program you can submit your previously self-published or unpublished short stories and novellas (between 5000 and 30000 words). They also accept proposals.

They promise a turnaround time of six weeks. Stories need to be previously unpublished anywhere except Amazon to be accepted. If previously unpublished, accepted stories are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform and authors receive normal KDP royalties.

There seems to be no additional monetary compensation to the program, but stories selected for Amazon Singles are then listed on the Amazon Singles page, which could potentially boost a story’s visibility and improve sales.

NOTE: At this time, Amazon Singles does not accept how-to manuals, public domain works, reference books, travel guides, children’s books, or short story collections.

I was going to put this program into the options for self-publishing short stories, but there is some level of gatekeeping to the program as Amazon has to accept the stories for inclusion. But they don’t actually do anything a “traditional” publisher would do in this sense–the author still uploads the manuscript, provides a cover, sets the price–so they’re just putting the book on a page.

What do you think, Squiders? I’d put this as an example of hybrid publishing myself.

(Also, if anyone has any experience with Amazon Singles and would like to share, please do so! I haven’t published anything in the accepted word count range so I have no first hand experience myself.)

Self-Publishing Short Stories (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday’s post. Just a reminder that there’s not really a submission process for self-publishing, since you make the decision on what you want to publish yourself, so this section mainly focuses on possible publication locations and how they work.

Online Retailers

Most retailers that sell ebooks allow you to upload a short story directly, or you can use a distribution service to upload your story once and have it sent to a variety of different markets. Retailers in this category include:

  • Amazon (KDP)
  • Barnes and Noble (Nook Press)
  • Kobo
  • iTunes
  • Google Play

The largest ebook distributor is Smashwords, though there are others, such as Draft2Digital. Distributors take a single file (often a Word document), convert it into a variety of formats (mobi, epub, PDF, etc.), and then list your book at many of the retailers noted above, as well as other, smaller ones. Smashwords also has some partnerships with various library systems, meaning that libraries can put your book into their system for their patrons to check out.

NOTE: Amazon does not currently allow ebook distributors to list ebooks on their site. If you want your ebook to be available on Kindle, you will need to deal directly with Amazon.

Some retailers may have a minimum word count that you need to meet before you can publish your short story as an ebook. Amazon, for example, recommends that an ebook have at least 2,500 words.

NOTE: If you are doing children’s books, such as picture books, there may be different criteria. Amazon offers a KDP kids program to help create picture and chapter books that will be properly formatted for reading on the Kindle.

When you self-publish through an online retailer, you can set the price of your short story. Most retailers allow you to set the price for free; Amazon requires a $0.99 minimum, but if you have the ebook for free on other retailers, you can get Amazon to match the price.

Pricing is a subject of much debate, but be aware that readers will expect to get their money’s worth out of an ebook. Pricing a 5,000 word story at $4.99 may earn you some bad reviews.

While you can also create POD versions of short stories and sell paperback copies through online retailers, it may be cost prohibitive if your story isn’t closer to novella-length. Many POD services charge a base price based on the size of the book and the number of pages. CreateSpace is one of the most popular POD services as it is associated with Amazon and easy to get your book listed on the mega-retailer.

Short Story Collections

Like individual short stories, you can also self-publish short story collections through online retailers and ebook distributors. The process is much the same. Collections typically have at least three stories, but could have up to a couple dozen, depending on the length of the stories and what your goal with the collection is.

The appeal of doing a collection over an individual short story is that some readers may feel like they’re getting a better value for their money, since they’re getting more than one story for their effort.

Additionally, since collections tend to be longer, they’re a better value if you decide to also sell the collection as a paperback.

(Hey, Squiders, how important do you feel it is to go into an in-depth discussion of POD services? The main point of this book is to explain the submission/publication options and generally how they work, rather than explain all the details, so writers can decide on the best course of action for them and their works, and get started on putting those methods into action. I’m unsure if going into a lot of detail on POD, aside from what it is and how it generally works, is out of scope.)

Questions? Anything confusing? Let me know!

Self-Publishing Short Stories (Part 1)

All right, Squiders! Today we’ll start talking about methods for self-publishing a short story. Unlike “traditional” publishing, there is not really a submission process for self-publishing, since the only gatekeeper, in most cases, is yourself. You decide you’d like to publish something; you go for it. The only thing to consider is the best method/location to do so.

