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Publishing

Is Vella Right for You?

Serial publishing–that is, publishing a novel chapter by chapter, often in magazines or other periodicals–has been around for a long time. Charles Dickens was known for it. Now Amazon is getting in on the serial game with a new service called Vella.

I’ve talked about various outlets for self-publishing in the past, including Amazon’s KDP and Kindle Unlimited, so of course I had to look into Vella. I’d guess they created it to compete with services like Webnovel and Dreame, and I’d honestly put more trust into Amazon than those two.

The Details

The Vella store isn’t actually open yet. At the moment, Amazon is encouraging authors to have anywhere from 1-5 chapters (called episodes) ready to roll so they’ll have material available for readers when Vella launches. Honestly, the program sounds a bit like Webtoon, but for books instead of comics. Readers buy tokens to unlock story episodes, and writers earn royalties when readers spend tokens on their stories. The first few episodes of every story are free so readers get a sample before they have to spend money.

Publishing on Vella is a little different than publishing a complete novel through KDP. The content guidelines are available here, but I’ll give you a few highlights:

  • Existing content guidelines for eBooks apply to serials published through Vella, so make sure you’re up to date on those.
  • Vella doesn’t accept anything that’s been previously published in long form. So you can’t break up your existing eBook into a serial format and push it through Vella.
  • They don’t want anything that’s been published online for free–so the story you’ve been posting on your blog is a no-go.
  • No links to outside material in your author’s notes. They don’t want you encouraging readers to navigate away from Vella.

Pricing and Royalties

Royalties are currently 50% of whatever the reader spent on tokens. Your episode’s word count determines how many tokens a reader will pay to unlock it. I’m not comfortable crunching the numbers, but you can read more about that here.

I’ve seen authors in Facebook groups complain about the pay rate, but I couldn’t tell you from personal experience if it’s good or bad compared to non-serial publishing. Obviously it will add up if you attract a lot of readers. Brush up on those marketing skills now, so you’ll be ready to promote your work when Vella launches.

So is Vella worth it?

I honestly couldn’t say. It sounds a bit gimmicky, but the truth is that serialized novels have been popular for a long time. Like, The Pickwick Papers long. They’re not exactly novels, but Webtoon makes a killing off of some of their series. A few of those have even been adapted for other forms of media. God of High School and Tower of God have been made into animated series. Jim Henson Studio is producing a Netflix adaptation of Lore Olympus, and there’s already a ton of merch at stores like Hot Topic and BoxLunch. If Vella takes off, authors who got in on the ground floor might do very well.

Tokens add up though. Readers might end up paying more for a serialized book than they would have paid for an eBook of the same length. If that stays the same, I’m not sure how long Vella will be able to sustain itself. People will eventually get tired of shelling out to read a book one episode at a time when they could just buy a complete novel and be done with it.

I still have questions, too.

What happens when you reach the end of your serial on Vella? According to the current guidelines, you would have to unpublish all episodes if you wanted to publish it as a longform novel rather than a serialized novel. You also can’t sell it in other markets while it’s on Vella, so publishing wide isn’t an option.

I’m also concerned that Vella might go the way of Kindle Worlds, and disappear with little to no notice.

I do like the idea. I just want a little more information before I jump in.

I’ve had good luck with serials before. Years ago, I posted fanfiction online in serial form. At its peak, one of my stories got well over 10,000 visitors per month and it was in a dead fandom. I didn’t get any money from it, obviously, but I did get lots of comments and messages from readers and the attention was fun. Publishing in a serial format could work out pretty well for me. I just want a finalized idea of how earnings would work, and the best way to transition a finished novel off of Vella and into a more typical novel format.

What do you think about Vella? Is it something you would use?

I would consider it, under the right circumstances. Of course, I don’t have anything ready to publish right now, but I’m working on that. What about you? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below.

