Monday, June 09, 2008

Ask a Publisher or Editor!

The members of The Writer's Meow came up with some questions they would ask a publisher or editor. Nine of these talented professionals were gracious enough to respond and the response was so overwhelming, I am posting their replies in two sections!

Part One today!

1- Would you say that's it's safe for a writer to trust someone over the internet who says they'll publish what you write?

Dick-
Yes, just as soon as the check clears. Let me try to say this in a way that cannot possibly be misunderstood: Publishers pay authors. Authors do not pay publishers. Authors do not pay agents, either. If any part of the transaction involves you pulling out your checkbook or providing a credit card number, stop. And do not sign any document that says you'll pull out your checkbook or credit card at a later date, either. Read the fine print. If you are self-publishing, then YOU are the publisher. That means you own your own block of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), you hire and pay an editor, you hire and pay a designer, you hire and pay a publicist, you find and pay a printer, etc. Those are the things a publisher does. You can do some of those things yourself if you have the skills and experience. You can hire a packager to do some of them for you. But the key factor is that you are in control. If you are signed by an agent who sells your manuscript to a traditional publishing company, they pay you an advance (usually) and royalties. In that case, as the publisher, they are in control. A so-called "self-publishing company" is not anything of the sort; it is a vanity press that is in business to separate authors from their money. If you believe otherwise, you are allowing yourself to be deluded. That said, there are legitimate reasons to use the services of a vanity press (subsidy press and publish-on-demand company are other terms for the same thing). For example, if you just want nicely printed holiday gifts or if you are producing a corporate giveaway, one of these companies may have a package that will do the job for you economically. But don't confuse that with publishing.

Robert-
Never without vetting the publisher carefully. The Internet makes it easy to check on the legitimacy of practically any business or service. E-mail lists and chat rooms allow writers to ask colleagues about their experiences. Most publishers on the Internet probably are above-board, but every business has its scoundrels and naifs, and there are no Internet filters that separate the good guys from the bad. Especially in fields like writing, where aspirations and desires often overwhelm experience, writers need to perform their own due diligence.

Magdalena-
This is an excellent question. To be honest, that's exactly what I did when I signed a contract with my novel's publisher BeWrite Books. But it wasn't blind trust. I hadn't actually met my publishers, who are based in the UK -- a different country to mine -- and still haven't! But I did plenty of research on them before I even submitted. I checked on the editors and preditor's website, I asked several of their authors (some of whom I knew from various writing groups) for their candid opinion, and I did plenty of Internet based research. By the time I had a contract in front of me, I felt like I knew at least as much about BeWrite as I knew about Random House or Penguin. Their authors were extremely enthusiastic, many publishing several titles with them, which was the best recommendation I could find. So to cap my response I would say that sometimes you do need to accept that you will be doing business with people you will never physically meet, but blind faith is never a good policy. Doing research on a publisher these days is very easy and well worth investing a couple of hours in.

JB-
Despite America's long history of capitalism, the individual often forgets the basic premise of unregulated commerce, caveat emptor ... "let the buyer beware." As digital technology improves the quality, productivity, and economy of printing books the temptation to take a shortcut to publication grows. Just as gambling tends to prey on the poor who look for a swift solution to their problems, online publishing frequently preys on authors who are unaware of or desire to avoid the rigors of traditional publication. It is safe for the educated and wary to utilize the many opportunities for building their writing career that are available on the Internet. It is unsafe for those who refuse to understand the nature of who they're dealing with.

Tom-
Not safe, and a very risky business.

Lorilyn:
Of course not. Before entering the publishing world, you need to do a lot of research so that you know how it all works to help you determine what's real and what isn't. Whether you plan to independently (self-) publish or not, you should read the books on publishing by Dan Poynter, and by Tom and Marilyn Ross. Also read John Kremer's "1001 Ways to Market Your Book." They are required reading.
After you've digested that basic information, it's time to talk to others in the business. Join discussion groups, and talk to as people as possible. If you can, attend the annual American Booksellers Assocation's BookExpo America, usually held in Chicago or Los Angeles. If you want to publish your book yourself, join the Publishers Marketing Group (http://www.pma-online.org/), and attend their seminars.