NOTE: Because there are no gatekeepers for self-publishing, you are responsible for the final product. That means that your cover, your editing, your formatting, etc., all reflect on you. You may find it beneficial to hire professionals for areas you may be lacking in, or to otherwise improve your skills in order to ensure that your final product meets the quality standards expected by readers.

Self-publishing locations for short stories fall into the following main categories:

  • Blogs/websites
  • Online fiction/book websites
  • Online retailers
  • Short story collections

Blogs/websites

The easiest way to self-publish a short story a short story is to post it on your blog or website. For a journaling website such as Tumblr, LiveJournal, WordPress, etc., you can include a short story as its own post, which, depending on the platform, may then be shared by your followers.

Some authors also include a short story section on their author websites. This is a place where they collect the short stories they have available to be read through their site, making it a static page people can visit.

WARNING: Many publications consider posting a story on your blog or website as the first publication of that story. That means that if you later decide you’d like to sell that story to a magazine or anthology, they will consider the story already published, and will consider your submission a reprint, which may be a harder sell, if the publication takes them at all.

Online fiction/book websites

Many websites exist where you can post your original fiction of varying lengths, including short stories. Often these are websites where you create a profile and all your works are collected under that one name. There is often a community aspect to them, with readers/other members being able to favorite stories and leave comments.

While there are a large number of these sites available of varying sizes, popularity, and focus, the major ones are Wattpad,  FictionPress, and Figment. Some sites are more focused on critiquing and reviewing than on building readership, so make sure you understand a website’s main goals before posting your work.

Some fanfiction-based websites such as Archive of Our Own also allow original fiction to be posted, though it may be harder to find.

Book websites where people can track the books their reading and rate them, like Goodreads, may also have sections where authors can post short stories or excerpts from longer works.

Question, Squiders–do you think I need to specify that these are non-paying markets, that their main purpose is to build readership and get feedback? Or is it obvious?

Anything I’m leaving out here?

2016 Books in Review

It’s that time of year, squiders, where I look back at what I read last year and play with stats (and then, if I have a lot of free time, I make comparisons to previous years!), and then I let you guys look too, because why not.

I keep track of every book I read, as well as their genre, publication year, and how much I liked them (out of 5). Noteworthy this year was that I apparently didn’t read anything too exceptional, because I only had a few books rated 4 or higher, and nothing in the 4.5 or 5 range (except for Howl’s Moving Castle which doesn’t count because it was a re-read).

On to the stats!

Books Read in 2016: 50
Change from 2015: -2

Of those*:
16 were Fantasy
9 were Science Fiction
6 were Romance
5 were Nonfiction
4 were Mystery
2 were General Literature
1 was Chick Lit
1 was Gothic
1 was Historical Fiction
1 was Paranormal
1 was Science Fantasy
1 was a Short Story Collection
1 was Steampunk
1 was a Superhero Tie-in

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

Wow, a little low on mystery last year.

New genre(s)**: chick lit, paranormal, superhero tie-in
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: ghost story collections, horror, mythology, anthologies

**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Genres that went up: fantasy, romance
Genres that went down: nonfiction, mystery, general literature, Gothic

32 were my books
17 were library books
1 book was borrowed from friends/family

34 were physical books
16 were ebooks

Way down on library books (I guess my resolution to read my own books worked a bit) and way up on ebooks from previous year(s).

Average rating: 3.46/5

Top rated:
The Dark Days Club (4.2 – historical fantasy)
Sixteen Burdens (4.2 – historical fantasy)
Morning Star (4 – science fiction)
A Little Life (3.9 – general literature)

I don’t normally mention anything under 4, but apparently I was pretty underwhelmed by what I read this year. Nothing too amazing, I guess. Though I did really like The Dark Days Club and I should see when the sequel’s due.

Most recent publication year: 2016
Oldest publication year: 1906
Average publication year: 2004
Books older than 1900: 0
Books newer than (and including) 2012: 28

As you can see, I read a lot more newer stuff this year (more than half!) so all my stats skewed high. Normally my average year is in the ’90s somewhere.

How did your reading go for 2016, squiders? Any books to recommend? What are your goals for 2017? Mine is to read 50 books, as usual.