Posts Tagged ‘traditional publishing’

Troubleshooting: Avoiding Scams

So, Squiders, this is our final post about submitting and publishing for the nonfiction book. I’ll take a few weeks off of the nonfic books after this, and then we can talk about whether or not we’d like to do another one or not.

So, today, we’re going to talk about how not to get scammed. There are a lot of prospective authors out there, and, unfortunately, there are also plenty of people willing to take money to prey on people’s dreams. While the rise of the Internet has helped authors immensely (usually a Google search can be enough to avoid some of the worst), there’s still some points to be salient about to keep yourself safe.

In Traditional Publishing, Money Flows to the Author

If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, this is essential to remember. If a publisher or an agent asks for money up front, this is a big red flag. There is no such thing as a “reading fee” or a “printing fee.” In traditional publishing, nobody gets paid until a book is published. Then the publisher takes their cut, the agent takes their cut, and the author gets their royalties.

Authors will occasionally get emails from various companies promising to publish them, but these are almost always scam companies. Legitimate publishers don’t have time to pull every author email they can find. Additionally, some agents may have connections with vanity publishers or editing services that can constitute a conflict of interest.

If you’re looking at an agent or a publishing house and something looks fishy, ask other authors. Many writing communities have spaces where authors can ask if people have used a person or a company and what their impressions were. There are also sites that keep track of potential scams, such as Writer Beware.

In Self-Publishing, Make Sure You’re Getting Your Money’s Worth

Self-publishing requires the author to be in charge of a lot of different aspects of publishing, and it can be a good idea to hire a professional for different aspects to help put out a quality product. But there are a million and a half companies out there that offer services to self-published authors, and it can sometimes be hard to tell legitimate companies from scammers or people who just simply don’t know what they’re doing.

The best way to make sure you’re working with someone with the necessary professional know-how is to ask other authors for referrals. Happy authors are more than willing to share the contact information for someone who’s done right by them, especially since many cover artists/editors/proofreaders are also one-person businesses and they like to see them succeed. You don’t need to talk to other authors directly if you don’t know many; many authors will talk about services they used on their blogs or list them in their books or on their website. Writing communities are also a good place to ask for recommendations.

Once you have some referrals, check out those people/services in depth. For cover artists, look at other covers they’ve done and see if you think their style will work for your book. For editors or proofreaders, you can ask for a sample page (or three) and see if you like their editorial style and if you think they’ll be good to work with. If you’re looking at hiring someone for a blog tour or another marketing campaign, you can normally look at campaigns they’re actively running and see how they’re going. Make sure you’re informed and know your costs/budget up front.

Self-publishing is also pretty easy to DIY these days. You’ll find services that will take over the “technical” aspects of publishing for you, such as uploading your book on to Amazon, but these are unnecessary, as it is pretty straightforward to do this yourself. A cheaper and better alternative, if you feel you can’t manage on your own, is to hire a self-publishing coach who will teach you the process so you can do it yourself in the future. Companies are willing to take money for just about any aspect of the self-publishing process. A bit of research to see if a service is needed, or if you can do it yourself, can be very helpful.

It also doesn’t hurt to be generally aware of the range of price for various services. That way if someone is much higher (or lower) than average, it can be a sign of something being a bit off. This is not always true; some highly experienced service providers may charge more because you’re getting a higher quality service, while many artists and editors who are starting out may not be aware of market prices or may be starting out at lower prices to build their client base/portfolio. Again, this is where talking to other authors can be beneficial.

Contests

It can be hard to pick out scam contests from legitimate ones, since many contests do charge some sort of entrance fee (which at least partially goes to paying out the prizes for said contest). Again, doing your research is key here. Ask other writers, make sure the organizations running the contest are legitimate and not tied to previous controversies, make sure there’s no strings attached to “winning” (a common scam is to make buying a certain number of copies of the “winners’ anthology” a requirement of publishing, and then charging $50 a book), see if they list previous years’ winners on their website, etc.

Avoiding scams across the board involves doing your research, reaching out to other authors, and paying attention to potential warning signs.

Missing anything, Squiders? Anything confusing?

