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8 Tips for Getting Your Book Published

Guest Post by Rebecca Balcárcel

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You’ve written your heart out, and you’re thinking it’s time for the dream to come true. You want to be an author. If only the publishing gods would smile upon you and make it so. Thankfully, you don’t have to make any animal sacrifices, but you do need to sacrifice other things — time, emotional energy, physical energy, and the draft you thought was perfect. Even those sacrifices may not make it happen, but there’s no way to get published without them. My own publishing journey started about six years ago and led to my first novel coming out in August 2019. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Read widely in your genre. If you already do this, you can skip this paragraph and say, “Check!” If you don’t already read many, many books in the genre you are writing in, you are missing out. Reading is your chance to apprentice yourself to the great writers. You can study their plot structure, notice how they describe characters and setting, observe how they dilate some events and quickly summarize others — in short, you can steal their techniques! Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” I won’t argue with the King.

2. Let others read your work, and listen to their experience of it. Whether it’s a critique group that meets every Tuesday or a friend who is as big a reader as you (see above), let new eyes see this thing you’ve been writing. It’s scary, but not scarier than showing an agent or a publisher. You’d rather hear from a friend that the first chapter doesn’t grab them or that the second one lets the tension drop. If people are confused, make the writing clearer. If people are bored, add tension. Don’t fool yourself by saying that no one “gets it.” Trust me: an agent, an editor, a marketing team, a reviewer, a reader in New Zealand, won’t get it either. Fall in love with revision.

3. Research agents. Yes, you need an agent. Unless you are willing to self-publish and become an entrepreneur, you can expect that a publisher will pay you an advance (often $3,000 to $20,000 as a pre-payment of expected royalties), submit your book to reviewers, market your book, send you to a few conferences at their expense, submit the book for major awards, and get your book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. None of this typically happens for self-published writers. But the only way to be traditionally published, in the novel world anyway, is to have an agent submit the book. A few smaller presses may look at unagented manuscripts, but a good agent can work their industry connections, do the negotiation, and check over your contract. They only get money when you do, so they work hard to sell your book. Find reputable agents at https://querytracker.net, https://www.pw.org/literary_agents, and http://aaronline.org/Find. Notice that agents who are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives follow this Code of Ethics: http://aaronline.org/canon TIP: Authors often thank their agents on the acknowledgements page, so look there for names of potential agents.

4. Write a query letter that makes the book sound awesome. Open with a hook — a sentence that either puts the premise as a question (What happens when…?) or states the crux of the character’s problem. Then start a new paragraph and chat up the reader, explaining the beginning, conflict, and end. It’s okay to reveal the general shape of the end. The agent needs to know what they’re buying. TIP: Use the same voice as the novel. Be dark and foreboding, be funny and sarcastic, be sincere and literary — but let that tone match the book’s. End with a paragraph about you, listing any info that makes it sound like you can be trusted to write this book.

5. Embrace rejection as part of the process. When you send queries to potential agents, expect about twenty rejections. Or fifty. The point is, most agents will say no. They may even ask for the full manuscript, and then say no. But look at this as a marriage. You don’t want to get serious with someone who doesn’t love your book or love the book that your book can become. Hold out for a good fit. If an agent wants to represent you, they will propose a phone call. This is a chance for both of you to decide if you make a good team. TIP: Come across as gracious and willing to revise your book — and then BE gracious in every phone call and email and DO be willing to revise your book (multiple times).

6. Fall in love with revision. I actually said this before, but I’m giving revision its own paragraph. Because you’ll revise with your critique group, you’ll revise with the agent’s feedback, and you’ll revise again with the editor at the publisher if the manuscript sells. Even after that, get ready for the sensitivity reader (who makes sure you are not insulting anyone by accident), the copy-editor, and the proofreader — all different people who want to make your book better. The book has become a team effort, and everyone is rooting for it — and for you, but mainly for the book. Don’t be surprised if the title changes, too. That’s a marketing decision that people with a variety of perspectives will vote on. Be glad at every stage. They are shaping your manuscript into a real book.

