HOW DO I GET PUBLISHED?



          I'm going to assume that you have written your book or your story.

 

PRESENTATION 

      I know that when I started writing, it was very difficult to find out how you should present your work for submission, so I'm very happy to tell you here.

       It's probably no longer necessary to warn people that work has to be typed. If you're reading this on the internet, you're hardly likely to even think about presenting something hand-written. (But if you are, don't! Your submission has to be typed.)

       It should also be double-spaced and printed on one side of the paper only.

       The object is to do everything you can to make reading your work easy. So, double-spacing, because that's easier on the eye. And make the font large enough to be comfortable to read – don't force your reader to squint at tiny letters, just so you can save paper.

        Type or print on one side of the paper only, so that each page can simply be set aside as it's read.

PAGE NUMBERS

         Page numbers should, ideally, be at the top of the page, in the centre, so they are easily seen.

         Number consecutively throughout the book. That is, page one of Chapter One should be '1', and if there are 300 pages in your book, then the last page should be '300'.

         I mention this because it has been known for people to number each chapter separately, so that Chapter Two begins at page one, chapter two; and Chapter Three also begins at page one. This is a bad idea because, sooner or later, all the pages are going to dropped on the floor, or otherwise mixed up. If every chapter has a page 2 and a page 4, then sorting them back into order becomes something of a chore. A busy editor (and all of them are) is going to be tempted to stuff all the disordered pages back into their envelope and return to sender. Without reading them.

CHAPTER HEADINGS

        The start of each chapter should be clearly marked. The heading 'Chapter Whatever' should be about half-way down the page, underlined, and in a larger font. If the chapter has a title as well as a number, that should come underneath, also underlined, also in the larger font. Then revert to your usual (easily readable) font for the chapter itself.

KEEPING THE PAGES TOGETHER

         When I submitted my first book, I put an elastic band round the pile of pages, and stuffed them into a large envelope. And my book was not only read, but accepted, so it isn't necessary to take a lot of trouble over presentation.

However, it probably doesn't hurt to take a little trouble. My agency goes so far as to prettify my scruffy typescripts by putting them in a thin card folder, with the book's title and their agency name on the front.

        If you want to put your manuscript into a clear plastic folder, that's fine. If you really want to go to the expense of having it bound, go ahead if you want to, but it isn't necesssary.

         But don't force it into one of those plastic spines, which will make it almost impossible to read comfortably.

And don't fasten the pages together with anything but paper clips. Especially not with straight dressmaker's pins! I have heard of this being done. An editor with bleeding, pin-jabbed fingers, is not a happy editor. And you want a happy editor to read your book.

SO, WHO DO YOU SEND IT TO?

         You can either send your book direct to a publisher, or to a literary agent.

 

         A LITERARY AGENT is a middle-man, standing between author and publisher. An agent knows the market, knows which editor is looking out for which kind of book, knows what the going rate is, and whether a proposed deal is a fair one or not. An agent will take care of most of the paperwork and negotiating. They will also help a writer to find work. Of course, for all this they have to be paid, and they will take 10-15 per cent of whatever you earn. (An agent for film or television writing will take twenty-five per cent).

          However, it's not easy for a beginner to find an agent willing to take them on. It's understandable – with a beginner, an agent would have to put in a lot of work for very little return. They would be taking a huge gamble. What if your first book didn't do very well – first books rarely do – and you never wrote another?

FINDING AN AGENT

          However, if you want to try and find an agent, buy an up to date copy of THE WRITERS' AND ARTISTS' YEAR BOOK.  This book lists every newspaper and magazine, every publisher and every agent in Britain. You can get them from libraries but, in my experience, they're often out of date. (The up to date copies are probably out on loan). If you're serious about getting published, buy your own, up-to-date copy. They're not expensive - and the cost can be off-set against tax once you start earning as a writer.  Having your own copy is well worth it.  (The WRITERS' HAND BOOK is also recommended.)

         Study the list of agents. Some will say quite clearly that they do not handle some kinds of work. If your book falls into that category, DO NOT WASTE TIME SENDING THAT AGENT YOUR WORK. They will not look at it.

          Once you have decided on an agent, proceed as for a publisher.

SUBMITTING DIRECTLY TO A PUBLISHER.

          If you decide to submit directly to a publisher, first make sure that you send your book to a publisher who is going to be interested.

