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What are your publishing pet peeves?

People who take advantage of writers and people who steal other people's dreams to make a buck.

These two overlap and sort of combine, but I will give you two different examples of what I mean.

First, several years ago a friend and I attended a writer's conference.  The conference and people involved shall remain nameless. The directors and speakers of this conference were there with an agenda.  In a general session, they were telling participants that they needed to use their editorial service before any editors would look at their work.  They said time and space was limited.  They were so adamant about this that people were rushing to sign up for this editorial service and it wasn't cheap. They made it sound like it was a requirement to use this service if you wanted a publishing house to look at your work. What a bunch of hogwash.  What really irked me was this conference was a Christian conference.  I was so disappointed by their lack of integrity that I never attended another one of their functions.

Second, are the companies who solicit writing from people, tell them they are going to publish their work, and then ask for money. There is a poetry organization, which does this all the time.  They change names constantly, but if you go on www.writersweekly.com, the adminstrators there keep up on this company's latest shennanigans.

A general rule you should know and follow--if your writing is good enough to be published, it's good enough to be paid for.  Don't allow anyone to publish your work and then charge you for publishing it. This is called vanity press and reputable editors and agents will laugh in your face.

I must make some distinctions here.  There are big differences between self-publishing, traditional publishing, and vanity press.  Know the difference to protect yourself.  If you have no one to ask, email me and we'll talk.

Should I write fiction or non-fiction?

You should write what you feel comfortable with and what excites you. I have friends who write fiction and shudder at having to write an article. Then there are my non-fiction writer friends who swear they couldn't write fiction if their lives depended on it. It all depends on your personality.

I write both---non-fiction to pay the bills and fiction because I love it.

As you learn more about the business, you will see that non-fiction is easier to sell. If you write a non-fiction book, it may have a six-month to year shelf-life and is more likely to be reprinted in the future.

Fiction books have a four to ten-week shelf life. (My writer friends will say I'm being generous.) Sure there are fiction books that stay on the shelves longer, but these are exceptions. On average, authors have to move the books in terms of a month or two.

Non-fiction articles are a good place to start if you're serious about beginning a writing career. You can hone your craft, work on deadlines, and learn about the publishing business in general. Not only do articles allow you to publish while keeping your day job, but you will begin getting exposure while discovering which genre is the right fit for you.

After saying all that, let me re-iterate, start writing. Anything, fiction or non-fiction, is better than nothing if you are feeling the writing itch.

Can I make a lot of money writing and should I quit my day job?

Up front, let me say, you should definitely NOT quit your day job. A job can give you the security you need to write and if you have benefits, it would be best to keep them. I have a friend who is a Bestselling author, her books have been made into movies and she keeps her job for the insurance benefits.

Publishing is a fickle business. With some projects you can make money; with others you may barely break even or even lose money. Unless you're on the payroll of a newspaper or magazine, your checks and assignments may be hit and miss. You can never count on being paid in a certain amount of time and 8 times out of ten, the amount you do get paid, may and I use that word strongly, may be enough money to buy a print cartridge and a package of paper.

I've written for as little as $10 and as much as thousands. Starting out, you'll probably fall in the lower pay brackett. Even after spending years writing a book, don't expect to rake in the big bucks. Unless you know somebody who knows somebody, you might as well be prepared to be disappointed at the amount of money offered and paid. A friend of mine spent two years writing a book. A house wanted her story and gave her $1000 advance. She has to earn that money back before she will ever see her 4% royalty. That's .40 on a $10 book. She's going to have to sell a lot of books before she can retire and live the good life.

Now there are houses that pay well. I write for some magazines that pay decent, but I can't seem to come up with ideas they'll buy monthly, so I go from house to house, submitting query letters, and seeing who's interested in buying my work.

Yes, the current pay scale does offend authors/writers. We are the ones who keep the publishing industry in business. We are the keeper of the words, the jester who entertains, and the person who informs. Yet, for the most part we are paid the least. That's one of the reasons we have to speak, teach, or hold down full-time jobs. Granted it's not a perfect world, but it's the publishing biz and something you need to know up front. After a while you DO get used to it. Just make sure before you quit that job, you've either just won the lottery or you are a 'kept' man or woman.

