CHAPTER 13: Publishing
THE FINISHED MANUSCRIPT
The completed manuscript (ms) has a specific format. On the first page, at the top left, put your name and address. Also, include your telephone number and email address. On the upper right, put the number of words in your manuscript. This constitutes the heading of the first page. Right after this (still on the first page), center the following: the novel’s title in capital letters, followed two lines later by CHAPTER 1, and two lines after that, the first paragraph of the novel. The text of the manuscript follows this same format. Each chapter starts on a new page. At the very end of the manuscript you put the words THE END, centered two lines after the last word of the novel.
The body of the manuscript should be double-spaced, left-justified, and with the right edge uneven. Agents and publishers consider it unprofessional to justify the text. Margins should be at least one inch on all sides and not exceed 1.25 inches. The author’s last name, the title, or a shortened version of it, and the page number should appear at the upper right of each page, except for the first page.
The font should be 12 point and have a “clean” appearance on the full page. Some fonts, although they appear fine as individual letters, bleed into each other and generally give off strange visual effects when you see a full page. You should have 250-300 words per page, but this will be determined by your font and margins. A published novel can have almost any number of words, depending on the format the publisher chooses. The Bridges of Madison County has approximately 250 words per page, Red Storm Rising about 500. The manuscript should be no more than 100,000 words. Unpublished authors have a particularly difficult time getting a long novel published, but you will see it happen occasionally. Be forewarned that the longer the first novel, the more difficult it will be to get published.
- Don’t use a separate cover sheet or title page.
- No fancy fonts.
- No script texts.
- No large fancy first-letters of the first words of chapters, as they sometimes appear in a published novel. The manuscript is a bland, no frills presentation of the text.
- Don’t try to imitate the format of a published novel. This is a manuscript, not a book.
- Don’t put it in a binder. Manuscripts are loose-leaf.
- Don’t use a cover illustration.
RESEARCHING THE MARKET
Once the manuscript is complete, it’s time to try to get a literary agent. Hopefully, all during the time you’re writing your novel you are also researching the marketplace to see what’s out there that resembles your novel. If you write genre fiction, your task will be easier. If you’ve written something a little more original, you’ll have a task ahead of you.
While you write, read and search for highly acclaimed novels with which to compare yours. Each novel should have an “acknowledgements” section, in which the author may mention his agent or editor. This type of information will give you a first guess at who might want to represent or publish your novel.
FINDING AN AGENT
In Chapter 1, you determined what type of novel you were planning to write. Now you can put that information to good use. Agents are specialized. Your job is to match your work with an agent who sells that type of novel.
The first step is to find agents who belong to the Association of Authors Representatives (AAR). I recommend dealing only with AAR members; otherwise, you open yourself up to all sorts of scams and unethical agents, many of whom will want to edit your manuscript for a small fortune. Don’t fall for it. Real agents aren’t editors. AAR can be reached on the web at aaronline.org. You’ll find the names and addresses of almost all AAR agents at the website, and even more importantly, the agency web address. Find a specific agent who might be interested in representing your work.
Good agents are being bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals every year. So you’re up against a difficult task. Do your homework. The more you know about the agent you’re querying, the better chance you have at making a favorable impression. Landing a New York City agent is preferable because that’s where most of the publishing houses are located, but once you’ve exhausted them, you’ll find good agents spread across the United States, particularly on the West Coast.
THE QUERY LETTER
Limit yourself to three, at most four, paragraphs, hopefully on a single page. State in the opening of your letter what you have and why you believe they may be interested in representing it. Your one-sentence summary of your novel will also go into the first paragraph. The one-paragraph statement of the storyline will constitute the second paragraph, with perhaps a few modifications. The third paragraph will be about yourself, and hopefully convince the agent that you are sane, educated, know your subject and have good writing skills. That’s it. Offer to provide the full manuscript, and close with “Sincerely,” etc.