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Publishing

Finding Freelance Editors

I keep seeing posts in writing groups where people say things like, “I don’t want an editor. They’re going to change my work and then it won’t be mine anymore.” I’m sorry, but that’s not what good editors do. A good editor shows you how to make your work more accessible to others. It’s still your work. They point out errors and weak spots, and they’ll ask you questions to help you determine whether readers are interpreting your writing the way you want them to. This whole process is designed to make your writing stronger and teach you how to be a better writer. Unfortunately, there are bad editors out there, too. Today I want to show you a few ways you can find a good freelance editor, and hopefully avoid the bad ones.

It’s easy for someone who has no qualifications at all to claim they’re a professional editor. I have seen SO many people post warnings about freelance editors who charged hundreds or even thousands of dollars to edit novels and then just ran the whole thing through Grammarly. I’ve also seen a few complaints about editors who took the writer’s deposit and ghosted. Obviously you don’t want to work with anybody like that.

So. Let’s talk about how you can avoid hiring bad freelance editors– shmeditors, if you will.

First, assess your needs

The whole point of editing is to make your work the very best it can be. Of course, everything about writing is subjective. If you show a story to twenty editors, you’re going to get twenty different opinions. There might be some overlap here and there, but maybe not as much as you’d think. We all interpret things a little differently.

Editing is a process that will vary from writer to writer and also from book to book. However, some elements of it will always be the same, and you can use those to vet potential editors.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself if you’re having a hard time figuring things out.

  • Do you have a complete draft of your story? If not, you might want to finish it before spending money on an editor. If you’re really stuck, you might check out this post about writer’s block, or look for a critique partner.
  • Have you tried to proofread or edit on your own? You’d be surprised how many mistakes you’ll catch if you set your draft aside for a couple of weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes. Do this before moving on to a critique partner, beta reader, or professional editor.
  • What do you feel is the weakest thing about your book? What is the strongest? These questions might help you figure out what type of editor you need. If you think your plot is solid, but you want help polishing up your style, you probably want a line editor. If you’re struggling with plot issues, you might need developmental edits. I have more information about types of editors below, so keep on scrolling if you need help in that area.

As a general rule, I try to make sure my draft is as good as I can get it on my own before I present it to anyone else. It’s a waste of time to give a critique partner or editor something that’s full of errors I could have fixed on my own. A lot of editors work either by the word or by the hour, so time might very well equal money if you’re paying them to correct mistakes when you could have done that yourself.

Looking for freelance editors

You can find freelance editors all over the place. I recommend starting with the Editorial Freelancers Association because they offer a lot of resources for both editors and writers. However, if you’re not comfortable with that, you can hop into a writing group on Facebook or put up a tweet. You’ll get dozens, if not hundreds, of responses. You can also try places like Fiverr, Upwork, or Reedsy. (You can contact me, too, but I may not be available.)

Finding editors is not a problem. Vetting editors is a whole different story, though.

Read everything first

Most freelance editors have some kind of platform, whether it’s a personal website, a Facebook page, or a profile on a gig site like Fiverr. Take the time to read whatever they have there so you have an idea of what to expect before you contact them.

They’ll probably have credentials of some kind on their site, too. I don’t care too much about where a potential editor went to school. A lot of courses just don’t offer basic English grammar anymore, so people don’t learn it unless they seek it out on their own. So I take any diplomas or certificates with a grain of salt. It’s nice if an editor has one, but I’m more interested in the work they’ve done. It’s even better if if I’ve read books they’ve worked on, or if I know authors they’ve worked with.

I’m also picky about editors’ online posts to their professional accounts. If I go to an editor’s website or social media account where they advertise their editing service, and I see a lot of errors, I will look elsewhere. I’m not talking about the occasional typo or possible autocorrect mistake–those happen to everyone and they’re hard to catch if you’re in a hurry. I mean consistent, repeat problems. Being casual about spelling and grammar on a personal page is fine, and I won’t hold that against them, but I feel like it’s a little unprofessional on a business page. It’s a bad first impression.