Should I pay an agent?

NO! NO! And a big NO! Never pay an agent.  Legitimate agents take 15% from your contract sale.  They never ask for reading fees or any other kind of fees up front.  They know their money will be made from the selling of your book to the highest bidder.

An agent's job is to read manuscripts and try to sell them.  They are familiar with the market and know what is selling and what isn't.  It's difficult to get an agent.  I'd be very suspiscious of an agent who took me on as a client without a lot of back and forth.  I'd run from one who asked for money.

Legitimate agents are listed with The Association of Author Representatives (AAR).  Check their website www.aar-online.org. This is a good place to start when looking for representation. This group has a code of ethics and the agents and agencies listed here have been in business for a number of years.

Remember always do your homework and know up front what you're getting involved in.

Do I need an agent to sell my work?

The answer is no.  Many people believe they must have an agent before they can sell their work.  It simply isn't true. If you're just starting out, the chances of an agent taking you are slim anyway.  Agents want to know you can write more than one book.

It's a viscious circle in publishing.  An agent won't consider you unless you've had a book published. Certain publishing houses won't look at your work unless you have an agent.

The good news is there are houses that will look at unagented work.  Spend time looking through the Writer's Market Book for those markets.  There are quite a few and some pay sizeable royalties.  After you get rolling, then you can think about finding an agent. 

Until then, don't worry about it, keep writing and making contacts with editors.

What are the advantages of self-publishing?

The advantages of self-publishing are that you are in control of the design of your book and its sales.  While self-publishing a book may be a chunk of money out of your pocket at first, in the long run it could pay off especially if your market is specialized and you are known in the field.

Why?  In the past, publishing houses would jumk money into an advertising campaign for a writer.  Today, the writer must do the promotion himself. 

Let's look at the numbers.  Let say a house buys your book, gives you $1000 advance and offers you 7% (being optimistic) royalty.  A 7% royalty on a thousand books at $10 is $700.  You still owe the publisher $300 on your advance. Now, let's say you publish the book yourself.  It may cost you anywhere from $3 to $5 to get each book published.  Let's take those same thousand books and see what your profit will be.  1000 X's $4 (middle of the road)= $4000. If each of your books is selling for $10 a piece, that's a $6000 profit. 

Of course these are rounded figures and you will have to account for advertising, comp copies, etc., but in the long run, it could work out better for you.

Remember you are still going to have the advertising cost.  You are still going to have to tap in to your audience and if it is specialized and you are in the field, why not try publishing the book yourself.

FYI, a good place to see exactly how much it would cost to get your book published is www.booksjustbooks.com. This site will give you a free quote and if you decide to use them will work with you in all aspects of your project.

Know I am not getting a kickback from this company.  This is just one source I use as a background to compare others to.

How do I know if my work is ready to be mailed to an editor?

This is a catch-22 question.  For some writers, they think their work will never be ready.  It may never be perfect, but if you've done all you know to do, it's ready. 

Personally, I can take a piece and rework it for years.  I was in the process of working on a short story when my editor called and ordered me to "send it in".  "You're killing it," she said.  Yikes! 

Even after my books and articles are in print, I can and in many instances would like to revise. Chalk it up to insecurity.  All writers suffer from it.  As a matter of fact, I've learned that the writer who thinks his work is great and that he doesn't need an editor, probably isn't much of a writer.  It's those insecure ones, the ones who go back time and again, those who lament every paragraph and know the latest piece is the worst thing they've even written, they are typically the ones with talent.

As years go by, you get "the feeling". You begin to know instinctively if something works or if something is wrong.  Sometimes you may not be able to put your fingers on it, but you know.  I was at a conference recently and another author confirmed this.  "How do you know when enough is enough?" she was asked.  "You feel it."

While this may be little comfort now, the more you write, the faster that feeling will settle down over you.  The day it arrives, you'll know it.  It's hard to explain, but definitely there.

Should I use an editing service?

