Harney County 4-H Writers Club
Formatting – traditional publishing
Why format? So others like agents and editors can read your work easily, because it’s more professional, because you need to know standard page and word count. The common page format for books is: one inch margins all around, page number in header in the top right hand corner, title of book/last name in the header on the left, double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pitch font.
Where does one get formatting requirements? Agent and editor web sites. In traditional publishing agent and publisher submission guidelines are on publisher/agent web sites, usually. Always check submission guidelines for the publisher/agent you are targeting to make sure you have the formatting they are requesting. There is nothing more unprofessional then sending in a poorly formatted manuscript. Agents and editors are looking for professionals, for writers who can follow directions and relate on a creative as well as a business level.
Traditional vs Indie Publishing – what to choose?
Traditional publishing means you want to get published by one of the big six publishing houses in New York or one of the smaller independent presses. That means that you write the book, and then try to find an agent or submit to the publishing house directly if they accept unagented submissions. You want a bricks and mortar publisher to help you edit the book, prepare the book for print publication including the cover with cover art, and distribute it. In today’s world you have to do most of the marketing yourself. The big advantage to traditional publishing is a good editor and their access to book distribution.
Indie publishing is the new buzz word for self-publishing. Not long ago self-publishing was looked down upon by the literary world. That is changing. With the advent of the internet and new digital printing technology, one can publish in print or digital oneself for much less money than it used to take. Print-on-demand is amazing technology, which basically means your “print supplier” stores your book digitally and when a reader or retailer orders the book, the book is printed and sent to the buyer. You have to write the book, have it edited, proofed, formatted to print or digital specifications, design the cover and art, arrange for distribution and market it. It’s a lot of work. But your percentage of the book list price will be higher. It can run into several thousands of dollars to publish yourself or a few hundred. It depends what you can do yourself.
What Does A Literary Agent Do?
Literary agents have been the historical gatekeepers to traditional publishers. They are in the business to sell books to publishing houses. They typically make 15% commission off your sales income. If you want access to the publishing houses that do not accept unagented submissions, then you’ll need to find the right agent to represent you. Traditional agent tasks involve being a conduit to the publishing houses, getting you the best possible deal, licensing rights internationally, getting TV and movie deals, and being general adviser and hand-holder. A good agent can form your career and also serve as a first line editor. The challenge is getting an agent to love your book so much she will offer you representation. Agents will turn down projects if they can’t sell them or it doesn’t fit their agency offering. The role of agents is changing, and I’ll cover the new trend in agents under indie publishing.
Research the agents – Traditional publishing route
After you know your market, you start looking for agents in places like Writer’s Market, Literary Marketplace, Guide to Literary Agents and other reference sources, most of which you can find in the library or online. Most all the big publishing houses today require agented submissions. This cuts down on the enormous amount of unsolicited manuscripts for the publisher. They use agents to do the first cut. Remember agents represent certain markets as specified in their submission guidelines, so be sure you look for agents that represent your market.
Agents ask for a query letter. You have to condense everything about your novel down to one page. This is a real art and a real pain for most writers. If interested by your query, they might come back and ask you to send the first three chapters and a synopsis. If still interested after that, they might ask for in the entire manuscript. They may not answer you at all. All of this is usually done electronically now. If they like the book, they may offer you’re a contract to be your agent. Then they start the same process with publishers. The whole process could take a few weeks to two years or more. Non-fiction books are usually sold on proposal. (You don’t have to have the entire book finished but you have to have a solid proposal and impressive credentials to write non-fiction.) Novels are usually sold on completed manuscript.
Who’s Your Market?
This is an important one. Who will read your book? You should think about this or have an idea of who your audience is while you write the book. Agents and editors only handle certain markets. They will tell you what these are on their web sites. Generally speaking the markets fall into the categories of fiction and non-fiction. Under fiction come literary fiction, mystery, thriller, crime, romance, science fiction, fantasy and humor. Of course, a novel could have combinations of these and then it is considered cross-genre, making it harder to market because it won’t fit neatly into book seller categories. You’ll be ahead of the game as soon as you decide who will buy your book.
Write for Publication
This series is the posts I am preparing for my next Burns Workshop scheduled for Saturday, June 1, 2013, basement conference room, Harney County Courthouse. These topics will be covered in depth at the workshop.
The serious writer writes for publication. It makes us stretch, go out on the limb, stick our necks out and all those other clichés. (Sometimes clichés are the best, aren't they?) With it goes having a daily (week day) practice of writing and having a set time and a goal for the day. How many words or pages? You get the idea. If I'm writing for publication then I am formatting my work so that if I want to send it out to an agent or editor, it is ready to go. Digital publishing format is a little different. (See post on formatting.) If I'm writing to publish, I start thinking about my readers, the market I'm writing for. I start studying submission guidelines, peruse writer magazines to see who is seeking what, get out Writer's Market and look up publishers. You can write for writing sake, but then your feet are not to the fire.
I'm a serious writer, meaning I have a regular daily writing habit, and I'm interested in sharing my work through publication. My favorite literary form is the novel. I write to entertain myself and my readers.