Category: publishing

5 Things You Need to Know About Publishing

5 Things You Need to Know About Publishing

Here are a few things you need to know if you want to publish a book with a traditional publisher. While the process for publishing nonfiction and fiction is a bit different, some principles remain the same across genres.

1. Yes, you need an agent

If you want to publish with The Big 5, or many of the larger independent publishing houses like Algonquin, you have to have a literary agent. Most agents are based in New York City. No reputatable agent will charge you up front. The typical agent commission for domestic sales is 15%, and it’s worth every penny. Commission for foreign sales is higher, because your agent works with foreign agents, who also charge a commission. Also worth every penny. There are a whole slew of rights you need to keep, and a good agent knows how to negotiate those rights. Once you have an agent, don’t bother her every day. Let her do her job. Keep in touch, but don’t be a pill, and don’t be a squeaky wheel.

2. No, you don’t need an MFA.

If you have one, fine, but an MFA won’t get you published. Unless you have a great manuscript to go along with that degree, an MFA probably won’t even get you noticed. If you can mention an MFA in your query letter to an agent, it does show that you’ve been engaged in writing seriously (or at least steadily) for a couple of years, which is a good thing. If you studied somewhere particularly prestigious, it could get you a foot in the door. But a degree is no substitute for a good book. Whatever you do, don’t go into debt for an MFA. If you do choose to get one, try to go somewhere that is fully funded?—?meaning you don’t pay a dime, and you graduate with valuable teaching experience. Or, if you’re already a professional, choose a reputable low-residency program whose faculty you admire, which allows you to keep your day job while engaging in independent study with the faculty. You can also get your feet wet by studying privately with reputable writers. Many teach on the side through continuing studies programs, which don’t require you to change your life too much or enroll in a full-fledged writing program.

3. The publishing calendar is lengthy

It usually takes well over a year after you sign a book deal for your book to come out. Maybe two years or more. It’s frustrating, but, for the time being at least, it’s a part of the beast. In your contract, be sure there is language indicating that the publisher has a limited amount of time after acceptance of manuscript to publish the book?—?18 months seems to be standard. While you’re waiting for your book to come out, you should be writing your next book. Ideally, you’ll have a complete, solid draft by the time your first book comes out. Once you’ve signed a contract, you should always be thinking of your next book. Don’t forget that you’re in this for the long haul; keep writing.

4. Be Your Own Publicist.

Use the time between acceptance and publication to do your own groundwork. Build your email list. Connect with potential readers. Stay in touch with your in-house publicist (and your independent publicist if you hire one) to start setting up readings and events at least six months before pub date. Don’t drown your twitter followers with tweets about your book. Around book launch time, it’s okay and even necessary to devote a lot of your tweets to your events and to interviews and blog posts about your book. But you’re able to do so only if you’ve already earned your followers’  trust by posting interesting and engaging content that’s not all about you. You can market your book on social networks only if you also use your social networks to truly engage with people.

5. Love your independent bookstores.

Small bookstores are wonderful places to read. When you have an event at an independent store, it’s not all about how many people show up for the reading. The store will put your event in their newsletter, and the booksellers will handsell your book when customers walk in. The reach of your event extends before and after the actual reading date. Set up joint readings with other authors, which decreases the chance of staring out at a sea of empty seats. If only three or four people show up at your reading, treat them well. Don’t be a diva. Ever. Instead of standing behind the podium, sit down with your readers?—?they’ve come to see you, after all!?—?and have a conversation. They’ll go away feeling invested not just in the book you’re reading from, but in you as an author.

Do you want to write stories or novels? Check out my 8-week email course, Writing Fiction.

Want to learn more about how to publish your novel? Enroll in Publishing Boot Camp.

Michelle Richmond is the author of four novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog, and two award-winning story collections.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your Novel

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your Novel

The difference between getting a serious read and having your manuscript go straight to the delete file can come down to something as seemingly simple as improper formatting.

Here are five mistakes that will ensure your manuscript doesn’t get read by an agent or editor:

1. Single spacing and non-standard spacing between paragraphs

Manuscripts should be double-spaced, with a standard indention in each paragraph. Don’t add extra lines between paragraphs, either. You’re not writing for the web! Adding extra spaces between paragraphs instead of indenting the first line of each paragraph is a common mistake that screams “unprofessional.”

