Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < Interviews < or For Writers < Resources < On Publishing <



I sincerely appreciate how mystifying this crazy "business" of writing can be, and back when I was starting out, I wish I had been able, more often than was the case, to ask questions and get honest and helpful answers from those further along the path than myself. Though I read all my email and make my best effort to answer, I find myself anwering the same questions repeatedly, so for our mutual convenience, herewith the whole chewy-gooey enchilada of Q & A in a single webpage. I am learning, too, by the way; these are just my best answers at this time. Hope they help.

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 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".

But maybe 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.

As for me, some of my books are with commercial publishers, some with small and university presses, and others with my own publishing company, Dancing Chiva. 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:

"It's Not Peanutbutter-and-Jelly but It's Not Rocket Science, Either or: How I Did My PODs (And You Can, Too)

Traditional + Indie = Hybrid Publishing

Do I need an agent?

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 Jacobson's 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 view.

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 agents.

I have just published a book. Can you offer any tips about book promotion?

May I humbly suggest that you not overestimate my experience and ability in this endeavor; I have no training or professional experience in marketing or PR. That said, I have done several book tours, more events and interviews than I can count, and I've attended a gazillion writers conferences over the years, all of which invariably feature a panel on book promotion (and which invariably feature a eager-beaver first or second-time genre author, a black-clad Irony Maven of Editorial Wisdom, and someone retailing their services, nowadays usually something to do with "social media.") I have tried to glean what I can and do my best for my books, but my priority has always been, well, writing my books.

It seems to me that once you've written a good book, you can do a few common-sense things to ensure that it is made visible to potential readers, and should they decide to purchase it, that this is as straightforward a process as possible. So yes, send around review copies, maintain a website and blog with easy-to-see links to buy your book on amazon, Barnes & Noble and whatever other bookstores offer it. And yes, blurbs help. How to get them? Write a good book, send out wheelbarrowfuls of review copies, and for individual blurbs (I mean, not lifted from a print or on-line review), ask nicely.

I have found novelist
Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life especially helpful. With her wise words, you may well save yourself a time, hassle, and if not heartbreak, then at least needless heartbreak.

As for an Internet presence, yes, of course it behooves you to have a webpage and, if you're up to it, a blog, and if you can stand it (I cannot), 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. They cannot read your book if they don't know about it.

UPDATE: When marketing guru Seth Godin suggests beginning your promotional efforts 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.

UPDATE: Getting Started with Websites and Blogs: My Experience and Some Tips

UPDATE: In 2014, everything all changing so fast, my eyes are crossed. Now the newfangled thing is to list one's book, or urge one's publisher 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.