Ask for a sample

In fact, consider it a red flag if an editor doesn’t offer this. Basically, you’ll send them a small sample of your novel–maybe five pages–and they’ll go over it either for free or for a reduced rate. This is so you can see how well you’ll work together, and it also helps the editor decide whether they want to work with you. Sometimes people just aren’t a good fit for each other. It happens. Try not to take it personally if an editor suggests you try someone else.

Developmental editors might ask to preview a larger excerpt, or even the entire manuscript, if they like your first sample. Developmental edits cover the big picture elements in your story, and a few pages might not be enough for an editor to fully assess your work. Get references first if you’re nervous about sending your entire draft to someone without having a contract in place.

What I like to see in a sample edit:
  • Tracked changes Ideally an editor won’t make any changes to your work without some way for you to accept them.
  • Comments Rather than making big changes to your work, the editor should mark sections and tell you what they would like to see instead and why.
  • Strong points marked as well as weak points If there’s something they really like, or they think works really well, they should mention that, too.

Be wary of an editor who rewrites massive chunks of your work for you without your permission. Ideally, the editor should tell you what doesn’t work and why it doesn’t work, and leave you to make any revisions on your own. Small corrections like spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors are fine, but they should still be tracked so you’re aware the editor altered your work.

Some writers may want the editor to rewrite everything

It’s fine if that’s what you prefer, but I think that makes it even more important to check them out thoroughly and make sure you trust them before giving them free rein over your work. So get a sample, get references, read some of their other work if you can.

I feel uncomfortable about letting a freelance editor rewrite my story for me. It wouldn’t be mine anymore at that point. I think I’d have to consider them a co-author, and give them appropriate credit. However, I can’t speak for everyone. If a writer feels like they need that kind of help, they should absolutely go for it.

Get references

Ask potential editors for references. If you’re lucky, they’ll have a list of published clients on their website and you can take a glace at their clients’ work and see how you feel about it.

If you have a writer friend whose work is always expertly polished, ask them about their editor. It’s possible that editor will work with you, too.

Don’t pay 100% up front

Most editors have a pay schedule, and it varies somewhat from person to person. Generally you put down some kind of deposit when you submit your story to them, and then pay the rest either in installments or prior to delivery of the finished document.

A deposit is reasonable, but I’d be concerned about an editor who insists on a full payment up front. What happens if they don’t finish the job?

Most editing is probably non-refundable

Read contracts before you agree to anything, and get a sample first. Don’t sign on with a freelance editor unless you’re confident in their ability. You probably won’t have much recourse if you’re dissatisfied after the fact, so make sure you ask lots of questions and inform your editor about any concerns you have up front. Also, be sure to save all communications you have with your editor, just in case you need to refer back to them later.

Sometimes the writer is the problem

I’m not trying to be mean here, but we can’t put all of the blame on the editors. Sometimes novice writers don’t do their research and don’t know what they’re getting into.

What kind of edits do you need?

Before you hire an editor, take a moment to figure out what kind of editing your book needs. Here are the kinds of editors you’re most likely to come across:

  • Developmental editors: These editors help you with the macro parts of your story. That is, plot and structure, character development, and things of that nature.
  • Line editors: A line editor helps you with your story’s style. They’re going to help make your work shine, but it’s mainly on a micro level.
  • Copy editors: While a line editor will help you with a story’s style, a copy editor helps with its mechanics. They look for spelling and grammar errors, and they might also check for things like continuity and consistency. Some line editors also do copy editing as part of their process.
  • Proofreaders: They also check for spelling, grammar, and consistency. Generally the proofreader is the last person to go over a story, just to catch anything the author or other editors might have missed.

There are freelance editors out there who do it all, from developmental down to copy edit. If you need that kind of service, feel free to use it. (My specialty is line editing, if you were wondering. I can do line and copy edits together, but developmental edits just aren’t my strong suit.)

