The Truth of It

    Eureka! You’ve just finished your first book and are now thinking, “How do I get published?” After months of blood, sweat, and tears, you go online and begin investigating. Sadly, after researching a slew of websites, not only are you utterly confused, but also feeling as if you’re at step one all over again. Some experts say you should self publish. Others suggest that you find a company to push your book. They warn about shady agents, introductory no-no’s, and coordinating the perfect pitch letter. With so much information out there, who should you trust? Well, its times like these when the only thing to do is go directly to the source. Luckily, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with an experienced author in order to find out how a new writer can best get published.

William J. Wagner is a sports journalist and author of Wrigley Blues. The Herald and Review praised him as, “A veteran sportswriter,” while Sporting News described his acclaimed work as, “A wonderful book.” He has over thirty years of writing experience and has been published in numerous sports journals and magazines. William was kind enough to take the time to answer some frequent questions that upcoming writers typically have. He touched on everything from the publishing market to industry standards.

Firstly, William warns that just like anything, if you’re not passionate about writing, it’s not worth it. Most published authors are never truly compensated for the amount of time and effort that they put into their work, so writing to earn your fortunate tends to only end in disappointment. In fact, with traditional publishing companies scaling back, and an overabundance of new writers flooding the market, the chances of turning your manuscript into a profitable best seller is ever shrinking. However, if you genuinely just love to write, William suggests keeping at it. It may sound cliché, but somewhere out there, people want to read your book.

Next, Wagner suggests striving to sign with a publishing agent before trying to get your book out to readers electronically. While eBooks are the future, the chances of your first manuscript becoming successful in this way are remote. And though some people like to bring up the few thriving independent eBooks such as Fifty Shades of Grey, the majority of readers support established household names over “Indy” writers any day. According to William, the best way to get your manuscript picked up is to hire a literary agent. Literary agents, the good ones at least, can be found online and should never ask for payment up front or editing fees. Those who do, tend to be profit mongers, and want nothing more than to take your money, but not before possibly tarnishing your good name. If you insist on trying to get your manuscript out yourself, William suggests that you at least employ an agent to submit your work to major publishers (who usually refuse to look at a piece without the sponsorship of a literary agent), while promoting your manuscript to smaller publishers within your genre (who generally don’t demand representation).

Finally, William highly urges writers to perfect their pitch letter. Most publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a day, and only choose to delve further depending on the strength of the pitch letter. Wagner suggests a clean and concise letter that summarizes your story. He also recommends giving examples of popular books that are similar to your work. Most publishers are looking for something they can market. While your manuscript may be looked over a dozen times or so, continue believe in your work. More often than not, if you have a great pitch letter and a well polished story, there’s a publisher out there who will eventually be interested.

William also makes mention that inspiring writers today have far more challenges than writers ever have in years past. With so many more self publishing opportunities, a surplus of competitors, and a manifold of schemes that prey on unsuspecting penmen, it’s no wonder that so many struggling writers throw in the towel before they ever become established authors. High hopes quickly become lowly and deflated. However, if you can follow the delicate process suggested for first time writers, and are both patient and optimistic, your chances of signing that first contract will significantly increase. So, while it may be humbling, new writers need to remember that from small beginnings come great things.

(William J. Wagner’s highly acclaimed book, “Wrigley Blues”)

 

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SUBMIT, BUT DON’T QUIT

“It’s an awful feeling to write something that you feel is really important…and to feel that you’re being published by people who really don’t get it and/or don’t really care.”

-Alice Walker

Recently, I’ve made mention of “the do’s and don’ts” when submitting a manuscript. Since then, I’ve had a few questions from readers about how the process works. It can be tough to try and make the right decisions when sending out your work because different publishers have different procedures. It doesn’t help that many publishers have become a bit more cutthroat then in years past due to excessive inquiries. Nevertheless, there is a basic course that nearly all of them abide by. The following are some suggestions that will help upcoming authors when pitching their manuscripts. This advice comes from research, published authors, and literature websites.

First and foremost, there’s no rule demanding exclusive submissions. Anyone telling you differently hasn’t tried to submit an article as of late. It’s tough and you need to reach out to anyone who might take it. Submit the piece to several publications. While it might be considered a bit impolite to submit the same piece to competitors, there’s nothing saying that you can’t.

 

Secondly, understand that review time is considerably different depending on who you’re submitting a manuscript or article to. Magazines move fast and thanks to the Internet, receive and respond to queries relatively quickly. Typically, you can expect a magazine to respond within eight weeks or sooner. If you don’t receive something by then, either move on or write them a polite e-mail to see if they are interested. Please don’t expect magazines to send a professional rejection letter. It is a courtesy, not a requirement.

As for book publishers, first and foremost, learn how to develop a pitch letter. It is the key component to selling your book. With fiction, learn how to write a fluid, immaculate synopsis. With nonfiction, try to have your proposal emulate a business request. Publishers tend not to read a manuscript unless they’re interested in your query. And like with magazines, don’t limit yourself to a single publisher and don’t wait for a reply.

Most importantly, just keep writing. Don’t get discouraged by rejections, lack of responses, or insecurities you might have about your pitch letter. This industry is getting faster and faster, with publishers looking for that next great piece of work without consideration or apologies. If they don’t like your work, they’ll move on. So should you.

 

Am I Selling Out or Fighting for My Work?

I read a lot of authors’ blogs and one of the hot buttons tends to be a debate over promoting your book. Some authors feel that they should concentrate solely on writing their book so that it’s at its best, while trusting their publishers to take care of the rest. Other authors feel that using social media, going on blog tours and attending conventions is the foundation of having a successful novel. Some blogs say that trying to be a salesperson dents a writer’s reputation while other post that self promotion is half the battle. Its two different schools of thought. So which is right?

