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Old 09-26-2008, 06:40 AM
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Recently, I went to a class on how to get published. The instructor, Clay Winters, who has been in the publishing business since 1960 at Putnam/Grosset Books for Young Readers and is currently the president of Boyds Mills Press, a child company of Highlights Magazine for Children, has given some great information that I would like to share with you.

First—Get your manuscript out in front of people. Don't shove it away in a drawer and forget about it. That's one of the worst things you can do. Finish it up and send it out. Only forty to forty-five thousand new books are published each year by around three-hundred-fifty publishers, and though the chances of getting something published is slim, there's still a chance and your manuscript should be sent out with this thought in mind.

Second—Don't quit your day job. With some exceptions, an author will not make much money off of what he writes, though the potential to make more through the combination of royalties, speaking at seminars or on shows, and book signings could be decent enough to supplement an income.

Three great references when looking for a publisher or an agent are:
  1. Writer's Digest
  2. Writer's Market
  3. Literary Marketplace
He specifically said not to buy these books, but to borrow them instead from the local library. If the book is more than two years old, the names of the people working there may have changed in certain instances, but the numbers/addresses are usually the same.

Tips to stay out of a publishing company's “slush pile”:
  1. Research the correct publisher for your book. Go to a library, a bookstore, any place where books are present and see what publishers would publish the type of genre you're writing in, and send it there. No sense in sending a fantasy story to a publisher who publishes only non-fiction, and vice-versa.
  2. Send it to an actual person, not to just “Dear Editor.” When you go to call the publishing house months later to ask if your work has been looked at, you will have a name to give the receptionist or one to key into the phone for an extension.
  3. Send with the selected chapters or manuscript with a properly addressed SASE envelope that's the correct size, so the work may be returned. In his words: “No matter how good I get at folding something, I still can't fold an entire manuscript small enough to fit into a #10 envelope.”
  4. Number the pages of your manuscript. Place the title of the book on every page and your name on multiple pages, if not every one. Nothing irritates an editor more than to read a manuscript that's incorrectly numbered. If the pages get mixed up somewhere along the line, the work is put aside and never picked up again.
  5. Send the manuscript out on white paper only, double spaced, with reasonable margins (about 1” to 1 1/2”), and make sure the copy's neat and clean. He's had ones with coffee spilt on them, tear stains, white powder, etc. Send it out how you'd like to see it as a professional-looking manuscript.
  6. Write a cover letter. You are basically applying for a job with a potential publisher, so here is where you stress your credentials. Even if you've gotten a few small things published or work as an unpaid editor for an e-zine, those count as credentials, too. It just tells the publisher that someone else thought enough of your work to put it out there. A query letter, in contrast, highlights the book and goes into a little more detail than the cover letter. This shouldn't be more than two pages, at most.
There's an unwritten rule, he says, that a writer shouldn't send the manuscript out to more than one publisher at a time. He also says to ignore this. It would take up too much of the writer's time. He advises sending out as many manuscripts as you have stamps for. The worst thing that could happen would be two or three people call you at the same time asking to publish your work, and that rarely happens.

If you get an agent, you have a better chance at getting published. Agented work is looked at before unsolicited work, simply because the agent knows who will take what and it will not be a waste of time for the publisher. On average, fifty of the two-hundred or so agents out there are any good. A good agent will not take any money from you up front. They are commissioned sales representatives who take their cuts as the money rolls in. If, however, you ask for a critique, an edit, or any other work not involved specifically in selling your work to a publisher, then yes, paying for these services is reasonable.

A publisher will copyright your work for you AND they will put it in your name, not theirs. However, if you feel uneasy about sending uncopyrighted work to a publisher, you can most certainly copyright it beforehand. Uncopyrighted material will most likely never be stolen by an upstanding publishing company. The publisher needs the writer as much as the writer needs the publisher. He doesn't want to damage his reputation by stealing your work and having you sue him.

Once a publisher calls up and wants to talk about publishing your book, get to know the publisher, if you can, before the contract is signed. This is a business transaction and you should know who you're working with. Visit them, if needed. Look at the work they've put together; they will usually have a collection of the work they've published available, and if you aren't happy with the way they turn things out, you shouldn't settle. Walk away.

If, however, you are happy with their work and you do decide to sign the contract, hire an entertainment lawyer to go through it with you. Most of the contract is negotiable to a certain degree, though if the negotiations go on for too long, the publisher may decide to drop you as a difficult writer. Try to send it back within 30-60 days; that's considered enough time to work through the legal stuff, negotiate, and whatever else needs to be done.

A rewrite is most often asked for after the contract is settled. A good editor will suggest changes and not rewrite it completely. The publisher will want to keep the essence of the writer's voice in tact as much as possible. Look over the changes/suggestions. If you don't agree with any of them, don't be afraid to argue your point. These are just suggestions, after all, he says, and not rules set in stone, unless it's something grammatical.

Royalty periods usually run six months at a time. He said not to worry about how much you get up front. When the royalties come in, you end up getting the money anyway.

Movie rights and merchandising rights: Unless you are skilled at handling both of these, let the publisher handle it. You get half the money anyway. You can get all, if you keep these rights, but the average writer does not know how to sell his work to Hollywood or to other companies for merchandising.

Lastly, networking is very important. Join writers' circles that allow critiques (forums included), especially ones that allow you to read your work out loud to others. Visit local libraries, bookstores, introduce yourself. All of these people will be potential customers and it's good to get one's name out there.

Note: This information mostly pertains to publishing companies in the U.S., though the numbers are probably the same worldwide.

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Last edited by Devon; 09-26-2008 at 10:11 AM..
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