Rejection Letters. Just Goes to Show . . .

D.B. Pacini, author of youth/YA fantasy novel, The Loose End of the Rainbow, soon to be published by Singing Moon Press, sent me these rejection letters from her files. They show how arbitrary this business is, and should give aspiring authors hope in a roundabout way. I am publishing the letters with Pacini’s  permission.

From an agent:  I’m not available because I’m getting married and I’m too busy for new clients. Your novel, Emma’s Love Letters is too short for my consideration anyway.  Increase the word count by 25,000 words.  Good luck.

From a publisher:  Thanks for your query.  Emma’s Love Letters is a bit longer than novels we publish.  Can you shorten it by 5,000 words?  Your novel, The Loose End of the Rainbow is much too long for our consideration, especially since it is the first in a trilogy.

From an agent: I apologize; I’m not available to unpublished authors.  I only accept new clients that already have published success. Your novel, The Loose End of the Rainbow is interesting.  Unfortunately, it is the first in a trilogy and I don’t like the working title you have for the second novel.  I wish you the best.

From an agent:  Dear Ms. Pacini, Regarding your question about titles for your novels I must say that the last thing that matters at this point is what your titles are.  I believe you will find that publishers often change titles for numerous reasons.  Don’t be married to a title. 

From My “Dud Agent” List: 

            At one point I decided to email agents and ask if they were accepting queries because a high number were not. Most agents have explicit query instructions on their websites. It takes time to query precisely as an agent wishes and it’s disappointing to receive a quick response that the agent is not accepting queries.  

            An agent responded to my email that asked if she was accepting queries.  She curtly told me to follow the query instructions on her website. I carefully followed the elaborate instructions. One minute after I emailed my query she sent me a “Dear Author” email saying she is not accepting queries at this time. 

            Fortunately, most agents are not this petty. There are undesirable or disreputable agents out there for many reasons.  Authors must be careful. You want an agent that will love your work, an agent that will develop a mutually respectful relationship with you. Always research, be smart. Securing an exceptional agent is as important as writing an exceptional book.

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You’ve Written “The End.” Now What?

Sherilyn Winrose, author of Safe Harbor, talks about her novel:

It’s been written, you’ve come to the conculsion of your story. Joy, Elation! Congratulations you’ve finished a full length novel. Many dream, many aspire, and you’ve completed the goal: to write “The End.”

When I was writing my first manuscript (ms) I had my best friend (the one person in the world who would tell me if it was crap) beta reading as I went. In as much I did clean up editing along the way. Little did I know how far from the finish line I was; probably a good thing in retrospect.

I bought books on how to query and be published. Very quickly I discovered I was a guppy swimming with sharks. One needs an agent to find a publisher. Agents like to take on authors who have an interested publisher. Huh? I need an agent to get a publisher, and to get an agent I need a publisher?

Confused, I set about sending queries and writing my next book.

What I didn’t know?

I had a first draft, not a finished piece. Reject letters came in and I kept writing.

Fast forward to a contest. I got out my ms and started to read in hopes of polishing it into a winning submission. Gasp! I wrote that? It’s littered with infomation dumps, saidisms, head hopping.. good gracious no wonder all I got were reject letters.

Time for the first real rewrite/edit. Good news? I still love my characters and the stories I’ve written. Bad news? As I learn and grow as a writer I find myself back in the orginal mss looking to clean them up.

The journey from “The End” to Published is a long road.  I made it, and stand as a testiment that hard work and perseverance does indeed pay off.

Sherilyn’s debut novel, Safe Harbor, is available through Second Wind Publishing.

E-publishing , Print on Demand (POD), and Kindle Markets–Are They The Wave Of The Future?

Ms. Danzo writes fiction and has twenty years experience working in Sales and Marketing and has published various articles on a variety of subjects, including articles on professional/fictional writing and marketing. 

E-publishing , Print on Demand (POD), and Kindle Markets–Are They The Wave Of The Future?
by Sia McKye Danzo

For most of us, writing is a driving force within us. A passion. I’ve written and told stories all my life, but have only gotten serious about it the last couple of years. Some of you have been writing for many years.

