Welcome. Please stay and read a bit.
When people ask me about writing, I tell them, "Any damn fool can write a book. It's finding
a publisher that's difficult." And that's the truth of the matter.
These are among the things every writer needs to know when considering
getting his or her finished work published:
- AGENTS - If a recognized and reputable agent is willing to represent you, be aware
that this will greatly improve your chances of getting your book published. The major
publishers have merged and conglomerated and, at the same time, have reduced their
editorial staffs. If you have a chance to talk to their editors, ask about their
workload and you'll get an earful. Editors have little time to consider unsolicited
manuscripts. These publishing houses increasingly rely on agents to find manuscripts
and more and more of them refuse unsolicited or unagented work. An agent can also save
you a great deal of time, as you'll discover if you undertake a publisher search of your
own. (Many of today's agents are laid-off or former editors who, in a sense, are now working for
the publishers as consultants.) There are agents who require a reading fee to even consider
your manuscript and I thoroughly agree with the standard advice that dealing with them is
a waste of your time and money. Having twice paid such fees (which were not trivial) I
can assure you that I wasted my time and money. In both cases, they reported that my book
was not publishable. One of those books was Thirsty and the other was The Green Flame, both
of which were published without an agent. The Catch 22 in all of this is that the best agents
have a booming business and are very selective. To find an agent, you need a good directory
such as the "Guide To Literary Agents," published yearly by Writer's Digest Magazine. Many of the agents listed therein
have a web page you should also check. In my own efforts to find an agent for a completed
manuscript, I've sent out several different chapters and chapter combinations and settled
on the two that result in the longest response time, assuming (perhaps falsely) that these
were the hardest to reject. (Agents & Editors tend to agree that they must see the first
chapter because it must grab the reader. Fail to grab the reader in the first page
and you've probably lost a sale.) Well, it's only a game, isn't it? In any event, I recommend
that you send out about five inquiries, send a new one for each one rejected, and assume
that no response in 3 months is a rejection. (Although I've gotten some a year or more
after submission.) Also, don't query agents and publishers at the same time. If you're
going to seek an agent, go through that search first and don't seek a publisher unless no
agent seems to want you. Of course, if all the agents turn you down and then you find a
publisher, you can then consider an agent or not, as seems best for you.
Sadly, just as there are publishers who accept no unagented submissions, there are
agents who accept only clients who are referred to them by another agent or publisher. Like
it nor not, the agent's network is more effective than yours is ever likly to be.
In general, agents have different rules for fiction and nonfiction. With fiction, they will
want a one-page query plus a specified number of pages (See their web site.) of your completed
manuscript. For non-fiction, they may not require a completed manuscript, but they will want a
proposal detailing your credentials and where and how the book will be sold.
Also, a few agents will accept submissions by e-mail or US Postal service, but most now insist
rigidly either on e-mail or US Postal Service, no exceptions. And e-mail submissions cannot
include attachments. (This is very logical. Attachments are the favorite hiding place of computer
viruses.) Personally, I prefer US Postal submissions, but one must do it the agent's way, so check
their web site and live by the agent's rules.
- BOOKSTORE SURVEYS - Visit several bookstores and search the internet to see what
books match your subject and who is publishing them. These publishers should be on your
short list of best prospects provided they haven't set up impenetrable walls against
unsolicited or unagented submissions. Note also that "no unagented submissions" doesn't
necessarily preclude unagented queries or proposals.
Just keep your Query brief, or your proposal detailed, address it to an
editor who likes your subject, and know that you're still bucking long odds. You can get a
clue as to which editor likes your subject by finding a published book similar to
what you're offering, then phoning the publisher to ask who edited that one. (Unless the
author has named the editor in the book's acknowledgements.) For a longer list of prospects,
go through the current Writer's Market (published yearly by Writer's Digest magazine) and list
every publisher who publishes books on your subject and hasn't specified, "no unagented, no
unsolicited," etc. And don't forget to check their web sites.
As with agents, be sure to submit to publishers via attachment-free e-mail or US Postal Service,
as their web site specifies.
- CONTRACT - Read any contract very carefully before signing. One sort of contract
I don't believe I would ever agree to is the sort that offers a relatively small fixed
amount for all rights to the manuscript involved. In many cases, that small fixed
amount is less than minimum wage for the time involved and it removes even the hope of
anything more. Everybody lives on hope to some degree, and writers more than most. Keep
in mind that book contracts involve some negotiating leeway. Discuss with the publisher
any points that you believe should be improved in your favor.
