I’m off to California again, taking a poetry workshop, visiting Dad, and celebrating my birthday. I don’t think I should get all the presents. So let me offer you a few goodies for your tool box.
A couple weeks ago, I blogged about finding an agent. I neglected to mention some resources that can help you on your search, especially if all this agent biz is new to you. For example: The Poets & Writers Guide to Literary Agents, only $4.99 for the e-book, explains everything you need to know to embark on your agent search. This does not include listings of agents, but you can find a list at the pw.org website. You can also find information about agents and listings at Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents and Chuck Sambuchino’s 2014 Guide to Literary Agents.
Stuck for a word? It happens to me a lot lately. Actually I usually have a word, but I can’t use it three times in one paragraph, right? Visit thesaurus.com to get a list of other words that mean about the same thing. Helpful hint on using thesauruses: If you don’t know what a word means, you probably want to skip that one.
If it wifi, WI-FI, Wi-Fi or what? Is it ebook or e-book? These are the things that drive copyeditors nuts and that all writers should try to get right. Two sources of the answers are the Associated Press Style Manual, the book favored by most newspapers and many magazines, and the Chicago Manual of Style for the more literary among us. AP also has a Facebook page, which gives out a new hint every day. For example, during the Olympics, they told us how to spell those fancy figure skating moves.
These links ought to hold you till I get back.
Now go write.
A dear friend heard that I had finished the manuscript for my novel and immediately wanted to know when she can buy a copy, as if it would be on the shelves next week. It’s a bit longer process, I told her. But I did email her a PDF.
Self-Publish or Not?
Once you’ve written a novel, or any book of prose, and revised it until you’re sure you can’t revise any more, it’s time to think about publishing. Many people self-publish their books these days. I have done that. I have also had books purchased and published by traditional publishers. The latter is better. They handle design, printing, and distribution, going far beyond what I’m able to do alone from my home office. The imprint of a traditional publisher gives your book credibility, gets it reviewed in important places,and gets you publicity and at least a few promotional events that you don’t have to arrange. Also, instead of having to pay to publish, they pay you. Even in these days when you can put out e-books or publish through programs like Amazon’s CreateSpace for almost nothing, that matters.
There’s another thing about self-publishing. Too many authors rush their books into print before they’re ready. I have read too many self-published books that need copyediting and proofreading. The writing might be good, but a little more time and the help of professional editor would have made them so much better. With traditional publishing, you get that.
So I advise everyone to try getting a publisher to buy their books. If that fails, if you have limited time, or if you have a small, specialized audience waiting for your book, then go ahead and self-publish. You will have total responsibility for your book but also total control. You can get it out quickly and into the hands of your eager audience. You will also spend a lot of time on marketing, money and other non-writing concerns.
Otherwise, let’s try the traditional method first. What does that mean? Querying agents and/or editors.
Do You Need an Agent?
Here’s the deal. Agents help you polish your pitch and your book. Then they offer it to the publishing houses they think most likely to publish it. They handle all the submissions and let you know what happens. If/when they get a yes, they negotiate your contract. They also make sure you get paid your advance and royalties and help you negotiate future sales of foreign rights, movie rights, etc. Plus they support and encourage you while you focus on the writing part instead of the business part. For these services, they collect 15 percent of the profits. A good agent is worth every penny.
Yes, but do you need one? The big publishing houses will not consider books that are not pitched by agents. Even smaller houses prefer agents for fiction and creative nonfiction. With straight nonfiction, you have a little more leeway, and no agent will represent poetry books because there’s not enough money in them. You can pitch your novel to smaller houses yourself, and you can also enter many contests that promise publication to the winners, but I recommend trying to get an agent.
How Do I Approach an Agent?
With agents and editors, the process is the same. Most want a query letter–aka your pitch–and sample pages from the manuscript. Click here for my previous discussion about writing your pitch. We hear tales of synopses, longer descriptions that describe what happens in every chapter. These are a pain to write, and most agents don’t want to read them. They just want a one-page pitch and a few pages (anywhere from five to fifty) from the book to see whether the story grabs them. If it does, they’ll request more pages or the whole manuscript.
In the old days, authors had to put together a printed package which they sent by mail. Thank God we can do it all online these days, but that means before we click “send,” we need to be absolutely sure that what we’re sending is the best we can make it.
We’ll talk next week about how to decide which agents to pitch and what to send them. We’ll also look at pitching in person at conferences and other events. Meanwhile, go work on your pitch and take another look at your manuscript.
Now go write.