          Publishers tend to specialise somewhat. I remember as a teenager that I used to find my favourite Sci-fi books in the library by looking for bright red and yellow covers. It wasn't that science-fiction was always published in red and yellow covers, but that Gollancz books were those colours, and Gollancz, at that time, published an awful lot of science-fiction. They were a better bet for a sci-fi author than most other publishers.

          Mills and Boon famously publish romances. They also publish medical text books. It is a waste of time and postage sending a sci-fi novel – or a spy-thriller – or a memoir of your early childhood – to Mills and Boon. It doesn't matter how well written or original they are; Mills and Boon will not publish them because they have a policy of not publishing that sort of book.

          So, take a notebook to a bookshop – a big, specialist bookshop, not a newsagents that sells a few books. Look for books of the kind you've written, whether it's fantasy, sci-fi, children's, romance, horror, whatever. When you find them, look inside, on the copyright page for the date when it was published. You're looking for recent books, published no more than a year earlier.

           Also on the copyright page will be the publisher's name. Take it from the copyright page because what appears on the cover may be the imprint, not the publisher. The copyright page will also give the publisher's address (though you can also get this from The Writers' and Artists' Handbook).

          Now you have the addresses of publishers who are already publishing books of your kind. If your research throws up the same publisher again and again, obviously that firm publishes a lot of that kind of book.

          It's better to use a bookshop for this research than a library, because library stock is often quite old, and publishers change their policies. They may have decided that they have enough of a particular kind of book for now, or they may have a new editor who hates sci-fi. For the same reason, take no notice of books which have been in print for longer than a year. They may be part of a publisher's back-list, but that doesn't mean they are buying that sort of book now.

          Having decided which publishers are your best bet, you can simply pack up your book and send it to them, though first phone the publishers and ask what editor is in charge of the department you want. Then you can address your parcel to a particular person.

THE SLUSH PILE.

          If you do this, your book will land on what's known as 'the slush pile' – a stack of unsolicited typescripts awaiting someone with time to look through them. Every publisher recieves several unsolicited typescripts through the post every day. Pretty much every editing department is understaffed and overworked. It can take a long time before those typescripts are read.

          Also, the slush pile is so called because, generally, it's slush. Many more people fancy 'being a writer' than have actually made the effort to learn how to write. When an editor finally, wearily, turns to the slush pile, it's with the expectation that it's all going to be rubbish.

          To overcome all that negative expectation, you have to be exceptional.

          But editors do publish books that started in the slush pile. Occasionally. So you can go that way if you want to try your luck.

HOW TO BECOME A SOLICITED TYPESCRIPT.

          Phone the publisher you have in mind, and ask for the name of the relevant editor (children's, general fiction, etc).

          Write to the editor, asking if they would like to see your book.

          Keep your letter short and professional: two pages at most. Don't tell them how much your family and friends love your book. Editors want to make up their own minds. The opinions of your family and friends aren't relevant.

          Tell them briefly what kind of book yours is, and its major points of interest. Why do you think the public will be willing to spend their money on it? If you have relevant experience which you have used in the book, mention that. For instance, I once taught a man who had served as a soldier in Northern Ireland, and his book was set there during the Troubles. Any prospective publisher would have been interested to know that. If your book is set on a farm, and you're a farmer's wife; or in a school, and you're a teacher, mention that. (And if it's set in a school, and you're still attending school, tell them!)

          Offer to send the editor either the whole book, or sample chapters plus a synopsis.

          You can send this letter to as many publishers at once as you please. Many won't reply. Some will, but with a refusal. With any luck, at least one will ask to see the book. Then you can pack the book up and send it off as a solicited typescript. Which may improve your chances of acceptance slightly.

SAMPLE CHAPTERS AND SYNOPSIS.

          If you're asked to send sample chapters, then send the first three. This may seem too obvious to be worth saying, but people have been known to send chapters from the middle of the book, or a selection - the first chapter, chapter 16, and the last chapter. This is simply confusing, and won't help the editor to decide what you want them to decide – that you're written a wonderful book.

          The beginning and ending of a book are arguably the hardest parts to write. So if you've written the first three chapters well, then the rest of the book is probably worth reading.

          As for the synopsis – I am terrible at writing synopsis myself, so my advice is unlikely to be much help. If it's any comfort, my agent tells me that many writers have difficulty with them.

          If you search on the web, you can find excellent advice on writing synopsis – far better than mine!  Enter, 'synopsis, how?' into Google, and then stand well back.

