Friday, 14 December 2012

So You Want To Get Published? Part Two.

Here is the second post in my mini-series on how to submit your work to magazines, agents or publishers. In the first part, we covered polishing your work, deciding where to send it, and organizing your Submission Package. This post takes up right after you have sent that package off.

5: Wait!
This is the hard bit. If your target’s stated wait time elapses, it is acceptable to make polite contact and ask for a status update. Make sure you include the correct references so the agent or publisher knows who you are. If you still receive no reply, and the time goes way over, then forget this one and move on. Magazine submissions are different, many magazine editors will keep stories or articles until they think the time is right to publish them. Usually, they will tell you this, but not always. If you get fed up and want to submit your work elsewhere, you MUST write and let them know.

6: Note on Research:
While you are researching publishers and agents, do remember that THEY might also research YOU. Publishing is a relationship, and both parties need to know they can work happily with each other. Social media makes it easy for publishers and agents to research writers. If you have ever been online or joined any kind of social network, you can be traced. Even if the network was taken down, or you deleted your online profile. Such information NEVER disappears from the web. Be professional at all times. NEVER vent spleen online at anyone in the writing industry, or anyone else for that matter. It is too easy to acquire the wrong reputation. When you are rich and famous you might be able to get away with bad-mouthing people, such things can even result in publicity and increased interest, wrong though that is. But if you are a beginner in the industry, avoid doing anything that could label you a rebel, difficult to work with, or prejudiced. You should try to cultivate a professional online presence. 

7: Rejections.
Develop Rhino Hide!
The time spent waiting for a response to your submissions is a good time to develop a really thick skin. Because unless you are phenomenally lucky, you will receive many rejections. DO NOT TAKE THEM PERSONALLY. We all get them. Unless you’re a celebrity or have done something truly fantastic, you will be rejected. Publishing success is often a case of submitting to the right place at the right time. Editors change all the time and the publishing house that turns you down one year might accept you the next, purely because they have a new editor.
Do not expect personal responses. Most agents/publishers use stock rejection letters. It simply saves them time. They are busy people, yes – but it is good to remember who it is that enables them to be busy. You and me: Writers. So keep trying!

If you are lucky enough to get personalized rejections, take good note of what they say. Agents and publishers do not have to do this, and when they do it is often an indication that you are doing something right. If they make any specific comments on your work, think very carefully before ignoring them. These are industry professionals – they know what they are talking about. During my own submitting experience, I received many personal responses from agents and publishers. All of them praised my work, all encouraged me to keep submitting. This was hugely uplifting, but also highly frustrating! However, it did galvanize me to carry on, and I now know why I didn’t achieve success in those early years. Not only was my novel not quite perfect enough, but the perfect publishers for me didn’t then exist. They do now, and I am so pleased I wasn’t offered a contract by anyone else.
If you are rejected, do not enter into tit-for-tat discussions. I once replied to an agent who had read all three books in my first trilogy yet still rejected me. It was my own fault – I had convinced myself she would take me on simply because she’d invested so much time in reading. I sent the letter with the most innocent of intentions, yet received a quite vitriolic return email branding me “the very worst kind of author”. It  reduced me to tears, because it was so untrue. I simply couldn’t understand why this had happened but when I calmed down and re-read the email I’d sent, I could see how it could be misconstrued. Remember, when sending emails, that the recipient cannot hear the tone of your voice. A little joke could be read as criticism, a question can come across as an arrogant statement.
So – no knee jerk reactions to rejection letters. Take a deep breath, use that rhino hide and start again. Be positive. Success comes to successful people because of their positive attitude. If you are not positive about your work, why should anyone else be?
8: Agent Acceptance.
Here I have no personal experience, as I do not have an agent. But the situation will be similar to acceptance by a publisher. Make sure that you like the agent and can work with him/her. You will have to develop a close working relationship and trust them to know their job. Read the contract carefully and get someone to help you if you’re not experienced with contracts. Make sure there is a mutual ‘get out’ clause if the relationship breaks down, or you don’t like the agent’s work.
9: Publishing Acceptance!
Wow! Be excited, be proud. Do your screaming and celebrating in private, so you can be calm and professional when speaking to your publisher. You will be offered a contract, so go through it carefully or show it to someone who knows about them. In the UK, anyone who has a firm offer from a publisher is eligible to join the Society of Authors and they can help with advice on contracts. Be aware, though, that they might not be definitive if your offer is from a US publisher, or any country other then the UK. If you are not happy with the level of royalty you are offered, or anything else in your contract, don’t be afraid to negotiate (in as professional a manner as possible). Do though, be prepared to have to sign it as is.
Don’t expect an advance for your book. Generally speaking, those days are over. Only celebrities get advances now.
Treat all your publishing dealings as a business. Keep meticulous records of any costs you incur as an author, such as for professional photographs, business cards, or travel costs. Try to speak with your publisher in person, by phone or Skype; emailing is not ideal unless it’s for something simple. Your manuscript will be copy edited and some editors may suggest revisions. They will know what’s best for your book, so accommodate them unless there’s a really good reason not to. Always discuss your thoughts, concerns and ideas. Your publisher now owns your book – work with them to make it a success.
If you are permitted input into your cover image, book layout, etc, then consider yourself fortunate. Do listen to your publisher if they have a firm idea for the cover, even if you don’t like it. They will have a better idea of what kind of covers sell books than you do.
Royalties will vary between publishers, and also between different book formats. On a sliding scale, you can typically expect to be paid between 6% and 15 % of sales. The percentage will depend on whether it’s a print book, an ebook or an audio book. Do not expect to immediately make a living from your sales! It can take quite a while for a new author to build up a fan base.

