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Ten Steps Toward Finding a Publisher
by Moira Allen

Finding a book publisher isn't a mystical process. Here's where to start!

Have you always dreamed of seeing your name in print? Do you have visions of book signings, devoted fans, or a guest spot on Oprah? It can happen, if you take the right steps!

Contrary to popular myth, you don't have to have an agent, or connections in the industry, to get published. What you do need to know is how to present your work in the most professional manner possible. While the steps below won't guarantee that your book will be published, failing to take them will virtually guarantee that it won't! These are the basics every editor expects you to know before your manuscript hits his or her desk.

1) Write the book. If you haven't written your book yet, this isn't the time to ask how to get it published. Editors are interested in products, not ideas. If you're a new writer, editors want to be sure that you have what it takes--skill, stamina, and discipline--to complete a full-length book.

2) Define your audience. What is your book about? Who is the intended readership? These are questions an editor will ask; being able to answer them will help you choose an appropriate publisher. If your book is a novel, to what genre or category does it belong? (Beware of books that "defy" genre categorizations--the "I'm writing a sort of romantic-science fiction-mystery combining elements of Stephen King and Danielle Steele" syndrome. This tells editors that you either haven't refined your concept, or don't understand the book market.)

3) Research the market. Absolutely the worst thing you can do is "cold-call" publishers to ask if they might be interested in your book. Instead, find out who produces books like yours. Browse your local bookstore, and make a list of publishers who offer books in your category. If you're writing a children's book, for example, note who publishes books for the same age group or of the same type (e.g., mystery, teen romance, horror, picture books).

4) Do your homework. Look up promising publishers in the current Writer's Market (available in bookstores) or Literary Market Place (in the library reference section). There, you'll find the publisher's address and the editor to contact. Specialized market books are also available for poetry, novels and short stories, children's books, romances, mysteries, and science fiction. (See Books for Writers.)

Writer's Market also tells you what a publishing company is buying, its rates, and how to approach the editor. For example, some publishers want to see your entire manuscript, others want a query letter outlining your story idea, and still others want a book proposal and/or a chapter-by-chapter outline. Some accept unsolicited manuscripts; others only accept books from agents. If you need more information, write or call the publisher to request writer's guidelines.

5) Prepare your manuscript. These days, editors won't even look at a manuscript that isn't prepared professionally. Print (or type) your manuscript on high-quality white bond paper. Never use erasable paper, and don't use a dot-matrix printer. (If that's all you have, take your disk to a copy center that offers the use of a laser printer.)

Double-space your manuscript and leave a 1-inch margin on all sides. Number your pages. Check your spelling (and not just with a spellchecker!). Use a clear, readable font (such as courier) of a decent size (10-12 pt.). Don't "justify" your right margin; leave it uneven. Don't mix fonts, and don't overuse boldface or italics. (Some editors prefer that you use underlining to signify italics.) If you have any questions about how to format a manuscript, query, or proposal, consult The Writer's Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats.

6) Submit your package. Always send the editor exactly what is requested. If you are mailing a large manuscript, use a manuscript box (available at stationery or office supply stores). Address it to the correct person (not just "editor"). Seal your package securely, but don't go overboard; no editor wants to spend 20 minutes cutting through endless layers of tape.

7) Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE). Some writers include only a standard #10 envelope, preferring to save postage by allowing the editor to discard an unwanted manuscript rather than returning it. If you prefer that your material be returned, be sure to include an envelope with sufficient postage, or a return label and postage for your manuscript box. Never use metered postage strips; because they are predated, they are not valid for return postage.

8) Prepare to wait. It may take two months or longer to hear the fate of your query or proposal; it may take six months or more to get a response on an entire manuscript. Because of such delays, it is sometimes acceptable to submit your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time. Make sure, however, that each is open to "simultaneous submissions."

9) Keep working. While waiting for a response to your first manuscript, get started on your next. Or, build your portfolio with articles, short stories, or other material that will hone your skills and bolster your reputation.

10) Don't give up. If your manuscript doesn't find a home right away, keep trying. Don't take rejection personally; just move on to the next publisher on your list. Often it takes time, effort, and many submissions to get published. Successful writers are those who don't quit!

Some Common Questions:

How do I copyright my work? The very act of putting your book, article, story or poem on paper (in a "tangible" form) places it under your copyright. You can formally declare copyright ownership by typing the words "Copyright (year) by (your name)" on the first or title page of your manuscript (e.g., "Copyright 1997 by Moira Allen"). You can also substitute the copyright symbol for the word "copyright." It is not necessary to register your work with the Copyright Office to protect it. (For more information on rights and copyrights, see Rights and Copyrights

Should I get an agent? For a first-time author, the time to look for an agent is usually after a publisher has expressed interest in your work. Then, you'll want an agent to help negotiate the contract. Ask your publisher for a recommendation, or check the Literary Market Place or the Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents. Many agents also have listings on the Internet.

Should I publish my book myself? With today's desktop publishing technology, it has become easy and relatively inexpensive to produce your own book. Well-targeted nonfiction books often do well; self-published fiction, however, is very difficult to market. Unless you're experienced in graphic design, it's wise to hire a desktop publisher to produce a professional-looking product.

Be aware that self-publishing means more than getting your book printed. It also involves marketing, advertising, distribution, and sales--which means setting yourself up as a small business, with all the tax and accounting responsibilities that entails. Before you embark on a self-publishing venture, it's a good idea to read The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, by Tom and Marilyn Ross. Otherwise, you could end up with a garage full of unsold books!

Is self-publishing the same as subsidy publishing? No! Vanity presses take your money and various rights, and give you little in return. If you're willing to pay money to have your book published, do it yourself so that you can retain full control over the process, the rights, and the proceeds.

Once you know the basics, you're halfway there. The rest is up to you. The package may attract an editor's attention, but it's what you put inside the package -- a well-written, interesting, original manuscript -- that makes the sale!

Moira is a freelance writer, author of Writing.com,  and the editor of "Global Ink," Inkspot's new bi-weekly newsletter.  She has also served as editor of Dog Fancy Magazine.  Visit Moira's site at www.tipsforwriters.com.

Copyright 1997-2000 Moira Allen, all rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.



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