Last updated July 24, 2007

One of the best things we can do for fellow writers is to point out the dangers they can encounter... and, to their peril, ignore... in their eagerness to become published.

There are agents and publishers with troublesome histories of one sort or another. There are sites that provide both lists and other important information on these (see below). We have decided that our role is best defined by encouraging writers to take personal responsibility in these matters as in all others. Therefore, what follows is a quick discourse on going from writing to publication.

Be proactive. Pay attention. Do your homework. Don't be too eager.

Know your Agent, Editor and Publisher
and what you can expect from each one.

See List of US Agents and the Book Doctor


The first step in establishing a writing career is, of course, your commitment to your writing.

That's when the fun begins. Writers are artists, mostly, and the visonary side of writing should not be denied. But make no mistake, if you have a romantic notion of what the writing life is all about, and that notion excludes a serious look at what you need to know to ensure you won't get "taken," you are looking for trouble with a capital $$$.

* Take writing courses or go to a few seminars sponsored by colleges or universities. Do you live in a small town, away from the advantages big cities offer? In The Company of Writers is here to serve you.

* Join a writers' organization, learn the business of writing, participate in a critique group of experienced writers. Read the writers' magazines and how-to books. Find a trusted reader, (preferably not another writer), someone to review and comment on your work. Ask a teacher, or a book store owner, or your neighbor who reads a lot of books.

* Everyone needs an editor! No matter who you are or how wonderful your command of language, imagery, grammar, syntax, characterization, dialogue, etc., it is easy to miss errors, word repetition or awkward phrases, when you have looked at your work intensely for a long time. A fresh set of eyes, especially when backed up by a knowledgeable brain, can make the difference between a beautifully polished manuscript and one that just misses the mark. Only when you believe your manuscript is as good as you can make it, should you start looking for an agent or thinking about publishing. Don't be overanxious to get a book published.

* Go to your local bookstore or library and select reference materials on publishing and selling your work. There is a good amount to choose from. If you find an agent... or a publisher... that looks interesting to you, follow their guidelines, don't be cute. If you're a children's writer, unless you are also an expert illustrator, don't send pictures with your manuscript submission.

Give yourself the chance to experience the traditional route. It has its drawbacks, as does everything, but it can save you lots of other frustrations relative to learning the publishing business. If after a genuine effort you are getting nowhere, you can always self-publish. Know what your goals are with your writing but be aware that the stigma attached to self-publishing waxes and wanes in prominence and should be considered. There was a time when it was fully respected, and sometimes self-published books are picked up by the big houses. Compelling content and artistry, after all, still make a book shine no matter who published it.

If you are ready for an agent, remember, reputable agents don't ask for money for reading a manuscript. Once they have agreed to represent you, and after reading what you have sent them, some may ask for a reasonable up-front fee to cover expenses for the copying and mailing of your manuscript to potential publishers. But if this is the case, one of their responsibilities is to provide you with a documented expense report outlining how those funds were spent. You should expect progress reports, copies of letters they send to publishers, and the rejection letters if and when they come.

A literary agency that is functioning at top level (why would you want anything less?) is proud of their client list. If you ask them for that information and they refuse to give it to you, go somewhere else.

A literary agent earns his or her money from selling your manuscript to a publisher who believes in the work. An agent might suggest that your work be edited prior to submission to publishers, but if you have been paying attention to the writing and publishing life, you should already have been through that process before sending your work to the agent.

If an agent recommends a particular editor and none other, it is not necessarily a collusive situation, but pay attention. Check out the suggested editor's fee schedule, ask for a list of books or other publications on the market edited by him or her. Then do some of your own research. The web is a resource you should not ignore. In every case, if you can, find an editor who has worked on manuscripts in your genre. Compare services and prices and make an educated choice. You may choose not to use the services of an editor but you will have information that will help you make an informed decision.

A good agent works for you. He or she should negotiate your contract to ensure you receive the maximum benefit possible and that your rights are preserved. Publishers earn their money by gambling on fiction authors' talents or high degree of expertise on non fiction subjects. Traditional publishers pay for printing books and ensure distribution of them. Wholesalers, such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor, distribute the books to book sellers who sell them to the public. The public buys books for their enjoyment, enlightenment, information, inspiration, titillation... whatever.

Unless they expect a huge response from the marketplace, publishers will invest little if any money in the marketing of your book but you should ask that a publicist be assigned to you. Ask if galleys will be sent to Publishers Weekly. Find out if reviews of your book are planned and where they will appear. Make it clear that you are ready, willing, and able to work at marketing your book, by touring... making signing and/or speaking appearances at bookstores and other venues to allow the book-buying public to get to know you. Ask to speak to the person in charge of awards at your publisher's office to discover any possible award processes into which you are eligible to be entered, and make certain you are entered.

And what about self-publishing, publishing on demand, electronic publishing?

If you have copyrighted your book chances are you'll be solicited by one or several companies that invite you to send your manuscript to them for publication... for a price, of course. Read the fine print.

Here are some questions which you should answer for yourself, about agents or publishers and how they are usually found...
* Is Self Publishing or POD right for you?
* Who found whom?
* What have you learned about them?
* Are they willing to tell you who their clients are?
* Have they asked for any money?
And about the writing life;
* Do you belong to a professional level critique group?
* Has your work been edited?
If not:
* Have you joined a writers' organization that can help you learn to make wise decisions about your career and your rights?
If not:
* What are you reading to learn the writing business?

                                                Geri Taran

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