10: Marketing.
Things have changed in the publishing industry as they have elsewhere, and marketing budgets for new, unknown authors have suffered. These days, we are all expected to help market our own books, even authors published by one of the “Big 6”. If you can accept this right from the start, and begin thinking up ways to market yourself and your book, you will be ahead of the game when that all-important contract comes your way. An author who can bring good marketing ideas to the table will be considered an asset by a publisher.
But where to start? If you can, identify your novel’s USP (Unique Selling Point). If you really can’t find one (and if you can’t, chances are neither will your publisher, so you may not get a contract) try to find a personal one, something related to you as an author.
I will give you an example. My USP is singing. That’s not unique, I know; I’m sure many authors can also sing. But how many do you know who have both written and recorded songs that are associated with their novels? Not many, I bet! My fantasy novels are set in a medieval-style world and in that era singing was a popular and respected form of entertainment. It was natural for me to include references to singing in my books, and my main female character is a singer. King’s Envoy actually includes a song in poem form, and so I made use of my musical brother and his song-writing partner to help me put a melody to the poem and record it as a song. “The Wheel Will Turn” is available on my website and my publishers’ as a free download, and it will soon be joined by “The Ballad of Tallimore”, the song from King’s Champion. We performed “The Wheel” live in a shopping mall at the launch for King’s Envoy, and I have used it to gain interest from various radio stations, who then aired interviews and played the song.
This is just an example. What can you use, either from your book or your personal life, to help promote your work?

As an author, I’m often asked about Facebook and Twitter, and whether writers need a website. My answer is: Can you afford to ignore these great marketing platforms? I don’t think so. However, your involvement with them can be as little or as much as you want. Don’t let them rule you. I do use Facebook (although I can’t get to grips with Twitter!) and I do have a website. I think they are essential for allowing readers to connect with you. If they are interested in you as a person, they are more likely to buy your books. I also contribute to writers’ forums and swap interviews on blogs. I have a blog of my own (clearly, since you are reading this!). The internet is so much a part of our lives these days that I do believe even the older writer should learn how to use it to their advantage. For those who really can’t face it, do you have a younger family member who could be persuaded, coerced, or bribed into doing it for you? It’s something to think about.
Book signings are another good way for authors to connect with readers. If you approach them professionally, many bookstores will be happy to host you. Libraries are also good places to hold signings. Give talks to writers’ groups and even schools, if your books are appropriate. Don’t forget local papers and radio stations – you don’t need to have a song to get a radio interview!
Marketing need not be an albatross about your neck. Connecting with other writers and potential readers can be fun, and very rewarding.