Lastly, if you can’t determine whether the agency represents your type of novel, call the agency, but only to ensure that the agency still exists and to get a contact name for the query. Don’t try a sales pitch.
WHAT TO SEND
- Query letter to a specific person at the agency.
- First ten pages or so, maybe as many as fifty, depending on agency guidelines, if you can determine them.
- Synopsis, up to twenty pages, if the agency guidelines so state. Many agencies don’t want a detailed synopsis. The synopsis is your collection of chapter summaries.
- Include return postage and packaging. Include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope). If you forget the SASE, you will most certainly be rejected out of hand and never hear a word.
You should use a paper clip to hold all pages together, but don’t staple any of it.
Query approximately 100 agents, all simultaneously. A few will receive your elaborate package, but most should get only your query letter and first chapter (~ten pages). The postage alone will probably put you in the poor house.
Responses come in many forms. Some (most) will be form-letters addressed to “Dear Author.” Occasionally, you’ll get a personal response. Don’t let any of them discourage you. Persistence in the face of rejection is the name of the game.
SENDING OUT THE FULL MANUSCRIPT
Hopefully, your query letter will generate some interest. Depending on the type of novel you’ve written and how well you’ve targeted your marketing, you may have as many as fifty percent of the agents request the full manuscript. But more likely you’ll get about ten percent or less who are interested.
Most agents will request the manuscript on an exclusive basis. This means that you can’t send the full manuscript to anyone else while they have it. I have mixed feelings about complying with this, because agents won’t generally do what they say they’ll do anyway. Some will respond immediately, but others will wait months. I would at least consider sending it out to several agents (if you are so lucky to have that many interested) simultaneously, even if they request it exclusively. Just don’t tell them what you’re doing. The chance that any one of them will accept the novel is still slim, and if one says he’ll take it, you can always tell the others you want your manuscript back without giving a reason. You should be so lucky as to have two agents who want it simultaneously.
- Don’t pay a reading fee to an agency. AAR specifically forbids their agents to do this.
- Avoid any agency that wants to edit your novel for a price. This is a scam. Some charge as much as $125 per hour. No reputable agency, particularly not one that belongs to AAR, will do this. Reputable agents will either accept or reject your manuscript.
Some agents will respond immediately, usually those most interested, and some will take several months. A few agents will never respond at all. Once eighty percent of the responses have come in, and your complete ms has been rejected several times, you’ll know whether you want to either pursue getting an agent or decide you’ve had enough crap from them and try to get a publisher instead.
LOOKING FOR A PUBLISHER
Most large publishing houses will no longer consider a submission from an unagented author. However, most midrange and small publishing houses will accept manuscripts directly and from unagented authors. Soho Press is one. Search the Internet for publisher websites, and follow their instructions. Their submission requirements will generally be much like those for agents. You can use the query letter and synopsis you used to look for an agent, with a few obvious modifications. This time you’ll be looking for what’s called an “acquisitions editor.” The same rules apply. Acquisitions editors deal with specific types of books, so try to find all the information you can on each person. Find out what type of books they purchase, and what they expect in a query. If you can’t find out any other way, call the publishing house. Again, don’t try to sell your novel. Be business-like, get the information you’re after and hang up.
DON’T GIVE UP!!!
I’ve had several friends who wrote great novels, received rejections from ten or so agents, tried ten or so publishers, got more rejections and quit. On the other hand, Stephen White (a psychologist who lives in Boulder, Colorado and writes psychological thrillers) wrote his first novel (Privileged Information) and tried for two years to get an agent/publisher and failed totally. Then, he talked to a friend who had a contact at Viking and the magic happened. The book became a best seller, so much so that Stephen had to quit his practice as a psychotherapist so he could devote all his time to writing.
LIFE AFTER PUBLICATION
A good friend of mine, who recently published her first novel, had a dream experience (but a real one) after a publishing house accepted her novel. She flew to New York, met her agent and publisher, went out to dinner with them (at the agent’s expense), and generally had a marvelous time. Her editor did an excellent job editing the novel with no disagreements, and generally improved the work.