Well, it wouldn’t be a heated debate unless both sides didn’t have excellent points. Traditional authors feel that a writer’s responsibility is to spend hundreds of hours of blood, sweat and tears trying to perfect a manuscript that they pitch to a publisher to sell. By accepting the book, a publisher is saying that they feel that they can market it to the correct audiences in order to make a profit. So why would you get the author, who knows nothing about selling, involved?  That’s like asking them to work on a car for you or fix your plumbing. Sure they’ll give it a shot, but writers tend to be lacking in marketing skills. They specialize in telling stories.

A publisher by definition is supposed to make information available to the public. That includes all of the stages of development including acquisition, editing, graphic design, production, printing and most importantly, marketing. You write, they excite. While a publisher might expect you to show up for a few promotional appointments, they shouldn’t rely on an author to turn a book into a success. That should be something that they deploy.

On the other hand, while it might be the responsibility of a publisher to help sell your book, why wouldn’t you try to help your own cause? While there’s conflicting numbers that don’t exactly prove or disprove if blogging truly helps sell books, I can tell you from personal experience that connecting with readers never hurts. I’ve seen multiple well written blogs that inspire me to continue following the author. And yes, while using Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. might not drive sales, it’s a great way to understand what people enjoy while keeping your name out there.  Plus, it helps target specific audiences.

Publishers are great at selling a manuscript to the general public, but they tend not to concentrate on specialized groups. Blogs, social media and focused tours are a great way to aim at an audience you’d like to cater to. For example, if I’m writing a horror novel (cough, cough, “Consumed” is in on bookshelves October 2014, cough), I might want to promote my novel to gothic book clubs,  ghoulish citywide conventions and anywhere else that there’s horror readers. Promoting to people who tend to read your specific genre not only theoretically pushes sales, but it also assures better reviews. Readers of a certain style might be a bit pickier, but they also tend to appreciate elements within your writing far more than a person who just picked up any book at the airport to get them through their flight to Los Angeles.

So what does it all mean then? Should you promote or shouldn’t you? Well, although my word isn’t an official authority, I’d have to say that both schools of thought are on the right track. Yes, I’m calling it a draw. While it’s true that an author’s book should be their priority, and that being weighed down by book promotions can be a serious distraction, getting involved in endorsing your own manuscript is vital.

Managing time is tough. If you’re an early phase author who still has a day job, it’s probably even tougher. An author with a publisher has to make sure that they are spending a majority of their time working on their manuscript while allowing ample time to promote. The rule of thumb tends to be that the smaller the publisher, the more time you may want to invest in pushing your book. I’m not saying that you have to stretch yourself thin, but the occasional blog, Twitter comment or Goodreads update helps.

However, if you feel that you absolutely positively do not have enough time to both write and promote, it’s my suggestion that you abandon ship with the marketing segment. While you may be able to help, it’s ultimately the publisher’s responsibility to get the word out that your amazing book is coming soon. Your publisher can promote without you, but no one can write the book but you. Might I warn though that this is only for rare cases. In my opinion, most people, if they’re really honest with themselves, can find the time.

So the next time you’re worried about the success of your book, ask yourself, “Am I doing enough to help?” You’ve put a lot of effort into your novel. Encourage readers to buy it. It doesn’t mean that you have to treat it like a second or third job, it just means that you should put a small amount of time away every week to ensure that you’re giving the book the attention it deserves. Remember, you only get what you give.

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Good Living Leads to Good Writing

I use to romanticize that when a person became an author, some fantastical character similar to Santa Clause came down to the artist’s home, bequeathing them with a gloomy black suit as well as a life supply of whiskey and cigarettes. Now I know this wasn’t spot on, but it helped me make sense of my favorite classical authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Walter de la Mare and Oscar Wilde, who were some of the more melancholy novelists of their time. And yes, while it’s true that not every gothic author was an alcoholic, solitary introvert or ex-convict (Mary Shelly and Robert L. Stevenson to name a few), there does seem to be a slew of these social deviants throughout literature’s timeline.

 

However, as much as one might fantasize about emulating the lifestyle of their favorite unusual authors, may I suggest that you reconsider? Because while it might seem exciting to live in the footsteps of some of the more bizarre penmen, I’m a firm believer that good writing comes from good living. Yes, sometimes, we as writers might feel the need to wallow in self pity, tiptoe along the darkest alleyways or drink until our livers turn green, but it doesn’t necessarily make us more creative. No, being a good writer comes from within. It’s constant practice, well thought ideas and an unwavering spirit. It’s the ability to reside in, cope with and adapt to the modern writing world. To quote the Sage of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, “nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

I’ve been known to “indulge” in the occasional drink…or ten, and to be honest, sometimes Hemmingway’s philosophy, “write drunk; edit sober”, does help get the words on paper. Then again, I’ve written the majority of my best works while just being content and clear minded. Get me in my favorite chair next to the window with a steaming cup of coffee after eating my wife’s quesadilla casserole and I’m ready to go. Now put my snoozing dog at my feet, add a rainstorm with some Tom Waits gently playing in the background and prepare for a masterpiece.

Almost all of us have that special place or moment. That perfect hiccup in time when nothing seems imperfect about the world. It comes with good living. Work hard, stay healthy, remain kind to those you love and more of these “perfect hiccups” will arise. Because while dyeing your hair black, skipping through graveyards and drinking like a fish might help you get in the mood for whatever project you may be working on, just being happy with yourself will always prove ten times better. Joy isn’t always something just handed out freely. Often, it comes from the person’s own measures.