2. A rambling or boastful cover letter.

A cover letter for a novel should provide a brief synopsis, as well as your previous publications or relevant qualifications (an MFA in creative writing, for example, or a writing workshop through a respected university or with a well-known writer). While it should definitely have a hook, it should not tell the reader that it’s “the best book you’ll read this year,” “a sure bestseller,” or “a riveting adventure story.” That’s for the reader to decide.

Remember, agents and editors have been around the block. They know how hard it is for a book to be a genuine bestseller (not an Amazon bestseller, which, it turns out, is kind of a scam). They know that even much-anticipated titles with high-level support from the publisher often don’t make the New York Times bestseller list, the USA Today bestseller list, the Indie Next bestseller list, or any of the lists that matter. So if you tell them your book is destined to be a bestseller, it makes you look arrogant and uninformed.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with self-publishing, but if you’ve done that, never include Amazon reviews in your cover letter as a way of validating your book. On the other hand, if you’ve sold 10,000 copies or more of your book on Amazon (meaning people have paid for it, not that you’ve given it away for free), include that in your letter. It shows that you’ve already done some groundwork and people have found your book interesting enough to pay for it.

Your cover letter should be interesting and engaging, and it should make the agent or editor in question want to read your book. Anything you write that makes you seem self-centered or difficult to work with will lead to a swift rejection.

3. Weird fonts

If you’re tempted to get creative with fonts, don’t. Cursive, all caps, excessive bolding, or difficult-to-read fonts come off as unprofessional and even aggressive. Stick to Times New Roman, Garamond, or Helvetica?—?something simple, clean, and easy to read. Courier used to be the standard, but it looks oddly old-fashioned now (everyone knows you’re not using an actual typewriter). 12 points has long been the standard, but in a slightly smaller font, like Garamond, I’ll often use 13 points to increase readability.

4. An excessive or overwritten prologue

This, I admit, may be a matter of taste. However, in general, agents and editors want to get right into a book. They want to be hooked from sentence once. Often, writers will decide to put their “best writing” in a prologue. This may be overwritten prose that is intended more to show off. In your opening pages, don’t show off. Hook the reader. Make the story so compelling it’s impossible to put down. Make sure there’s conflict from page one.

5. Lack of Focus

An agent or editor should know very quickly what kind of book he or she is getting into. The cover letter will do a lot of this work for you: it should let the reader know what the genre is, and what the book is about. Is it a literary thriller? Is it a literary coming-of-age novel with mainstream appeal? Is it a historical romance? Don’t be afraid of labels!

Labels save the reader a lot of time and let them know that a:) you’ve thought about how to market the book and b:) there is a specific audience for this book.

6. Lack of “Comps”

Be sure to include comps: comparabe books that have sold well in the last few years. If you don’t include two or three comps, it looks as though you know nothing about the industry and you don’t care enough to think about who your book will appeal to.

7. A Boring First Chapter

If the agent or editor reads past the cover letter to page one of the novel, you’re already ahead. Don’t squander that first chapter! The chapter should deliver on the promise of the cover letter. The reader needs to know that she’s in good hands, that this is the work of a competent storyteller who knows what she’s writing about, and why.

Michelle Richmond is the author of five novels and two story collections and the founder of micro-press Fiction Attic. She offers classes and coaching through The Book Doctor. This piece is excerpted from her her online course, Publishing Boot Camp.

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Good News for the Book Business: Print sales on the rise, independent bookstores going strong

Good News for the Book Business: Print sales on the rise, independent bookstores going strong

Alexandra Alter reports for the New York Times that a surprising thing has happened in the book business over the last couple of years (although perhaps not so surprising to longtime readers and booksellers): the sharp rise in ebook sales generated by early Kindle excitement has leveled off, and readers are returning to print.

Alter interviewed Steve Bercu, owner of BookPeople in Austin, TX, who credits his store’s profitable 2015, in part, to

the stabilization of print and new practices in the publishing industry, such as Penguin Random House’s so-called rapid replenishment program to restock books quickly…Penguin Random House has invested nearly $100 million in expanding and updating its warehouses and speeding up distribution of its books.

I’m thrilled that my longtime publisher is taking the lead on this. People say, “Oh, the Big 5 publishers never change,” and I constantly hear complaints that the New York publishing houses have their heads in the sand. But it sounds as though things are changing, and the publishers are finding ways to make print books more appealing–which is good for readers, good for authors, good for bookstores, and good for communities.