Don’t assume edits equal acceptance

Most freelance editors don’t directly work for publishing companies or literary agents. Publishing is a highly subjective and selective business, and a freelance editor can’t guarantee their help will land you a spot with this agent or that publisher.

I know it’s not fun to spend a lot of money on an editor just to get rejected afterward, but that’s how it can be in the traditional world.

If you’re self-publishing, you can’t assume edits will equal sales.

However, a solid edit will probably mean better reviews (or at least fewer bad reviews), which might help you gain sales in the future.

You don’t have to accept every suggestion the editor makes

At the end of the day, you’re the one writing the story. Editors can mark it up however they want, but you don’t have to use any of their advice if you don’t like it. If you’re on the fence about whether to take specific suggestions, you might ask them to explain their opinions in more detail.

Here’s hoping you only meet good freelance editors

Have you ever worked with a freelance editor before? Feel free to share your experience in a comment. Also, use those social media buttons to share this with your writer friends. Let’s get the word out so fewer people fall prey to bad editors. Thanks, everyone!

I know that was a lot, but I hope it saves someone from getting scammed. Watch out for shmeditors, folks.

Image credit: Nordwood Themes

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Publishing

True or False: Self-published Books

I want to play a game.

No, not that kind of game.

Today, I want to talk about some of the things I’ve seen posted and written online about self-published books and authors. Some of them are pretty gross, and I just wanted to take a minute and clear up some confusion. So let’s get started.

If indie books were any good, a traditional publisher would accept them.

False. Not to mention rude. Traditional publishers are very, very picky about what they accept. It’s a difficult industry to break into, and it’s highly subjective.

Also, some authors don’t understand what they’re getting into before they get pretty far into the process. There are indie authors who initially accepted book deals from traditional publishers and then backed out of their contracts to self-publish instead because they wanted more control over their work.

Self-published books are low quality

It depends. If the author does their homework and is careful about formatting and so on, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between a self-published book and a traditionally published book.

I have a copy of The Frozen Flame (not an affiliate link) by Sionna Trenz and it’s a great looking book. I haven’t finished reading it yet, so I don’t feel comfortable talking about the content until I do, but the physical copy of the book itself is very nice. Nobody would know just from looking at it that it didn’t come from a major traditional publishing company.

Self-publishing is hard

Mostly true? Everyone has their own threshold of what’s easy vs what’s hard, but it is true that more work falls on authors who self-publish. Publishing is not just an art, it’s also a business. Indie authors are responsible for sourcing out editors, cover designs, formatting their books, doing all of their marketing, creating ad campaigns, and so on. They also have to watch out for scammers if they choose to hire editors or designers to help them with this process. (I have an upcoming post about hiring editors, so keep an eye out for that).

Traditionally published authors often don’t get a choice in their covers. The publishing company helps with editing and proofreading, formatting, and some of the marketing. However, it’s still a business and there’s still more to it than just writing a book and handing it off to the publisher.

If you self-publish a book, you can’t traditionally publish it later

Mostly true, but there have been some exceptions. Generally those exceptions are mega bestsellers. Think Fifty Shades of Grey big.

You can’t buy self-published books in a brick and mortar bookstore

False. I mean, there will be some indie books that you won’t be able to find in a brick and mortar store, or at the library, but it is possible to distribute self-published books to stores. I’m not going to get off topic and go into those details today, but you can look here and here if you want to know more about that.

Game over!

I’ll probably revisit this topic when I have more self-publishing myths to bust (or confirm), but I think I’ve covered enough for one day. What do you think? Feel free to share your own myths in the comments below!

Image Credit: Content Pixie

Related posts: Legit self-publishing options

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Publishing

Legit self-publishing options

I’ve spent the past few days talking about traditional publishing things: agents, big publishing companies, and scammers like vanity presses. Today I want to share a few safe self-publishing companies. I’m not going into every step of the self-publishing process, because I think that’s more material than I can cover in one blog post, but at the very least I want to give you somewhere to start.

