View Full Version : Guide to getting published

10 November 2005, 12:35 PM
Guide to getting published
Part 1: Definitions
Part 2: Starting the process
Part 3: Agents
Part 4: Composing a cover letter

10 November 2005, 12:41 PM
Part 1: Definitions

The first step in getting published is having something to publish. If you don’t then stop now and write something that you think you would like to see in print, then come back and finish reading this.

Next you have to have to choose how you’re going to get in to print. There are four basic options, and we will go through each one listing the pros and cons of each.

POD (Print On Demand):
First read the warning put out by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA):

Then read it again.

What all that boils down too is:
1) A writer seeking to become a professional should never use one.
2) They may retain rights to your work that is buried in deceptive terminology leaving you unaware of what they can and can’t do or even what you can and can’t do with your work(they can prevent you from submitting it to a regular publisher for a few years).
3) If you plan on just “seeing” your work in print and only plan to sell a few dozen copies (such as a family cook book that you plan to pass out as gifts) then it “might” be a good alternative.
4) It can be good way for small publishers to sacrifice profit margin per book in exchange for not needing to warehouse large print runs.
5) There is more, but those are the point’s I wished to highlight.

Vanity Publishing:
First read the warning (yet again) put out by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:

Then read it again.

Many of the same points from above also apply here. The difference between Vanity publishing and an POD Service are basically, how many books are printed in each batch, and (sometime but not always) the amount of advertising your work gets.

Self Publishing:
This is where you, the author, have complete control over every aspect of what happens to your book. Everything from cover art, to editing, to marketing is completely under your control. Using a POD Service or a Vanity Publisher, is NOT (I repeat NOT) self publishing! No matter what there information says, no matter what they tell you, it is NOT self publishing.

Book stores are often willing to put a local author’s self published work on there shelves, but NOT if it’s from a POD or Vanity Publisher.

If you self publish, you can reasonably expect to sell around (which means you have to print, edit, and cover) one hundred books in “pocket” markets. Pocket markets are friends, family, and few local people that enjoy seeing a fellow local get in to print. You also retain ALL rights to your work.

Legal Stuff:
This is VERY important! Read this section carefully!

If you choose one of three methods mentioned above (we will get to ‘normal’ book publishers in a moment), then you have just set your self up for something very bad, a law suite. Scary stuff eh?

The courts in most countries, and nearly all western countries, take copyrights VERY seriously. Since this guide is being posted on ‘Star Wars’ site, I will give one example of how serious copyrights can be.

Back in the early to mid 1970’s, two great works were released at about the same time. Star Wars, EPIV: A New Hope came out in the movies theaters, and shortly there after, a novel named DUNE, by Frank Herbert.

In the novel DUNE, there a robotic training device that teaches students hand-to-hand and close up fighting. It had many lethal devices, and stood just over two meters tall. It was the call the “Combat Simulation Robot”, Version 2, or just “R2” for short.

George Lucas sued Frank Herbert for using the name R2, and won. Frank Herbert NEVER used the name again for anything, period. Part of the settlement included that Lucas gets a percentage of every copy of DUNE sold. This still holds true today.

Later in that same decade came a T.V. series, Battle Star Galictica. The show was an instant hit, and made the creators a fortune. What no one, except George Lucas, seemed to notice was that effects (including some of the people doing them) for the lasers were exactly the same as those used in Star Wars. Again Lucas sued and won, shutting down production of the show.

What does all this mean? It means that if you have (in your book) a magician with a sword of light that comes from a desert world that has giant worms on it (Jedi on Dune), you’re going to get sued.

In fact, in the United States, it’s been called lawsuit lottery. Meaning that if someone sues you for anything, and looses, they pay court costs (and so do you) and their lawyer (again you pay yours) and everyone goes there own separate ways. If they win, they win big, especially on copyright infringement. Settlements are generally in the millions of dollars, or the forfeit of any and all royalties from your work, or both.

What the above three methods of publishing do NOT offer, is research. If a new book gets released, even if you are unaware of it, and it has ANYHTING that your book also contains, you are liable for copyright infringement.

Book Publishers:

First of all, this is THE recommended route for ALL new authors.

What Book Publishers bring to the table is research, respectability, and integrity. You know, with out ANY doubt, that your work is of quality material, legal (in that is has been thoroughly checked for copyright matters), and that you have been treated fairly.

This is not to say that Book Publishers are pillars of goodness. They are a business just like any other, and they exist to make money. The difference is they have chosen to make money publishing books, rather than say making sprockets. Do not be fooled, they can be just as cut-throat as any other type of business. Smaller royalties to you, means larger profit margin’s for them. It’s just that simple.

