Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Wrting: How To Find a Publisher or Literary Agaent, Part II

Let me add a few observations to my last blog about query letters. These are only my opinions, and should not be taken as gospel for getting published or as legal advice. Alternate styles may work better for different writers. For example, if you have no published works to your credit, list your qualifications for writing a novel. If you’re a lawyer whose manuscript is about a courtroom drama, or if you’re a recovering drug addict detailing the struggles of rehab, state that in your query. If your published works have received good reviews from reputable and recognizable sources (your mother’s blog does not count), include a link to those reviews. Be creative. You are selling yourself as much as your manuscript.

Below are same basic guidelines to follow for finding a publisher/agent:

-- Publishers/agents are specific in what they want you to submit along with your query, usually asking for sample chapters and a synopsis, and occasionally for a bio or a marketing strategy. Sometimes they ask for sample chapters to be submitted in a certain font. If you submit a query, be sure to provide what is asked for in the manner it is asked for. Although the main reason is to get a feel for your writing style, your submission also provides a sense for how well you follow guidelines. If a publisher/agent asks for a three-page synopsis, one sample chapter in Courier 10 font, and a marketing strategy, and instead you send a one-page synopsis, three sample chapters in Times New Roman 12 font, and a bio, you immediately send the impression that you cannot/will not follow simple directions. Publishers/agents will be cautious about contracting with you, fearing that you may also be unwilling/unable to follow their editorial guidance and meet deadlines. [NOTE: While I’m willing to make certain changes to the text of sample chapters – such as fonts, line spacing, or margins, all of which can easily be done on a computer – I refuse to do extensive reformatting. I did that once for a publisher whose webpage announced they were accepting manuscripts for consideration. I spent two days preparing the submission to meet their strict and unusual guidelines, e-mailed the query, and got an almost immediate response stating that the publisher was no longer accepting submissions. Needless to say, I never made that mistake again.]

-- Every publisher and agent I have talked to decry simultaneous submissions (sending a query to more than one publisher/agent at a time), each relating how they spent several hours reading a submission and accompanying chapters, got excited about the work, and called the author only to find that he/she had contracted with someone else. While I understand their rationale against simultaneous submissions, I find it unreasonable. It can take months for a publisher/agent to respond to you, if they respond at all, and more often than not they are not interested in seeing the entire manuscript. The restriction against simultaneous submissions places an unfair burden on aspiring writers. I see no problem with sending queries to more than one publisher/agent at a time. However, and this is vital, show professional courtesy. If you have one publisher/agent who is reviewing the manuscript and a second one asks to see it, let the second publisher/agent know that someone else is currently looking at it and ask if they still want to see it. Publishers/agents will understand if they contact you based on a query, but someone else has scooped up the manuscript before them. However, if they expend the time to read the entire manuscript only to find out that someone else has already contracted with you, you’ll earn a reputation in the industry you do not want to have.

-- Finally, do not feel compelled to accept any contract offered. I’ve been very fortunate that most of my publisher treat their writers fairly and with respect. Not all are like that. Some are looking for inexperienced writers who they can take advantage of. Several years ago I was contacted by a publisher who said how much he loved my manuscript and wanted to send me a contract. When I received it I laughed. The publisher wanted all rights (print, electronic, audio, radio, TV, movie, as well as the rights to the characters) to my first four books in perpetuity (i.e. forever) and offered a measly 10 percent royalty on all profits. The contract should have been emblazoned with a skull and crossbones in the corner. If a contract doesn’t settle right with you, trust your instincts and question it. Do not sign on the dotted line out of fear that no one will ever again offer you another one. You worked too hard on that book to give all the rights to someone else. As an aside, two weeks after rejecting that ridiculous offer I signed a contract with a reputable publisher for The Vampire Hunter series. 

When it comes to discussing query submissions, this blog touches the tip of the iceberg. But at least it gives you a framework to start from.

“I have my query drafted and ready to send out. Where do I find publishers and literary agents to submit it to?”

Here is where I date myself. When I first became interested in writing, the Bible of the publishing industry was The Writer’s Market. Without the latest edition on your desk, your chances of getting published were slim. However, relying on The Writer’s Market today is about as antiquated as drafting your manuscript on a manual typewriter. Most of the information contained with The Writer's Market is available on line, often through the publisher/agent's own website.

I use four methods to keep track of the market. More are available, but these are the ones I primarily rely on. [NOTE: If I happen to mention a particular service, that should not be taken as an endorsement of one product over another, or as an indication that other products are not as good. I’m merely stating my preferences. Each of you should do your own research and find services that best work for you.]

-- Internet-based publisher digests. There are several out there that encompass all markets and genres, but I use Duotrope ( Duotrope allows you to narrowly define your search parameters to provide listings based on genre, type of publication (short stories, novellas, or full-length novels; print or electronic publishing), length of work, submission guidelines, and other criteria. Each listing also contains a link to that publisher’s homepage so you can get the most up-to-date information. One feature about this service I particularly like is that you can sign up for Duotrope’s weekly e-mail update that lists the markets open to submission, updates those which are dead or closed to submissions, and provides a list of upcoming anthologies by theme. Several of my earlier works were placed with publishers I discovered on Duotrope. 

 -- Your local bookstore. You can find a wealth of information here. Check out new arrivals to see which houses have published books in your genre, and use that as a starting point for your research. Also remember to check out the acknowledgement page, for you often get the names of editors and literary agents to contact who work in your genre. 
-- Conventions. Though less readily available then the first two, writers and genre conventions are among your most valuable resource. Publishers/agents use these to seek out new talent, so they are most receptive to hear what you have to offer. Practice your elevator pitch and make sure it doesn’t sound rehearsed. And be prepared in case the publisher starts asking detailed questions about your work or you. I have seen writers nail that opening pitch and get all tongue-tied during the follow-up talks. Remember, nobody knows your book better than you do. If you find a publisher who wants to see more of your work, contact him/her the moment you get home, reminding him/her in your cover letter that you just met at the convention and that you are sending along the material he/she asked you to.

-- On-line forums and groups. These can be extremely helpful if you join the correct ones. You want to find forums/groups populated by aspiring and/or new writers who are serious about their craft.  Publishers/agents often cruise these sites searching for new talent, and if they are impressed they may contact you offline and ask you to submit. There are also forums/groups where publishers actively seek out authors. That's how I sold Dead Water. And don’t forget Facebook. I placed "Last Flight of The Bismarck" with an editor I met via a Facebook group that was seeking submissions for a steampunk horror anthology.  (These forums/groups are also invaluable in helping you market your book, which I will discuss in the next blog posting.)

All right, ladies and gentlemen. For those of you who have been reading this blog series from the beginning, you have enough tools available to write your novel. You’ve abandoned family, friends, and pets to make the time to write and have spent the last year drafting and editing and revising and re-editing and re-revising and re-re-revising your work. You’ve sent out an endless stream of query letters, suffered through the flood of rejections (or worse, the annoying lack of responses from publishers). But you have prevailed and finally found someone to publish your work. Your book is being released next month.


Now the hard part begins.

NEXT BLOG: Marketing Your Book a
nd Yourself

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