LESSON ONE of the Author Submission Process Workshop
WRITING IS LIKE A JOURNEY
Although there are plenty of you who start a vacation by getting in the car and driving with no destination in mind, most people take the time to plan. When can I go? Where do I want to go? How do I pack? Where, realistically, can I afford to go?
While I can name at least one person who decided on the spur of the moment to write a book, send it out and get it published within a few months, that typically doesn't occur in the publishing world. Cool when it happens, but for the rest of us mortals, our writing career should be planned from the moment we put pencil to notepad. Start by asking:
What am I writing?
Why am I writing?
For whom am I writing?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing a series of stories for your kids or grandchildren. There is nothing wrong with making up poems to put in cards you send to your friends. There is nothing wrong with writing book reviews or society articles for your local newspaper or keeping a blog. Do these activities make you a writer? Absolutely. You love writing; you write anything anywhere, any time. But there’s a difference between being an amateur hobbyist witer and a career author.
You can earn response points for defining Amateur and Professional.
Kathy Carlton Willis, owner of the Christian full-service author assistant company Kathy Carlton Willis Communications (http://www.kathycarltonwillis.com), says: "A hobbyist is in love with the idea of being a writer more than the idea of writing. He/she flirts with writing when it’s convenient or when an idea hits, or after surges of inspiration and motivation from outside sources (like attending a conference or receiving praise from another than they are a good writer). A writer writes like a mail carrier delivers mail or a bride and groom’s wedding vows. Writing happens in good times and bad, in good writing conditions and bad, it happens because the writer can’t not write. When a writer learns how to apply his/her craft to the business standards of the industry (queries, proposals, networking, branding, platform, etc.), then the contract and money will follow. Sheer tenacity."
Why am I writing?
If you want to earn a living at writing, there are several ways to go about it, and most of them don’t result in hitting the NY Times Best Seller list with your first efforts. Many authors simply want to see their writing in print, or hold a book in their hands. Using writing as a ministry is honorable. What’s your reason for wanting to be published?
Who is my target audience?
CS Lewis started writing the Chronicles of Narnia for his nieces and nephews. Am I writing for young adults, children, people who like fantasy? Readers of romance or history or espionage? The kind of writing you do for a specific audience will help narrow your choice of publishers and agents. For more help on identifying WHAT you write, your genre, your category, visit The Book Industry Standard Group: https://bisg.org/page/BISACSubjectCodes
Kathy Carlton Willis, owner of the Christian full-service author assistant company Kathy Carlton Willis Communications (http://www.kathycarltonwillis.com), says "Imagine your book on a physical bookshelf at a bookstore. What books surround yours? For fiction, since they often go by author name rather than type of book, also consider your genre and style. What publishing houses print books similar to yours? These provide your comps (comparable books) and markets. Also select markets where you can strategize a way to get your foot in the door—perhaps you will meet the acquisitions editor at a conference or a writer friend is willing to write a letter of introduction if you don’t have an agent. Think of your contact strategy and this will help you narrow your search."
A Writer magazine article by an acquisition editor advised that she didn’t want to see a proposal with a coffee cup ring on it. It was early in my writing career, for sure, as I can still remember the shock that someone would do something like that. Then I thought about all the effort it took to type perfectly that one letter on a manual typewriter all the way through without any mistakes, and I wondered if I was that person.
I submitted two things for publication before I took a writing course and officially crossed over the threshold into authordom. The first was a little child’s book I wrote and illustrated in high school about bees pollinating flowers. It was cute. It rhymed. I still have it somewhere in a trunk, I think. Imagine my excitement when the company, whose ad I found in a ladies magazine, wanted to publish it! I only had to pay them $300. Fortunately, we couldn’t come up with the money, even if my husband had been interested in paying. The second was many years later, after I’d gained all this experience being a Bible study leader and used study guides that I was sure I could improve upon. I wrote up a whole course and sent it to the company that published the guides. I really just wanted to help them out. I received a very nice letter with my submission explaining that the company did not accept unsolicited material. I had no idea what that meant.
Years later, I read another ad in another ladies magazine…this time for an online writing course. I took it, and much to my chagrin, learned there was an actual process to this publishing thing. But I did learn. And went on learning.
Where do we find publishers and agents?
You can do a general search on the internet – but how do you know to trust them?
You can check Editors and Predators: https://pred-ed.com/ (currently under construction)
Genre sites, such as SCWA's Writer Beware® https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/
Writers Conferences/Conventions/Workshops/Festivals http://writing.shawguides.com/
Authors who list their representative or publisher on their websites or business cards
Promotion websites, such as BookBub, Author’s Den, Bookriot….etc. Oodles of them
Writing Resource or tips sites, such as Writer’s Edge, https://writersedgeinfo.blogspot.com/ which also often have links to similar sites
Writers Associations/Organizations, such as Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Midwest Writers Workshop, The Writers Guild, all sorts of genre groups such as Mystery Writers of America, or Romance Writers of America, etc.
General social media
Twitter has become a searchable source of publishers and agents who are seeking authors.
Use hashtags such as:
#MSWL - manuscript wish list; #literaryagent; #publisher
and watch for "pitch fests"
Facebook groups: http://www.facebook.com/groups
Writer’s Market Guide (which you can also find in a library reference section); for a small monthly fee you can sign up on line: http://www.writersmarket.com/LearnMore.aspx
Christian Writer’s Market Guide https://christianwritersinstitute.com/books/
Agent Query: http://www.agentquery.com/
Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com
This is only a start. Where else can you look?
Find ten different targets of mixed agent and publisher websites. Visit those websites and, from the front page, report how easy or difficult it is to find the submission guidelines. Make a note of the sites that allow unsolicited submissions from authors (we’ll be visiting them again later). It doesn’t matter at this point if these are people or publishers that you want to target for your work – it’s just general practice. Are the submission guidelines on the front page? How many clicks do you have to take before you get to them? What are they called? (Hint: sometimes they’re hidden on the “contact” page.) Are there sites you’ve checked that didn’t list the submission guidelines at all? You will also want to be very careful to check what kind of materials the publisher releases. Look in their catalogs. Check out the company news. Look at the book titles, the book covers. Especially check the price of the books. If you’re looking at an agent, find out who else is represented. Look at the author’s Amazon ratings. We'll talk about the ins and outs of publishers/agents and some of the terminology next week, such as when and who should you pay if you're going to hire somebody to help me. Legitimate publishers and agents do not charge any kind of fee for any service, no matter what they tell you – not even for your ISBN.