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. 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
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?
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)
+ Indie = Hybrid Publishing
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.
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
3. I have just
published a book. Can you offer any tips about book promotion?
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
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, Barbes & 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
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, 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
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
marketing guru Seth
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.