But after the book was published, the publisher slumped into the background, didn’t promote it at all, and it didn’t sell well. It did receive favorable reviews, even in the New York Times Book Review.
Publishers generally put their marketing dollars into books that sell well after the first couple of weeks. Don’t expect your publisher to do all the publicity. You may have to hit the trail on your own, at your own expense, and even have to contact bookstores to set up signings.
Self-publishing may not be your last choice but your first. If you have a small target market, and don’t want to run the agent/publisher gauntlet, you can publish it yourself rather easily through a print on demand (POD) service. Through the traditional approach, it takes a couple of years from the start of marketing to seeing it in print, if you’re lucky and it happens at all. With POD, if your ms is in good shape, it can take as little as a couple of weeks to have it up on Amazon. Some of the more common POD services are: LuLu, iUniverse, Publish America, and CreateSpace. Both iUniverse and Publish America will edit your work (for a fee) and print the book in either cloth or paperback. Checkout their different packages at their websites.
CreateSpace, a member of the Amazon.com group of companies, will publish your novel in paperback for no charge. You only pay for proof copies and any other final copies you want for your own use. You have to supply them with PDF files of your cover and internal text, formatted to their specifications. You can either supply the ISBN or they will supply one at no charge. If you supply the ISBN, then you are the listed publisher. If CreateSpace supplies the ISBN, they will be listed as the publisher. Your book will also appear in Books In Print and Barnes & Noble. Check the CreateSpace website for further details. Check the R. R. Bowker website to find out how to purchase an ISBN and get your book listed in Books In Print. Anyone can buy one. It’s easy. CreateSpace books are listed on Amazon as “In Stock” and are immediately available. If you sign up for an Amazon Seller Central Account, your book will appear with the “Look Inside” feature, which allows the customer to view several pages and also search the book’s text.
Publishing for mobile devices is another option that has unlimited potential for the future, which of course is today. Amazon’s Kindle, which uses an electronic-paper that displays letters in E Ink, has attracted a lot of attention, and it is rather easy to get your book published for it. Sony also has a Reader Digital Book that is quite popular. Putting your book on Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch is also possible, but requires some programing knowledge to develop an application, which then must be approved by Apple. Of course, Amazon has a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, so if you get it on the Kindle it is on these Apple products also by default.
The publishing world is changing rapidly. No telling what the publishing landscape will look like by the time you finish your novel. Stay abreast of the industry by periodically checking Publishers Weekly and comparable websites. Surf the Internet and follow knowledgeable people on Twitter. With the advent of Apple’s iPad, the publishing industry is trying to re-invent itself for cyber space. You can get your eBook on the iPad through SmashWords for no up-front costs and then only a small percentage of sales. SmashWords is a new service and somewhat buggy, but soon it’ll straighten itself out, and undoubtedly many alternative free services will soon be available. I suggest trying everything and see what approach is the most effective for you to create a readership. But try to think outside the box. The future of publishing is wide open and you are in the center of it. You might consider joining forces with an illustrator/animator to generate some dynamic content to support your written material. Someday soon, the digital world will change the reading experience so much for the better that no one will want to read a new book as a static hardcopy. Everything will be dynamic and interactive. So put on your seer’s hat and come up with the book of the future.
The biggest problem with self-publishing, of course, is marketing and distribution. And this means you better be prepared to market your novel yourself, both on the Internet and in public. Yes, that’s right: Twitter, FaceBook (horrors!), and a blog. Otherwise, you won’t sell even one copy outside your circle of friends and family, even if it’s on Amazon. With the way things are shaking out, you’ll probably have to do all this even if you get published by a major publisher. Publishers no longer have the marketing dollars they once had. But will any of this hard work marketing yourself help if you’re self-published? That’s the big unknown at this point.
