Novelist FAQ

 

Q:  How do I get my book published?

A:  There are a few different routes you can take.

1. Sign with an agent, who can land you a deal with a big publishing house.

2. Submit to small presses who work with unrepresented authors.

3. Self-publish.

 

Q:  Which publishing route is best?

A:  It depends what your goal is.  If you want your book sitting in every Barnes and Noble in the country, you need an agent.  The big publishers (and most reputable small presses) don’t work with unrepresented authors, and any unsolicited manuscripts sent to them will end up in the trash.  If the agent route doesn’t appeal to you, there are small presses you can submit to that don’t require representation.  With this route, however, you run the risk of narrow distribution, and little attention garnered for your book.  If you simply want copies of your book to send to family and friends, you can self-publish.  While certain exceptions exist (William P. Young’s The Shack, for example) there’s an extremely small chance of ever making money or gaining a substantial readership, since you’d be lacking the professional connections required for publicity and reviews.

 

Q:  How do I get an agent?

A:  If your work is fiction, your entire manuscript must be complete before you begin submitting to agents.  For a nonfiction book, usually a proposal and a few sample chapters are enough.  When you’re ready to submit, you’ll write a one-page query.  This is an introductory letter that gives a brief description of your work and, ideally, entices the agent to want to read it.  Make sure to thoroughly research which agents accept the type of work you’ve written.  (Sending a romance manuscript to an agent who only represents nonfiction is a waste of everyone’s time.)  Follow each agent’s instructions about whether he/she wants material emailed or snail mailed, and don’t ever cold-call an agent to query.

 

Q:  How long do I wait to contact an agent after querying?

A:  Many agents specify that they’ll only respond to your query letter if they’re interested in reading more, so unfortunately in those cases, no news is usually bad news.  Once in a while an agent will invite you to resubmit your query if you haven’t received a response within a certain amount of time.  But unless an agent has specifically stated that you can resubmit, it’s best to assume that no news means rejection, and move on.  Don’t send follow-up emails, and again, don’t ever phone an agent to inquire about your query.

 

Q:  What are beta readers?

A:  Beta readers are people in your life who you can trust to give honest, unbiased feedback on your writing.  They’re people who don’t love you, don’t have an agenda, and don’t necessarily think you’re a genius.  A beta reader might be your co-worker, a friend of a friend, or a member of your writers’ group.  A beta reader is not your parent, your spouse, your child, your best friend, or your employee looking for a promotion.  (Not that you can’t or shouldn’t allow those close to you to read your writing, of course, but remember that they’re probably doing so through rose-colored glasses.)

 

Q:  Do I have to copyright my manuscript before submitting?

A:  No.  It’s understandable to feel trepidation about sending your manuscript out into the world seemingly unprotected, but you in fact own the rights to your work the moment you write it.  And no agent is interested in stealing your work.  If she thinks it’s worth anything, she’ll do what she’s best at: selling it so you can both make money.  And once it’s sold, the publisher will take care of copyright issues.

 

Q:  I keep getting rejected – what am I doing wrong?

A:  Possibly nothing.  The publishing industry is subjective, and everyone gets rejected dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of times.  It’s part of being a writer.  But if you’ve racked up nothing but form rejections for months on end, you may want to revisit your material.  Perhaps your query letter isn’t strong enough.  If you’ve gotten rejected from agents who have read sample pages, your writing might not have enough of the “wow” factor, or maybe the first few pages weren’t intriguing enough to make anyone keep reading.  The problem could be more serious, such as an inherent flaw in your plotline, or the fact that your main character comes across as a dud.  Seek feedback from beta readers, and strengthen your query and manuscript as much as possible.  But remember to always take rejections in stride.  Continue submitting to every agent you can find that represents your genre, and then move on to your next book.

 

Q:  Do I have to live in New York to be a successful writer?

A:  Not at all.  Look at the “about the author” pages in the backs of books, and you’ll see that successful authors live all over the country.  Now if you want to work for a specific magazine or newspaper, you may be required to live nearer to that publication’s headquarters.  But for most writers in this age of email, Skype and video conferencing, business with agents and publishers can be done remotely.

 

Q:  How can I spot a scam agency or publishing company?

A:  The two biggest red flags are if a company approaches you, and/or if they ask for money up front.  Reputable agencies don’t pursue new writers, except in the rare instance when the person has become suddenly famous for some reason, and is a hot ticket.  (If you have to ask whether or not you fall into this category, you don’t.)  If a company charges reading fees, or if they refer you to their own editorial services, they’re not legit.  Reputable agents work on commission alone, and since they don’t make money through additional services, it’s in their best interest to sell your book – and get you the best possible deal.  Finally, if a company gives you the runaround about their sales, or offers only unverifiable names and titles as proof of success, chances are they’re no good.

 

Q:  Are writers’ conferences worth it?

A:  Writers’ conferences are a great way to meet agents face-to-face.  Some agents even ask that when querying them, you specify if you’ve met them at a conference.  This clearly gives you a leg-up, at least in regards to an agent remembering who you are.  There’s also plenty of opportunity in conferences to learn, both from the speakers and from the other attendees – your fellow writers.  The downside is that conferences are pricy – often several hundred dollars for admission.  There’s also a (very) good chance that you won’t forge any magical connection with your dream agent; the meetings are generally short, and are followed up by the typical query process.  Overall, it’s just important to have reasonable expectations when attending a conference, and to go in with an open mind so you can learn as much as you can.

 

Q:  Are writing competitions worth it?

A:  Accolades always look good in query letters, and an agent is more likely to take your writing seriously if others already have.  There are hundreds of competitions available for all different genres of writing.  Many have entry fees, so if money is a consideration, narrow your choices down to the competitions that are best for your submission.  Remember, yours will be one of many entries, so competitions are by no means a surefire way to rack up awards.  But there are obvious benefits to winning – bragging rights, publication in literary magazines, even cash awards.

 

Q:  Have a question you’d like answered?  

A: Feel free to send it to us:  ask {at} ScriptsandScribes [dot] com