Jul 20

Find Your Publisher in Less Than One Day

While your professional editor finalizes your book manuscript, begin seeking possible publishers. Taking one afternoon to do the following simple steps will save you days and weeks of scattershot effort.

1. Find books similar to yours in your personal library, public library and bookstore, and write down the names of the publishers. Don't quit until you have at least 20 names (there are so many publishers nowadays!!).

2. Take this list and find each publisher's website to see whether the publisher is still in business, has a current catalog, and, under "Writers Guidelines" or "Submissions," read about what kinds of books or authors they are looking for; and YOU decide whether it looks like a publisher YOU would like to work with. Make a note of your best finds.

3. While you are on "Writers Guidelines," check whether the firm likes to correspond 1) by snail mail or 2) by email; and whether your first contact should be with a) a query letter b) a query letter with sample chapters, synopsis, or table of contents ("T of C"), or something else, or c) if they want you to send the full manuscript. Write down the editor's full name so you will have someone to address your correspondence to.

4. Having now narrowed your list of possible publishers, Google each to find any news, reports, reviews, complaints, or other material confirming the reputation or economic health of this publisher.

5. Browse amazon.com or the shelves for recent books similar to yours. Make note of any books strongly resembling your own. These are "competing titles," and your publisher will want to know how your book differs from the books already available. That will be an important selling point.

Jun 27

Tally for 2008

Completed: About 23 poems. Drafted This Year: 18 poems, 0 essays. Submitted: 14 poems. Rejected: 11 poems. Poetry Readings: 2; Prose Readings: 1; Anthologies Appeared In: 1. Contests Entered: 2; Prizes Won: 0. Workshops/Seminars Attended: 18. Poetry Readings Attended: 9; Submissions of Book Manuscript: 2; Rejections of Book Manuscript: 1. New Books Purchased: About 20. New Friends Made: 15 to 20 (a really great year). Friends Self-Publishing First Books: 6; Friends Publishing First Books: 5; Friends Publishing Second Books: 1; Friends Making a Living at Writing: 1. I don't make a living. However, as you can see, my life is fabulously rich.
Jun 27

Dont' Be Modest

The most overrated virtue in a writer: modesty. Especially when opportunity doesn't just knock -- it clubs you upside the head.

Last time I sent my latest book ms. out was February; the rejection (fourth) came in August. I sighed and let the manuscript rot. This past week I had lunch with a publisher. We weren't there to talk about my books, but the publisher described books the press was looking for, saying, "But who has a book like that?"

"I do," I boldly ventured for the first time in my life, "and it's finished, about 35,000 words; it has this, and this. . ." Mmmm, let me see it, said the publisher. I hate to think I almost said nothing -- out of misplaced modesty. It needed only to be printed out (pat myself on the back). Off it went into the mail today.
Jun 27

Publish-on-Demand Wins a Round

File this under Publishing's a Business: A publisher with a new and favorable book about Barack Obama is offering it first through Publish-On-Demand (P.O.D.), exclusively through Amazon.com. This is because it can -- and it wants the book available to readers before next week's Democratic convention. Now, so far, that's just good business -- for the publisher, for the readers, and for Amazon. Barnes & Noble, among other bookstores, is P.O.'d because brick-and-mortar stores wouldn't get Obama's Challenge for another two weeks, when it's yesterday's news and sales will be limp. So it'll be selling the book online, but not in stores. Read the story with all its juicy numbers and quotes in The Wall Street Journal.

The B&N spokeswoman says that by pre-releasing the book through Amazon, the publisher did not allow "an even playing field -- which is common practice in book publishing." (Authors, if that statement leaves you speechless, place here an emoticon of your choice.)

But unless the publisher made a contractual agreement regarding the book's availability, it's just business.
May 05

E is for E-Book

The writer now has control. You can fix it so your book is available as both a downloadable eBook file that anyone can download into his or her computer -- and as a printed book. This latter as long as someone places an order for a printed copy.

I've explored two reputable companies that do this: Lulu.com and LightningSource.com. Lulu is simpler. You do it all yourself, and you can choose to be your own publisher or let your publisher be Lulu.com. Lightning Source has district sales reps, support via E-mail, a bunch of manuals, and you should be set up as your own publisher already, and have bought your own ISBN.

Both companies will distribute your book through the normal channels and also online bookstores such as amazon.com. Both let you keep all your rights to the material.

