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>On Publishing July 3, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in ex-cathedra from my navel, publishing, writing.

>I wrote this for a writing group of which I am a member. I’m the only one with pro credits, so they asked me about publishing and how to get published. Here’s what I came up with:


First, Publishing is NOT like what you see in TV (Ignore Castle. The writers I know who watch it think it’s a comedy). Publishing is slow, subjective, and the writer very rarely gets rich. I can think of three off the top of my head who did (Stephen King, JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer). Most writers I know either have a day job that pays their bills, a spouse/partner who supports them, or can bring in enough in royalties that they can support themselves, a dog and a cat (and that writer has a roommate who helps with the rent. And even she occasionally flirts with the idea of getting a real job. There’s no health insurance in writing.)

The most important thing is that you have to be persistent. Publishing is a REALLY subjective business. What one agent or publisher turns down might find a home with another. Don’t let the rejections get to you. Most of them are form letters, anyway, when you get an answer at all. A good number of agents and publishers are of the “no answer means no” school.

Before you even thing about selling anything, make sure it’s the best work you can possibly turn out. Join crit groups like this one, but make sure that the membership is not open to the public. Public posting of your work ANYWHERE, evne if you made no money on it, means that you’ve given away your first serial rights. One group that I like a lot is the Online Writer’s Workshop — where your work can possibly be read by Elizabeth Bear, Joshua Palmatier and C.C Finley, all of whom are alums. This is something you can put in your query letter to an agent that really makes them take notice. Oh, and make sure that you keep your wordcount in spec — an adult novel over 100,000 words is pushing it. 80,000 is better. A YA novel over 60,000 or so is too long. If you write an epic 200,000 tome, you’ll never get it looked at. Ask me how I know…

If you’re selling anything longer than a novella for your first sale, then you want to try for an agent. You REALLY, REALLY want an agent if you’re going the traditional publishing route (I’m mostly doing e-books right now, so I don’t have an agent.) Expect a lot of rejections, unless you’ve managed to write the next Twilight, (in which case, I hate you). Personally, I’ve queried over a hundred agents for the novel that I wrote with a friend. Please note above that I said I don’t have an agent. 😉  Get a copy of the current Writer’s Guide — it lists agencies, and you can see which agencies cover your genre. You can also check Querytracker, Agent in a Box, or AgentQuery. Do your research. You want to be a good fit with your agent. You will (hopefully) be with them for a long time.

The reason that you need an agent is that there are very few traditional publishing houses that take submissions from unagented writers. In the Science Fiction world, there are two – Tor and Baen. (Right now, that novel is out in the slush pile at Baen). Now, if you submit to a publisher, and you get an offer (my fingers are crossed here), then you can go to an agent and ask them to represent you. Nine times out of ten, they’ll say yes. This is like free money to them — they get their 15 percent without having to do the groundwork to sell the book. (They’ll sell the REST of your books for you, and make sure you get the best possible contracts. Trust me on this. You NEED an agent in traditional publishing).

Now, there is one thing I cannot stress enough. MONEY GOES TO THE AUTHOR. The author doesn’t pay the agent — they take their cut out of what the publisher pays. The author also doesn’t pay the publisher. EVER. If anyone ever tells you that you need to pay reading fees or editing fees or that you have to buy so many copies of your book to see it in print, RUN.

Now, the reason I keep saying ‘traditional publishing’ is because with e-books publishers, the rules are a little different. There are no advances, for one. You either get paid a flat fee and royalties, or you just get royalties. This does not suck — in traditional publishing, if the publisher doesn’t make back your advance with book sales, you never see a penny of royalties. With e-books, we’re talking months to publication, not years (in most cases. I’ve just hit my second anniversary of my first sale, and that story should see publication this month.) You don’t need an agent, and most of them are open for submissions all the time. The turnaround for submissions is faster, too. That novel at Baen? I’ll hear about that sometime next year. I have a novelette out with Cobblestone Press, and I should hear about that by September (they have a 90 day turnaround.)  To learn more about e-book publishing, check out EPIC.

Have I covered it all?



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