Publishing Novels Traditionally: After the Agent

Okay, squiders! This’ll wrap up traditional publishing for novels, and then we’ll take a bit of a break before we jump into self-publishing novels.

So let’s say you’ve gotten an agent if you wanted one. Your agent may work with you to revise your novel, depending on its state. Once you and the agent feel it’s ready, the agent starts approaching publishing houses and querying your novel.

Depending on the publishing house, there is a differing number of people who need to be convinced to buy your book. A small press may have a single person in charge of acquisitions (normally known as an acquisitions editor), whereas a large house may have an entire acquisitions team. In some cases, even if you have an acquisitions editor who loves your novel, if they can’t convince their team/their manager to buy your book, they may be unable to do so by themselves.

Interested publishers offer you a book deal. If there are multiple publishers that are interested, your novel may go to auction, which is coordinated by your agent. There are different kinds, but essentially each interested publisher offers a book deal for your novel, and the best one gets the publishing contract.

NOTE: If you’ve gotten a book deal sans agent from a publisher, the following steps are more or less the same, allowing for variations within different companies.

Once your book is with a publisher, it will undergo an editorial review, after which you’ll get an editorial letter, which is essentially a letter with everything that needs to be changed. Some of this might be more major, like structural or pacing changes, or it might be more minor. You’ll have a deadline to complete the changes by. Copyediting is also usually done at this point.

NOTE: If there’s something major in your editorial letter that you strongly disagree with, you can discuss the issue with your agent and editor. Just make sure it’s worth fighting for. You don’t want to fight everything because 1) they probably know what they’re talking about in most cases, and 2) you don’t want to get a reputation for being someone that’s hard to work with.

Once you’ve turned in your edits, the book goes into the final publication phase–it gets typeset, a cover is designed, a title is solidified, marketing is done, etc.

WARNING: With a traditionally published book, the author often has little control over things such as titles or covers. Additionally, traditional publishing can be a long process, with it taking over a year between acquisition and a publication date.

How does payment work?

There is a two tier payment system for traditionally published novels. Some authors are paid an “advance” where they are paid some amount upon signing their book deal. Not all publishers offer these, however, and in these changing times, advances now are smaller than they’ve been traditionally. It’s not uncommon for a debut author to only get an advance of $5000 or $10000, if they get any at all.

The second part of the payment process is royalties. Royalties are a percentage of the sales of the book, generally somewhere between 7 and 15%. An advance is technically an advance against royalties, so if you get an advance of $15,000, you won’t actually start earning royalties until you’ve made $15,000 in royalties. So when someone says a book didn’t earn out its advance, it means the book never sold enough copies to make back what the author was paid in advance.

All right! That should be it for traditionally published novels, squiders. Please let me know if you think I’m leaving anything out! Or if you have questions, or comments, or anything along those lines.

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 forĀ 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!

Publishing Short Stories Traditionally (Part 3)

Here’s our final stop on this particular story type/publication method combination, Squiders.

Short Story Collections

Like anthologies, short story collections are, as the name implies, a collection of short stories. The main difference is that an anthology features the work of multiple authors, while a short story collection includes the work of only one. As such, short story collections tend to operate more along the same principles as novels than selling a single short story at a time.

The first step toward submitting and publishing a short story collection is to have written a number of short stories. These can be ones that have been previously published, or they can be new ones. A number of stories is necessary; most traditionally-published collections are equal in length to novels. These stories can be related, such as all featuring the same characters, or the same universe, but they do not need to be.

If you have an agent (see agents section–note for blog: not written as of yet, so don’t be confused that you can’t find it), you can have them submit to publishers for you; some publishers will accept submissions from unagented authors. Like novels, you will need to write a query letter that you or your agent can send out. The query letter will need to have statistical information about the collection (number of stories, word count, genre if possible, etc.) as well as some sort of hook to inspire a publisher to look closer at your stories. An interested publisher may ask for a sample, or may ask for the entire collection to aid in the decision-making process.