Barbara-
In general, no, not without some sort of corroborating evidence. There are an unfortunate number of people hanging around the fringes of the business who are making it their business to prey on the hopeful but naïve. It’s true that the book business is growing rapidly, particularly in the small/independent publishing segment, so a small house may very well be legitimate—but it’s important to check up on any house you’re considering. Google is your friend; Preditors & Editors, http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/ is a good place to get reasonably current information on Publishing Professionals Behaving Badly, and its Warnings section has many links to even more market intelligence. One of the great rules-of-thumb for playing in the book industry without getting hurt comes to us from James D. Macdonald, a longtime champion of writers, who writes, “Money flows to the writer.” In practical terms, this means that any so-called publisher or agent who attempts to charge you for any service they provide or expense they incur in the process of getting your work published is in the business of separating writers from their money rather than the business of publishing. This rule emphatically includes publishers and agents who try to refer authors to paid editors.
That being said, the landscape of publishing is changing, and the many small publishers springing up worldwide are not all pursuing the business model those of us raised on Traditional Publishing expect: author compensation models at smaller houses are much more about long-term royalties than advances, in part because these publishers tend to take a longer-term view of book life-cycle. There are a number of worthy small presses that don’t offer advances, for example, which used to be a huge red flag. But the standard principles apply, even here: Money Flows to the Writer, and it’s important to get corroboration on the publisher and how they do business before signing over the rights to your work.

Peyton-
In general, no I would not. Most of these people are not publishers really but POD printers. That is they buy a block of ISBN numbers and then offer you a cheap and easy way to get your book printed and so they entice you with the idea of holding printed copy of your book in your ‘hot sweaty writers hand’. This can be a very strong in inducement to do business with them too so they make it easy an apparently “cheap” to have your book printed up.
But here is the thing, you can buy your owe ISBN numbers and do it all yourself, just as they are really doing actually.
You get your ISBN block of 10 numbers, write your book, pay to have it proof read and the page layout done and then get your finished corrected PDF bearing your ISBN and your “Imprint name”. Your ”Imprint Name” is just the name you make up for your “publishing company”. Like ‘Big Bills Books’ or “Genius Publishing” (neither of these is recommended as names though).
Then you find a POD printer or an offset printer and get bids to have your PDF printed up. In the end this will make your books cost less for you, as much as 50% lower than “Publisher” like say “Outcast Press” will sell them to you for.
But Outcast Press is a reasonable way to go if you just want to make 100 copies or less to send to your neighbors or friends etc. Or frankly even if you just want to indulge your vanity and just have your name on your printed and bound book.
Yet, understand this too. Real publishers will very seldom (read ‘virtually never’) publish a work that has been previously offered as a POD book or by a self-published person of almost any kind. They only want the “first shot” at releasing title.
Hence, if your ambition is to be a best selling author, do not self-publish or go with any of these “POD Publisher” entities. The quality of your wring won’t sell your book, do not fool yourself there. Herman Melville could never sell “Moby Dick” today any more than Victor Hugo could sell “The Hunch back of Notre Dam” now could he?
To get your million to one shot at major publisher you can’t put nay hurdles in your way. Moreover, you have to market your book yourself almost 24/7. The first thing a publisher would ask you (if he ever talked to you in the first place of course) would be “How will I sell this book?” You better have a good answer ready too, that is be able to tell him or her who will buy it, why there are tons of such people and your marketing strategy to reach them.
Because believe me, the publisher won’t often have clue one about any of these things as a rule. One of the largest publishing companies in the world top executive (new title acquisition) explained it to me like this some years ago, “Peyton I do not give a dam if Monica Lewinski can write a grocery list. If she gets in touch with me I will be over to see her immediately and with an advance check for two million dollars and publishing contract that I will leave with signed”.