Our goal, of course, is getting published. Getting noticed by an agent or publisher. We write to entertain others, to take them on a journey. To do that we have to have an audience, which means being published. We’ve worked hard towards that goal. We’ve entered contests, are trying short-stories and articles to build up our credits to get noticed. We’ve used other writers to read our stories and give us back constructive feedback all with the goal of getting published. We’ve queried. We’ve gotten back rejection letters and we sigh. We keep going, yet sometimes it’s discouraging. We get excited about an agent who requests more of our manuscript–almost afraid to hope because haven’t we all been there? Waiting on pins and needles for them to get back to us, hoping that maybe THIS time, it will be the one who gets our story published.

I get discouraged. I know some of you have as well. How many of you have really considered publishing to Print on Demand (POD) publishers or places like Kindle? It’s the wave of the future, I’m sure. One good indication of that is the hoopla with Amazon and e-books. Most major publishing houses have an e-publishing section because of reading the trends. Granted some of the e-books they offer are a bit out there. I know Harlequin has had down loadable stories, for a small price, for some time. I rather think they saw the handwriting on the wall and were testing out the market for e-publishing. They now offer some of their authors through e-publishing and some authors are strictly e-published.

A benefit of e-publishing and POD, is a bigger share of royalties, than with a traditional publisher–but not advances–as a rule. Your work is out there, but not necessarily on the local book store shelves like you pictured in your mind. Unless you are willing to promote yourself and your writing to get it there. You have to market, via blogs, websites, and social networks. Authors have to do that regardless of the medium, but the marketing is pretty much on you rather than assistance from a publisher.

Self-publishing/Vanity Press is where the author paid someone to print their book and not always a good quality of book either in writing style or subject matter. Unfortunately, some negative stigma of Vanity Press books still color people’s perception of e-publishing or Print on Demand publications.

Is e-publishing, not self-publishing, a good thing? Or do you think it’s harmful for an author in the long-run? Some of you have gone that route. What are your experiences now that you’ve done it? Have any of you been approached by an agent or publisher? Have any of you heard of anyone getting picked up by a publisher going this route? Does it count as being published when doing our queries?

Any thoughts?

Contracts, Publicity, and Everything Else You Want to Know About Small Publishers

I asked Vana Roth, author of A Nation of Expendables, about her experiences with her publisher, if she had much communication with them, if she had to sign a complicated publishing contract, and how much publicity and promotion she had to do. She very generously responded:

Hi, Pat.

Experience with a Small Publisher 

The following is based on personal opinion of working with a small publisher. Since this is my first book, I have nothing else to compare it to. Therefore, in answer to your questions, my experience with a small publisher has been very positive. Other than the original book release being pushed back a few months, everything has gone really well. Whether publishing with a large or small imprint, release dates tend to fluctuate and it’s a matter of being patient. Regardless of what happens when, the contract states the length of time the publisher has to get the book from contract award to print. It can take eighteen months or longer depending on the length of the book. Eighteen months may sound like a long time but it really isn’t when considering how long it can take to get a manuscript through edit, copy-editing, and artwork. A whole lot of coordinating goes on in the background and timing depends on the publishers schedule as well as those chosen to perform other services. If the publisher fails to publish in the specified amount of time, all assigned rights revert to the author. The author is free to pursue another publisher with none of the original publisher costs charged back to the author. A Nation of Expendables took fourteen months from contract award to print. 

