In part 1 I talked about a situation where a writer had her book published, only to realise too late that the company was not a traditional publishing company, they were just posing as one. They played on the writer’s dream of being published to make money off her. As a result she ended up with a book that was poorly edited, unavailable in bookstores and locked into a contract so she can’t publish it with anyone else. It was left to her to market the book herself, meaning it was bought by family and friends, but no one else. Even if she worked up the courage to approach a bookstore herself, they probably wouldn’t stock it because a) it’s overpriced for a book by a first time author, b) the publishing company won’t accept refunds if the book doesn’t sell and c) the book is so poorly edited, people probably won’t buy it anyway (no matter how good the story is).
How can you avoid this situation?
You have to be savvy.
Google is your friend.
This is a good idea to do for any publisher. Google the publisher, skip past all the links for the publisher’s own website and see what other people have to say. You will quickly find out if the publisher is a reputable one and whether other writers have had good or bad experiences with them.
Get involved in writers’ circles/writers’ forums/writers on Twitter.
We writers can be isolated people, but the net has made it easy to connect with fellow writers. There are writers at all stages of the writing journey, and some of them are a great wealth of information. You will soon hear the dos and don’ts of the publishing and writing world when you’re connected to others who have been there before you. Some great people to follow on Twitter (because they always have their ear to the ground and post great links): Elizabeth S Craig and Jane Friedman.
Follow Agent/Publisher blogs or follow them on Twitter.
There are some fantastic literary agent and publisher blogs around and they’re worth following. They offer a wealth of knowledge on the ins and outs of the publishing industry. For example, Nathan Bransford’s blog is packed full of great information on both writing and the publishing industry.
Read contracts carefully.
This is an important one. Know what you are signing before you sign it. This is where having a literary agent represent you can be of great benefit because they know exactly what to look for in a publishing contract and can negotiate terms with the publisher for you. Literary agents cost nothing, unlike lawyers, but you need to query them with your manuscript the same way you would with a publisher. It’s better to query agents first, before publishers, if possible. But if your manuscript has already been accepted by a publisher, you can still query agents and mention in your query letter that a publisher has already acquired it. Otherwise, you can get a lawyer/solicitor to look over the contract for you, but it will cost money and often they don’t have as much knowledge about the specifics of publishing contracts.
What can I do to get the attention of a genuine publisher?
The most important thing to do is to keep improving your craft. The second most important thing is to become knowledgeable about the industry.
The best way to improve is to keep writing. I can’t remember who said it, but it has been said that to be a good writer, you must first write one million bad words. Quite often the first novel you write won’t ever be published. It’s sad, but true. But every word is contributing to you becoming a better writer. And one day you’ll look back on that first novel and think, ‘I can’t believe how bad it was! Why did I ever think it would get published?’
Join a critique group/Get a critique partner
Remember my story in part 1 about the author not letting anyone see their work before sending it out to publishers? He/she thought it was the smart thing to do, but there is benefit in letting others see your work before you send it out – the biggest benefit being a better novel. At some stage you need to get over your fear that other writers are out to steal your ideas. The good thing about critique groups and critique partners is you have to trust each other. You won’t steal their ideas and they won’t steal yours. Once you find a critique partner you feel comfortable with, the next hurdle is to be able to take their critique. This is a hard one. You will feel hurt. You will feel indignant (what does she mean my character is flat!). But once you get over that, you may find she’s right. Once you learn to accept your novel is not perfect and there’s room for improvement, you will be on your way to having a polished novel.
Use writing resources available to you
As I mentioned, following agent/ publisher blogs and being involved with other writers on forums/Twitter are great ways to stay informed. There are a lot of great writing resources out there, and fellow writers are only too happy to share, and so are agents and publishers. There are some great writer blogs out there too. A good place to start is Barry Lyga’s blog, he has a plethora of topics for helping to improve all areas of your writing. Check out some writing books too, like Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.
Research the industry
Did you know if you live in the US or you intend to get your book published in the US it is a good idea to first seek a literary agent? (A good literary agent won’t charge you fees, they make their money when the book sells.) In some other countries, such as Australia, literary agents are less common and a lot of publishers are still happy to accept unsolicited (eg: unagented) submissions. Do you know which agent/publisher is most suitable for your book? You don’t want to waste time sending a fantasy novel to someone who only takes on non-fiction work. Do you know if the publisher/agent you are querying has a good reputation? ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Publishers and agents have guidelines for a reason, so follow them. Some publishers/agents will reject your work without even reading it if you haven’t followed guidelines.
And because someone asked…
In my comments on part 1, someone asked about how to know if a literary agent is genuine. The points I’ve made about publishing companies can equally be applied to agents. Use google, research before you query, follow writers/agents on Twitter, join writing forums (many have sections on agents/the publishing industry). And if an agent wants you to pay fees to represent you, then he/she is probably not a genuine literary agent.