11: Write More Books/Stories/Letters!
The best way to get your name “out there” and create a reader fan base is to Write More Books. Don’t rest on your laurels if you achieve publication – keep those creative juices running by continuing to write. The more readers hear your name and the titles of your books, the more likely they are to buy.
Good luck!

12: Self-Publishing.
If the goal of “traditional” publishing fails you, then there is always the self-publishing route. This is not necessarily second best, and it is losing some of the stigma it first had. However, there are undoubtedly some very bad self-published books out there. I do not propose to go into great detail about the various self-publishing methods or sites here – it is too wide a subject – but I would certainly not discount self-publishing. I would have gone that route myself had I not found my own, fantastic publisher!
What I will say is this: If you do decide to self-publish, please remember that making your writing the absolute best it can be is more important than ever. You will not have the advantage of an editor, so PLEASE hire one (a good one!) to proof your novel. So many times I’ve seen an otherwise great book receive a mediocre review because the writer either failed to realize he wasn’t good at spelling, grammar, sentence structure or plotting, or because he simply thought readers wouldn’t care. If you want people to pay good money for your work, you HAVE to give them value for it. Writing is a business – be professional and don’t let yourself or your work down!

As well as being an author, I’m also a freelance editor and proof reader. Please check out my Writers’ Services, and don’t let the thought of high fees put you off. I believe good editing should be available to all, and because I like to help other writers, I do not have a fixed tariff. I prefer to agree individual fees with each client, tailored to what they can afford. So don’t be afraid to email me and ask for a quote. Here’s the link to my website, where you can also find testimonials from authors and writers I have already helped.
I wish you the very best of luck, and I look forward to working with some of you.
Cas Peace.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

So You Want To Get Published?

On Monday 10th December, I was invited to speak to a Creative Writing group in my local Library on the subject of Revision and Publishing. It was well received, so I thought I would reproduce it here on my Blog. It is a lengthy subject so I have split it into two parts. Here’s the first:
Congratulations …
… if you are at the stage when you are thinking seriously about trying to get your work published. You Are A Writer – you have produced something unique and enduring. You are already a winner: Be proud of yourself!
So now – what do you do with it? Before I go into detail, you might like to consider this statement: Becoming a published author is not for everyone. It is not as simple as it might seem, there are hidden aspects that you don’t always find out about until it’s too late. I will talk about some of these in this post. Just remember; you don’t have to be published to be vindicated as a writer, or for your work to have meaning. If you still want to go ahead and explore the submission process, here are a few tips.

1: Make Your Writing as Perfect as it Can Be.

This might sound like an obvious thing to say, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother too much with this. I have often heard writers say, “I only need to have a good story/poem/novel, don’t I? Surely the publisher’s editor will correct any mistakes? After all, that’s their job.” WRONG!
Yes, if you are lucky enough to land a publishing contract, your editor will copy edit your work and help you do a final polish. But it is NOT their job to catch typos, silly continuity errors, bad grammar or spelling. That’s YOUR job as a writer. Think about it: If you were a painter, would you expect the gallery where you want to exhibit your picture to correct that wonky nose on your portrait? Of course not. 
To help you perfect your writing, you can use beta readers. Beta readers are people that you can persuade, coerce (or sometimes pay) to read your work with a critical eye. You can, of course, ask friends and family to do this for you, provided you think they will be able to give you an unbiased and honest response. They should also be competent in their use of the English language (or whatever language you write in). If you cannot find suitable friends, join a writing circle or find a writing tutor. You can even use a professional or freelance editor. You would have to pay one of these of course, and their fees vary widely. Research them well! You could even join ‘peer critique’ websites such as, which is run by HarperCollins, or which was developed with Arts Council funding. These sites allow you to upload some or all of your writing and invite other users to read and critique your work. Editors of publishing houses might also trawl these sites, looking for good books to publish. Such sites can be hard work, but I think they’re worth it. My own first fantasy novel King’s Envoy achieved the top slot by being voted on to Authonomy’s “Editor’s Desk” back in 2008, and on the way I received many helpful suggestions as to how it could be improved. Sites like this also get you used to having people comment critically on your work, something you need to face if you’re going to try for publication.

My final tip for this section is: DO NOT rely on your computer program’s spell checker to proof your writing!