This is a bit more complicated than traditional publishing–at least to me–because the author is in charge of so much. There are a lot of options, so you need to do your research and figure out what’s going to work best for you.

Amazon

I’m going to be up-front here and say that I’m not much of an Amazon fan. For better or for worse, though, their Kindle Direct Publishing service is probably the biggest ebook market that exists right now, so I can accept that I have to put my personal feelings aside. Amazon actually has three publishing options: KDP, KDP Select, and Amazon Publishing. Amazon Publishing operates more like a traditional publisher, so we’re not going to worry about that one today.

KDP

KDP is one of the most accessible platforms for self-publishing. Literally anybody can upload a book and sell it through Amazon, and set-up might take a few hours at the most. It doesn’t cost anything to upload your book, and you get a decent chunk of the royalties once it starts selling. Unfortunately, they can cut your royalty share in half if you don’t stick with their pricing scheme: Anything less than $2.99 or more than $9.99 receives a 35% royalty, while books priced between within that range will get you a 70% royalty. You can sell ebooks or print books, and Amazon offers marketing tools as well.

KDP Select

I don’t like KDP Select for one simple reason: If you choose to publish with them, the digital version of your book is exclusively theirs. You can sell physical copies through other outlets, but you can’t sell your ebook anywhere other than Amazon–not even on your own website. I would want more distribution options than that, so I’m not interested in KDP Select. However, there are a few perks like free promotions, countdown deals, and enrollment in Kindle Unlimited.

Barnes and Noble Press

Barnes and Noble isn’t as big as Amazon, but their royalty rates are still competitive (40% for books under $2.99 and 65% for books between $2.99 and $9.99) and it’s apparently easy to upload a book onto their platform. It’s also free to upload a book, and they’re working on adding more marketing tools for authors. They don’t require exclusivity like KDP Select, either.

Kobo

Once again, it’s free to upload books to Kobo. For royalties in the U.S., you’re looking at 45% for books under $2.99, and 70% for anything $2.99 and up. I don’t know if that’s different for international users. Kobo is Canadian, and they’re subsidized by a Japanese company, so they have a pretty big international reach.

There are some perks if you distribute through Kobo rather than through an aggregator, so look into that before you make any final decisions.

Aggregators

An aggregator is a service that helps you publish your book to multiple markets at a time. In exchange for their service, the aggregator takes a cut of your royalties.

Draft 2 Digital

It’s free to sign up with Draft 2 Digital, and they charge 10% of the royalty for every copy sold. They do the formatting for you, which is nice, and their user interface is apparently very easy to work. They also distribute to a lot of different markets, so your book will be widely available.

Smashwords

From what I’ve read, Smashwords isn’t quite as user-friendly as Draft 2 Digital, and you have to do your own formatting. They also don’t distribute to Amazon, so you’re losing out on a huge market there, or at least having to navigate that part of distribution yourself. The fee is 15% of the royalty from the Smashwords store, or 10% anywhere else.

The vanity press rule still applies

If a publisher wants you to pay them in advance, rather than through a cut of your sales, there’s a good chance they’re scammers. Do your research before you sign anything or spend anything. Look at reviews of that publisher and find out what authors are saying about them.

I feel like this is probably enough to get you started. I’d like to be able to offer more self-publishing help in the future, but it’s something I’m still trying to learn. What are your thoughts? I’d probably forego some royalties and use an aggregator service.

Tomorrow I’m getting back to more general information, and I have a silly post about the Dunning Kruger Effect. I hope you’ll be back too.

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Publishing

Vanity Presses

I’ve been talking about various aspects of publishing for the last few days. Today I want to talk about publishing’s dark side: vanity presses.

What are vanity presses?

