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GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED
There are a few secrets and rules to getting a book published. Most all of the procedures are straight forward routines that have changed little over the years. Here's how it is done.
1. Everything begins with a finished and polished manuscript and a query letter. However, you can start with a query letter and not even have a book manuscript. It is called a book proposal submission. You have a great idea for a book so you submit the idea to an agent or publisher with a query letter and an outline. The outline can be just a listing of the chapters and a brief synopsis (one paragraph) what that chapter will contain. If they like the idea they hire you to write the book. Many established authors and famous celebrities have good luck with the proposal method. I don't want to explain the book proposal method for it is a complex procedure. You can buy how-to books on how to create a book proposal. Most all writers must first complete the book manuscript then submit their query letter and this is where we will begin.
Before proceeding makes sure you have a finished book manuscript.
2. Your query letter is the most powerful tool you can create. It is the one page letter that sells your book manuscript to the agent and then to a book publisher. It is so powerful of a communication you should hire a professional writer just to create your query letter. I have a sample query letter you can use to get you started. Make changes to it to fit your particular use. If you are writing and selling a screenplay read our Advice for Screenwriters page.
"The publishing world has rules. If you break the rules they won't buy your book."
3. In your query letter do not stray from the sample subjects I have given you. The format "follows the rules" of the game. For example: do not mention that you have copyrighted your book for that only reveals you are a rank amateur. Nobody cares about your copyright. They only care about the content of your book and the market it will sell to. The sample query letter is quick to the point touching the important subjects. It does not criticize other books or is comical or cute or sprinkled with perfume or on fancy stationary. It is on plain white paper. A sign a "professional" has created this query letter and it will be read, not tossed in the trash. Here's a few "rules" to keep in mind.
(a) Never submit a manuscript or query letter with misspelled words or names.
(b) Never submit a manuscript with packaging cushioning materials, especially those nasty padded envelopes that when opened a horrific mess of shredded paper falls out all over the desk. Do this and your rejection slip is on the way. Use a bubble envelope or wrap the manuscript in bubble wrapping then put it inside a cardboard box for mailing.
"The publishing world is cruel and unkind and they will not tolerate any rule violations."
(c) You must always include a S.A.S.E. (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) for the query letter or manuscript. No exceptions.
(d) Make sure postage is properly paid. If there is postage due the manuscript will be returned to you or simply shredded to pieces with no reply back to you.
"If you can not follow the rules it reveals you as being unprofessional and nobody wants to deal with an unprofessional and agents and publishers certainly will not."
(e) Use a high quality printer. Don't use outdated printing equipment. Use a type font that is easy to read like the one you see here is "Arial" or "Times New Roman" or "Courier" font. Don't use italic fonts for the entire letter. Don't underline any word. Use nothing fancy. Your writing must be the grabber. Type size should be 12 point and no larger than 14 point. Use white paper only with no background images, no borders. Just plain sheet of white paper is the sign of a professional submission.
(f) Never mention in your query letter how much money you want in advance. This is not the time or place for such communication. Rule is never to mention money in your query letter.
(g) Never send mail that requires a signature or a signed return receipt. You are not making points doing this and it is a sign of a amateur. A "delivery confirmation" is fine for it requires nobody has to actually sign to receive the package or letter. A busy agent will scream in anger if they have to go to the post office and wait in line to get your package!
(h) Stop fearing that your book's idea will be stolen. You need to reveal the book's content if you wish to sell it. Agents and publishers are way too busy to be stealing ideas. So never mention anything in your query letter about safeguarding your idea or book. Don't mention these foolish things.
(i) Visit Publishers Marketplace to see how literary agents and unrepresented writers pitch their projects. Click on "rights posting" to learn how they are being pitched.
(j) After you send a query letter do not call to see if they got the letter or not. I know it is tempting to do so, but it will flag you as being a novice writer and being an annoyance.
(k) Most writers are rejected for not following the rules and they will never tell you this. They will give you some other reason for the rejection. Most writers, especially for fiction, are rejected because the writing is weak. The author has no skills in how to write good characters, use creative dialog and descriptions with poor story line structure. It is best for you to take writing courses and read books about writing. Without training this could all be a pipe dream for you. Consider "how-to" books. They do not require such detailed writing craft skills and the odds of getting publish will rise in your favor. Rejection is the way of life for writers so don't take it personally, but those who persist will get the "yes" sooner or later.
(L) Remember these query rules: letter should be one page or less long. Briefly describe the book, the market and the author but the book description is the most important of all and should be the very first paragraph. Revise the letter so it is as brief as possible. Hire an experienced writer if need be to create your query letter. Never mention anything negative in your query such as, "I do not see eye-to-eye with my current publisher." This will only backfire on you as being totally unprofessional in your business dealings. Don't use fancy stationary or perfume or try gimmicks in the book industry. I know a creative screenwriter once sent his movie script to an agent in a pizza box, but don't try this with book publishing. You absolutely must send an S.A.S.E. for the query letter. If they ask for your book manuscript send a large S.A.S.E. for the manuscript too (unless you tell them to not return it to you). When an agent opens a query or manuscript they want to see the "elements" of a professional. If the S.A.S.E.'s are missing they know right away to reject what they have in their hands and they will. They have a one hundred packages to deal with today.
