TAKE THE FIRST STEP TOWARD BEING A PUBLISHED WRITER
See Writing and publishing courses conducted by ACS
New, unpublished writers often find it difficult to get their work accepted. Publishers usually so many submissions that they can afford to be selective, and many will not risk publishing work by a brand new author; they prefer to publish authors who have proven themselves. This leaves new writers in a dilemma. Nevertheless, well-recognised publishers such as MacMillan, Simon and Schuster, and Pearson are always looking for good books to publish, and may consider new writers with good ideas and quality work. The problem is to get them to read your manuscript in the first place.
As a new writer, you should try to put yourself in the shoes of a publisher. You (the publisher) might receive over fifty manuscripts a day, none of which immediately stands out. You only have time to glance over them before selecting three for a closer look. Of course, you will probably give more consideration to a submission by an established writer whose work you know. You might also look at a submission that seems, on first glance, to match your particular needs and interests at the moment. For instance, if biographies are selling well, you might take a closer look at a biographical manuscript. You might also give attention to a book or article that offers something new and different.
Publishers are busy. If the message and theme of your manuscript cannot be easily grasped, or is not clearly explained in a short summary, many publishers will simply not bother to explore further to see how the theme is developed. Similarly, if your summary or the first pages of your manuscript are uninteresting or seem in any way cliché, the publisher will probably not read on.
Your task as a new writer is to grab the publisher’s attention so that your submission is read. Do your research to find out that publisher’s requirements for submissions, and what kind of material that publisher tends to accept. Increase the appeal of your submission by ensuring that it is relevant to that particular publisher; that the main idea is easy to grasp; that it offers something new or different; and that the quality of your writing is immediately apparent. You might make your work stand out by including illustrations (for a biography or an article, for example), or by making the submission stand out in some way (though attention-grabbing tricks might backfire and just annoy the publisher).
Kinds of Publishers
Computer technology has made it more feasible than ever to publish your own books or booklets. Small computer-based publishing businesses do exist that will publish a book or booklet of up to two hundred or so pages in fairly small quantities, and at a price that is relatively affordable for the average person. This solution can be appropriate for such works such as family or local historical books, books of poetry, or novels with a local flavour (perhaps to distribute through tourist shops).
Publishing as an ebook is easier than ever; but you are then faced with distribution, promotion and sales challenges. Big international distributors may take on your book; but if they already have millions of other books; you are unlikely to get much help with selling it; no matter how good it is. Sometimes controlling your own distribution and sales can bring better results.
Vanity publishers hey work on the basis of making money from the author, irrespective of whether money is made from the book sales. They can provide a valuable opportunity for the new writer, or they might take advantage of your desire to get published and leave you with no profit or with fewer funds and a published work that no-one buys.
Vanity publishers will ask you to contribute towards the publishing of a book. In essence, you are paying them to edit and print your book. After the book is printed, some might remain involved in selling it, while others will do little or nothing towards marketing and selling your book. If you have money to spend with a vanity publisher, you might achieve your goal to get your writing in print and come away satisfied. However, if you do not, be careful, for you might end up with printed books that don’t sell, and much poorer than you started. Vanity publishers frequently advertise for manuscripts, asking authors to send manuscripts for publishing. They might then ask you to contribute towards or cover the publishing costs. Be careful to check all the conditions and clearly establish your mutual obligations in writing.
These include all publishers who require works to be submitted for consideration, or who solicit works from established writers. These publishers rarely advertise for manuscripts, and are unlikely to ask you to contribute towards publishing costs. Instead, they publish in anticipation of achieving sales through their marketing strategies. Most writers seek to have their works published by these kinds of publishers, as they can do much to establish the credibility and reputation of a new author.
Some colleges and universities will nurture young writers and even go so far as to provide opportunities for them to be published within the institution’s publications. Taking up such opportunities can sometimes be the easiest and best first step into the publishing industry.
What Publishers Want
The beginning writer is often surprised to find that publishers accept those works that meet their (the publishers’ needs), and that they look more favorably on writers who are willing and able to give them what they want. You might write a fantastic article on the extinction of the dodo, but if that is not what a publisher is looking for, and if it does not promise to have a good market, it will probably not be published. So the aspiring writer is advised to investigate which publishers want what they are able and willing to write, and also, to be flexible in order to meet the needs of particular publishers. These needs will differ from publisher to publisher, but they are generally affected by the kinds of publications that a particular organisation produces.