7. Be patient — this takes years. I signed with my agent in 2015; the book sold in 2017; the book released in 2019. Never mind when I started writing the thing! The good news is that all this baking, so to speak, has yielded the best, most tasty book I could have hoped for. But you should know what you’re in for, time-wise. Why does it take so long? Well, I revised with my agent, sending drafts back and forth for a year. Then she sent it out to nearly a dozen different publishers in batches. Each publisher had to read, review, and get back to us. It took nine months before an offer came. Then came the “edit letter” from my editor at Chronicle. This was a thirteen-page examination of my entire book — including things to fix, expand, cut, etc. (See number six above.) It took me about eight months to revise and send, revise again and send, revise again and send. Then we had the copyediting, proofing, etc. At the same time, they were hiring an artist to do the cover and designing a jacket, plus making marketing plans — submitting my name to conferences a year in advance and such. They also sent the almost-final copy to reviewers and printed up thousands of galleys (or ARCs, advance review copies) to give to librarians and teachers, since my book is for middle-graders. It takes time, folks.

8. Keep the goal in mind. You don’t want just any book out there with your name on it; you want a GOOD book out there with your name on it. Keeping this in mind makes all the other steps possible. Remind yourself that your critique group is helping you, your agent is helping you, your editor is helping you. Everyone is working to make this project a success. Be open to adding scenes or cutting them. Be ready to re-word, re-phrase, and re-work. Your second book will be harder to sell than your first book unless the first book does well. It’s better for a bad book to stay on your computer than ruin your reputation and any chances for future publication. Write your very best and then beyond your best, accepting a boost from your team.

Hard and time-consuming? Yes. But can the dream come true? Yes! If you love words and characters and world-building, spending years on a book won’t be all bad. Much of it will be a pleasure. And when a reader — a total stranger! — connects with your book, well, few things in life are sweeter.

Rebecca’s bi-cultural novel, The Other Half of Happy, received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, and the American Library Association named it one of 2019’s Top Ten First novels. Visit her here.

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What I Wish I’d Known About Publishing — Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Guest Post by Alan Elliott

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In March of this year, I attended a wonderful writers conference called WORDfest 2019. At the conference, I had the pleasure of hearing a panel discussion on the topic: “What I Wish I’d KnownWhat Writers Learn the Hard Way About the Craft of Writing.” Alan Elliot was a member of the panel. He shared some excellent points about publishing, and he distributed a handout which I thought contained several golden nuggets for writers pursuing publication. I asked him if I could share the material on my blog, and he said yes! So, here goes. Enjoy!

1. PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – to be traditionally published your story/book MUST fit into standard categories – Go to a Barnes and Nobel and find the shelf where your book will be placed. If you can’t find that shelf, you can’t sell your book to a publisher. If you find that shelf, you can identify which publishers might be interested in your manuscript. See How To Make A Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn and Brian Sanderson “Business of Writing” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C59eOLX2K-A

2. WRITING IS WORK — You MUST put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard regularly – daily if possible – for multiple hours a day if possible. You MUST write and REWRITE, knowing anything you write is probably garbage – UNTIL you fix it, edit it, reimagine it, and rewrite it (multiple times) Read the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont)

3. IDEAS ARE EASY – MAGIC IDEAS ARE GOLDEN – There is an unlimited number of books you COULD write – more ideas than you could ever tackle. You must decide which are the GOLDEN ideas – books/stories that demand to be written – whose title or premise makes immediate sense – books that you can describe in a single sentence that causes people to say – I want to read that – that’s so funny – what a great book idea. Concentrate on THOSE projects. (Read the book The Magic Word by Cheryl Klein.)