One thing that’s making the publishing establishment uneasy right now is that mainstream publishing is merging with self-publishing and vanity publishing. We hardly have a distinction anymore, and this is driving big publishing houses crazy. They want to keep a strangle hold on what gets into print and what they consider to be quality fiction. But the floodgates have opened with POD and digital publishing, and the 99.5% of book written each year and have always in the past gone unpublished are now flooding the landscape. Many published authors are mad as hell that they are losing their status, but there’s nothing they can do about it. They’ve lost their aura of being special just by being in print, having been put there by some Guardian of the Gate, a publishing mogul in New York City. The public can no longer tell the difference. The establishment sees chaos coming and a decrease in quality of published works, and they are right. But out of the chaos will emerge a new equity that says that anyone who can develop a readership is just as valid and deserves a share of the spotlight as those who have been christened as the chosen ones.
L.S. Stavriano predicted all this back in 1976 with his book titled The Promise of the Coming Dark Age. Stavriano predicted the collapse of modern, industrial society with the advent of new technology, the most obvious of which has become the personal computer. He didn’t foresee the Internet, but I’m not sure that anyone did. He did see the leveling of the playing field, and in the publishing industry it’s happening in a very short period of time. This is democracy in action, and it is happening throughout our culture. Felicia Day is doing it with web media, and Zoe Keating is doing it in music. Zoe Keating said something a few days ago in an interview that is as important as anything I’ve read. When referring to musicians as a whole and what the music industry is going through, she said: “I had a realization at SXSW that ‘we’ the musicians, are the music industry,” And what she said is not only true about the music industry but also about publishing. Authors are the publishing industry now. This is an astounding statement, and it is undoubtedly true of many other industries that were previously controlled by a select few. The creative talent has been liberated, and the administrators have gone by the wayside. No more middlemen trying to sort through hundreds of thousands of manuscripts each year for the 0.5% they deem fit for publication. Some of our greatest writers have never been able to find the light of day. The future is brighter for novelsmiths than it has ever been. Your chances of being published have just gone up to 100%. Now it’s up to you to find your readership.
ANOTHER PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
(The following post is not currently a part of Novelsmithing)
True confessions time.
In January 1993 I got laid off from my day job, and since I’d been writing evenings and weekends for what seemed like forever while working on a second undergraduate degree in American literature, I decided not to try to find another engineering job (I worked mostly on NASA projects, Space Shuttle and missions to the outer planets). I decided to remain unemployed so I could write, and travel. That fall, I went to Greece by myself for ten weeks traveling about the mainland and islands, even the western coast of Turkey. I went to contemplate some of the disasters in my life: an almost fatal encounter with my father, two divorces, and the disappearance of my daughter. I wrote 112,000 words while in Greece. I wrote about the archaeological sites and Greek mythology while mulling over my past personal problems. When I returned, I spent the next two years beating it into shape for a book that I titled Oedipus on a Pale Horse, Journey through Greece in Search of a Personal Mythology.
Just before I left for Greece, I had a literary agent contact me, and while I was gone, she worked at selling a novel I’d been working on for the last seven years, my first, called The Escape of Bobby Ray Hammer, A Novel of a 50s Family. The novel had been among the five finalists at the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Novel Competition in New Orleans. I was invited to the awards ceremony but declined because I had a non-refundable ticket to Greece, and I was afraid that if I didn’t go, I never would. If I’d abandoned my trip and gone to the ceremony, I would have probably ended up getting Bobby Raypublished, but I had an agent and figured that she’d sell it while I was gone. She claimed to be hardworking and would go from major publishers down to small presses if she had to. First she wanted to present it to Jason Epstein at Random House. She knew him personally.