Periodical (and e-zine) publishers
Magazine publishers are in business and, in the main, their decisions are heavily influenced by economics. They publish in order to make money. This means that they will generally publish what is most likely to make money for them. You can increase your chances of getting published in a periodical by being aware of how different kinds of publications generate income.
The income from a periodical comes from advertising, sales of the publication, and subscriptions (any or all of these). If advertisers don’t buy space, there is no money to pay the writer or anyone else. Articles that will help sell the publication or advertising are more likely to be accepted.
Magazines, newspapers and web sites often accept freelance submissions, so they are good starting points for some writers who want to develop their skills and confidence before undertaking larger works and books. Many famous writers started out by writing in periodicals for a relatively small fee, or getting articles published in local newspapers or on their own web sites.
The book publisher’s income comes mostly from book sales rather than from advertising or other means. Therefore, the book itself must be sellable. Book publishers consider community interest in the subject, what similar titles are already on the market (i.e. competition), and the cost of publishing compared to the income likely to be generated. For instance, a book on the Stoic philosophy of the Roman senator Seneca might be thoroughly researched and offer profound insights into ancient Roman thought, and it might not cost much to publish, but the anticipated audience for such a book might be quite limited, so the anticipated profits will be low. The book might therefore be published cheaply with the author receiving low royalties, or it might not get published at all, despite its literary and academic quality. However, if the publisher believes that the book can be sold to universities as a text book, and that there is a demand for such a book in academic circles, it might be published for that market.
Promoting Your Work
A good writer is not always good at marketing his or her works. Many good writers are never published, and some who are published - but not wildly successful - cannot find publishers for following works. More often than not, these problems are due to one (or a combination) of three main factors: poor communication; lack of attention to establishing and maintaining good working relationships; or lack of marketing skills.
Some writers pay others (agents) to do the hard work of building relationships and marketing for them. This can be an excellent step, but it can also cost a small fortune. A good agent usually charges high fees, and takes a considerable portion of any income the writer might make. Hiring an agent is probably a wise step after your first book has been published, but until you can afford that, here are some tips for improving your ability to promote your work yourself.
- First and foremost, research your customer (the publisher) and find out what they are likely to buy.
- Second, find out exactly what your customer wants, even if you can’t provide it. Most publishers have clear guidelines and are more than wiling to let writers know what they do and do not accept, and what they are looking for. Start by reading the publisher’s web pages, all of them.
- Emphasise what your writing has to offer to the publisher (what niche it fills, how it fits in with the publisher’s style and focus, how it can help the publisher achieve sales etc), rather than focusing on the features or quality of your writing.
- If the publisher presents objections or doubts, calmly ask or investigate specifically what those objections or doubts are. Then, find a way to overcome the difficulty or to compensate for it. For example, if the publisher seems hesitant about your travel article, propose alternatives, such as a focus on lone senior travellers travelling with infants.
- Never become defensive. A good writer must develop a thick skin, and avoid being over-sensitive, because publishers may not have the time or patience to nurture your ego. Take any criticism and comment on your work as a sign of interest, as most publishers will not usually comment if they see no value in the work.
- Show confidence in your ability, and willingness to develop it in ways that appeal to the publisher.
- Get the customer to look at your work, even if it takes a month or more. Offer to submit a short story or article instead of a long manuscript. Send a copy of any of your works that was published anywhere. Keep your name before the publisher, even if you don’t get a particular work published. Be careful, though, to avoid becoming a pest.
- Try to reach some agreement, whether it is an agreement to edit and resubmit within a certain time or an agreement to research a better topic. This will give you an opening for developing the relationship with the publisher.
- Offer something in return. Be willing to take a publisher to dinner to discuss a book, or to cooperate in marketing the book or your articles.
- Remember that the publisher is always right. Without him or her, you are not going to be published. Many writers must adapt their work to their publishers. After you become established and successful, you can start insisting on your own way of writing and preferred topics.
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