Writing Process #7: Submitting

YOU’VE self-edited your script, and now it’s much better than that first draft you had before. Is it perfect? Probably not. You could do another editing pass and I’ll bet you’ll still find something wrong. Lots of somethings, in fact. But there comes a point where you can honestly say to yourself that your typescript is something you’re happy for someone else to read. Are you ready to get it published?

How do you get it published?

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There are a number of options:

  • Self-publishing. There are plenty of places to do that. My very first full-length work was self-published on Smashwords, and as part of that process it was automatically made available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and several other platforms. But to self-publish properly, you have to do all the work that a publisher would do. You must BECOME THE PUBLISHER. You need, really need, a professional editor to work with you on polishing the work to a high shine. (I can’t stress how important that is. Some people can self-edit to a professional standard, but those people are as rare as rocking-horse droppings; do you really, honestly think you can self-edit to that standard?) You need someone to format it properly for publication. You need cover artwork. Of course, you could do all that yourself, but you’re better off getting professionals involved—and that costs money. So you have to ask yourself, are you happy to spend the cash with no guarantee that you’ll make enough sales to get that money back?
  • Go directly to a publisher. Smaller indie publishers will generally accept submissions directly from authors. Larger publishers, not so much (see the next bit, about agents). Work up a list of publishers that deal with books in your genre—you might be surprised just how many people submit work that’s in a genre the publisher just doesn’t deal with. Make sure they’re accepting submissions (many publishers only accept submissions at certain times of year; some only open for submissions when they have the bandwidth to take on work). Publishers have guidelines for submissions—for example they might ask for the first ten pages of your story to be pasted into an email cover letter. Some will ask for a synopsis. Many will delete emails with attachments unread. So read the guidelines carefully and follow them to the letter.
  • Find an agent. The bad thing everyone thinks about agents: they take a percentage of the profits of sales of your book. Well, of course they do. They have to pay the rent on their double-wide, same as you. But the good things about agents outweigh the bad by a good margin. An agent can submit your book to publishers that won’t take submissions direct from authors. They can help make sure that a publishing contract isn’t screwing you. They can get you better contract terms (for example a better percentage on sales) than you might be able to manage on your own. In the end, the fact that agent takes, say, fifteen percent, is more than made up for by the fact that she’ll get you a publishing deal that makes you more sales. Some agents also suggest edits to improve the work. As to finding an agent . . . well, there are a few ways. Follow Writer’s Digest (@WritersDigest) on Twitter—they often send out alerts when agents are looking for books in specific genres. Check out QueryTracker—this is a great tool that can help you search for agents. When you find an agent to submit to, the rules are much the same as for publishers—check genre, make sure the agent is accepting submissions, follow submission guidelines closely. When it comes to writing query letters, check out Query Shark.

This is IMPORTANT: No reputable agent or publisher should ever, ever, EVER ask you for money up front to “cover costs” or for anything else. Real publishers and agents take their percentage from sales of the book AFTER it’s been published. If an agent or publisher charges for their services up front, they’re almost certainly scam artists intent on taking your money. Take a look at the Writer Beware site for more on this.

Here’s another thing: Be ready for rejection. In fact, expect rejection—that way it won’t faze you when it happens. And it will happen, over and over and over. At a rough estimate based on what I’ve seen, the chances of any one agent accepting your work is something like five percent. Indie publishers appear to have higher acceptance rates, but it’s hard to be certain about that because good data is hard to find. The thing is, agents and publishers are taking a risk when they accept your work. They have to cover the costs of doing their job until your book is on the shelves and making sales—in the case of agents, time spent dealing with publishers, and in the case of publishers, paying editors and artists and everyone else involved in getting your book out there. Maybe you’ll sell hundreds of thousands of copies and you’ll all be rolling in cash. Or not. It’s a gamble, and it’s on their dime, which is why agents and publishers are so picky about what they accept.

Now let’s say your work is accepted. What next?

AFTER you’ve celebrated a little bit (because getting accepted IS a big deal and worthy of a little celebration), be ready for what can be the hardest part of this whole thing. Remember all that self-editing you did? Well, now it’s about to happen again. Only this time, someone else—maybe your agent, maybe a copy editor working for a publisher—will be picking your book apart and finding things you didn’t even suspect weren’t right. They’ll be coming back at you with lists of things that need changing. (They should not be making those changes themselves, beyond maybe correcting simple, obvious stuff like spelling errors; they should just be telling you this passage or that scene needs fixing, and they might suggest ideas for how to fix it. But it’s your book, and how you fix it is up to you.) And you might very well find yourself working to a deadline.

Here’s a story for you; at the time Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia was accepted, I had no idea that I was about to spend the next SEVEN MONTHS editing the typescript for publication. Seven months of working on it evenings after work, and hour upon hour at weekends. It was tough, and not just on me—I swear my wife had plans to throw my laptop out into the yard and then set it on fire. (This is why so many books have an “acknowledgements” page where the author thanks their spouse for putting up with it all for so long. Until you’ve been through it, and put your other half through it, you have no idea just how much mutual understanding is needed for this.) But seeing the book out where people could buy it made it all worth it.

And guess what? Once you’ve been through it once, the lessons you learn will make the next one go that much easier.

That, I think, concludes this short series of posts (unless I think of something else to add). I hope, gentle reader, that this helps in some small way.

Until next time . . .

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