Communication 

It’s my understanding; publishers may assign the first read of a manuscript to an editor or editors. After reading, the editor makes a recommendation to the publisher as to whether the manuscript is viable. Based on editor recommendations, genre, topic and reader interests the publisher makes the final decision about offering a contract. The editor assigned to my book was the first to inform me of the contract award. A couple days later, the publisher followed up with a personal phone call for introductions. A few days later, I received the contract in the mail for review. All-important communications have been handled through email or regular mail, which I prefer since it gives me a ready reference for anything I might forget and a legal copy of what’s been discussed and agreed to beyond the original contract. I’ve talked several times with everyone who’s worked on my book. Communication is essential especially when you think about the importance of the final product. Once the book goes to print, it’s extremely costly to make changes; it has to be right the first time. I haven’t any negative things to say about the experience thus far. I suppose it has to do with my publisher and the professionals she contracted to handle my book. I had about a thousand questions and they were all answered in a timely manner. Everyone was very friendly, accessible and professional. Other authors under the publishers imprint have been very helpful in offering support and advice. It’s been a huge learning curve for me but since everyone’s been so helpful to the Newbie, it’s been a real pleasure. 

Publishing Contract 

Immediately after submitting a synopsis to agents and publishers, I started researching traditional publishing contracts to find out what’s standard, what to watch out for, what areas could and should be re-negotiated and what legally needs to be present by federal law. There are tons of great sources on the internet to research publishing contracts. If you’re ever in doubt, you can have an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts and copyright law review a contract.  

I was originally offered (3) contracts for A Nation of Expendables. One I rejected because the publisher wanted a re-write with more graphic detail of the blood and guts. The second was a one-page contract from an attorney turned publisher. He sent a one-page contract; I sent back a seven-page amendment, needless to say, the relationship deteriorated from there. Although royalties would have been paid at 50% on print copies, the contract was exclusive and for an indefinite period (pretty much forever). Standard contracts run from three to five years. The publisher also wanted 100% of the subsidiary rights with no provision for royalties or payment for these rights. Subsidiary rights are but not limited to, foreign language translations, film options, TV options, brail editions and other formats such as ebooks and audio CD’s. The contract was also missing the actual publishing date required by federal law. The publisher has to specify when the book will be in actual print and available for purchase. It’s my understanding the federal ruling came about since some publishers would enter into contracts with authors with no intention of ever publishing their books. They would tie up the rights for as long as possible to keep certain books from competing with books on similar subjects they wanted to put money into promoting. The only rights assigned to my publisher are English language rights in print and English language ebooks. I retained all other rights but have an option to assign these rights to my current publisher for a percentage if I so choose and if opportunity presents itself. The three-year contract I received was very fair and in my mind as close to perfect as one gets. There were only a couple, minor areas needing negotiation.  

Negotiating a Contract 

If you’re negotiating a contract without an agent as a middleman, you have to remember all publishers expect to make a profit, which is normal. They will keep a larger percentage if you allow them. If you’re uncomfortable with the percentage offered, there’s nothing stopping you from asking for more. The worse that will happen is the counter offer may be rejected. From what I’ve read, royalties on print copies range from 5% to 15% and 10% to 50% on electronic formats depending on the publisher. When you get a contract, pay close attention to the percentage of royalties on ebooks. Established publishers could go up to 50% split since there’s little cost involved once the book’s been formatted and put on a server for download.  

In my opinion, a good traditional contract from a small publisher to an unproven author offers royalties on a graduated scale based on sales volume: 10% on the first 5,000 copies, 12% on the next 5,000 and 15% on anything after in print form with a minimum of 20-25% on all ebooks. If you can get more, which is difficult…great…but if you can’t, in my opinion the graduated scale is very good. If a publisher offers 50% on all print copies, you may need to pay special attention to what’s missing in the contract. You may be signing control of your book away for life and/or your subsidiary rights without any financial benefit. There are a number of other issues addressed in the contract such as copyright ownership, first right of refusal on sequels, book character ownership, etc. A contract from a reputable publisher will put everything up front and in writing. If these issues aren’t addressed in the contract, I’d have serious doubts about the publishers’ integrity. 

You probably already know this but under a traditional contract there’s never a charge to the author for any publishing services. Never pay for artwork, edit, copy-edit or printing. A reputable traditional publisher will assume all up front costs. Some small publishers may or may not offer an advance. Mine did not and I didn’t have a problem with it. I think the hardest thing for an author to decide is whether to accept a contract or hold out for one they think may better. 

