The wise first-time author seeks information about writing, publishing and marketing. Publishing reference books can provide a wealth of information. The style manual for the book industry tends to be The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press), and using it as a reference can help you learn such basic information as the parts of a book and their correct order, manuscript formatting, correct usage and grammar, the editorial process and much more. Even if you have no plan to self-publish, a read of Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual (Para Publishing) can teach you essential information about publishing time-lines, marketing and distribution, and prepublication reviews. John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books (Open Horizons) is a must-read for all authors, especially those who do not fully understand the role of the author in creating demand for the book. Many other books specifically address book events, publishing contracts and other important publishing elements.
Your manuscript should be as ready as it can be for publication. Do not rely on Word or another word-processing program to ferret out mistakes and misspellings. It can’t act as a substitute for common sense with words like to, too and two, and it can’t make sure your fictional characters are wearing clothes and moving from place to place (two big flaws in first-time-author fiction). Nothing replaces many serious, slow reads. Consider the following tips for preparation:
If you need editorial assistance — and almost every author does — hire a professional book editor (someone who makes a living working as a book editor). Here are some examples of folks who are not good substitutes for professional editors:
- Your cousin, Vinny, who got straight A’s in high school English.
- Your sister, Susan, who has a degree in English Literature.
- Your neighbor, Mark, who edits the local Auto Trader.
- Your mother, who speaks perfect English.
Find professional editors listed in many directories, including Literary Market Place (RR Bowker), which can be found in the reference section of the library or online at www.literarymarketplace.com. Read professional editor Chris Roerden’s “How to Take Advantage of an Editor.”
Illustration works much the same way as editing. If you plan to submit your manuscript to a publisher for consideration, don’t waste time doing illustrations. Know that most publishing houses use either an in-house stable of artists or freelance, professional illustrators. It is a rare situation in which the author can provide illustration that would meet professional standards. If you plan to self-publish, consider using a professional illustrator, not one of the following:
- Your grown son, David, whose occasional scribblings are “just so cute!”
- Your niece, Patty, who made A’s in college art.
- Your friend, James, the tattoo artist, who said he’d illustrate your book for free.
- Your coworker, Margaret, who is taking an adult education course in figure drawing.
Professional illustrators are frequently represented by agencies and display their work both on websites and in agency sample books. Artists and agencies can be found listed in books, such as Graphic Artists Guild’s Directory of Illustration (Serbin Communications, www.gag.org). There are many others, some of which display specific genres of art, such as children’s illustration (http://picture-book.com, www.childrensillustrators.com). Naturally, a librarian can help you research other sources.
Understand your responsibilities as a writer. Getting permissions, providing bibliographical information, creating a list of words to be indexed, and other details are often the responsibility of the author. Know what is expected of you before you submit your work for consideration to a publisher.
Keep abreast of the business of writing by regularly reading periodicals, such as The Writer (www.writermag.com), Children’s Writer (www.childrenswriter.com) and others that may be specific to your writing genre. Ask a librarian for help identifying the perfect periodical for you.
Plan for acceptance of your work and, if you are not currently agented, determine whether or not you will use an agent to help you with the contract. You should have no trouble getting an agent’s attention if you have a contract in hand. If you don’t plan to use an agent, make sure you know the ins and outs of publishing contracts and be ready to look for “issue” areas, such as copyright ownership, subrights percentages, refundable advances and other sticky wickets. The stickiest of wickets these days is for the publisher to offer a very high (over 10%) royalty on the net profit. Most first-time authors don’t realize that a royalty is traditionally a percentage of the retail price. A royalty on the net (or the amount left over after expenses) is not as good a deal as a royalty on the retail price.
If you plan to use a lawyer to review your contract, use only an intellectual properties attorney who handles book publishing contracts, not a bankruptcy attorney or your brother-in-law, the med-mal attorney.
The Author’s Guild offers its members a free contract review from Legal Services, and it offers advice (without membership) on its website at www.authorsguild.org/. Getting experienced assistance with your contract is even more important when working with a small press. I recommend that you read, “What Not to Miss when Drafting & Negotiating Your Book Publishing Contract,” by Intellectual Properties Attorney Lloyd J. Jassin (www.copylaw.com/new articles/final.three.html). Other great articles can be found at that site.
Writing is a profession and publishing is an industry. There is no substitute for personal professionalism and a good understanding of industry protocol. Always treat publishers in a professional and prepared manner. Doing so will keep you from developing unrealistic expectations and from becoming disappointed and disillusioned.
Betsy Lampe has 20 years of experience in the book publishing industry. She is president and editorial director of Rainbow Books, Inc., a 30year-old, family-owned, independent publisher of self-help/how-to nonfiction and a very small line of mystery fiction (character-driven medical murder mysteries and cozies). Rainbow publishes approximately 20 titles per year. It is a house member ofAAP, PAS (founding members) and FPA (founding members), and its books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor and many, many other specialty distributors. Betsy also works as association executive of the Florida Publishers Association, Inc. She can be reached at BetsyLampe@aol.com.