This is a very quick guide to publication terms for those who are completely clueless. We’ll look at short stories, novels and non fiction respectively, then I’ll clarify some terms for those who are still completely confused. Even if you are only interested in something specific, I suggest you read this entire article, as it’s written to be read as a whole.
It’s important to remember publishing is a business. For whatever reason you want to be published, the publisher want to make money selling great books (or magazines). Proper grammar and spelling are vital when trying to sell manuscripts as it costs publishers money to have them edited – and they’re not going to buy if you are costing more than you’re making them.
To sell a short story you need to complete and edit it before you consider submitting. Then it’s a simple process of finding magazines who publish short stories in your genre and checking their submission guidelines. They may want you to send a query letter, they may want you to send a partial or they may simply want the full story with a cover letter. I’ll explain queries, partials and cover letters at the end.
You can use Duotrope.com to search for magazines and e-zines.
Novels are similar to short stories. First you must write the manuscript and edit it until it is AS PERFECT as you can make it. Then, it is advisable you seek an agent. Querying agents is much like querying magazines. You look them up to see what genres they handle and what their submission guidelines are. Typically they will ask for a query first. If they like the query, they request a partial and if they like the partial, they request the whole manuscript. If they like that, they offer you representation.
Good agents never charge you a fee. They make their money when they sell the novel to a publishing house and take a percentage of your earnings. Typically around 15% to 20%. They will also charge you a housekeeping fee for the money they spent on paper, phone calls and stamps on your behalf – this also comes out of your earnings. This should not be any more than $300.
Agents then sell your work to acquisition editors and organize your contract. They may also hold an auction with several editors at several publishing houses to get more money – after all, the more you get, the more they get.
(Of course, many authors are choosing to self publish these days, but that is a tutorial for another day. If you would like to self publish, you should totally hire me to format your e-books for you. Particularly if you think blatant self promotion in the middle of a tutorial is charming.) You can read more about it here.
Publishing nonfiction (cooking books, self help books, etc) follows much the same route as fiction; however you do not have to write the whole manuscript first. You do need to write several chapters and completely map out the book, so that when you sent the partial the agent can see exactly what they book will look like. In nonfiction, your focus of your sales pitch is not the plot of the story, but how YOU will be able to promote the book. Are you a world famous chef selling a cooking book? Generally being world famous in something helps if you’re trying to sell nonfiction and it’s honestly not my area.
Query letters are deceptively simple in their layout, for they are exceptionally hard to write and one of the most important parts of the publishing process for a writer. They are the first thing an agent or editor sees and they are the easiest part for them to say no to. They have to be perfect and brilliant and near divine. So they give most writers the complete horrors.
When writing a query letter, the process is as follows:
1. Follow proper businesslike letter format.
2. Get the agent or editors name right.
3. The first paragraph is an introduction. You say you are seeking representation for your novel or story. You give the title of the novel, the genre, the word count and it’s wise to state that it is complete.
4. The second paragraph is a blurb, much like those on the back cover of novels, which summarizes the plot. (The intro and the blurb can be switched if you prefer to open with your pitch.)
5. The third paragraph introduces you. You list any previous publications you’ve had and say something relevant about yourself in relation to the novel. Do not talk about pets, children, husbands or your job – unless you wrote about a police officer who marries a billionaire and you ARE a police officer who married a billionaire.
6. Then you list your contact details. That’s it. Three paragraphs – and they all need to fit on one page. Two pages are too long for a query letter. Painful, huh?
The only exception to these rules is if your last novel was a best seller. Then you open with that, instead of information about the new novel. Also note you cannot lie about anything in a query letter. The agent will find out then even if they accepted you, they will ditch you. Agents do not love liars.
Again, if you don’t want to write your own query letter, it is a service I offer. My prices are good and I have great results. You can read more about it here.
Partials, after the horror of query letters, are positively dreamy. They are, quite simply, a cover letter stating what you are sending (name, word count, genre) and why (they asked for a partial on DATE), a two page synopsis of the novel and yes you have to give away the ending and three chapters of the book. If it is fiction, it is the first three chapters, if it is non fiction; it is any three chapters you like.
Many people find the two page synopsis terribly difficult to make coherent and interesting. Often these are passed around at acquisition meetings, so they should appeal to people who have not seen the query or read any of the chapters. Writing partials (and editing early chapters) are also services I offer, and you can read more about it here.
And that is the quick and nasty guide to publication. Questions?
Copyright Talitha Kalago. 2007.