2- What do you wish writers would or would not do when submitting their proposals to you?

Barbara-
Take the time to put together the best work you possibly can, only submit works that are in line with what the house publishes, and follow the submission guidelines. No matter what you’ve been told, the publishing editor is not there to handle silly mechanical mistakes; it’s his or her task to help writers take their work beyond what they can do on their own. Submission readers can only assume that the work submitted represents the limit of the writer’s ability; don’t leave them thinking you are incapable of spelling, punctuating, and using decent grammar—or, worse, that you don’t respect them enough to bother with those things. Don’t waste your money and everyone’s time on sending a publisher a work they won’t be interested in; all reputable publishers offer very clear guidelines on what they do and do not publish, and they mean what they say. And the submission guidelines, whether or not they make sense to outsiders, represent things that particular publisher needs in order to give your work the attention it deserves.
Remember every time we open a new submission, we are hoping to fall in love. Make it possible for us to do that.

Magdalena-
I only publish book reviews at The Compulsive Reader (http://www.compulsivereader.com/) and what I receive as proposals are generally requests to review their books. So what I wish they would do is to follow the guidelines for submissions which are clearly stated on site. That is, to send me a few paragraphs synopsis of the book so I can judge whether the book is right for my site and perhaps circulate the query through my 20 or so reviewers. What I wish they would not do is to send me a full .pdf or a synopsis in an attachment (it's oddly irritating to have one paragraph of text sent in a separate Word file that I have to virus check and detach before I can read it), or lots of links, or lots of ancilliary information. Also I wish that all writers would behave in a way that is professional. That is, to accept my kind refusal with dignity (it's usually because the genre isn't right and has nothing to do with quality), rather than get upset. Sometimes I get queries that are full of typos or are extremely casual or even silly. Those don't bode well for the book and will often result in a refusal.

JB-
I could write a book to answer this one question alone. Here is a very short response. I wish writers would take the time to understand their audiences, and then take a moment in their proposal to convince me that they do. I wish writers would take the time to understand their competition, and then show me how they meet or exceed the expectations established by that competition. I wish writers would use the resources available to them (libraries, colleges, writer forums, etc) to vet their work before submitting it to me (more specifically, I wish they'd have two dozen non-family, non-friends, non-work associates read their books and provide feedback, then utilize that feedback to improve the product, before I see it). I wish writers wouldn't focus on the physical form of their book --- it's layout or design --- the message needs to be perfected first. I wish they wouldn't treat editing like an unnecessary evil. And I wish they wouldn't assume that I have the time to read their entire manuscript --- their first five pages are therefore critically important.
Tom-
Be succinct. Show me that they can write prose that people want to read, meet a deadline and know what they are talking about.

3- What’s the standard rate for editing?

Karen-
Editing encompasses many levels, ranging from light copyediting, which is more mechanical, all the way up to developmental editing, which involves broad recommendations for the structure and organization of the work. While you can generally expect to pay higher rates for a more complex edit, there is no uniform industry-wide definition for each of these levels, and rates also vary among editors.
Given this situation, what's the best way for writers and editors to proceed? In coming to terms with an editor, be explicit about what you think your writing needs, but also be open to the editor's suggestions. You are, after all, hiring a professional whose input will help you polish your work.
While this question can't be answered with a single number or even a meaningful range, there is one important consideration: Make sure you and your editor both agree in advance on what the edit will involve so that whatever the fee is, you will know what you are paying for.

Dick-
How big is a hole? There is no standard rate. Most editors will ask to see a sample of the manuscript or the whole manuscript before offering a rate. Most editors base their rates on a standard page of 250 words. Those who edit on paper request that you actually print the document formatted to put about 250 words on a page. Those who edit electronically just use the word count in the file. But the rate per page depends on what level of edit the work requires and how much editing at that level it requires. If a vendor offers you a flat rate, sight unseen, you might want to question whether you are dealing directly with the editor you will be working with. Some large editing services send manuscripts offshore for a cursory edit, amounting to little more than an automated spell check, and are thus able to offer attractive prices. Experienced freelance editors expect to make a living from their work and do not come cheap.

