05 August 2011

Things I’ve Learned About Writing/Publishing

The road to publication has been a nightmare because of the time and money wasted while I learned the business. I wish I could say that there is lots of help out there for the newbie’s, but actually, the reverse is true. You are prey swimming in the shark’s pool—take heed. Believe nobody, and get everything in writing, research, research, and research. Even then, you will have picked the worst time in the world’s economy to enter the business.

Dealing with agents is the most disheartening undertaking for a writer. Agents act like the writer exists because of agents, when in fact it is the other way around. I wasted a year trying to find an agent from among those professing to have an interest in my area of my genre only to find that there are not any in existence. So no, I have no need for an agent. Having said all of that, though, clearing the air so to speak, I do have a few suggestions if you are interested.

Do your homework on the submission guidelines for any query. All literary agents will have their own guidelines; adhere to them absolutely. Do not ever send a manuscript unless it is requested. Hire professional editors to edit everything that another person will read, especially the final draft of your manuscript. An English teacher is not an editor and you cannot edit your own work, so hire someone. Your professionalism will determine whether you ever make the grade. A shabby cover letter on your submission packet will guarantee its demise. Agents and publishers are busy people and they have no time to waste on people who do not follow the submission guidelines.

Okay, it is time to consider your mission—to get published. I will assume that your manuscript is a first draft. Before you can send out query letters telling the world of the birth of the great American novel, your work needs editing. I do not mean having a friend, an English teacher, your boss, or any other layman read your manuscript, no, I mean that you must engage the services of a professional editor. Thus begins the process of polishing your manuscript until it is the best it can be. This process can involve numerous corrections and rewrites. The time and expense involved varies with the quality of the work. One hundred thousand words will cost in the neighborhood of $2000.00, or more, by the time you get it right.

Believe it or not, writing your book is only the beginning. With a final draft of your manuscript in hand, it is time to query. Famous people query with a proposal before writing the book. I will assume that you are not yet famous. As an author, you cannot deal directly with one of the large publishing houses, so your next challenge is to interest a literary agent in your work. If you find a literary agent, your relationship will be contractual. Do nothing with anyone without a contract. Fully understand your part of the contract before signing or hire an attorney versed in literary contracts to help you understand. There are numerous listings of literary agents on the Internet. Research each agent for their submission guidelines, select those receptive to your genre, be certain that they are accepting submissions, submit only what they require, and never send an unsolicited manuscript, they will not read it. Your literary agent will handle your contractual relationship with a publisher; they are your agent acting in your behalf.

If you are fortunate enough to become a published author through the literary agent/publisher/reader sequence of progression, congratulations, you have hit the big time. Your publisher will handle all the details of composition/format, cover design, printing/binding, fulfillment/marketing, and warehouse/distribution, leaving you free to crank out books. You will have little or no input regarding any of the production aspects of your book, nor will you retain any rights other than copyright. The publisher will own the ISBN and all future negotiations for anything concerning that work will be through, or with the permission of, the publisher.

Okay, you have spent a year submitting to literary agents without results. If you have not completely lost interest in publishing your work, you are left with publishing it yourself, e.g. self-publishing or becoming an independent publisher. A self-published author has hired a publishing company to publish a book, surrendering all rights save copyright—this last is negotiable in some instances. An independent publisher has formed a small company and gone through the process from copyright to a finished book ready for the market. That author owns all rights to the book because often the author and the publishing company are one and the same. Books are produced and marketed by an independent publisher working closely with a large full service book production facility such as BookMasters, Ashland, OH, where everything is done in house.

Regardless of the method used to publish your work yourself, you will be responsible for promotion and marketing. In working with an organization such as BookMasters, you will already have a leg up as they handle some of the initial marketing through their own marketing department. Getting the word out before and after the publication date is vital to your sales success. You must have a website and/or a blog that calls attention to your book and ultimately leads a visitor to your order page. If you do not want to handle book sales from your garage, then your website order page will link your customers to your distributor or other points of sale that you have set up. In this way, someone else will take care of the myriad details of the warehousing/distribution of your work.

Solicit professional book reviewers. Do not send them a book until you have queried them first. Be the consummate professional insofar as your contacts with reviewers. Always include a cover letter with your book that includes a short synopsis and your expectations as the author. Reviews are important and they can restore your bruised and battered ego when you read what someone else has to say about your work. Their reviews look good on your website and provide potential customers for your next book a sales closer as they read your book cover’s ad copy.

I have found that conventional print and display advertising on websites is only minimally successful. The mission here is to get your name and that of your book out to as many sites on the Internet as possible. Hire professional people to do this for you, e.g. Theodocia McLean, promotionalservices@booksinsync.com/. Additionally, Amazon is one of the most effective and important book sales tools out there. When you have your book listed with them be sure that you also use their ‘Look Inside the Book’ program. Ditto for Google Book Search. Going through the submission process with Internet book promotion and sales sites is time consuming, but the rewards outweigh this expenditure.

Local booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Borders do everything possible to arrange and facilitate book-signing events for local authors. So, be certain you contact the individual store’s book manager to set one up for you. They provide a display table and chairs, posters, and a newspaper announcement of the event, and it is all free. In addition, they will order a supply of your books to stock your book-signing. Not a bad deal, I think.

If you do not have letterhead stationery, design some, including the envelope. Remember, you are trying to sell a product, be professional in all of your contacts. Edit religiously, use spell check. Everything that you write is a reflection on you personally, so do it right the first time because the one chance is usually all you will get. And oh, good luck to you.

J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing, http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2011 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

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