(m) Never call or e-mail an agent to sell your book. You must send a query letter with the S.A.S.E to the agent. These are the rules of the game that must be played perfectly with no deviations. Some agents may invite an e-mail query, but most all still prefer the postal mail method. You can make serious mistakes using e-mail, but you will never go wrong using the query letter in the postal mail. Take the safe and sure method. And do not call the agent to see if they got your query letter. Be patient, relax and learn more patience. If a month passes send another query letter with S.A.S.E. just stay off the telephone. Agents are super busy and the telephone is reserved for critical business purposes only.
(n) Poetry does get published, but usually not by agents. You really need to contact book and magazine publishers directly that publish poetry books and query them. There are poetry writer's magazines to help you in this area of expertise.
(o) Do not write your query letter being overly friendly or personal because you are writing to a perfect stranger and it will come off as being unprofessional. Don't try to be cute or a funny joker. Just describe your book in plain English.
(p) Never lie about anything in your query letter or verbal communications with agents and publishers. They will find out if you did fib and they will break all the contracts with you and drop you fast never to publish anything you write for ever. Do not over exaggerate as this will be considered a lie. Dishonesty always backfires in this industry. And the lawyers will find out about it too when the vet the material and yourself. Your name and your career will be ruined.
(q) If you find an agent that only accept an e-mail submission your query letter must be the same as what you would have mailed by the postal service. Remove any cute avatars, page coloring or fancy formatting. Be professional.
I don't want to get involved with this process for it is a lengthy procedure of rules and regulations. Thankfully, there are books you can buy that explain the process of how to build a book proposal and how to submit it Books For Writers. It works like this. The writer comes up with an idea for a book. Next, he writes a book proposal ten to fifteen pages long describing the book's chapters. The writer then sends this book proposal to agents and publishers and hopes for a bite. The catch is this. If you get an acceptance you have to write the entire book under a timeline.
This method is generally reserved for experienced previously published writers. The pitching process is more detailed related to explaining the marketing potential of the finished book to get the proposal accepted. Of course, you could pitch a project and hire a professional writer to do the writing job for you. That would be a collaboration or a work for hire project for you to consider. Many of these proposals are designed to compete with a best seller, a book that is similar to the best selling books, but not always.
To sell a work of fiction you must write the entire book first the old fashion way because the writer must demonstrate his ability and talent to write a book. No publisher is going to pick up a book proposal from somebody who has never written a book.
The only way to know what the new style of writing is being accepted today is to be informed. The way to do that is to subscribe to Writer's Digest Magazine and surf the Internet for articles and advice. The old way of writing was like Charles Dickens with highly creative writing with long wordy descriptions. This no longer is wanted. Cinematic writing is now in style with short descriptions and lots of action.
Get an Agent
The literary agent is your best friend. You can get published without an agent, but be prepared for many headaches, hectic timelines, meetings and telephone calls along with confusion, mistakes and frustration. It is just not worth it for new writers to attempt to get published without an agent. Also, agents have industry contacts you will never obtain. They can open closed doors for you. The process of getting an agent is essentially the same as sending your book query letter with an S.A.S.E and that is your calling card. If the agent likes your query he will contact you asking for your manuscript. If he likes the manuscript he will offer you author/agency agreement contract so he can market your manuscript to publishers. They will want 15% commission on all sales in USA and 20% elsewhere (there are variations to this rule with sliding scales starting at 6% rising to 15%). Beggars can't be choosey. Take it. You now have an agent. To get an agent read the rules in item #1 above. It is important to follow the rules.
There are books you can read that list every agent. There are books written telling you how to get an agent. Click here: Books For Writers. You can tell if an agent is legitimate or not by contacting the Association of Author's Representatives (AAR) to get a list of its members agents. The Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents are two books to read.
Fees: If an agent ask for a reading fee, politely decline the offer for now and try to get an agent that does not charge reading fees. An agent that charges a reading fee does not mean they are bad agents or rip-off artists, but you should try to find an agent that charges zero up-front fees. Never pay an agent an advance fee to represent you (commission fees in author/agent contract is okay). Do not pay a fee to have your manuscript delivered to a publisher. Depending on the writer/agent contract you may be required to pay some fees such as internal costs of postage and printing fees, telephone bill, office expenses. A respectable literary agent will not charge you fees to read your manuscript and will not offer in return a status or "readers" report. These agents are trying to lower their costs by charging reading fees because they have to pay the "readers" to evaluate the manuscript. It is understandable given the sheer volume of submissions they get. The choice is yours to make. But don't fall for up-front "retainer" fees an agent may want to charge you to represent you. It is one thing to help pay minor expenses to market your manuscript and another thing to charge some huge fee up front before any bills have actually been accrued. Is the agent an Association of Authors Representatives member abiding by the code of ethics? A general rule of thumb for agent fees that are charged to you should be about $200 or less for the life of the book in your contract, if you make your own photocopies of the book. Higher fees than this need a bit more explaining and justification.