Katharine-
Sorry, but there is no standard rate for editing. How much it costs to get a manuscript edited depends on the level of editing needed and desired (see this page for descriptions of various levels of editing: http://www.editorsforum.org/what_do_sub_pages/definitions_copyediting.php), how quickly editing must be done (rush rate?), and how many pages there are in the manuscript.
That latter parameter does not mean how many physical pages Microsoft Word says that a manuscript is. It means how many 250-word pages there are in the manuscript. To obtain this number, go to the toolbar when your manuscript file is open and click Tools > Word Count on the toolbar. Then write down the total number of words. Divide that figure by 250, and that will tell you how many industry-standard pages your manuscript has.
That said, you can get an idea of the range of rates charged by freelance copyeditors by perusing the information found at these links:
http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.html
http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/subbing.html (Note that copyeditors are called subeditors in the United Kingdom.)
http://nwu.org/nwu/index.php?cmd=showPage&page_id=1.3.14.2.4
http://www.editors.ca/hire/index.html
The more specialized the topic (e.g., medical editing), the higher the cost. I split my workload this way: about 60% is medical editing (textbooks, monographs, and medical-journal articles, a lot of the latter for authors from outside the United States whose first language is not English) and about 40% fiction and nonfiction for large mainstream publishing houses.
Generally, you will need to negotiate the project cost with each freelancer you work with, and negotiate each project separately even with the same editor, because each project's parameters are different.
Peruse the web site of any freelance editor whom you're thinking of working with. Get a sense of his or her level of experience and areas of expertise. Write and ask for references, and then follow up on those. Ask to see a résumé. And don't be afraid to ask for a sample edit to see the editor's working style, because it's important that you like and respect the person to whom you'll be entrusting your manuscript. You don't want someone to rip it to shreds, unless that's really what you've asked for, but neither do you want someone who is too "nice" to speak up when there is a major problem. And if a prospective editor says that it would be best for you to do more work with your critique group on your manuscript before getting it edited, please listen. You don't want to spend more money than you have to.

Tom-
I charge by the project, not by the hour. And "editing" is a very broad term, covering everything from rewriting to simple proofreading.

Peyton-
Between $45 and $85 and hour in my experience. But editing has to be separated and defined: Do you mean Proof Reading? Copy Editing or Page Layout ? Some people will moonlight from their newspaper or book publishing company or magazine production job and do “editing” for as little as $3 a page.

4- What are a few things I can do to look professional? Are there any "secrets" that I can apply to be taken more seriously than just a newbie?

Tom-
Know the rules, the etiquette, the conventions of writer-pbusliher contact. Make it your business to find out these things. There are good books out there, including my own "Get Paid to Write" (Sentient Publications). Write professionally. Write a professional query. Position yourself from the git-go as a professional and never look back.

Katharine-
Please don't go wild with formatting your manuscript. Just use a plain, easily readable typeface (Times New Roman, Century Schoolbook, etc.) and a point size that is comfortable for eyes of all ages (meaning: please don't use 8-point type!). Use double-spacing and at least 1-inch margins all around (top, bottom, sides). No confetti in the package, no decorations, no cookies ; your writing really must speak for itself.

