I spent many, many years writing my journal on medicinal herbs, which eventually became so big that friends and family were telling me I should publish it and share it with the world. So, I started compiling it into a workable manuscript with the thought of trying to get it published. Problem was, I had no idea where to start! There are thousands of publishing houses out there and it is extremely intimidating. That wasn’t the only problem either. Should I try to have it published traditionally? How about that self-publishing thing people kept telling me about? There were also other options such as vanity presses who take anything that comes their way while stripping the author of all their rights. In fact, there was so much out there that I was completely overwhelmed.
Now, there are only a few other things I enjoy as much as reading and writing. One is music (I play piano and even teach classical piano), one falls under “arts and crafts”, such as charcoals and painting, latch hooking and all kinds of hands-on, artsy-fartsy stuff, and the last is learning. I am constantly browsing through adult continuing education courses at the local community college, looking for fun and interesting things to expand my knowledge. If I could, I’d spend all my spare time taking courses and learning as much as humanly possible. I cannot wait until I am old enough to start auditing classes at the colleges. What fun that will be!
One day, while browsing through the local community college continuing ed catalog, I came across a course on getting published. It was a 101 course and promised to teach me how to go about becoming a published author and proper query etiquette. I was elated! This looked like just what the doctor ordered! I signed up immediately over the telephone to avoid having to wait any longer.
The class was one day only and lasted for several hours. It was taught by an author and magazine editor from California, who travels around America, teaching students how to become published. I learned so much – my pencil and brain were both smoking from exertion.
First, she went over the different ways to be published, explaining that there were really only two viable options that wouldn’t do damage to the author. (More on that later.) The first would be to self-publish, which was an instant gratification kind of publishing, expensive, and completely lacked having an editor to make sure your work was as perfect and sellable as it could be, unless you had a pocket full of money to pay for an editor before publishing. With funds being tight, I knew this was not for me. I also wanted that second and third set of eyes to make absolutely sure my manuscript was well-worded and polished up to a high shine.
The next way, which is by far the best way, is to do all the hard work and find a real publishing house, who would take my manuscript and publish it. She explained that a good house would never charge the author for printing, editing, cover-art or anything at all, for that matter. She warned us to all beware of “houses” who charged any fees at all. She also gave us the most important warning of all at this time. “Read your contracts well or have an attorney look over them. If the contract in any way whatsoever states that you give up any of your rights as an author to your work, characters, movies or sequels, run like hell. Run as fast and far as you can.” She cautioned that some houses would offer a higher royalty percentage or dangle other carrots and to avoid these at all costs.
She next went on to talk about query letters, explaining how it should be short and concise (one page only), and in as few words as possible, explain the manuscript, author and always but always be gone over dozens of times to make sure there were no spelling or grammatical errors anywhere. An error in a query letter is an instant disqualification, without the house even bothering to look at your manuscript. After all, why should they read your manuscript if you cannot even write a query letter correctly? Lastly, she explained that a query letter should be addressed to the correct person and not a general address such as “to whom it may concern” or other generic introduction.
All very good advice so far – I was hooked!
Then she dropped this gem in our laps: at the beginning of every year, go out and purchase a book called “The Writer’s Market”, which has tons of valuable information, updated each and every year, including a list of publishing houses and what, exactly, they are accepting at that time, who to query, genres and anything you need to know in order to query those houses. I swear – some of these entries even had favorite foods and colors of each specific person you should query! (You can also sign up for The Writer’s Market online instead of having to purchase the book.) Follow the query instructions to the tee as well. If they say, “Electronic queries only”, don’t go sending them a query in the postal mail. If they say, “Don’t send full manuscripts,” don’t. You’ll also want to include a Table of Contents, a biography and a list of marketing demographics showing your competition and explaining why your manuscript is better and will sell while having to compete with all the others.
So, I was now ready to start sending out queries. I took her last bit of advice, which was to never give up and never take rejections personally. She explained that even Stephen King, himself, was turned down some 98 times before a house accepted his first manuscript, so to be prepared for a lot of rejections. She also mentioned that you have to already be published in order to get published. “Great!” I thought. “How in the world do I go about this?” Well, I wrote newsletters, letters to the editor of local papers, magazines and everything I could in order to have a few things published so I could put all that information in my query letter and be an already-published author and have a better chance of being accepted.
Eventually, I was picked up by Captiva Press, who was delighted to have their hands on an herbal that was not the typical 101 how-to that is out there by the hundreds and did not contain all the extra words and filler that you have to wade through in order to find one simple item.
What’s the point to all this? Never give up. Keep on writing and keep on submitting queries, and by all means, get The Writer’s Market! That book is so valuable. It even has charts of all the different kinds of writing (from books to greeting cards) and what the low, average and high payments are for each so you know if you’re being offered a decent amount for your hard work. That information alone is worth the book’s weight in gold. You will eventually find a publisher who will take your work. Please also beware to never, EVER sign away any of your rights as an author to any of your characters, stories or possible movies in the future. This is the biggest and most common mistake made by new authors who are so excited (and/or frustrated) just to be accepted that they’ll jump on anything that comes their way. It is also a mistake that they never make twice.
Remember that these houses get thousands of queries and manuscripts every year and they’ve seen it all. Your work is important to you and is, of course, a work of art. They won’t look at it like that though and that’s just the way it is. You’ll need thick skin and a lot of determination and willingness to put the extra effort into presenting yourself, both in your queries and then later, once published, in promoting yourself. After all, how will you ever sell books if no one knows who you are? Unless you are an A-list author (take King, for example), a publishing house will not do big pushes and promotions for you. That’s all up to you. Writing is hard work. Be able to accept that and do the work, or go back to a 9-5 job with a time clock. Otherwise, you will be very disappointed.
Trust me when I say that all this hard work will pay off and be worth it in the end! Good luck to all of you out there and keep on writing!
Feel free to write any questions or comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.