If your manuscript has been rejected a lot it is okay to hire a book doctor. Instead of paying agents reading fees pay a book doctor to fix your manuscript. They are writers that can clean up your manuscript to make it professionally ready to be sold. Nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, it is recommended. To learn more about book doctors contact Independent Editors Group. It is advisable to choose your own book doctor instead of one the agent recommends because they could have a "kick-back" scheme going on.
To find a helpful workshop for your genre of writing go to The Guide to Writer's Conferences & Workshops.
"Did you know that most books published were never verbally pitched by anyone? It is true. Books that end up in bookstores are the result of writing a query letter or book proposal."
Yes, it is okay to send multiple queries to book literary agents and book publishers at the same time. Just mention, "This is a multiple submission query letter" or "This is a non-exclusive submission." at the bottom of your query letter to let everyone know it is not an exclusive submission. The movie industry cherishes exclusive submissions whereas the book industry is not so sensitive. If this is an exclusive submission tell the agent in the query letter and mention you are giving them four weeks time to respond.
Publishers Lunch is an electronic magazine that can reveal the names of book publishing editors and see what they are buying.
A good book to read is Negotiating a Book Contract. You will need to know the terminology even if you have an agent and attorney.
When you search for a publisher on the Internet look for their submission guidelines link. Follow the instructions to the letter.
Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators if this is your cup of tea. They can help you get your book published.
Read books on how to use publicity to sell your book. Believe it or not the publisher does not do all the publicity for you. There is much you can do to insure your book becomes a good selling book now and for ever. Many successful authors use publicity to keep their books in print. Media interviews, web sites, publicity releases and all sorts of ideas can be used. Radio station interviews are big. Bacon's Media is an expensive, but huge book listing all of the radio stations. And radio and television is not just about your book(s), it is about you being an "expert" in your field and they call you for interviews which you get to plug your books to the listeners. Free advertising and you can get paid for the interview too. You can buy an advertisement in Radio-TV Interview Report which is sent to radio and television stations and the producers will call you! Keep in mind you want to contact the producer of the show not the show's host. The producers run the show and determine who the host will interview. Remember that.
When you submit your manuscript always submit a copy, never the original. And yes, an agent may want you to do major modifications to your manuscript. It is called "rewriting" and if this is the case you should consider hiring a book doctor to do the job for you so you can be busy finishing up on your next book.
There is no magic formula to getting your book published. You just have to write the book or the book proposal, mail your query letter with S.A.S.E. and hope for the best. In the mean time, start writing your next book.
Take a look at the zany books in the book stores. Many are so off the wall I often wonder how anybody could even think of writing such a book. But the book sells. The point is this. No matter how off center you may think your book is, just write it for the fun of it and see what happens. Don't let other people talk you out of your dream.
Manuscript submission format is not as critical as movie and television and stage play script formatting. Each are different. Formatting a manuscript is the easiest of them all. Double-spaced, single-sided white paper, 12 point text in clean font like you see here. Format for book manuscripts to an agent are not too critical because they are way more interested in the content over format style. The manuscript must be unbound and include a cover page with the book title and your complete postal mail, e-mail and telephone number contact information with a S.A.S.E.
If you wish to publish short stories seek out Magazine Marketplace magazine. Getting published in magazines is a great first step to getting a book published. Agents like to see this.
You should have your own editor or book doctor as a career helping hand. Most all famous writers do. This way when something needs to be fixed you send it off for repair by professionals. You can write a good story idea, but it will likely require a competent story editor to "polish" the book.
It can pay off handsomely to locate an editor (or writer if you are an aspiring editor) at a local writers group or college campus and hook up some projects together and start submitting them to agents. Remember, submitting a fiction manuscript the work must be completed, finished and polished ready to be published. This is where most writers fail and get rejections because the work is just not complete.
HERE'S SOME LITERARY AGENCIES TO GET YOU STARTED
(Reputable Agents of the Association of Artist's Representatives)
Donald Maass Literary Agency
Denise Marcil Literary
Doris S. Michaels Literary
Denise Shannon Literary
Mendel Media Group LLC
New England Publishing
Nelson Literary Agency
Richard Henshaw Group
RLR Associates, Ltd.
The Ned Leavitt Agency
Ted Weinstein Literary
The Rosenberg Group
The Seymour Agency
Sheree Bykofsky Associates,
William Clark Associates
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