- CONTROL - One thing I've learned over a great many years is that, in business,
control can be everything. This is something to keep in mind when considering
contracts. Anything the contract does not expressly put under your control, is apt to
be under the control of the other party. It was a basic mistake on my part to place six
books with one POD publisher, and probably an even more basic mistake to publish more than
one book at a time. Making your mistakes one at a time gives you a better chance to
- COVER DESIGN - When experienced people speak at writer's conventions, they always
agree that cover design is extremely important. They emphasize that when books are being
sold to wholesalers or bookstores, there's only about ten seconds available to present
each title, and an attractive cover is often what makes the sale. If you are working
with a conventional publisher, the publisher normally designs a good cover for you. If
you are self-publishing, most or all of the choice is yours. A glance at the covers
of my Xlibris books will reveal that I'm too knot-headed to have followed the advice to
put a jazzy picture on the cover. I concede that an attractive cover is a definite asset,
but, at Xlibris, cover art adds to the publishing cost and I chose to settle for two cover
requirements; (1) the title had to be clearly and easily readable on the front cover and
the spine, and (2) the covers of the six books had to match so as to give the appearance
of a set. In general, I buy books for their content, without regard to the cover art.
And with any book, new or used, I appreciate a title that's easy to read. The next time
you're in a bookstore, pay attention to titles that are difficult to read and you may
agree that that's the worst mistake the designer could have made.
- E-BOOKS - As nearly as I know, it is to the author's advantage to have his or her books
available as e-books.(You may not want to publish your conventional books and e-books with the same
publisher. Go to www.booksandtales.com from my "Other" page and explore that question.) The success of e-books is now being boosted by availability
of affordable and compact e-book readers as well as by smart phones that can download e-books.
There are e-book readers that can hold hundreds of e-books and that have decent battery life.
Price is coming down, and good things can happen. Shipping and printing costs disappear, allowing
for very competitive prices, plus (And this is a big plus), bookstores will sell self-published
e-books; something they would not do with self-published hardcopy books because of returnability
problems. And a competitive war is shaping up between Amazon, other book stores, various
publishers, and some agents. In theory, anybody with a computer can be an e-book publisher. In
any event, I chose to allow my Xlibris books to be available as e-books and have recently gone to
some trouble to have "The Green Flame" and "Sundown In Thirsty" made available as e-books. E-books
seem likely to be cheaper than my used books. I get no royalty on the sale of my used books, but
will get royalties from e-book sales. What's not to love? E-books are a game-changer that publishers,
writers, editors, agents, bookstores, and libraries will need to react to.
- END GAME - Some day your published book will go out of print. If it has been published
by a conventional publisher, be prompt in requesting a "reversion of rights" so that you can
have it published again if you choose. If you are self-publishing, the book won't really go
out of print until you make that choice yourself. If you are self-publishing through a POD
(Print On Demand) publisher, it theoretically costs you nothing to let your book stay in print
indefinitely. However, that theory is less than perfect; you may still find a reason or two
to cancel the contract.
What then? The thing I didn't consider when my book, The Green Flame, went out of print was
the after-market. I bought just enough spare copies for the kids and grandkids. Now that book
is sometimes listed in used condition at "from $100." That price doesn't require a horde
of people seeking it. It only requires that the number of people who want it exceeds the
supply. The book is unique, containing info available nowhere else. I should have bought at
least a hundred extra copies when it went out of print. To a lesser certainty, my book, Thirsty,
has now survived 28 years as an original, a large-print reprint, and a recorded book. There is a
chance that it will become a minor classic and I probably should have bought a hundred of the
Walker originals when it went out of print. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Actually, all of my books (except The Dragonslayers) are available as used books on Amazon and
many other used book sites. I don't mind too much. Those used books will get badly shopworn
The world of collectors and collectibles can be strange. A "collectible" must be scarce and
desireable. Desireablity can be impossible to predict. As a kid, I probably threw away a major
fortune in baseball cards I never much wanted and comic books I only wanted to read once. All
that's required of a "collectible" is that the collector feels that the combination of scarcity
and desireability assures that someone else will be willing to exceed the price he paid. Today,
I'd guess that the odds on any of my Xlibris books becoming collectors items are on a par with
the state lotteries, but I know I'll keep at least 50 of each if I ever take them out of print.