So. We’ve talked about how traditional publishing works before. I don’t think I need to go over all that today, since there’s only one part that’s really relevant to this post. All of the money in a traditional book deal flows from the publisher to the author (the author’s agent gets their cut, of course). The author does not pay the publisher a dime.

Vanity presses advertise themselves as publishers. They even send out acceptance letters, as though there was a chance they wouldn’t accept the author’s manuscript. However, unlike a legitimate publisher, vanity presses expect the author to cover all of the production costs up front. They cut corners. You won’t get much, if any, editing. The cover art will probably be a mess. Physical copies of the book most likely won’t be well made, and vanity presses don’t do much (if any) distribution or marketing. The author has to figure that out on their own. Adding insult to injury, the author might have to pay full markup (or close to it) on top of their original “investment” for copies of their book, and the vanity press might also assume rights over the book if the author isn’t careful about reading their contract before signing.

Many, many times, I’ve seen writers post in Facebook groups, “I just got accepted by Xyz Publishing! They want $7,000 to publish my book. Is that a good price or should I submit elsewhere?”

Those are the lucky ones, because someone in the group usually points out pretty fast that it’s a scam.

The sad stories come from the authors who post after the fact. “Xyz Publishing agreed to publish my book for $7,000. They didn’t edit anything, the covers are ugly, and the books–which cost me an additional $20 per copy–are falling to pieces. What can I do?”

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know if they’d have any degree of success if they sued their publisher, but my gut tells me they’re probably never seeing that money again.

How does this happen?

Part of it is due to inexperience and a lack of research on the author’s part. So shout it from the rooftops: Legitimate publishers don’t take money from authors.

Another part of their equation is high-pressure sales tactics. People who work at vanity presses will flatter authors and try to convince them they’re making an investment to protect their valuable writing. They’ll also try to get writers on the phone so they can apply even more pressure and flattery. Sometimes they’ll outright lie and say things like, “We’re going to do your first print run for $10,000. Once those copies sell, Harper Collins will pick you up for reprints.” That isn’t happening, sorry. Vanity presses appeal to the author’s vanity–thus the name–and then scam them out of their life savings. Don’t let it happen to you.

The final part of this is a lingering mistrust in self-publishing. A lot of people out there assume that self-published books are lower quality, unprofitable, and a last resort for writers who didn’t have the talent to publish traditionally. Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-published books out there that are just bad, and that adds to this problem. (There are a lot of traditionally published books out there that are bad, too, so please don’t think I’m dumping on self-pubbed authors.)

Hybrid Publishers

Let’s make things even more confusing, shall we? Hybrid publishers operate very much like a vanity press–the author has to pay up front, and doesn’t get an advance on their royalties–but they offer real support to writers. Hybrid publishers have higher standards, though; they won’t accept literally any manuscript that shows up in their inbox, unlike vanity presses. Some hybrid publishers even work with literary agents.

With all of that being said, I’d still feel a little iffy about publishing with a hybrid press. Have a good look at the other books they’ve published, and maybe even reach out to the authors and ask about their experience, before signing anything. If your story is good enough for a hybrid, it’s probably good enough for a traditional publisher, too. Keep looking.

One last scam to watch out for

This one isn’t a vanity press either, but it’s still super shady. Webnovel likes to get in touch with writers who post their work online and offer to publish stories on their app. They send those messages to pretty much everyone on Wattpad, okay? (Wattpad is problematic, too, but we’ll discuss that another day). Even fan fiction writers get them, which should tell you something.

Webnovel has two problems that I’m aware of–you have to give up the rights to your work and the pay is next to nothing. Apparently plagiarism is also an issue, but I haven’t looked into that very deeply.

I’ve heard similar things about another app called Dreame, but I haven’t looked into that. Just remember that offers that seem too good to be true usually are. Do your research before you sign anything.

