Friday, January 18, 2008

"You're an author, so can you tell me how I can get published?"

Every once in a while, someone asks me how to get into print. It is far easier than it used to be, but there is still much to learn.

First question— fiction or non-fiction? The rules for these two major types of books differ. Novice fiction writers must have a finished manuscript and for small publishers, a series which is largely complete is even better. Many authors with my current publisher are series writers.

Non-fiction authors need a good resumé and an even better proposal. To write non-fiction, an author should be some sort of authority on whatever it is that he wishes to write. Then, an outline plus some sample chapters are generally enough to win a contract, perhaps even an advance, from a publisher. That may not be fair, but it is how publishing works.

Fiction authors who have an established track record with a publisher can often get a contract based on a brief outline, but the initial book must be finished and polished before it will win a contract. Getting a free lance editor is really a good idea, but that won’t guarantee a contract. It takes skill, determination, and luck to get a good publisher.

Some years ago, I heard a small southern press publisher explain how he passed on John Grisham’s debut novel, A Time to Kill. Upon hearing the gasps from the audience, he explained, “That book needed a lot of editing. Quite frankly, it was better when it was published, but it was still in need of a good editor.” Grisham was unable to get wide distribution for that novel until his sophomore effort, The Firm, hit it big.

On the other hand, Travis Taylor, a science fiction writer who sat beside me on a panel at Liberty Con, mentioned that established authors can often explain an idea to an editor via the phone and get a verbal commitment from his publisher. Taylor is published by Baen Books.

Authors who don’t want an established publisher or who can’t land a contract often seek another avenue. I chose Booklocker when Gardenia Press went belly-up, and I found their service adequate for my needs. Lulu.com is another low cost alternative for people who want to be in print without landing a traditional contract. Each of these firms charges different amounts, and distribution is usually poor. Amazon.com is really a necessary outlet, so make sure being listed with them is part of the package.

I’ve touched on this topic previously, so new readers of Pam’s Pages might wish to look at previous entries such as So you want to be published, and Facts about Publishing or check out the links here and on my website.

Those of you who are really serious about winning a publishing contract would want to check out Writer's Market, the big book, or some of the more specialized publications from them as well.

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