And I'm a guy who will probably never buy a state lottery ticket.
- INFORMATION - If you are going to seek a publisher or agent for your book, you will need
the names and addresses of publishers who publish your kind of book, and you need that
information to be up-to-date. Some sources for that information are:
(a) Writer's Digest Mag., Box 2123, Harlan, IA, 51593, (800)333-0133
(b) The Writer Mag., P.O.Box 986, Waukesha, WI 53187, (800)533-6644
(c) Poet's & Writers Mag., 72 Spring St., NY, NY, 10012, (212)226-3586
(d) Writer's Market - Book available from bookstore or library.
(e) Guide To Literary Agents - Book available from bookstores.
(f) Literary Market Place ("LMP") - Book available at library.
(g) Publishers Weekly - Available at library.
- INTERNET - Beware of internet con games. Be skeptical of all offers received from
strangers via the internet. If an e-mail gets your hopes up, cross-check its honesty
every which way you can.
- MARKETS - If a conventional publisher accepts your work, be aware that some
publishers focus on particular markets to the exclusion of others. For instance, Walker
And Company, which published the original edition of Thirsty, depended primarily on
library sales. Likewise, The American Chemical Society, which published The Green Flame,
depended primarily on sales to the chemical and engineering community. Neither of those
two publishers made any great effort to sell to bookstores.
- MEDIA - Our world is changing very rapidly. E-books are relatively new today. Who
knows what format our books may appear in next? It's a serious question to consider when
reading any book publishing contract. You might also consider audio books. These sell or
rent to truck drivers and other high-mileage drivers as interesting company on the road. There
are at least two problems special to this media, (1) getting someone with the right voice
to do the reading, and (2) the fact that the players in the trucks and autos are
evolving from tapes to CDs to something else. Tapes last long enough so that audio books on
tape could survive enough rentals to be profitable. CDs didn't last long enough to be profitable,
so audio books are now being produced on solid state chips.
Ideally, your contract should include the phrase, "all other media rights reserved", or words
to that effect.
- MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS - Many conventional publishers listed in Writer's Market will
ask that you have no other submissions out when you submit to them. Given the slim
chance that they will accept your submission and the high probability that three to
twelve months will elapse before they reject it, I think this is a very unreasonable
request except when it applies to a complete manuscript. The sad truth is that you can submit
proposals simultaneously to ten publishers or agents with little risk that two of them will
accept. (Unless you are famous or very well known.)Still,it's best to keep your number of active
submissions low, sending out new ones as rejections come in, and doing a lot of re-reading to see
if you couldn't do a better job. Keep these submissions to query length, consisting of a one-page
letter, a copy of the first 10 to 15 pages or one or two chapters of your book, and a brief bio
or list of your credits. This limits the chance that the editor will feel you've abused his or
her time and it saves you postage. Then, if you encounter some interest or a request for the
full manuscript, hold off on further submissions. Some authors complain of getting no
response at all to their submissions, but I'm under the impression that I've gotten a response
90 to 95 percent of the time. (Though a few replies have arrived long after I considered them
kaput.) Of course, nearly all of those responses are rejections, but a few of them are pleasant
and signed by an editor. Be thankful for those, and send a thank-you note for the especially
nice ones. This advice is second only to the oft-repeated advice that you include a SASE
(Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope)with every submission via the US Postal Service. It is a minimum requirement of you that
you make it easy and cost-free for the publisher to answer or return your submission.
- PEN NAME - Mark Twain was the pen name of my favorite author, Samuel Clemens. He
may have chosen it as a more easily remembered name, but he adopted it shortly after its
original user, a steamboat captain he respected, died. It also held pleasant memories
of his steamboat pilot days when a call of, "Mark twain!" by the man checking the river
depth meant, "Two fathoms!", a safe depth for steamers. Mary Ann Evans used the pen
name, George Eliot, for Silas Marner and The Mill On The Floss, because female authors
weren't accepted in the early 1800s. I use my real name, partly because it forces me
to be true to what I believe in. However, in the improbable event of my writing a
romance novel, I might adopt a sexy female nom de plume. One must be practical. Selling
your stuff is difficult enough without bucking time-honored customs & prejudices.
