So you’ve made the decision to try your hand at getting published! Please, allow me to offer you simultaneous congratulations and sympathies. This is not an easy business to enter, but it is, at times, immeasurably fun. If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve already cleared an enormous hurdle by making the decision to learn more about how publishing works. I’ll see if I can answer some of the more common questions I’m asked here. I hope it helps!
How much does it cost to get my book published?
Whoa! Slow down there, chief. First off, it costs you nothing to be published by commercial publishers: the non-vanity, non-subsidy, non-self-publishing publishers (more on these here, thanks to SFWA). In fact, you should be getting at least a little money in your pocket from this experience. But you’re getting way ahead of yourself here. First off, once your work is polished to the extreme, you need to find representation. You need a literary agent.
What’s a literary agent?
A literary agent is someone who represents you and your work, who acts as a go-between and uses their business connections to get your manuscript in front of the right editors. Once an editor is interested in making an offer, your agent negotiates on your behalf. Your agent will also vet contracts, get your check to you, handle disputes, and give you insight to potential problems with your writing. They are your personal champion in the publishing world.
Okay, so how do I get one?
First off, you research. Find out who represents authors that you admire, who has made recent sales in your genre. Be sure to check out Agent Query, Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Guide, and Publisher’s Marketplace. You can also seek out advice on writers forums, but there is a lot of misinformation out there, so I recommend you check out Backspace.
Once you have a list of reputable agents (remember: reputable agents charge no fees. For more info on how to spot a scam agent, check out Writer Beware’s list of abusive practices by these…for lack of a better word…people.), you’ll need to write a query letter to send to the agents on your list.
What’s a query letter?
A query letter is a letter of introduction that a writer sends to a literary agent in order to introduce themselves and the book that they’re interested in garnering representation for. You should spend as much time on this as you do on your actual manuscript, because this letter is your foot in the door, and if you screw it up, you might not get an agent’s attention (however, please note that pink paper or that swirly-girly font you’ve been eyeing will only get you the wrong kind of attention). You can always Google for examples of successful query letters, but I’ll post mine here for inspiration. A query letter should be professional, intriguing, and descriptive without being over the top. Here’s mine:
Dear Mr. Agentman,
If you thought eighth grade was tough, try it with fangs and a fear of garlic.
Junior high school really sucks for fourteen-year-old Vladimir Tod, and not in the good slurp-up-the-blood kind of way. A gang of bullies harasses him daily, the principal is dogging his every move, and the girl he really likes prefers his best friend. Oh, and Vlad has to hide the fact that he’s a vampire.
When the one teacher he really connects with mysteriously vanishes, Vlad is determined to find him. But then Vlad finds an unsettling note scribbled across his essay: “I know your secret.”
Vlad must locate his missing teacher, dodge the principal, resist the bullies’ tempting invitations to Bite me!, and get a date for the dance–all before he is exposed for the teen vampire he is.
EIGHTH GRADE BITES is complete at around 39,000 words. It is the first book of a series, THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD. My short fiction appears in Darkmoon Rising, Descending Darkness and is scheduled to appear in two separate issues of Morbid Outlook. I’m also a contributing member of Backspace writers’ organization.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Looking at it now, it most definitely has room for improvement, but of the eleven agents I queried with it, nine responded with requests to read (six fulls, three partials), and one wanted an exclusive, so it couldn’t have been that bad (and yeah, the book is now much longer…and Vlad is now thirteen…but you get the point, right?).
Will you write my query letter for me?
Nice try. No.
Okay, so is there any more advice you can give me about query letters?
Absolutely! Use crisp white paper, a new printer cartridge, Times New Roman 12pt font, and always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for their reply (as well as your phone number and email address). And be PATIENT! Sometimes it takes three months or more to hear back. Agents are very busy people.
Also, develop a thick skin. You will get rejected–we all do. And whatever you do, don’t fire of a “you’ll be sorry” email. It’ll only hurt you in the end. Remember, professionalism is the key to success.
What happens if an agent requests pages or offers me representation?
You send the pages UNSTAPLED (rubber band is okay) and you send them out right away (but don’t bother to FedEx overnight unless asked, it makes you look like an amateur), along with a polite cover letter reminding them of who you are and what you’re sending. If you get an offer, sit tight, ask questions about how the agent plans to grow your career, what their commission rate is, and take a few days to really think about it before signing on the dotted line. When you feel a hundred percent right in your choice, go for it! (and don’t forget to contact the other agents you’ve queried to let them know you’re already taken)
Is that all I need to know?
Nope, but it’s a good start. In a few weeks, I’ll write a What Happens After I Get an Agent? blog entry. I hope this helped!