I’m fortunate to live in the Bay Area, home of dozens of thriving independent bookstores. At Kepler’s 60th anniversary party last week, lines were out the door. Green Apple, a mainstay of the Richmond district in San Francisco, opened a new branch on the other side of Golden Gate Park a couple of years ago, and it’s thriving. So too are Books Inc., The Booksmith, and many other bookstores in San Francisco, Marin, the East Bay, and Silicon Valley. Southern California has some fantastic indies too. On my Golden State book tour last year, I had the chance to read at Warwick’s, an amazing independent bookstore with a strong community following in LaJolla, as well as LA’s Vroman’s. And in the past, I’ve had the pleasure of reading at West Hollywood’s famous neighborhood store, Book Soup.

And it’s not just the Golden State where independent bookstores are going strong. The article notes: “The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago.”

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons behind the shift, but I have an inkling that one contributing factor may be a more even-keeled approach to e-book pricing. When publishers have control over the price of e-books, it levels the playing field for print books and, as a result, for brick and mortar stores. My books often cost the same in paperback as they do in e-book format. As a reader, given a choice between print and digital when the cost is the same, I’ll always choose print. E-books may still be very appealing in contrast to hardcovers, which often cost twice as much, but once a book comes out in paperback, the e-book has no real advantage unless you’re a traveler who doesn’t want the weight of books in your luggage or a minimalist who doesn’t want the bulk of books in your living space.

And while the chains may have trouble competing with Amazon, local independent bookstores offer readers, authors, and communities something that Amazon never can. I think that’s why they do so well. Go into Books Inc. Burlingame during holiday season, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc., and you’ll see people lining up to have their purchases gift-wrapped. On any afternoon after school, you’ll find kids reading on the bench seat in the children’s section. Earl, the manager, and all of the employees, will put just the right book in your hand if you’re not sure what your looking for.

Amazon can’t give you that experience, but neither can Barnes and Noble–which may be why smaller bookstores seem to be faring better than the chains. Nor can they mimic the experience of walking into Kepler’s and being greeted by the co-owner, Praveen Madden, who is always excited about something he’s reading and will tell you why. Nor can it rival, for an author, the joy of finding all of my books lined up, signed, on a shelf at Green Apple, with handwritten shelf talkers. (Below, the store’s owners: Kevin Hunsager, Kevin Ryan, and Pete Mulvihill).

Two Kevins & a Pete at Green Apple Books, image courtesy Green AppleGolden State book launch at Green Apple

That’s why I bristle at the idea that independent bookstores are quaint entities we need to “save.” They are vital, and they are strong businesses with sound business models: small spaces filled with the kind of books people want to read, staffed by avid readers who also happen to be great salespeople. Independent bookstores tend to be located in community centers. Books Inc., for example, has eight small but incredibly well-stocked and well-curated stores scattered throughout the Bay Area, all located in the middle of communities that have a lot of readers. Green Apple is in the heart of the inner Richmond, near neighborhood markets and restaurants. The Booksmith is in the heart of Haight Street, a neighborhood with constant foot traffic. And what serious reader in San Francisco can resist a trip to City Lights in North Beach? The fact is, ordering books from Amazon is no more convenient than purchasing from my neighborhood store, which is a five-minute drive from my house, gives me “same-day service” without the prime membership price tag, and pumps money back into my community.

I’ve got nothing against e-books, really. But, as my 10-year-old, child of digital everything, consumer of all things electronic except electronic books, says, “I like real books a million times better.”

Read Alter’s article, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip and Print is Far From Dead.”

photo of Books Inc. courtesy of Yelp

How to Find a Literary Agent

How to Find a Literary Agent

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts while spring cleaning. I enjoy the format so much (particularly a podcast called The Heart of Organizing) that I decided to start my own podcast. It’s now live, and the first episode is How to Find a Literary Agent. In this 8-minute podcast, I talk about 5 things you can do to find the right literary agent to represent your book (hint: it does not involve giant indexes listing thousands of names and addresses).

Why is it so important to work with a good literary agent?
Signing on with a literary agent is the first step toward publication with a major publisher. Most publishers won’t even glance at unagented submissions. Your agent will be your partner in all things publishing. She’ll get your book out to the right editors, negotiate your contracts, and sell your foreign rights, which can be a very important part of your income. She’ll go to bat for you. She’ll talk you out of doing stupid things, and insist on better terms in your contracts than you could ever get for yourself. She knows the business better way better than you do. Think of your agent as your most longterm partner in your writing career–a more serious, stable, and essential relationship than you’ll probably have with any one editor or publisher.

