Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Publishing 101

Probably the most common question I am asked as I do author events is, “How do you get published?” Of course there is no “one” way to get published. Everyone’s experience is different, and there is no magic bullet. The simple answer is, “Write something really great and send it out until someone buys it.” Kind of like the old joke. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice!” If your writing is good enough—or you are willing to really work at getting better—and you are persistent enough, you will eventually get published.

Every author has written something on this subject, but I haven’t addressed it lately, and there are so many myths or misunderstandings about getting published, that I thought I would add my two cents. This is going to be getting published 101, so if you already know all about agents, query letters, and SASE’s, you may want to skip this post.

First, let me clear up some commonly held misconceptions—the dreaded publishing myths.

1) All authors make are rich. The truth is that most authors could make more money flipping burgers than they do writing books. Many, many authors are lucky to earn $5,000 for a book that took a year or more to write. And that’s before they spend their own money on marketing, gas, book tours, etc. This is not to say that people do not make good money as authors, or to discourage would-be writers. There are always going to be people making a living writing books or articles, and you could very well be one of them. But do not begin writing a book because you need to quit your job, make a ton of money, pay pressing bills, or anything like that. Write because you love to write, and let it lead you where it will.

2) This brings me to the second writing myth. If I turn in a book in January, it will probably come out sometime this summer. On average the time from submission to publication for a new author is a minimum of two years. And that’s not taking into account the time it takes to get an agent, which is required for many publishers. This is another good reason not to write because you hate your job. Depending on the publisher, you may not even see a dime for another six months after your book is published. If you hate your job that much, quit your job and find one you like—it’s much quicker.

3) You must pay (either an agent or a publisher) to get your book published. I’ll talk more about agents a little later, but suffice it to say that if an agent asks you for a dime, run away fast. They are unethical at best, and most likely a scammer. An agent who asks you for money up front is not making money by selling books. He or she is making money by scamming innocent writers and playing upon their hopes. You will not get published by paying money to an agent.

In general the same thing applies to publishers. There are many types and sizes of publishers. Depending on how big they are, and what their policies are, they will pay and market your book very differently. Bigger publishers have bigger budgets, and generally pay better. But they are also more difficult to sell to. Most big publishers won’t even look at a manuscript that is not represented by an agent.

That being said, publishers fall into two general categories. The kind that pay you and the kind you pay. A traditional publisher does not charge you money to publish your book. They may or may not pay you an advance (money you get before the book is published), the royalties (how much they pay you per each book sold) and contracts can differ wildly. But in general, they pay you money for each book that they sell. Self-publishers (also called vanity press) charge you money for the service of publishing your book. If you have a good way to sell your own books, or if you are publishing primarily for friends and family, this can be a great service. But do not be fooled into thinking that if you publish with a vanity press your books will start showing up on the shelves of the local Barnes and Nobel.

4) Getting an agent means I will definitely get published. While it is true that many publishers will no longer even look at un-agented manuscripts, getting an agent does not guarantee that a publisher will buy your book. Think of an agent as a middleman. The agent’s job is to weed out bad manuscripts and find ones that are good enough to be published. Then they sell the work to a publisher. They negotiate the contract, sell additional rights (movie, foreign, audio, etc), and help set up the next book deal. For this, they get a cut of the royalties—typically 15%.

Okay, now that we are done with myths, let’s get to work going through the process of selling a book. Let’s say I have written a great new novel called Vlad the Embalmer. The first thing I need to do, is get the book done and polished before I start shopping it. Do not start contacting agents or publishers unless your manuscript is finished and polished. Another thing I could have listed in myths is that it is the editor’s or agent’s job to clean up your story. Yes, the editor will help make your story better, but you will never make it to that point if you haven’t polished your work until it shines. If you think you can send out a rough draft and the story will shine through, you are in for a rude awakening.

Once your story is as polished as it can be, you need to begin researching publishers and agents. For the sake of this example, let’s jump over to a publisher’s site and see what their submission guidelines are. The link is What we are looking to see is if the publisher takes un-agented submissions, and also what types of books they are looking for. The good news is that they do not require and agent. Notice the description of what types of books they are looking for:

“Shadow Mountain seeks to publish new books for adults and children that will appeal to a values-based, general market of readers and writers. We prefer to publish books that reflect traditional Christian values. A book we are interested in will be

1. Of value to our readers.

2. Well written and well researched.

3. Unique.

In general, Shadow Mountain is not interested in poetry, family histories, or personal journals. We will consider manuscripts that are being submitted simultaneously to other publishers. We do ask, however, that you let us know you are also submitting it elsewhere, so misunderstandings can be avoided.”

Pretty straightforward. Be aware though, that if a publisher tells you they are not looking for a particular type of book, they mean it. Don’t think that your poetry is so good that they will buy it anyway. Instead, find a publisher that is looking for poetry if that’s what you write.

Now let’s jump to another site. When you read their submission page, you quickly find that they do NOT take un-agented submissions.

“Random House, Inc. does not accept unsolicited submissions, proposals, manuscripts, or submission queries via e-mail at this time.”

This means that if you want to publish with Random House, you will need an agent. Okay, so where do you get an agent? Well, there a couple of places to look. Two of the best sources are The Literary MarketPlace (the LMP), a reference guide that can be found in most libraries. Or The Writer's Market, which you can also find in the library or purchase. Writer’s market is also available online at, for a monthly or annual fee.

So your next step is to go to the library or the bookstore and do some research. What you want to find are agents that accept the kind of book you have written. Typically this will be broken down by reader age and genre. For example, our book, Vlad the Embalmer is a horror novel for young adults. We don’t want to waste our time or the agent’s time by sending them a YA horror novel if they only accept nonfiction, romance, and mainstream mysteries.

In my next post, I’ll talk about researching agents and putting together a query packet.


At 2/10/2009 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to thank you, Mr. Savage, for the great information in your post. I learned quite a lot from these few paragraph. About all I knew about agents, query letters, and self addressed stamped envelopes was to make sure that I had enough postage on the manila envelope so the agent could immediately send my query letter back to me. Every once in a while I had the urge to dust those aforementioned letters for fingerprints just to see if anybody else had touched them besides me. I never did, of course. I gave up instead.

I’m looking forward to your next week’s blog about query letters. That could be the reason they never asked me to send my first few chapters. Or it might not have been. Just the same, I’ll be tuned in to the same frog channel.


At 2/10/2009 11:36 AM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Good stuff, really good advice.

As for me, I really want to read about Vlad the Embalmer.

At 2/10/2009 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling it like it is - good to know.



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