C. M. MAYO, AWARD-WINNING LITERARY JOURNALIST & NOVELIST. MAINLY MEXICO, SOMETIMES TEXAS & WELL YONDER.
C.M. Mayo < Interviews < or For Creative Writers (Workshop) < Resources <

Answers to 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".

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)


#2. 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 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.


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

Without delay, 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 Tech Communications, 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.

UPDATE: See also my 2008 Maryland Writers Conference handout on Writers' Blogs: Best (& Worst) Practices.

UPDATE: When Seth Godin suggests 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.