While I was gone, she gave it to Epstein who rejected it with a curt oneliner, so she gave it to a friend at Bantam who also rejected it. When I returned, my agent had already given up on it. She didn’t try even midrange publishers. She wanted to see what I had written while in Greece. Non-fiction is easier to sell, and she thought my story sounded interesting. I told her it wasn’t in complete form, but she wanted to see it anyway, so I sent what I had to her. Then the long silence. She dumped me.
I continued to work on the travel journal for the next two years, and during the fall of 1995, I started marketing it myself. I went straight to publishers and was told that it was a “foreign sell,” (as in Europe), and that none of my 1,400 pictures of Greece would ever see print. I tried marketing it a little more, but gave up without much of a fight.
In February 1996, I moved to Carlsbad, NM to live in an old abandoned home my maternal grandfather had built out of bomb boxes from World War II. My mother and father had been renovating it, and told me that I could have it, if I wanted to live there. I was running out of money and knew that I could make it there on next to nothing. I moved and shortly thereafter started work on a historical novel I titled The Mysteries, A Novel of Ancient Eleusis. I worked on it day and night, and two years later I finished and started marketing it to literary agents. I received several rejections, but then a major New York agent, who shall remain nameless, wanted to see the manuscript on an exclusive basis. The names of her clients read like a who’s who directory. She said she’d get back to me in six weeks. The six weeks came and went and after another month, I sent a second letter requesting a status update. She said she was very busy, but should have a decision for me in a couple of weeks. Several months went by, and I again requested an update. She said that her readers had loved it, and that she would get back with me in a couple of weeks. After having it for nine months on an exclusive basis, I received a one-line rejection from her.
I was rapidly running out of money, so I went to work at NMSU-Carlsbad where I took a beginner class in website design. This was the fall of 1999, just a few months after my father passed away. I’d decided to put Oedipus on a Pale Horse on the Internet, so I could also display some of the 1,400 pictures I’d taken of Greece. Even if I couldn’t get it published, maybe a few readers would enjoy it.
Once I had it up, readers started finding it immediately. I’d had a powerful experience traveling Greece, and quite soon I had enthusiastic readers from all over the world. My number of followers was growing daily. I received an email from a woman who was born at Eleusis. She was thrilled with the chapter on her hometown, and said that she read it “with great emotion.” Another wrote to me about her days growing up in Corinth. One young man from Hong Kong wrote to tell me that he and his wife and kids had gone to Greece on vacation, and that before they left, he had printed out the chapters on the places they planned to visit and that the material had greatly enhanced their visit to Greece. Another man told me that he couldn’t quit reading it at work and was worried about getting fired.
Then the academic community found it, and students were using my content for research papers and field trips to Greece. A professor from a major university wrote to thank me for putting the material up on the Internet. He had recently learned that he was Greek and had read through the entire website. Professors saw it as an educational resource. I had as much as three gigabits of data downloaded from my website every month.
One day I received an email from a publisher in South Korea who wanted to translate the entire work and publish it in four volumes along with my pictures, a coffee table book he called it. He was willing to give me a good portion of the royalties if I would help with the translation into Korean. That sounded like a good idea, so I worked with a translator for the next twelve months. I worked closely with the young woman who was translating it, so a friendship started to develop. But just as we were finishing the translation, out of the blue, I received an email saying that the South Korean economy was going south, and they had to drop the project. I believe the publisher even went out of business. Oedipus on a Pale Horse never saw print in South Korea, as far as I know.
I had another bright idea. I’d found out about CreateSpace, so I joined forces with a professional editor, and we went to work on my manuscript, which took about one year. I then pulled the material off of my website, and published it in paperback. However, I had to make some compromises, and the biggest one was that I couldn’t include the color pictures that had been so much a part of the website. Within a week it was up on Amazon just waiting for the public who couldn’t get enough of it on the Internet. When the Kindle came out, I converted the file, and soon it was an eBook and available on the Kindle, the iPhone, and the iPod Touch.
In the past year and a half, Oedipus on a Pale Horse has sold maybe fifty copies, and even this is a generous estimate. I have gone from having thousands of readers to less than a hundred, just to see it in print.
