the 3 Questions I Am Most Often Asked About the Writing Business
By C.M. Mayo
# 1. How
can I find a publisher? # 2. Do I need an agent? # 3. I have
just published a book. Can you offer any tips about book promotion?
1. How can I find a publisher?
The key thing
to keep in mind as you begin your search is, what is your intention
for your book? Do
you want it to to place you among the immortal literary stars?
Or achieve a modest success that might help you get a teaching
job? Or, do you just watch to check "publish book"
off your "to-do" list? And how much time and effort
are you willing to put into the enterprise of finding a publisher?
It might be lickety-split easy to find one, or it might take
a few years, a bundle of postage, and a mountain of paperwork.
Not to mention heartbreak. There are many good books on this
subject, but the one I most highly recommend is Susan Page's The Shortest Distance
Between You and a Published Book. Be sure to also read Thomas Christensen's
excellent and very wise on-line article, "How
to Get a Book Published".
the best publisher for your book is you. Seriously. In some cases
this may not be a last-ditch strategy but in fact the optimal
strategy. Read what best-selling marketing guru Seth Godin has
to say about that here.
me, some of my
are with commercial publishers, some with small and university
presses, and others with my own publishing company, Dancing
Each book, and its optimal publishing path, is unique.
UPDATE: Now on-line: The Manuscript is
Ready (Or Is It?) Now What?
The expanded handout from my presentation at the "Publish
Now!" seminar at the Writer's Center, June 24, 2012.
UPDATE: In 2014, self-publishing
isn't what it used to be. Now, in addition to selling Kindles
and other ebooks, you can get your print-on-demand paperback
on not only amazon.com but the major distributor, Ingram. Read
more about that on my blog, Madam Mayo:
Not Peanutbutter-and-Jelly but It's Not Rocket Science, Either
or: How I Did My PODs (And You Can, Too)
Do I need an agent?
Maybe. There is a book-length
answer to this question, too. Again, I recommend Susan Page's The Shortest Distance
Between You and a Published Book, which has an outstanding and very practical
chapter on agents. Keep in mind that agents need to be able to
earn a living, cover their secretary's salary, rent, supplies,
postage, telephone, and all the other overhead involved running
an agency. You might have written a very important book, but
"important" might not translate into anything meaningful
from an agent's point of view. The critics might love it, but
if your advance is only $500-$1,000 (not uncommon, by the way),
an agent's commission, net of expenses, is too small to have
made it worth her time. Most scholarly works, almost all poetry
and a lot of very good fiction and creative nonfiction are not
represented by agents. So don't fall for the canard that you
must have an agent. Watch out, too, for your ego. Too
many writers use their relationship with an agent as a badge
of status they find themselves unable to loosen once the relationship
becomes problematic and/ or impractical. So, do your research.
Herewith a few on-line resources for finding out out about literary
agents. Todd James Pierce's "Nine Tips for Finding a Literary
Agent," reproduced on best-selling author Alan
webpage, is especially good. Lynn Price, editorial director of
Behler Publications, a well-regarded literary press, has a very
thoughtful blog post on "Why
Do I Need An Agent?"
Writer's Center instructor Lindsay Reed Maines's guest-blog post
on my blog, Madam Mayo, about her top
5 literary agent blogs
will give you a sense of the business from an agent's point of
A note: whether you have an agent or not, in my experience, it
is very helpful to join the Author's Guild. Members get a Trade
Book Contract Guide, which goes through all that nasty "boilerplate"
point by point, and incudes many negotiation tips. An abbreviated
version is available free on the Authors Guild website. Also, for members, the Authors Guild's
legal staff will review both book contracts and contracts with
I have just published a book. Can you offer any tips about book
buy these two books: Joseph Marich's Literary Publicity and Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life. The first is by a PR pro, the second
by a long-time successful novelist. With these words from the
wise, you may well save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and if
not heartbreak, then needless heartbreak. On-line, there are
some excellent marketing tips on the webpage of Word
a poetry publisher. (I vehemently disagree about the advice on
review copies, however.) As for an Internet presence, yes, it
behooves you to have a webpage and, if you're up to it, a blog,
and if you can stand it, a facebook page as well and to have all of these
started up in a thoughtful manner at least six months to a year
before your book comes out. That said, "better late
than never." Finally, why be shy? My mantra is, book promotion
is not self-promotion, it's book promotion. Once you have a book,
it's not all about you; it's about your agent, your publisher,
their hard-working team, booksellers, and ultimately, obviously,
and most importantly, readers.
my 2008 Maryland Writers Conference handout on Writers'
Blogs: Best (& Worst) Practices.
UPDATE: When Seth
beginning your promotional effforts three years in advance and
building a permission list, I think he is spot-on. (I've taken
his advice, as you can see here.) What's a permission list? Just a mailing
list people who actually want to hear about
your new book (not just get spammed). Many authors now send out
a regular newsletter. Having subscribed to a few good ones and,
alas, scads of not-so-good ones, I offer Writers'
Newsletters Dos and Don'ts here.
UPDATE: Getting Started
with Websites and Blogs: My Experience and Some Tips
UPDATE: In 2014, its all changing
so fast, my eyes are crossed. Now the new fangled thing is to
list one's book with Netgalley.com. I hardly know what
to say except, hang on to your hat. Oh, and dagnabbit,
answer your email.