4. PERSISTENCE AND DETERMINATION ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN TALENT – Yes, you must have skills to write, you must learn the craft of storytelling, and you must know how to write compelling stories and/or sentences – that gets your foot in the door. What REALLY MATTERS is that you commit yourself to the (usually) LONG process of writing, perfecting, and SELLING your work. You must be prepared for REJECTION upon REJECTION – You must be able to pull yourself back together and try AGAIN and AGAIN, sometimes YEAR after YEAR. You must be an optimist – and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – faint at first, but brighter the more determined and persistent you are. (Read the book GRIT by Angela Duckworth.)

5. START WITH A BURNING DESIRE — You should write because you want to write – because there are stories that must be told, books that must be written. And you have a burning desire to write those stories and books. To get there you must learn the craft of writing – which is more than what is typically taught in any English class. Yes, you might be able to tell a story – but can you construct a PUBLISHABLE story? Learning any craft takes hours and hours of hard work. Like learning any skill (ice skating, piano playing, baseball), to become skilled enough to play in the major leagues you need well-planned and deliberate practice to hone your craft. This practice is sometimes tedious, lonely, and tiring. But you do it because you’re after the RESULTS – you spend time learning and growing because you know that’s what it takes to enjoy seeing your work published and enjoyed by others. See the book Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.)

6. SUCCESSFULLY PUBLISHED! – BUT YOU MUST MARKET YOUR BOOK! Once your book is published, you’ll need to market it yourself. Yes, the (traditional) publisher will get it to bookstores, and do some preliminary marketing, but you’ll want to do book signings (book tour?), go to conferences, be on social media, etc. to get the word out on your book. Work with your publisher’s PR department to get the most mileage out of whatever they have to offer. (See Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Tim Grahl (and many other webpages on this topic.)

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Alan Elliott is a native Texan with a knack for story. He is co-author of the family comedy movie Angels Love Donuts (with Leon McWhorter) filmed in Dallas and released on DVD. Two recent books include Willy, The Texas Longhorn, a children’s picture book from Pelican and On Sunday the Wind Came (bilingual) from Babl Books. Alan can be found online at: www.alanelliott.com

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Who Owns It?

Guest post from award-winning author and publisher, Anita Dickason.

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Anita Dickason
“I do.” This is a typical response from many authors when I ask, “Who owns your book?” In the strictest sense, they are right. An author owns the copyright to the content. Unfortunately, ‘own’ does not always apply to the finished product: the published book. Two other components can be a significant game-changer for an independent author: the ISBN and cover.

ISBN

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is what I term the social security number of the publishing world. It is a unique identifier for each version of a book: softcover, hardback, eBook, etc.

Bowker is the U.S. agency that sells and administers ISBNs. For every ISBN assigned to a book title, Bowker maintains a record of the book’s details that includes the name of the publisher. The ISBN assigned to books submitted to distributors such as Createspace, Smashwords, and IngramSpark will be confirmed with Bowker to determine the identity of the publisher. If the author is not the publisher of record, the submission will be rejected. Simply stated: Whoever owns the ISBN controls distribution.

As an example, CreateSpace (CS) has three options for the assignment of the ISBN. CS will provide a number that is free, or the author can purchase one for $99. The third option allows the author to use a number purchased from Bowker.

Selecting the free number sets up CS as the publisher of record. Once the book is published CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform is listed as the publisher in the detail section of the book on Amazon websites and with Bowker. The book can only be sold through Amazon and distributed by CS to other retail outlets through the Extended Distribution Channel. The author cannot use the free ISBN to publish the book through another distributor such as IngramSpark. This same scenario applies to any distributor or publisher that offers a free ISBN whether for a paperback or eBook.

The $99 option provides the author all the distribution rights that would be available had the author purchased the number from Bowker. The advantage is CS will handle the title set up with Bowker using the publisher name provided by the author. A disadvantage is the expense when an author intends to publish additional books. A block of 10 numbers can be purchased from Bowker for $295, or $250 when there is a sale.

Which option to select for an ISBN is dependent on the author’s goals. I know several authors who are very satisfied to stay within the realm of Amazon and choose the free option. That is not always a wrong decision as the author has only one account to manage. If, however, an author wants to expand their book distribution beyond Amazon, which does have limitations, it is important to understand the role of the ISBN before selecting the free option.

