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"Patch of Dirt:" Publishing Options

There are three drivers that will determine what you do with your MS: Your impatience, money and the length of the MS.


COMMERCIAL PRESSES In general, major publishing houses do not accept unsolicited poetry manuscripts and rarely look at unagented or unsolicited fiction or creative nonfiction. Editors at major houses are more interested in writers who have already published a book or those whose work has already appeared in large-circulation trade magazines such as The New Yorker or Harper’s.

There are some crucial differences in what small press editors look for in a submission, in contrast to the “Big Five.” There is a lot of frustration over the importance of writing commercially marketable stories in today’s publishing environment—and the lack of true risk-taking in the business. That’s what is emphasized by editors at big houses, because those professionals have aggressive sales goals. Your book is a product. Small presses obviously have sales goals, too, but they’re typically more willing to take risks on projects they believe have artistic merit.

SMALL PRESSES Small presses and university presses, which are often open to the work of new authors and do not always require writers to contact them through an agent. Although they do not have the resources of larger publishing houses and offer smaller advances, they are usually more willing to help you develop as an author even if your books aren’t immediately profitable, and they are open to a wider range of writing. Small press authors can expect to receive a lot of attention from the editor, designer and even owner. That can translate into a more re-warding writer-editor relationship, as well as more involvement with the publicity department.

PUBLISH ON DEMAND PRESSES (SUBSIDY PRESSES) This type of publisher prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Theoretically, these presses are selective. Costs include the publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal more expensive than self-publishing. All rights and completed books are the property of the author, and the author retains all proceeds from sales. Vanity publishers may exclude objectionable content such as pornography, but otherwise do not screen for quality. A vanity publisher relies on its authors as its main source of income–whether by charging fees for publication or other services, or requiring authors to buy or pre-sell their own books. There’s little if any meaningful quality screening, and adjunct services (editing, marketing, and/or distribution) are generally minimal or of dubious value. A vanity publisher claims various rights by contract, and owns the ISBN. Payment to the author is in the form of a royalty or a percentage of profits.

CREATE SPACE Create Space and the other similar publishing alternatives have dramatically changed the publishing universe. Just about anyone with a manuscript can follow the various site guidelines and have your book on Amazon or other platforms within days. The marketing is the author’s responsibility.

COMPETITIONS Winning a competition is an excellent way to get exposure. There are also literary journals that will publish first chapters.

CHAPBOOKS Chapbooks are slender booklets, usually 25 pages or less (but can be up to 40 pages), published by small presses or writers—generally poets—themselves. A chapbook can serve not only as a platform for publishing but also as a poet’s/writer’s calling card or networking tool—or as a way to earn money, as some writers charge a modest fee for their chapbooks. Many poets/writers assemble chapbooks on their own, with the use of a computer and software programs such as PagePlus, Microsoft Publisher, and Xara & Layout Designer. Some companies design, print, and collate chapbooks for a fee.

CHECK LIST (What you use from this checklist will depend on which of the above publishing sources you choose) 1. Must have completed, fully edited MS in proper format. Determine by word count whether MS is: novella (15-42K), short novel (50k), or novel (70-100k). The length will determine where you will send your MS. Traditionally, agents deal only in novel length manuscripts. 2. Determine Specific Genre or Sub Genre of your MS 3. Marketing Tool Box: Web site/blog On social media 100 word bio Cover letter Query letter Synopsis (3-5 page present tense retelling of your novel with plot points and ending) Detailed marketing plan First 5 pages of MS First chapter First 50 pages

For short stories: 1st three stories, an overall summary of collection (1-2 sentence of each story).

RESOURCES Duotrope (www.duotrope.com). Poets &Writers database of small presses (www.pw.org). Writers Digest annual Short Story and Novel Markets. NewPages (www.NewPages.com). The Writer.

QUERY LETTERS A query letter is the most important marketing tool you have. It’s customary to include a short query letter with each submission you make. Avoid using the letter as a platform to discuss the merits or themes of the work you are submitting or to summarize your writing as a whole. Instead, keep it simple and straightforward, including a brief bio that lists places you’ve published in the past, if applicable.

An easy way to construct a query letter is to think of it as divided into three parts: Hook—log line Book—pitch (premise) Cook—the author

In the first paragraph of the letter, explain why you are contacting the agent and why him or her specifically. In the second paragraph, give a three-to-four-sentence synopsis of your book. Avoid going into detail about the twists and turns of the plot. In the third paragraph, include a short bio, offering information about yourself that pertains to your work or your writing skills.

Close the letter with a direct statement of your ultimate purpose, expressing that you’d like to send the agent your manuscript. Query letter no longer than 3-4 short paragraphs.

Provide comparable titles. Make yourself a credible authority (Your credentials). What is your expertise as a fiction writer? You need to establish and identify brand through web prominence and creative branding.

10 letters no response—rewrite 2 responses—possible rewrite

THE SYNOPSIS A Synopsis must include ending and what makes MS unique. After the query letter the synopsis is the next most important marketing tool you have. A synopsis is NOT a summary. It is the present tense retelling of your book. You don’t have to include every detail. The usual length is 3-5 pages.

Next week’s blog will be about the short story market.


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