Okay, confession time. Lady Ashley & Lord Louie is a romance novel, but it's a love song,
not a sexy 'jumping in bed kind of thing'. Love, I do believe in, so it will appear under
my real name, if at all.
- POLITE PERSISTENCE - If you find a publisher or editor who seems interested in your
work, follow up on it now and then without getting pushy about it. If you submit your
work to a publisher and get no reply in three or four months, send a follow-up, giving the
date of your submission and repeating some of the strong points of your work. It was a
follow-up letter that got the first edition of Thirsty unstuck, and a few annual reminders
were needed to get the large print Thirsty edition launched, and a couple of annual
reminders resulted in the audio tape edition of Thirsty, "Sundown In Thirsty". In all of this,
you must have a genuine regard for the publisher's or editor's work load and maintain a
friendly atmosphere. If your current project doesn't work out, you will at least get a
friendly hearing for the next one.
- REJECTIONS - Need consolation in a sea of rejections or proof that they can be overcome?
Read Earnest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" and know that he had the same troubles. And, do
you like the Dr. Seuss books? Their author nearly drowned in rejections before he fortuitously
bumped into an old friend who happened to be an editor! For those who survive the battle,
rejections become something like war wounds; a source of pride after the miseries of battle
- REPRINTS - If your work has been published by a conventional publisher, it will go out
of print eventually. Some publishers will allow a book to go out of print in a year or less
if the sales aren't promising. Others pride themselves on keeping a book in print as long
as some sales continue. Whichever the case may be, the author should ask for a "Reversion
of Rights" when the out-of-print status is confirmed. If you find a publisher interested in
doing a reprint at some later time, the reversion of rights letter is your proof that you
are free to contract for those publication rights again.
- SELF-PUBLISHING - There are many sharks in the literary waters, offering to publish or
"cooperatively publish" your work for a price. Often, the price is way too high and the
shark will do little to help you sell the book. To add insult to injury, self-published
books are often assumed to be of inferior quality. (Unfortunately, some of them truly are
inferior, and we ourselves are the poorest judges of whether our own books are of that
sort.) However, given that the barriers to conventional publishing are so forbidding,
more authors are trying the self-publishing route and the stigma is fading. There are at
least two self-publishing routes that allow an author to keep costs low enough to provide
a reasonable chance of break-even or better financial results; (1) do everything yourself,
from contracting for book printing, through cover design, binding, registrations (ISBN, bar
code, & copyright), stocking, advertising, selling, and shipping, or (2) work with a POD
(print-on-demand) business that will produce the book, do all the registrations, get it
listed with the internet booksellers, and fill orders from all sources, but probably rely
upon the author to promote sales. I think it's also true that for most of the books they
publish, the POD publishers earn most of their profits from the authors, just as the
previous "vanity publishers" usually did.
I know one author who is going the do-everything-yourself route and succeeding at
it. He is highly talented, has a great sales personality, and a very supportive wife, and
they work very hard at it. The do-everything-yourself route is more work, but it provides
more control and price flexibility for the author. However, that route does require appreciable
up-front cash to purchase that initial stock of books that you are going to have to store
somewhere. The print-on-demand route can allow you a lower up-front cost and leave you more
time to promote sales or write the next book. Essentially, that's why I chose to self-publish
via Xlibris. If you choose to self-publish and elect to go the print-on-demand route, be aware
that the list of print-on-demand outfits is increasing and compare their prices and contracts.
I'll include some web addresses you can find by clicking on "other" on my home page. And bear
in mind that new companies tend to have a high failure rate. If your print-on-demand company
goes out of business, you may be back to square one. (Note that businesses rarely give explicit
warning that their business is in financial trouble. To do so would scare away customers, kill
loan opportunities, and cause suppliers to demand cash on delivery.) Publishing may seem to be
an easy business when viewed from a safe distance, but, up close and personal, you may find it
difficult and uncertain.
Before you decide to self-publish, ask yourself which will make you happier: (a) Putting your unsold
manuscript on a shelf and diving into writing something better, or (b) Going into self-publishing and
having little or no time for writing until you're done with that?