Please do whatever you need to do to protect your work

Phew! That felt like a lot, but it’s good to get it out of the way. The unfortunate truth is that scammers are everywhere these days, and we writers need to look out for one another. Please, please share this post with your writer friends. Let’s do what we can to take business away from vanity presses that like to prey on authors.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about legitimate places to self-publish. I hope you’ll be back for that. How’s your NaNoWriMo progress going? Please leave a comment below and let us know!

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Publishing

Big Five Publishers and Imprints

Let’s talk about publishers today. Self-publishing keeps getting bigger and bigger, but traditional publishers still control a large share of the market. They’ve been around a long time. They have the knowledge and the finances to do things that most individuals just can’t. I’m not saying they’re perfect, just that it doesn’t hurt to know more about them, even if you’re not planning on publishing traditionally.

I also want to talk about why they’re not all that important. They matter, but they also don’t matter. It’s an interesting place to be, isn’t it?

First off, who are they?

There actually used to be six major publishing houses, but Penguin and Random House merged, so now we’re down to five. (Some people consider Scholastic to be the sixth now, but mostly I keep hearing big five, so that’s what we’re going with today.)

It’s hard to give a concise history of each group because they’re all made up of various imprints and sub-imprints, which have changed owners and even names more times than I think any of you would care to read about. Some of their earliest iterations have been around since the early 19th century. Rather than try to get into that tangled web, I’m just giving you their names.

Penguin Random House

Hachette Book Group

Harper Collins

Simon and Schuster

Macmillan

Okay, so what are imprints?

Imprints are like sub-publishers that are owned by the big five. They’re sometimes used for marketing purposes, to allow publishers to group certain kinds of books together as a brand, or to market to certain demographics. Some imprints even have imprints under them, aka sub-imprints.

Also, even though the major publishers themselves don’t accept unagented manuscripts, sometimes their imprints do. You can read more about that here. (Unfortunately, it seems some of these programs have been suspended due to Covid 19. Maybe put a pin in this and check back when things calm down a bit.)

Why does this matter?

As far as readers are concerned, it doesn’t matter at all. Think about the last book you read. Do you know who published it off the top of your head? Or what bigger publisher owned the imprint that published it? Most people don’t keep track of those details.

From a writer’s point of view, there’s a little more to consider.

Legitimacy

It’s pretty easy to look up a publisher’s name and see if they’re a big five imprint and not a vanity press. No, really, do this. It might save you from getting scammed.

Something to talk about

Let’s call it clout, or maybe bragging rights. Like, some writers would be really happy if the same company that published their favorite author is now publishing them, too. It doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a fun thought, you know?

On sort of a related note, some publishers might nominate your work for certain literary awards. Winning an award might boost your sales a bit. Some awards also come with trophies or other prizes. Again, maybe not a big deal, but it’s something fun to consider.

Financials

Big publishers have bigger budgets than small ones usually do. You might get a better advance or larger royalty payments, or a contract to write multiple books rather than just one. You might get a better marketing campaign than a smaller publisher could provide. (The opposite of this can also be true: sometimes big publishers have more clients, and therefore less to go around.)

Unfortunately, though, you don’t always get a choice in your publisher. The big five publishers and their imprints rarely accept unsolicited manuscripts so you can’t just shoot an email over to the acquisitions editor at, say, Little, Brown, and Co., and expect an offer.

As a general rule, you need an agent if you want to publish through a traditional publisher. Even if you get accepted at an indie publisher (aka a publisher that’s not affiliated with the big five) or a smaller imprint that accepts unagented submissions, an agent can help you negotiate a better contract than you probably could on your own. If your manuscript is accepted without an agent, go ahead and contact a few. There’s a good chance you’ll find one willing to represent you.

The big five publishers are great, but they’re not your only option.

One of my goals for this website is to try and demystify traditional publishing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to self-publish, but there’s a lot of misinformation out there about traditional publishing. I think a lot of writers get intimidated by the traditional process and jump into self-publishing because they don’t think they have a chance in the traditional world, or because they think they have to have a lot of money and connections before they’ll be taken seriously. None of that is true.

