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