NOTE: Short story collections are notoriously hard sells, especially if you are not an established, traditionally-published author. Publishers typically find them hard to market, and readers may not pick up a collection if they are not previously familiar with the author in some way. Previously published stories may be an easier sell in this case, especially if they’ve been published in top-tier markets or have won industry or genre-specific awards. Alternately, short stories that are linked to a novel series can also be easier sells, since readers are more likely to seek them out to augment their reading of the series in between novels.

A publisher will have a contract you will need to agree to before they’ll publish your collection. If you do not have an agent, you might consider asking one or a rights-specific lawyer to look over the contract to make sure that you’re getting a fair deal. Some publishers will pay some amount of money up front, called an advance. You have to “earn through” your advance before you can start earning royalties. Others may not pay an advance at all.

All right! That’s it for traditionally publishing short stories. Please let me know if you feel I’m leaving anything out, or if anything is confusing.

I’m going to take about a week off of the book posts (I’m reading a terrible Star Trek novel to share with you guys on Friday) and then we’ll jump into self-publishing short stories (which is a massive beast). And then another break from those sorts of posts andĀ then into the novels, egads.

Happy Tuesday!

Publishing Short Stories Traditionally (Part 2)

Continuing on from Tuesday. If you missed that post, I recommend clicking the handy link at the top or bottom of this entry (depending on whether you’re on the blog or website) or simply scrolling down and reading that one first if you’re on the main blog page.

Picking up where we left off:

Anthologies

An anthology is a collection of short stories (or longer works, such as novellas) that center around some sort of theme. These themes can be very specific or very broad, depending on the publisher and the particular anthology in question. Publishers that regularly release anthologies may have the next several themes available on their website so you can plan ahead.

Submissions for anthologies work in two distinct ways:

  • You can be invited to submit work for an anthology. This is more common if you’re an established, decently-selling author who has been traditionally published by major markets, or if you’ve worked with an editor before and they’ve been impressed with your work.
  • A publisher releases a call for an anthology, which is open to established and new writers alike. (In some cases, publishers may be looking specifically for new authors; the submission guidelines for the anthology would state this.)

Like magazines or journals, market websites like Duotrope and the Submission Grinder list open anthology calls on their websites, and you can search specifically for anthology markets by using their advanced search function. Anthology calls often have a deadline associated with them (i.e., stories must be received by November 15), though some publishers may keep submissions for a particular anthology open until they feel they’ve received an appropriate amount of acceptable submissions. Often, an anthology call will also include the intended publication date for the anthology.

Pay rates for anthologies follow the same methodology as magazines and journals, falling into pro, semi-pro, token, and non-paying or exposure. Anthologies are more likely to pay a flat rate per story, and also may include a copy or two of the anthology. Some anthologies may pay authors a share of the royalties, either as the main form of payment, or in addition to whatever the original buying rate was. Some anthologies are created to make money for charitable causes–the submission guidelines will normally specify this.

Like magazines and journals, you can try to fit a previously written story into an anthology, or write a story specifically to match an anthology theme.

NOTE: Depending on the anthology theme and how specialized it is, it may be hard to place an anthology-intended story elsewhere if the anthology does not accept it.

In many cases, the submission process for an anthology is similar or identical to submitting to a magazine or journal, with most using either an email submission process or an online portal. An anthology may accept a wide variety of story lengths or be focused on a specific type of short story (such as flash fiction), and pay rates may be different depending on the length of the story. For example, some anthologies may pay a pro rate for very short works, such as flash or micro fiction, but pay semi-pro or token for longer works.

If your short story is selected for inclusion in an anthology, the publisher will send you a contract specifying rights and when/if the rights will revert to you after a certain period of time. The editor or publisher may also ask for some edits to be made to the story. These are normally fairly minor–small plot issues or copyediting–as the time frame and demand for an anthology does not allow for more major changes; if a story is not working on a larger level, it is very unlikely to be selected.

Here’s part 2, Squiders! Again, let me know if anything is confusing or if you feel I’m leaving something out, or let me know if the format isn’t working for some reason. I’d hate to go through the whole thing if the format is inherently wrong! Otherwise, we’ll continue next Tuesday with the third and final part of traditional short story publishing and then take a bit of a break on the subject before we jump into self-publishing short stories.

Otherwise, I hope you have a happy weekend, Squiders!