Whichever way you go, you’re going to have to make choices and put in work. I think it’s important to do the research up front and come up with a publishing strategy that works for you. If you liked this post, or if you have any questions, please leave me a comment and let me know. Thanks!

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about vanity presses. Please come back and read that one, because it might save you from getting scammed!

Categories
Publishing

Agent Advice

Agents are a hot topic on Facebook writing groups. Some people idolize them. Some people think it’s impossible to get an agent without money or connections, and tend to refer to them as elitists. Others call agents scammers or thieves. Most of those people are wrong, at least on some level.

To be fair, agents are people. Just like all people, no two agents are the same. Some of them are very good at what they do, others are not, and most fall somewhere in the middle.

Today, I want to go over what agents do, why you might want to have one on your side, and things that might help you get an agent.

What does a literary agent do?

An agent is an author’s gateway to most traditional publishers. They help you get your manuscript to editors at publishing companies that might want to buy it. They also negotiate contracts and can help you manage your writing career. Not all agents are lawyers, but most of them understand the legal aspects of publishing. They can help you with whatever you need to know about your contract and your rights regarding your work. They can also help you if you have disputes with your publisher.

Some agents will help with setting up speaking engagements and interviews.

Reputable agents don’t get paid until you get paid. Their commission is usually something like 10-20 percent of your earnings. If an agent asks you for a reading fee, or a processing fee, or any other kind of payment up front, they are not a good agent. Stay away!

Why you might want an agent

In addition to all of the above, having an agent gives you more time to focus on writing. You don’t have to worry about keeping up with various publishers’ submission guidelines. You don’t have to put a pitch packet together by yourself, or negotiate your contracts by yourself. There are publishers out there that accept unagented manuscripts, but having an agent might mean more money, or more control over certain parts of the creative process.

If you’re dead set on self-publishing, you probably don’t need an agent. There are good things about self-publishing: you get full control of your work, and you don’t have to share a cut of your earnings with an agent. However, a lot of the self-published authors I’ve talked to just don’t get good sales. They struggle with marketing. Some of them have been scammed. I’d much rather leave all of those details to professionals and be free to concentrate on writing.

Things you can do to get an agent

This could probably be an entire post all on its own, but let’s go over a few basics today.

First off, no, you don’t need “connections” to get an agent. Unfortunately, timing, luck, and the agent’s personal preferences and current workload play a part in their decisions. You can’t control any of that, though, so focus on your manuscript and query letter, and remember that this is a numbers game.

Your manuscript needs to be in its absolute best shape. Polish it up on your own as much as you can, and have someone (preferably several someones) give it a thorough critique. Don’t fall into the trap of only polishing your sample pages, and leaving the rest for later. You’re going to be embarrassed if they ask for a full and you can’t provide it.

Your query letter needs to be in its best shape. I’ll write about query letters at some point, but I haven’t done enough research to give you any solid tips. You’re just going to have to trust me on this for now. Check websites like Query Shark for help.

Follow the agent’s guidelines. Check their website if you’re feeling lost.

Don’t give up too soon. I’ve heard of authors deciding to quit after four or five rejections, and that’s way too early. I’d cut my losses at 100 rejections, but not before then. Query Tracker is a tool you can use to help organize your query process.

Keep writing! If you’re querying one manuscript, write another while you wait for responses. Write short stories! Enter contests, take a course. Whatever you do, keep working on your writing and doing what you can to improve your craft.

Persistence is important. Don’t give up too soon.

I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery out of literary agents today. It’s not impossible for even an unknown author to land an agent as long as their work is good and they’re persistent with their queries. I’ll probably write about agents again, or at least about the querying process again, so keep an eye out for that. If you need me to address something from today’s post in more detail, or if you’d like to add to this, please leave a comment below.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about Big Five publishers and their imprints. I hope you’ll be back for that.