I have a similar story I could tell about Novelsmithing, which started out as notes for a class I was teaching in Continuing Education at NMSU-C. I had also put Novelsmithing (then titled Jungian Novel Writing) on the Internet as a part of the same website. I had authors from all over the world who would send me emails about how unique the materials was, and how it helped them actually finish a novel for the first time. My information on plotting, they said, is unique. Some of my students at NMSU-C got their novels published. Instructors were telling me how they were using the material in their classes and how helpful it was to their students. So I pulled it off the Internet also and published it in paperback. The sales have been better than Oedipus on a Pale Horse, but still minuscule compared to the number of people I was reaching on the Internet. The amount of money I’ve made off the sale of the books is trivial. And to get these two books in print, I’ve sacrificed all my readers.
That’s the reason I’m putting this material from Novelsmithing back on the Internet. Readership, helping people write and see their vision come to fruition is worth everything. I’m also going to put Oedipus on a Pale Horse back on the Internet along with the images and just hope that I can get one tenth of the readership that I used to have.
I realize that I didn’t have the stamina to see my way into publication with a major publishing house, but I have a friend who has published a couple of books, one of which is out of print and the other not selling. She’s won a lot of awards and is a marvelous writer. I believe someday everyone will know her name. But at one time, only a couple of years ago, I had a readership that was right up there with a lot of major authors, and I threw it away to get my books in print through self-publishing. I’m going to continue to self-publish, both print and digital, but I’m also going to make my work available online. Free.
I have also self-published The Mysteries, but as yet I’ve not started a marketing campaign. I have both volumes on Amazon and, just recently, the iPad, although SmashWords, the publishing service I used, made an error and each volume is price twice what it should be. We’ll see how that turns out. I have no plans to put it on the Internet, although I am toying with reducing the price considerably for the digital version. Traditional thinking is that when you give your content away, you devalue it. I’ve not found that to be true, but it’s difficult when dealing with something that you’ve slaved over for years, and I do so loveThe Mysteries. I love my main character Melaina, a young girl living in a terrible time with a terrible illness. And also her mother. I just want to do them justice. We authors are such fools for our own characters.
Publishing is in a state of liminality. It’s losing its identity and metamorphosing into something totally new. The Old is coming down and the New, this nebulous, New Way of doing business hasn’t fully exposed itself. We do know that the walls are coming down. Everyone how has access to the publishing venues. Vanity publishing, self-publishing, and mainstream publishing are merging. Everyone can write with the assurance that they will have access to the marketplace, maybe not equal access, but anyone can get their writing before the public and through blogs, Twitter, FaceBook, etc, we have a shot at developing a readership. Making a little money off of the endeavor would be nice, but to me readership is what it has always been about.
So I’ve not had a lot of luck with either traditional publishing or self-publishing, but I have had a lot of luck finding a readership by putting some of my material on the Internet. What that will do for me in the future is anyone’s guess. I’ve found the publishing business to be really difficult. I have a bachelor’s from Arizona State University and a master’s from Stanford University. I’ve taught at the college level: novel writing, Greek mythology, and astronomy. For a couple of years, I was a NASA Solar System Ambassador. When I was an engineer, I used to occasionally work with astronauts. My poetry was elected for publication by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, and has appeared in The Paris Review. At the Sierra Writing Camp, my reading of a chapter from Bobby Ray created a sensation. Yet, except for a little poetry, I remain unpublished by the establishment. I’m not used to failure. Right now, I’m going to see if I can get back my Internet readership while continuing to self-publish.
My advice to you is that no one knows what is coming. Take the path you most want to travel. Go out and invent the future.
(a) State your goals for getting your novel published. (b) Identify the target market for your novel. (c) Make a list of agents who might be interested in representing your work. (d) Make a list of publishers who might want to publish your work. (e) Write a query letter.