And how will my own next book (LA&LL) be published? Whether through an agent or an editor, I much prefer
that it be published by a conventional publisher. However, if my current 6 self-published e-books
do okay, I may go the e-book route with it. Who knows, e-book publishing may become so easy that the
majority of novels will be done that way.
If you decide to go the self-publishing route, you need to immediately start planning ahead
for promotional things you can have under way as soon as the book comes out or shortly before.
Which newspapers might take note of your work? Are there reviewers who should get advance
info or hot-off-the-press copies? Are there contests it might win if entered soon enough?
When a conventional publisher takes 12 to 18 months to get your book out, part of that time
is spent in laying the promotional groundwork. (Disney strikes me as the top promotional
choreographer. When they have a new movie ready for release, their promotional stuff hits
you from everywhere.) You're likely to have less resources and 'clout' than any professional,
but you need to do all you can and not miss anything obvious.
- SELF-PUBLISHING PRICES - (This paragraph applies to hard-copy books, not e-books.)If you
are going the self-publishing route, you need to be aware of retail, bookstore, and wholesale
prices. Bookstores normally get books at 60 % of the retail price, while wholesalers get them
at 50 % of retail. Among other things, if you are going the do-everything-yourself route, it
means that you still have to make a profit at 50 % of the retail price. Also, bookstores and
wholesalers expect to be able to return unsold books to the publisher. (To minimize shipping
expenses, publishers will often, if not always, accept torn-off covers of low-cost paperbacks
to qualify for refunds.) That also has to be factored into your price. On the other hand, if
you are working with a Print-On-Demand company which sets these prices for you, note that they
probably will not accept returns. This no-return policy has very little effect on
individuals who place orders on the internet, but it has a very chilling effect on
bookstores and wholesalers. Neither bookstores nor wholesalers are eager to order books
they can't return, so they place minimal orders, if any. (NOTE: Infinity Publishing accepts
returns. The 'Catch 22' is that, in order to have this feature, the author pays an extra
$699 the first year, and $349 each succeeding year. No free lunch.) With Xlibris, the
author's price is such that, if I were selling them through a bookstore, the bookstore would
get 40% and I would get 26% if I could sell paperbacks at the $21 to $23 retail price. (Of
course, those prices may seem cheap in the inflationary future, and there are people who can
sell diamonds at diamond prices when zircons are freely available, but I'm not that kind of
salesman. If I set my ego aside, I have to believe that my books have to compete with $14
paperbacks, except when I am there to personally promote and sign them.) Of course, as a
prospective self-publisher you need to pay very close attention to the quality of the books
produced (which is quite good at Xlibris) as well as these cost factors when choosing how or
where you are going to publish.
- SHELF LIFE - I mentioned this under "reprints." I believe that many books are taken
out of print too soon to allow much chance to be noticed. I had a short story in a
collection called "New Frontiers, Volume II" and wanted to buy a copy of "New Frontiers,
Volume I". I found it in an Albany, NY, bookstore, but decided to buy it at a store closer
to home so as to help promote it in a small way. Ordering it near home that week, I found
that it was already out of print. This as one of the things in favor of self-publishing;
it allows you to keep your book in print.
- TIME - Every author published by a conventional publisher spends some time in working
with editors and proof-reading. The author about to self-publish had best be aware that
it's going to take a great deal more of his or her time than conventional publishing does.
Self-publishing gobbles time and money most authors would rather spend on writing. That
classic writing monkey the author may have had on his back for years will be joined by the
publishing monkey and these two monkeys will be in competition for the author/publisher's
time. That's why I quit sinking time into the hard-copy versions of my 6 Xlibris books (but
will do what's needed to promote the e-book versions); I need all the time I can coax out
of myself to get my hot new book, "Lady Ashley & LORD LOUIE" into the view of editors and
agents. Failing that, I may yet go the self-published e-book route on it. I still think it's a
hellova good book.
- WRITER'S GROUPS - In addition to moral support and good advice, writer's groups will often
provide a chance to meet with publishers, editors, and agents that you would meet in no other
way. Of course, those publishers, editors, and agents are on their guard against the predatory
instincts of writers, and warm friendships are unlikely, but the great friendships that can
form between yourself and other writers is an added bonus. Aside from groups that cover a
geographical area, each major genre has groups that specialize in the genre. I am a member
of the Western Writers of America and can vouch for it as a very friendly and informative
experience, as well as an annual booksigning opportunity.