POSTAGE

          When you first send a book, to an agent or publisher, always print it off, pack it up (pack it up well!) and include return postage. You are not a client or an author of theirs yet – why should they pay to return your perhaps unwanted manscript?

          If you are lucky, and are accepted, then you don't have to include postage if and when you send things to them after that. Indeed, once accepted, you will probably be submitting via e-mail or disc, but as a beginner you are unlikely to have an editor's e-mail address. Nor are you entitled to clog their already crammed inbox. So pack and post.

         You may want to include a stamped, self-addressed postcard, written to yourself, that the publishers can drop in the post to reassure you that your manuscript has arrived safely.

HOW LONG BEFORE YOU CAN EXPECT A REPLY?

          Having sent your book off to a publisher, all you can do is wait for a response. And you can wait a long time. A wait of up to four months is typical. Your book may be languishing in a corner, waiting to be read – or it may be doing the round of editors and readers.

          If it's any comfort, professional writers often moan about the length of time publishers keep them waiting for word on their latest book.

          This long wait is why some writers send their book to more than one publisher at a time.

          If, after four months, you have heard nothing from a publisher, a polite enquiry is in order.

MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS.

          It used to be the rule in Britain that you NEVER sent a book to more than one publlisher at a time, though it was common in America.

          It seems to be more acceptable to British publishers now, but there are still some who dislike it, and may refuse to consider your book if you've sent it to other publishers as well.

This being so, I can't advise you whether to make multiple submissions or not. You will have to make up your own mind.

          If you do make multiple submissions, then make it very clear to the pubishers involved that you have done so. Otherwise, you're going to be in an embarrassing situation if two or more of them like your book.

VANITY PUBLISHERS (BUT SEE THE PIECE BELOW ON 'POD').

          A reputable agent, if you're accepted as a client, will try to place your work, and will ask for no payment until you have earned something from your book. Then they take 10-15 per cent of everything you earn from it.

          A reputable publisher, once they've accepted a book, will shoulder the whole expense of producing, warehousing and distributing it. They expect to make money from the book, and will pay you for the publishing rights. If they make a loss, that's their problem. (Though it may become yours when they decide not to publish any more of your books).

          No reputable agent will ask you for any money whatsoever before they have sold your book to a publisher.

          No reputable publisher will ask you to pay anything whatsoever towards their costs.

          If your agent makes any request for money before they have sold your book, or if your publisher asks you for money, ever, then you are dealing with crooks, and should demand the return of your manuscript at once. On no account should you give these crooks any money. They are called 'vanity' publishers because they prey on the supposed 'vanity' of people who want to see their name in print, but this is blaming the victim. In reality, like all con-men, they cheat innocent people.

POD - OR 'PUBLISHING ON DEMAND'

          The above, on 'vanity publishing', used to be the last word on the subject. But now there are POD companies, such as 'Lulu' - which has been used and highly praised by friends of mine.

          Amazon has started CreateSpace, so you can produce a paper book with them, as well as an e-book.

           Using modern technology these companies can produce a very handsome book at a relatively low cost, and in short print runs.

          They then keep the book on file until such a time as you want to pay for some more to be printed.

          They are ideal for someone who wants to turn their family history research, or family recipes, into a good-looking gift for their relatives, but isn't interested in being more widely published.

          They are also good for writers who want to produce small numbers of books, to sell through their website, or in schools - or for writers who have the energy to try selling to the wider public.

          I know writers who have self-published through these firms, and have then gained a publishing contract with a big, professional publishing firm.

          This will happen more often as publishers rely more on bald sales figures, instead of their own instinct. "Your last book sold poorly, so we won't take this new one." In the past it was recognised that a book might sell badly in its first year, until word of mouth had done its work. The first two Harry Potter books didn't sell particularly well when they first appeared.

          A rejected author goes away, produces their own book by POD, and demonstrates that there is, in fact, a market for it. The big publishers then start holding out contracts.

BUT IT DOESN'T ALWAYS HAPPEN LIKE THAT. If you go the POD route, you will have to put in a lot of work.  You will have to design the book, or pay for its design. You will have to pay for its production. If you pay for a fairly large number of copies, you will have to store them somewhere. You will have to sell them yourself.
          You may have a wonderful success - but you may find yourself out of pocket.

          The POD companies are very far removed from the old, seedy, crooked vanity press - but you still need to think carefully before using them. Do some research, find out the costs (and hidden costs). Make sure you know exactly what you're getting for your money; and do your sums.

          Make sure that you have the stamina you'll need.

          I wish you luck with your book!