Peyton-
All you can do is to learn and understand the common mistakes that immediattely identify your work or presentation as Amateurish. Go to Amazon and do a search on such books that teach this knowledge. Remember the main job of a publishing companies 'new book' acquisition reader is to eliminate as many books as possible as quickly as possible. So have no "flags" that say "eliminate it now,don't waste timebother opening it"

Dick-
Honesty is the best policy. Don't pretend to be what you are not, because setting realistic expectations helps put everyone at ease. If you puff yourself up as an experienced author and then ask questions any experienced author would know the answers to, I'm going to conclude that you're either an idiot or a liar.
There is one thing you can do to BE a professional, though, no matter how new you are: Separate yourself from your work. Don't be defensive, in other words, and overreact to edits. It's not about you, as my first copy chief told me in 1968; it's about the words on the page. The editor's job--and your own job once you've entered into an editing transaction--is to improve the product. You have every right to disagree with a specific editorial suggestion; I'm not saying that the editor is always right and the author is always wrong. But get your head screwed on straight so that you and the editor are both focused on making the manuscript as good as it can be rather than on whether your feelings are being adequately considered.

JB-
1. Tell me who your audience is and why they'll read your book. Do not tell me that "everyone" will like your book. With incredibly rare exceptions, all books have very specific audiences, and most new authors don't know who they are and what they like. (Best example: children's book authors who write books for 2nd grade readers that would be a difficult read for high school students.)
2. Show us that you understand your competition. Do not tell me that your book has no competition or is unique. All books have competition, even if it's only the adjacent books on the bookstore shelf. Few books are truly unique --- especially fiction. Not knowing the books that must be displaced for an author's book to succeed and how that will be accomplished is a sure sign of a new author.
3. New authors usually don't understand that the average first-pass submission review is three minutes or less. The publisher's first impression is critically important to surviving the first cut. Spend more time checking spelling, grammar, and syntax in your cover letter and synopsis than you do your manuscript. Make sure that you properly balance the amount of project, marketing, and personal information (for example, fiction requires that I know more about the project and less about the author. Non-fiction frequently requires the reverse due to the usual requirement of the author's credibility to sell the product.)
4. Providing an initial marketing analysis is becoming a requirement due to increasing competition. Too frequently, new authors think this analysis boils down to "my book can be sold through Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Wal-Mart." This isn't at all what publishers want to hear. We want to know about trade shows, association conventions, fan groups, professional contacts, and other promotional opportunities --- especially in the author's local area --- that we can use to kick-start the promotion process. Could we figure all this out for ourselves? Sure, but that takes time --- especially for local references. It also shows us that you've some understanding of what publication will do to your personal life.

Magdalena-
The best way to look professional is to follow the professionals that you admire. Have a look at how other writers of your genre are packaging themselves and promoting themselves and follow suit. Check out their websites, social networking pages, and books and promote yourself in a similar way. Think of yourself and present yourself as a professional and you will appear that way. Also, and this is a key point, always always proofread everything you send out, from a quick email to a book length proposal. In this age of fast media, writers often skimp on the proofreading and that can lead to very unprofessional looking manuscripts. Those aren't secrets of course -- just a little common sense! Oh, and one more thing -- try to get a few awards and good reviews. They're an excellent, objective way to demonstrate that you are serious about your work.

5- Is it true that if a story is even put on the web, does that constitute it as published?

Peyton-
This is just a matter of semantics alone to me. One can righfully say for example " I am well published on the net". Fr example , while wrote nothing or almost nothing for the net (except my own web site http://www.rmcat.com/) if you enter my name "Peyton Quinn" on any search engine you will find hundreds of articles that I have written over the years for one magazine or another or for my own website "published" all over the net. Who put them there? I have no idea.To me "publish" means mainly to "make public". If it is on the net it sure is public now isn't it?

JB-
When it comes to electronic distribution, be it in the form of eBooks or open text, publishers are primarily concerned with sellability. Publishing is like investing. We're risking money and resources on the potential sales of a book. As exposure of freely available material increases on the Internet, so, too, does the risk of investing in that material's publication. However, this isn't a simple cut-in-stone rule. For example, publishing a short-story version of a longer manuscript on the Internet for promotional purposes is little different than including a direct excerpt from the book. If digital publication allowed the author to collect contact information for a fan base --- a large group of people that would represent initial sales --- then the risk of publication is reduced. If the author can show value for digital publication, then a trade publisher will be more amenable to pursuing print publication. If the author can't show this, the trade publisher may conclude that the product has already been published and pursue another project.