Let me begin by saying, in my opinion, everybody needs an editor, i.e. someone to look over your work.  An editing service can fit the bill, but if you choose an editing service make sure it is a repuatable one.  In other words, make sure the person looking over your work is a published author/freelance editor/book doctor and knows what he is doing.  You must be aware up front that even after paying an editing service that is NOT a guarantee your work will be published. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. It just means you might find out what the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript are.

Besides using an editing service, I recommend my clients join a critique group.  These groups get together. meet on a regular basis and discuss one another's work.  Three to four people are ideal.  This gives enough time for everyone's work to be discussed and there are enough personalities to discuss different angles to the work.

You might be able to find one of these groups in your community or you might want to join an online group.  There are rules and stipulations to joining so ask questions and find out before you join what is expected. 

The one time I would say an editing service would be a must is if you are going to self-publish.  By all means find a service and have someone edit your work.  Nothing could be more catastrophic than for you to spend thousands of dollars getting a book published, then not being able to sell any of them because you had poor grammar, sentences that didn't make sense, or paragraphs that ramble on and on without saying anything.

Whether self-publishing or going the traditional publishing route, weigh your options and think about what you want to accomplish with your project.  In the end, it's what you feel comfortable with and what will give you confidence in your work.

What equipment do I need to invest in to be a writer?

Paper and pen are the basic items needed.  If you don't get words down on paper having an elaborate computer system isn't going to help you.  Since you are reading this, I'm assuming you have a computer. :-) You will need a word processing system (currently, I believe the standard is MSWord) and email program.  If you don't have a reference library started, begin one now. Staples are a dictionary, thesaurus, and Strunk & White's Elements of Style.  Gradually begin buying books on and about writing.  Writer's Digest Books makes it easy.  You will also want to begin buying books pertaining to the genre and time period you're interested in writing about.

For instance, I have shelves of books on the Civil War.  These include biographies, war records, maps, etc.  I also have shelves for my medieval time period books. 

Start small. Perhaps reward yourself with a book a month, or a book every time you make a sale.  It's taken me 20 years to gather my library. And yes, much to my husband's chagrin, I'm still collecting.

I want to write and publish. How do I get started?

If you want to write and get published, the basic thing you need to do is write.  I tell my students all the time, you can't sell a product if you don't have one.  The only way to get a product, in this case a book, is to sit down at the keyboard and produce words.  That's it. Period.

The more you write, the easier it becomes.  You begin to recognize mistakes.  I recommend writers keep journals and if they haven't yet, go through Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" book.  Journaling is so important because it frees you to write how you write.  It is excellent training ground for you to discover your style and voice.

Start building a writer's library. join Writer's Digest Book Club, subscribe to Writer's Digest. Start reading and studying everything you can about the craft.  Take a class-online, face to face, or buy teachiing CD's. Learn about format, marketing, research, and interviewing. 

Join a writer's group and critique group if available in your area.  Attend writer's conferences.

Join writer's organizations.  If you are interested in writing romance, there is the Romance Writers of America.  If western stories are for you, join the Western Writers.  Other organizations are Mystery Writers of America, Sci-fi Writers, Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators. These large groups have small satellite affiliates all over the country that meet locally, typically once a month.  These are an excellent place for you to network and learn more about the business.

Of course, you don't have to do all these at once, but you do need to start getting connected.  Check out my chat rooms, see what's happening there and then you always have the option of emailing me.

How long will it take me to get published?

It all depends.  There are many factors involved in publishing--talent, the market, timing. It may take one year, two, twenty, or you may get something in print a week from when you write it. I have friends who have been writing for twenty years or more, are excellent writers, but still have nothing published.  Some of us get published right away; others it takes a while. The thing to remember is be patient and persistent. If you really have the dream of getting published, you will if you keep trying and never give up.

What I am is God's gift to me, what I become is my gift to God. Author Unknown

Tip: Don't be discouraged by rejection. Don't take it personally, there are many reasons why you may have been rejected.

Deborah Bouziden
8416 Huckleberry
Edmond, OK 73034

[email protected]

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