2: Decide.
Once you have set your sights on publication, you have to decide whether to try for an agent, or submit direct to publishers. You can, of course, do both, although some of the bigger publishing houses do not accept submissions from unagented writers. There is also self-publishing to consider – more on that subject later.

If you decide to try for an agent – good luck! Personally, I think they are harder to get than publishers. As a general guide, agents will charge you commission of typically 15-20%, either direct or from your royalties. They may also charge you for phone calls, printing costs, mailing, etc. Do ask to have all costs explained and itemized before you sign any agreement. Read such agreements carefully, and if you are not confident of your skill in this department, find someone to help you. It would definitely be worth paying an industry professional to vet any contract before you sign. It could save you money in the long run.
Publishers shouldn’t charge you anything at all. I firmly believe that any publisher who asks you to contribute toward costs is not worth their salt. I am a champion of independent publishers (aka indie publishers, or indies) because they are likely to work harder for you and your book than a “Big 6” publisher that has more of a budget behind it. The indie will have more to lose than you if your book is not successful!
You can expect to be paid royalties ranging from around 6% up to maybe 12%, but do remember that these will fluctuate depending on the publisher, and also whether they are selling a hardback print edition, a paperback, an audiobook or an ebook. You might get a chance to negotiate royalties, but don’t hold your breath. DO NOT expect an advance on your book – such things are largely in the past. If you are a celebrity of any sort then an advance is still possible. If you are simply a new writer, then generally it is not.

3: Do Your Research – and Beware!
Once you have decided which route to take, it is time to do some serious research. It doesn’t matter whether your writing is a letter to the editor, a short story, a poem, or a novel – you must find what you believe is the best home for it and make a list of the possible choices. At this stage, you should be regarding your efforts as part of a business – Yes, really! Be organized and keep strict records of where and whom you submit to. Some editors take months to reply to submissions and there’s nothing more embarrassing than sending the same submission to an editor you’ve already approached. They will not be impressed!
You can do plenty of research online, or through books and magazines. Obtain or borrow a current edition of the Artists & Writers’ Yearbook – your local Library should have a copy. Make sure it is CURRENT because agents’ and publishers’ details change frequently. Ask other writers where they have submitted. There are websites which offer information on agents and publishers and who is accepting what – most of these will charge you a joining fee, although it is often small. I used which I found to be extremely useful. Their current monthly subscription is £2.99 or $4.49 (as of December 2012), but there are other options available. Their site information says they update their database daily and they provide worldwide information. You can also use writers’ magazines; either buy a subscription or ask your Library if they keep copies. My personal favourite is Writers’ News, which also has an online version at, but there are plenty of other good ones out there.

If you are submitting short stories, or poems, or letters to magazines, either digital or print, do be aware that they often do not pay for your work. My thinking on this is that I would far rather get my work into print and start to get my name known than worry about being paid a few pounds. Once you have achieved that initial publication, you can then add this to your Query Letter (see below). Even having a Letter to the Editor published counts toward your publishing experience. So don’t worry if you are not offered payment for your smaller works. 

It’s a sad fact that there are plenty of charlatans and unscrupulous people in the publishing world – just as there are in every aspect of life. The term “Buyer Beware” can be applied here too. This is why research is so important. Joining a writer’s forum can be a great way of learning where the baddies are hiding - is a good one to use. The website Preditors and Editors is another good place to find out of your chosen agent or publisher has any black marks against them. Be a little circumspect here though – this website has a policy of not changing its opinion even if the agency or publisher concerned improves their game.
Also be wary of publishing houses that use Google ads or adverts on other websites to tout for business. Generally, the good ones do not have to advertise!
I will append my own sorry tale of woe here. There are still agents who charge a Reading Fee before they will read your work. While I am not saying that all of these are scammers (because I do not have experience of them all) I will advise you to tread warily. When I first began submitting my work, I was taken in by an agency that said they would love to read my novel provided I paid their reading fee. They gave what sounded like good reasons for charging for this service, and also told me I would receive a critique of my book. In my naivety I thought this was a good idea, so I duly paid. Time went by, and although I had several email conversations with the agency, I was always told that a decision was just around the corner. However, it was the agent who disappeared "around the corner" by absconding with several writers’ fees. She never reappeared. I was devastated, furious and felt like a fool - which of course, I was. I could only put the episode down to experience.
You have been warned!

