Archive for April, 2008

Getting published, part 3

April 29, 2008

When they begin looking for a publisher most new writers aim high…and they should. But if they assume agents and editors will be immediately eager to publish their magnificent words, there is great danger they’ll be disappointed, so some knowledge of the realities of how our business works is important. It helps avoid discouragement, or even the awful worthless feeling that can come after a few rejections. That’s when some authors simply give up. Are you going to do that? Well, do you really want to be published? Then you won’t give up. For one thing, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about all the authors, now well-known, who were rejected a hundred or more times before their work sold to a publisher. What was it with the Chicken Soup guys? 160 rejections? Something like that.

When preparing to sell for publication, learn as much as you can about agents and your target publishing houses. Study guidelines and always follow them. If, for example, they say books should be between 75 and 95 thousand words, don’t assume they’ll make an exception for your brilliant 110 thousand words. They probably won’t. (It helps if you understand that a publisher’s production costs can go up 10% for every ten thousand additional words.)

Today, maybe more than at any other time since Gutenberg, the book publishing industry is in a state of flux. Publishing has always been an odd duck in the business world anyway, and shrinking profit margins are causing publishers to re-think their deals with authors as well as booksellers. One large publisher has even discussed stopping advances to authors, and also wants to shut down the book returns long allowed to booksellers. Both of these ideas are causing a hue and cry and, if enacted, could be painful, UNLESS THE PRACTICE IS ADOPTED INDUSTRY-WIDE. (I wonder…in what other businesses do purchasers give product manufacturers cash up front before they see a product? How many of them allow retail outlets to order large quantities of that product then, within a month or after many months, accept full-credit returns from the retailer whether items are damaged or not–and continue doing this year after year?)

But…changes like this are a long way from being put in place, so here’s more information about publishing as it exists today.

Currently several world-wide publishing conglomerates or corporate publishers rule the New York book market. All of them have multiple imprints so it’s difficult to keep track of who owns what! They are, briefly stated:

Bertlesman, a German corporation that owns Random House and a long list of other imprints. Viacom, U.S.A., has Simon and Schuster and imprints. Then there’s Rupert Murdock’s News Corp., (U.K.) including HarperCollins and more. Pearson, U.K. has Penguin Putnam and imprints; Bloomsbury, also U.K., owns Walker and others; Holtzbrink, (Germany) holds Macmillan and imprints. The final “biggie” is Hachette Livre, a French corporation holding Warner, Little Brown, etc. (Confusing?)

Is that all? Hardly! There are, at latest count, around 100,000 smaller publishing companies in the United States. We’ll begin a discussion about them next time. (No, not all of them!)


Getting published, Part 2

April 24, 2008

Accept this:  we’re all individuals with individual creative writing voices.  That’s not to say we can’t trick ourselves into copying some aspects of a writer we admire.  But, in the long run, only our personal voice works for us as we grow in our profession.  Right?  When we find our voice, we also find it’s fun to polish it, trust and cherish it.  An additional benefit is that we usually become more comfortable with believing in our writing without envying another’s success.

Are you with me on this?   It works for me–how about you?

So we write, and write, and our work is finally finished–more or less, because now begins the re-reading, re-thinking, editing, re-writing, editing, reading aloud, re-writing.   (You get the picture.)

It’s often a good idea to hire an independent editor or word doctor, or at least submit your “completed” work to a good critique group.  It is almost impossible for even the most accomplished student of our language to find all the weak spots in his or her writing.   I know I can’t.

Then, after anything from a dozen to a hundred more re-writes (yes, 100, and I know some who have done it) we can say, “I’m ready to submit.”

Whether this is your first completed work or your fiftieth, an easy road to publication is far from guaranteed.  If you’re writing articles, it’s a good idea to start modestly and often “for free.”  Write for a local newsletter or weekly paper.  Submit to regional magazines.  Put your writing foot in the door wherever someone might allow you entry.   The “New Yorker” or “Cosmo” will probably not be your first sale.

If you’ve written a book, remember that, though new authors often have a hard time breaking in,  publishers can drop even long-time authors if their sell-through isn’t good enough, if the editor they work with quits or is fired, or even “just because.”   Authors can get laid off  just like auto plant workers.  (Yes, writing is a business, too, in addition to a creative joy.)

So, think about this:  DO I REALLY WANT TO BE PUBLISHED?   Is it worth all this hassle?   If your answer is “yes” then we’ll go further together next week.


Me as a writer. You as a writer

April 14, 2008

I want to reveal a couple of things about myself:

First, I’m a contented small press author and have been since 1994.  I sold my first book,  DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow–a collection of environmental essays set in the Arkansas Ozarks–without an agent.  I didn’t even apply to large publishers.  They intimidated me, and I thought the high-profile submission and publication process in New York didn’t suit my personality, even were they interested in my work.  (And I didn’t assume they would be at that point.)  Even so, I collected a number of very kind rejections before my book sold… a non-fiction publisher in New York!

Second revelation:  I believe there is no corner on creativity.  We all have it, albeit in varying forms.  I also believe in infinite individuality.  For that reason we don’t need to feel jealous when others in our writing community reach successful publication or earn a significant award.  We have our own niche to fill.

One proof of infinite creativity and individuality comes when conferences or magazines hold writing contests based on a story outline or story start that all must use.   I have judged some of these contests.  If creativity were NOT infinite, why does every single contestant–and they can number in the dozens or even hundreds–come up with stories that are so very different?

Individuality is part of the human condition.  Each of us is hard-wired with our own creative ability.

More about this next time