Last week we agreed – well, at least I agreed, since I am after all writing this – that the purpose of writing is to be read by as many people as possible and that the best way of knowing there are people reading and enjoying your work is to sell it. No one is going to give you money for your writing just to make you feel better. Okay, maybe your mom. But she isn’t going to keep doing it. So, if you’re making a living from your writing you have to know people are enjoying it.
Besides being a useful indicator of popularity, money is good for all sorts of things. For instance, the local grocery store takes it in exchange for food (and takes more of it each week it seems) and no matter how much we explain to our bank that we’re running what amounts to a non-profit cat shelter for delinquent cats, it still insists on having us pay our mortgage in cash instead of warm fuzzies. (I know, I know. Very narrow minded of them.)
So, you’ve finished your manuscript, be it a novel or a short story, or even a collection of articles on delinquency in cats, and you’re looking for a way to market it. But how exactly do you go about it?
Well, first of all, you don’t know how lucky you are. When I finished my first novel, back in pre-history (it was 1985 and we chiseled our work on slabs of rock) I honestly had no idea what to do with it. As it turned out, I should have burned it, but since I didn’t know it at the time, I went to the library, got a copy of Writers’ Market and proceeded to send it out to all sorts of inappropriate places, from whence it was returned at speed (The Writers’ Market is more reliable for non-fiction, and event here the listings are often outdated by the time it goes to print.) It was years before I found the appropriate places (which as it turned out also returned it at speed.)
Nowadays, you can do a lot of the research for where to market your book on line. Sites like Ralan list markets for Science Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy and Horror ranging from the professional-paying to literary and little. I was actually chuffed to find out they still existed. They used to be my go-to market listing back ten years ago when I was regularly submitting to magazines. (I haven’t done that in about ten years, because I’ve been submitting to by-invitation anthologies, and fulfilling book contracts. It’s one of those problems you trade up for in the writing field.) A friend of mine also uses something called The Grinder Diabolical Plots which is a combined submission tracker and market resource.
These are primarily for magazines, of course, which means they are mostly markets for short stories.
What if you just wrote a novel, or a long non-fiction work?
Presumably if you wrote it, you’ve read things like it. I suggest you look at your bookshelf and find which lines publish the type of book you just wrote. (Amazon is also useful for this. It tells you the name of the publisher.) Then look at google, to find whether the “Publisher” is the imprint of one of the big five publishing houses, or if it is an indie publisher.
Most imprints – most publishing houses, too – have their own web pages and if you poke around there long enough you’ll find a place that directs you on how to submit. The exception to this is when the house is not open to submissions, which is very common with indie publishers these days. They are often the shared resource of a group of writers, who in fact only publish group members. (I belong to two of those. Why band together to form an indie publisher, if you’re going to restrict it to group members? There are reasons for this, and we’ll cover them when we discuss indie publishing.)
Now, before you start sending your work of willy nilly, some words of caution…
I have said before that I would not send a novel to one of the traditional publishers (other than Baen which still publishes most of my science fiction and fantasy and which has always been a law onto itself and with whom I’ll continue publishing as long as they’ll have me.) My reasons for this are fourfold:
1- The houses have undergone drastic cut-backs, and you stand a good chance of being released with no publicity and then being told they will no longer publish you since you failed to sell well.
2- A lot of the houses are offering what amounts to poisonous contracts, which lay claim among other things to anything else you might write in the same setting or genre. (Given a broad enough definition, they could end up owning everything you ever write, including your blog.)
3- Rumor in the field is that a few of the imprints/publishing houses are in shaky financial positions that might lead to either mergers or bankruptcy and even though you supposedly would get your book back in those events, the contract is not always followed. There is a very good chance your book will become an asset in a bankruptcy. I have had acquaintances caught in this type of situation with some medium-size publishers.
4- Even if none of the above happens, it could be ten years or more before you get the rights to your book back. We’ll discuss why this is a drawback when we discuss indie and the advantages of a dual career.
An additional drawback, but deserving of longer discussion is the fact that all traditional publishers except (last I checked, this might have changed. I heard rumors one other took over-the-transom, but now I can’t remember which) DAW and Baen require you to get an agent before you can submit to them.
Finding an agent can be harder than finding a publisher. If you’re interested in finding one, I recommend you peruse the listings of the professional association of your chosen genre (SFWA for science fiction, MWA for mystery, RWA for Romance), and the dedication pages of your favorite authors (authors often dedicate books to their agents.) Then find out if the agent has a website and a blog, and pay particular attention to the career of the agent’s midlist authors. Why the midlist? Because anyone can sell a headliner. And someone who is a raw beginner might be near impossible to sell in the current market, anyway. But a decent agent should still be finding work for his or her established midlisters, even in the current crunch.
Why do I say the need to have an agent is a drawback?
Agent contracts have become rather funny, themselves. Some agents are laying claim to a commission on your work for the life of the copyright. What this means is say they sell it tomorrow, the book goes out of print in a year and the copyright reverts to you. The agent is incapable of reselling it, or you’ve parted ways. Even if you resell the book or take it indie, you’re on the hook for 20% of the proceeds from that book for the rest of your life plus seventy years.
In addition agents are running publishing arms, which can be a convenience or a splitting of loyalties.
Before you sign with an agent – any agent – check preditors and editors. Agents in the US don’t need to be licensed or have any training. You could hang up a shingle tomorrow and call yourself an agent. Then run the agent through a search engine, and see what people are saying about him or her.
Given all these drawbacks, why would you even consider traditional?
First, there is a lot to be said for a dual career. A traditional publisher can get you where an indie house, or your own efforts won’t, in terms of distribution and self-presence. (Note I’m not saying they will get you there, but they can.) A traditional publisher can give you an aura of success, simply because it’s so hard to get past the gatekeepers anymore. While I don’t believe attaining traditionally published status says much about quality – a lot of very good books get rejected simply because there’s only so many slots, and a lot of dreck gets accepted because editors have blindspots too – a lot of people still believe it is an imprimatur of quality, and will take you more seriously if you have it. And finally and most importantly, traditional publishing pays up front.
While indie – as we’ll discuss next week – can end up making more than traditional (I have friends who have made the equivalent of a traditional publishing advance in one month of indie publication) it can also make it incredibly slowly. Traditional publishing will give you money up front, so you have something to live from while writing the next book. (At least this is the theory. Most new authors these days get three to five thousand dollars, which will not keep anyone alive while writing the next book, unless you write really fast.)
It is not a bad idea to have a combination of money up front and slow but steady money. So, I recommend you have a dual traditional/indie career. This gives you all sorts of options for promoting and controlling your career.
It also gives you the headaches of both sides.
We will go into the advantages and disadvantages of indie next week, and then we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of doing both at the same time.
One disadvantage is that you might find yourself sleeping only on alternate Wednesdays.
I have a dual career and this week has included more than twenty thousand words on a novel under contract, two short stories delivered to markets that had invited me, and significant work on an online workshop on cover design.
On the other hand, I’m making a living from something I love. So, onward and forward. Next week – The Indie Jungle.