Book Cover
The other ‘gotcha’ is the cover. Book cover templates provide an easy method to design a cover. Use of the template, however, can cost the author the copyright to the cover.

CreateSpace’s Cover Creation is an example. CS owns the copyright to any cover created on one of their templates even if the author has uploaded images. The cover can only be used on the paperback distributed by CreateSpace or on the Kindle version. If an author intends to use IngramSpark or an eBook distributor such as Smashwords or Pronoun, a new cover is required.

The second concern is images used by the designer. Images are subject to copyright. If the designer does not have the legal right to use the image, the book may be subjected to litigation. When a copyright complaint for an image in a cover is filed with Amazon, the book is removed from Amazon sites and cannot be sold until the issue is resolved.

The author should also ascertain whether the designer’s right to use the image includes full rights or is there a limitation. This can affect how and where the cover can be displayed.

Whether it is the use of a template, purchase of a pre-made or a custom designed cover, the author should ascertain who owns the copyright before electing to use the service. If the designer or company agrees to release the copyright, the author should request written confirmation along with the print-ready PDF file and JPG. The transfer agreement should stipulate the author has full rights to the final files that includes unlimited use of any images.

The publishing environment is in a constant state of flux. Companies, individuals, and websites have a way of disappearing or going out of business. Knowing your options for the ISBN and cover design can eliminate a ton of grief down the line.

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Anita Dickason is an Award-Winning Author, Publisher and retired Dallas Police Officer. Her law enforcement experience, (patrol, undercover narcotics, SWAT team, and advanced accident investigator) provides the background and plots for her FBI Tracker suspense novels, Sentinals of the Night and Going Gone!

Her publishing company, Mystic Circle Books and Designs, LLC provides manuscript and design services to assist authors in publishing their works. Anita is also the Fiction Editor for Indie Authors Monthly Magazine. Her column, ON THE HUNT, is a series of articles on publishing, distribution, and promotions and is featured in the magazine and on her website: https://www.anitadickason.com/

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Traditional Publishing – Staying the Course When You Want to Throw in The Towel

Have you ever experienced a situation when you felt as though you were completely out of your league, or the scales were somehow unbalanced — and not in your favor?

I was sitting at my computer the other day scrolling through literary agency websites deciding which ones I would query for traditional publishing. As I looked at the faces of the agents and the client lists of those agencies, I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom, and utter defeat. I felt like throwing in the towel.

You see, none of the literary agents I considered querying looked like me. Correction, one of them looked like me. The others looked to be in their early twenties or thirties, most of them female, and all but one of them Caucasian. Undoubtedly, there could be other minority literary agents out there, I just haven’t run across them yet. And I’ve queried close to 60 or 70 by now.

So I asked myself, how in the world will either of these young people who don’t look like me identify with my story? Sigh!

Well, I stepped away from my computer to clear my head and get a glass of iced tea. After I had a moment to think, I came back with a new resolve. I reminded myself that there were a few facts that I must keep in mind in order to be successful in any given vocation and particularly in traditional publishing. I resolved these three things. And this may be helpful to you as well.

1. Deal With It.

This is the reality of the publishing industry, so deal with it. If I want to be a traditionally published author, I have to put on my big girl panties and stay in the fight. Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change a situation, change your attitude.”

2. Write Good Stories.

If I write good stories, they will appeal to the right agent at the right time regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity. Good stories transcend everything.

3. Don’t Worry.

Our fate and our future are in the hands of the Father above. He controls everything, including time. And He works through people. He knows how to make the right connections at the right time.

So, I decided not to be discouraged but to persevere in doing what is necessary to appeal to literary agents i.e., write the best stories I can in my genre, edit to near-perfection, be as professional as I can be in the pursuit of publishing, and not worry about factors beyond my control.

What about you? Have you encountered situations in your writing career when you wanted to throw in the towel? What did you do?

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Catherine