4. Submission Package.

So, having done your research and made your list of suitable agents/publishers, what should you do next? You can buy books on the submission process, and also books on what agents and publishers are looking for. You can also find a wealth of information online. Most agents and publishers also have websites, and these will tell you exactly what they are looking for and how you should present it to them. If you don’t have access to the Internet, you can always phone them and ask. If you do this, also ask for the name of the person to whom you should submit. The personal touch goes a long way. Just make sure you spell their name correctly!

4a) Query Letter.
A good query letter is a must. If you are not good at letters, you can find many examples online. Some sites will show a successful letter alongside an unsuccessful one, so you can compare and see where the writer went wrong. Do not make the mistake of copying letters, though, it will be obvious if you have. The general rule is to keep your letter polite, short and to the point. Introduce yourself and tell the recipient a bit about what you’re submitting. Give the title, genre and total word count. (As a guide, most agents/publishers regard between 80,000 and 120,000 words as a good length for a writer’s first novel.) Then give a brief outline of the plot. This is not a synopsis, so just pick out the salient points. List any writing credentials you may have such as qualifications, and mention any previous successes with publication. This should include competitions you may have gained a first, second or third place in or been commended for; a letter you have had published; exercises such as NaNoWriMo; a blog that you maintain; even essays or pieces in school newsletters, etc. Also mention if you have published any technical papers or similar texts. Then politely thank the recipient for their time. Include ALL your contact details, and do remember to say if you are intending to use a pen name.

4b) Synopsis (if appropriate)
If you are submitting a non-fiction project you do not need a synopsis, merely an outline. It is also not necessary to have completed a non-fiction project before seeking representation or publication. For fiction, however, the rule is that the work should already be complete, and you will need to provide a synopsis.

Some writers dread synopses. If you’re having trouble deciding what to include try this: Write a short précis of each chapter, being as brief as you can. Ignore sub-plots for now. Using this précis, write down the main bullet points of your plot. Don’t forget the ending! Once you have your bullet points, flesh them out slightly so they are in prose form rather than list form. Keep to the present tense. Most agents/publishers will advise on keeping the synopsis to no more than 4 or 5 pages, but unless they specify a word count, this is flexible. Whatever your total page count, your synopsis must be brief and to the point. You can also use single-spaced lines and both sides of a printed page, rather than double-spaced and single-sides, as for your sample pages. Unless the guidelines state otherwise, of course!

4c) Sample
Again, check your chosen recipient to see what portion of your work they want to see as a sample. It will typically be the first three chapters of a novel, so many pages, or perhaps 20% of a novel. DO NOT exceed what they ask for. The argument that 20% of your novel leaves the reader dangling in the middle of an action scene will not hold water. If that’s the case, send less, not more. If you are asked for 20%, you have some leeway with the page count – one or two more will not make much difference. Remember though, that you have to give the TOTAL word count as well. Your recipient will be able to work out if you have sent them 30% of the total rather than 20%! If you are asked for the first three chapters, send ONLY the first three chapters, not the first two and one really good chapter from later in the book. Your first three chapters must hook the reader or your novel is unlikely to succeed.
Tailor the format of your submission to the individual’s guidelines. DO NOT IGNORE THESE! Do not use fancy fonts, weird colours, bold type, fancy scene-breakers, etc. Remember the old adage KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Not all computers open word processing programs the same way, so you risk annoying your chosen target if you ignore their preferences.
The same applies if you are submitting in print, via snail mail. Anything fancy puts editors off. Unless you are submitting say, a children’s picture book or photo book, do not include photographs. DO NOT include gifts! Include an SAE if they ask for one, and if you are submitting by email, remember to include your return email address and other contact details. At all times, be wholly professional.

I would say that multiple submissions are fine for a first contact. Many writers send out six at a time. If, however, you are lucky enough to be asked for the full manuscript (often abbreviated to ms, or mss), then give exclusivity.

I hope the above has given you something to work on. I will be posting the second half of this blog very soon so keep your eyes open!