With that kind of control the writer now has certain responsibilities. To wit:
1) You have to have a finished manuscript and the confidence that you can do this.
2) There's an initial outlay of money to publish such a book. But not a lot. Can you scrape up $100?
3) You have to follow directions and certain rules, and there's some legal stuff, and tax stuff if you make any money.
4) You can't publish just anything. Porn, for example, or pirated material, is not allowed.
5) You must proofread the copy, lay it out in book-style pages (some cheap or free software programs can help you do this), for Lulu.com turn the file into a distilled pdf (using Adobe software). And you provide the cover, unless that's a job you want to farm out to a graphics professional.
6) If you catch a mistake in the book after it's gone into distribution, and you want to fix it and reprint, that'll cost you mucho dinaro, or, as the Serbs say, mlogo slan, which literally means "much salt."
7) Your publishers make the book available, but they don't market or promote it. You do. A lot. There's a saying I hate that's painfully truthful: "Success is an ongoing effort." (spit-spit-phewie!)
8) Your publishers and distributors take their percentages, just as in the real world, and what's left belongs to you.
9) You have the "self-published" stigma, at least for now. The only way around it is to have kick-booty material! A darned good and worthwhile book that people will want to buy! Ah! That was what those old-fashioned publishers wanted! Does your book have what it takes?

I'll jump in first, and tell you how the water is.
Jan 22

I'm A Happy Little Cheat

Adjusting for subject matter and experience, a writer friend of mine, age 60, is as good a poet and essayist as Elizabeth Bishop -- to whom she has been compared. She published a book of poems (having won a competition) in 1991. She has three more books in manuscript. I guarantee you they are stunning. For a decade she sent them to publishers, receiving rejections mainly because they're literary and won't make money. She's worried that when she gets old and dies the manuscripts in her file will be thrown away.

I said to her, "What good are they in your file drawer? How about self-publishing?"

She found this idea distasteful. Self-published books are "not legitimate." But then she complained that a poet friend whose book was accepted three years ago by the "legitimate" LSU Press now hears it is scheduled to come out in 2010.

I said, "The system is broken. We all moan about how the publishing world is insane. We have to do things differently. Look," I said, "a book is a book. If you self-publish at least you'll have a book. It'll have an ISBN so people can find it. You can give it to libraries. You can give it away. Somebody somewhere will read your book."

My friend says it isn't legitimate. She wants to be legitimate more than she wants to publish. And she is getting what she wants.

Me? I'm publishing another book! It's essays this time. I am happy that my illegitimate books get bought and sold, and are in print, and in libraries, and on amazon.com, and not in my file drawer. I'm a happy little cheat who beat the system.
Jan 22

On Last-Minute Revisions and Touchups

Once in a while, after a tiring day, as a sort of nightcap I might pluck from the shelf one of my books and page through, and soon it all comes back: the joy and stress involved in the book’s creation and completion; the tussle with the universe to extract from it a fitting title; the stories behind word choices, stories only I will ever know; the people who freely gave me their most fragile possession: their trust. My thoughts might run:  “That thought was inspired and it reads like it,” or I hunt for flaws. “That middle initial should be G, not J; how did I not catch it?” “Shouldn’t have tinkered with that." Last-minute rewrites of my work, even half a sentence, feel and look to me like crudely sewn knee patches on jeans. Musician Les Paul said after a recording session, “Leave the mistakes in there; let them know we’re human.” That’s a great concept, especially when paired with Miles Davis saying about his art, “Don’t worry about mistakes. There are none."

Jan 18

Small-Press Editors Tell All, Feb. 11th

Small and/or independent presses are THE way for the un-agented writer to get published. The last four authors I edited all published their books with small presses, and others I didn't edit got their first books published by small presses also (smart enough to know they hadn't a prayer with the big ones). So have a prayer. Find out what small presses look for when three small-press editors discuss this very question at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Friday, February 11, at 6:00 p.m., in Lucas Hall 200. The UMSL MFA Program presents a panel of publishers from independent presses specializing in books of literary fiction and poetry. Alex Schwartz from Switch Grass, Ben Furnish from BkMk, and Jon Tribble from Crab Orchard will discuss and answer questions about what they look for in manuscripts, how to submit, what to expect, and more. Free and open to the public. Call (314) 516-6845 for more information.

I urge all writers in these changing times to continually update their knowledge about publishing, especially from firsthand sources such as these editors. Take advantage of a great privilege that will cost you nothing.
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