She’ll handle all sorts of rights for each book–audio, book club editions, reprints, and more. I’ve been with my own agent since 2004, and I feel so fortunate to have found her. Without her, I would have had a very different (and I imagine far less satisfying) writing career.
Go here to listen to the podcast. If you like what you hear, you can click “follow” on the podcast page, so you’ll know when new episodes are added.

As always, happy writing!

Michelle Richmond
http://bookdoctor.org

What Does Amazon Kindle Unlimited Mean for Authors?

What Does Amazon Kindle Unlimited Mean for Authors?

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited just went live, offering readers “unlimited” kindle books for a subscription of $9.99 per month. When I first read this, I cringed. As a traditionally published author, I’m all too familiar with Amazon’s full-on assault on the book industry. Jeff Bezos has made no secret of his plan to put every bookstore out of business, and to cripple publishers who won’t fall in line. Kindle Unlimited is just one more step in that direction.

How will authors be paid for Kindle Unlimited titles?

Amazon has been tight-lipped on how authors—independently or traditionally published—will actually make an income through Kindle Unlimited titles. The model has long been that, when an ebook is purchased through Amazon, traditionally published authors make a 25% royalty on that purchase, while indie authors make 30% to 70%, depending on how the book is priced. Kindle Unlimited will change all that. It goes without saying that authors will not receive the normal royalty on books lent through Kindle Unlimited.

One can imagine that Amazon will “pay” authors a tiny percentage from some impossible-to-decipher ledger, as they supposedly do for books in the Kindle Select program. Speaking of which, at the time of this writing, it appears that books enrolled in KDP’s Kindle Select program will automatically be put in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s unclear if there’s any way to opt out.

Online classes in fiction writing, memoir, and publishing.

There is a silver lining, however.

As reported in The New York Times, the Big 5 publishers have not made their books available through Kindle Unlimited. That means that readers will quickly discover that many current titles–from blockbusters to highly touted literary newcomers–are unavailable with their subscription. Sure, they’ll be able to download indie titles to their heart’s content. However, readers looking for the latest by Stephen King or Lorrie Moore will be out of luck.

I’m thrilled to see the Big 5 taking a stand against Amazon, which is trying, in no uncertain terms (and with quite a bit of help from the Department of Justice, unfortunately), to create nothing less than a monopoly on books. Or, as enormously popular YA author John Green put it, “What’s ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence.” The latest battle with Hachette, in which Amazon refused to ship books by Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Galbraith, and other big-name and not-so-big name authors, was just one more in a long line of tactics Amazon has employed to squeeze the life out of publishers. Readers were not amused.

The Big 5 have surely realized by now that every inch they give to Amazon is an inch dug in their own grave.

Why it matters to readers and writers:

Authors who rely on their books for part of their income simply cannot afford to give them away for next to nothing, as Amazon thinks we should. But readers, too, will eventually suffer. I don’t think we would have a Paul Auster or an Ian McEwan or Grace Paley or Alice Munro if they had started out in this publishing climate, earning pennies per book sold. Think of any successful literary writer who slowly built a following by putting out great books every few years. This model is simply no longer viable, thanks in large part to Amazon.

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What can you read on Kindle Unlimited?

I image that Amazon will make a big push to promote a few indie authors, as well as children’s and young adult titles (Scholastic books are available), and books published by Open Road Media. However, you won’t find “any of the top five current New York Times fiction bestsellers,” as Hayley Tsukayama points out in the Washington Post. And book lovers hoping to read Lorrie Moore or Lydia Davis, Alain de Bottom or Emma Donoghue, Herman Koch or Stephen King, and most of the books on any current must-read list compiled by anyone other than Amazon, will be sorely disappointed.

Or not.

Because when you set down your Kindle and walk out your door, you may discover a bookstore where the booksellers have actually read the books they’re recommending, a bookstore that cares about readers, authors, and, yes, BOOKS.

And contrary to what Amazon wants you to believe, these booksellers are not luddites. The Kobo ereader, which you can pick up at many independent stores, has a gorgeous interface and more than million titles. To top it off, when you register your kobo with your favorite brick-and-mortar store, the store will receive a small commission on every ebook you purchase. Everyone wins. Authors. Readers. Publishers. The towns where bookstores invest money and goodwill.

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