Tom-
A matter of definition. If I had a story on the web, I would consider it 'Published," that is, made available to the public., but I would not consider it a particularly strong credential, since so many stories go online, good, bad, and indifferent. Mostly bad. And in writing as elsewhere you are known by the company you keep.

Barbara-
There are a variety of different flavors of publication rights associated with any written work. Most publishers want to buy First Rights, which means more or less what it sounds as if it means: the right to be the first to publish the work in question. If a work has already appeared in any public forum, including the internet, the writer cannot sell First Rights, because that right has already been exercised. There are some publishers who are less interested in First Rights than, say, audio—and others who specialize in other subsidiary rights. But when you publish a work on the web, you do render it very difficult to sell.

Robert-
Technically and probably legally, yes. The work has been made public. It is protected by copyright, even if a copyright application has not been filed. And the rights you can offer to a publisher have been compromised. For example, it is considerably more difficult to sell first serial rights once the writing has been placed in circulation. That's not a reason NOT to use the Internet for you own benefit. But understand that the Internet is changing the way the world works. Definitions of words like "published" are not as quick to change. Having your work published in a blog or an e-zine is not the same as having it published in a literary journal.

PANEL:

Lorilyn Bailey
CEO, NewsBuzz, Inc. Founder of GuestFinder.com - Promote your book through radio interviews
Author and Publisher: The Original Lovers' Questionnaire Book and The Little Book of Online Romance
Raleigh, NC
http://www.guestfinder.com/

Dick MargulisDick Margulis Creative ServicesEditing • Book Design • Book Productionhttp://www.dmargulis.com/selfpublish.asphttp://ampersandvirgule.blogspot.com/

Tom Williams, PhD, is the author of the forthcoming "Self-Publishers Bible" (summer, 2008) and of such standards in the field as "Publish Your Own Magazine, Guidebook, or Weekly Newspaper." http://www.pubmart.com, (912) 352-0404. 1317 Pine Ridge Drive, Savannah, GA. 31406

Peyton Quinn
http://www.rmcat.com/
Author of :Freedom From Fear: Taking Back Control Of Your Life & Dissolving Depression (0975999605 , Real Fighting: Adrenal Stress Conditioning Through Scenario Based Training (0873648935) And the novel, Dog Soldiers MC (1598004182 )

E. Keith (JB) Howick, Jr.PresidentWindRiver Publishing, Inc.

Robert GoodmanSilvercat / Written and Printed Communication Services http://www.silvercat.com/Silver Threads / Memoirs and Memoir Services http://www.silver-threads.org/rg@silvercat.com
Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader at http://www.compulsivereader.com/. She is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup. Her work has appeared in a wide range of journals, and has won many awards.

Barbara Friend Ish
Credentials: Publisher, Mercury Retrograde Press
http://www.mercuryretrogradepress.com/
Mercury Retrograde is a new independent press based in Atlanta, Ga. We publish fantasy, science fiction and the unclassifiable; we are dedicated to unconventional authors and works that might undeservedly slip through the cracks at bigger houses, and to developing stories and artists that matter to us. Our first book, Shorn by Larissa N. Niec, is in pre-release now and scheduled for official release on October 1st. We plan to publish two books this year, three or four next year, and to ramp up to ten to twelve per year. I never expect Mercury Retrograde to get terribly big: I see us as a boutique house, and I want to always remain intimately involved with the entire life-cycle of each book and the development of each author, and in order to do justice to more books than that I’d have to give up my own creative life.
We are accepting submissions; guidelines are on the website.

Katharine O'Moore-KlopfKOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)editor@kokedit.comhttp://www.kokedit.com/
Member of the Editorial Freelancers Associationhttp://www.the-efa.org/
Member of the Council of Science Editorshttp://www.councilscienceeditors.org/

Karen Schader
KAS Editing
copyediting -- substantive editing -- project management
kaschader@gmail.com

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