About Agents 

Since I haven’t an agent and negotiated the contract myself, I don’t have to pay anyone 15% off the top of my earnings. If this book does well, it will be easier to find an agent and/or if necessary, another publisher for the next book. I’m still not sure at this point if there’s a benefit to having an agent unless an author’s only interested in publishing with a large imprint since it’s almost impossible to get their attention without one. Unless you have multiple manuscripts the agent agrees to represent, once a publisher’s found and the contract is signed, there’s very little left for them to do. Personally, I’d rather pay a good publicist the 15%. 

Publicity and Promotion 

Publicity and promotion is a tough one, my publisher has a very active publicist. It’s still early for my book and there may be more requirements. So far, the only things I’ve been asked to provide is a short bio, applicable website addresses, and blurbs about the book that my editors helped write. The publicist takes this information and copies of the book to conventions to generate interest. She also presents the book to a variety of chain stores. The goal is to get the chain store to put the book on their approved purchase list and to stock it. The publicist also helps set up book signings and interviews. No matter what type of publisher is sought, all authors nowadays are required to promote their own work so unless you have $25-50,000 for a personal publicist and unlimited funds for marketing, you’ll be required to do a fair amount of promoting yourself. 

Conclusion 

I consider myself very lucky when it comes to being published. There are close to 1,756,000 fiction and non-fiction manuscripts submitted to publishers (big or small) each year. Between 3-5% of those ever get published. These figures do not include books from self-published authors or technical manuals (medical, technological or mechanical). This is why I chose to go with a small publisher with good distribution. The odds of being noticed by one of the larger imprints were very low. In addition, smaller houses can keep books active longer. If a book doesn’t generate immediate interest, a large publisher may only keep a book active for six weeks. My publisher will keep the book active for eighteen months unless we agree to another contract at the end of this one keeping it active longer. At some point since small publishers don’t have millions of dollars behind them for promotion, they’ll ask you to submit a promotional business plan. What they’re looking for are the methods (email, direct mail, web site, phone calls, newspapers, etc.) you intend to use to help promote your work. 

Other than that, I can’t think of anything else to tell you. If you have any other questions…please feel free to ask! 

Always a pleasure, take care,

Vana Roth 

For more about A Nation of Expendables see: http://vanaroth.com

Follow the Rules or Don’t Follow the Rules

In my quest for publication, I read books about writing, books about how to get published, books about staying out of the slush pile. I also read articles by agents and editors explaining what they are looking for. Although I have not yet reached my goal of getting published, my advice is good. It is based on a distillation of these books and articles combined with my experiences with agents and editors and writing.

One thing I have learned is that there are four groups of writers: the successful ones who make big money for their publishers. These authors can write however they wish. Their books sell millions of copies, but that does not mean they write well (though once they did write well enough to get published). Novice writers would be wise not to base their conception of good writing on these works.

The second group of writers is also published, whether by traditional publishers, POD publishers, and e-publishers — anyone who requires a submissions process. (There is a bit of gray area here that I don’t want to get into, but the point is still the same.) Some of these writers may achieve a modicum of success, some may never be able to quit their day jobs. Each succeeding book they write is open to review by publishers, and there is no guarantee they will continue to be published. These authors have a little bit of leeway when it comes to writing. They can break the rules, but only if they write well enough to make it work.

The third group of writers is the self-published. They can write however they wish, break whatever rules they wish. As long as they can sell a few books, most are content, but very few self-published writers ever make much money.

Then there are all the rest of us. We are the ones who need to follow the rules. Sure we can write however we wish, but if we wish to get published, we would do well to use those rules as a guideline for editing our work. As long as we are trying to get published, we need to attract a single reader: an agent or editor. That is who our target is, not our ideal reader. Our ideal reader may love the story, but until we hit the target, they will never see the published book.

I lied: there is a fifth group — those who are so talented or so lucky that they will attract an agent or an editor no matter what rules they break. Since I am not in this group, I have to try to follow the rules.

Unfortunately, I am not a very good rule follower — I want to do it my way — but if I heeded my own advice, I would greatly enhance my chances of getting published.