This does not mean that all of them are bad either. If they screwed over every author that came along, word would get out, and they soon would have nothing to publish, but they can’t please everyone who comes to them either. When looking for a publisher, look with the eye of business person rather than the eye of an author.

To find a book publisher that prints the type of book (or story) that you have written, I suggest (strongly) that you get (buy, borrow, check out from a library) a copy of the most recent edition of the “Writers Market” series. The title will be something like “Novel & Short Story Writers Market 2006”. Yes a 2005 or even a 1998 edition will contain a lot of the same information. But phone numbers, web addresses, mailing addresses, what they want, what they need, and many more pieces of information are subject to change. Even the information in the most recent edition can change with out notice.

It is important to keep in mind the information is ONLY basic contact information. Yes, most include submission guidelines, but just about ever publisher has near the same guide lines. Some “ONLY” accept submission through an agent (we will get to agents in part 3).

10 November 2005, 12:55 PM
Part 2: Starting the process

The basics are (for a novel or novella) send in (usually the first) three chapters, with a cover letter, and wait. Then you wait some more.

Once you have submitted you work, it (generally) goes through the following process.

The six second test. This were your manuscript is look at for things like paper color, font, and formatting. If you fail here, you get a form rejection letter thank you for your time, but there not interested. It then goes to the trash can. To pass this test, I (again strongly) suggest, looking at William Shunn’s Proper manuscript format web site. It can be found at:
This is a very good site with a LOT of helpful information. It is a good idea to setup a template in your word processor so that you write in this format. Once you get used to it, it can become your favorite way to write. Even if you don’t, go back and format your story when you’re done with it with the above guidelines. These guidelines WILL get you past the six second test.

Next come’s the cursory test. Your manuscript is looked over for common mistakes. These include spelling (for heaven’s sake use a spell checker!), punctuation, and grammar. A spell checker will check for a word, but may replace a misspelled word with the wrong one. Such as “I purchased a new craddel”, may become “I purchased a new carded.” When it should be “I purchased a new cradle.”. It is VERY important to check for these. It can happen more often than people think. If you fail this test, you get the same form letter as above.

Next it goes to the in house readers (with some publishers this is also the editor). These people look at a LOT of manuscripts. They don’t have time to read entire manuscripts and these are the people you need to impress. If they like the first three chapters you sent them, they will send it back to the editor with approval, other wise you get, and yup you guessed it, the form letter. If you get approval, then you get a letter requesting the entire manuscript and (sometimes but not always) a contract offer. We will get in to contracts and the legality of them later.

If you have made it this far your doing great. Next, You send in the entire manuscript, and once received it goes to
(again usually but not always) outside reader. These are people contracted with publishers to review manuscripts. You can make some good income just doing this. They read your work, and fill out a standard review form on what they thought of the book. They do NOT suggest changes, ever.

Once the reviews are all in, a score is tallied, and this determines the overall marketability (how much the publisher thinks they can make from it) is determined.

At the same time that the outside readers are doing there job, it is sent off to research. These do nothing except take you work apart word by word looking for anything that even hints at copyright infringement. They have access to just about everything ever written and compare things in your book to other books. This can be proper names of places, people, things, or descriptions, or anything else that may make it look as though you got your idea from an already copy protected source. If you pass this test great! If you fail, you will be informed and told to make changes to clear up the issue before anything can proceed. If this happens, you make the changes, and the process starts all over again.

Once it passes this test, and the reviews are in (if you have not already gotten one) you are sent a contract offer. Make sure your read it all VERY carefully. If there is ANYTHING and I mean ANYTHING that you do not understand ask a lawyer (or your agent, which is discussed later) to explain it to you. If there is ANYTHING you don’t agree with remember, it’s a offer, you CAN negotiate, almost always. If this is your first book, you don’t have much room to negotiate, as you are, for now, unproven among your peers. If you have an agent, it his job to get the best deal, and has already done all he can. If you do have an agent, he will send you what is essentially the book publishers’ final offer.

MORE Legal Stuff:
Contracts with publishers are legally binding to both you and them. If the contract does not explicitly say the publisher is required to perform a service, then do not expect it to be done by them. It will tell you what you must do to fulfill your contract obligation. Failure on your part, which is outlined in the contract, can (and usually does) include forfeit of all rights to the work and royalties. You may even have to pay the publisher back the cost of publishing, shipping, advertising etc.

Once you have your signed contract with a publisher, and all the work is done, there is more work yet to do. Over the next year or so the publisher will be working with cover artists (you will sometimes get final approval for cover art, but not always), printers, and editors. They will be choosing the bond (type of paper to use including smoothness, color, texture, and other attributes), the font to use, and the size of the page.

At this same time there promotions department is working to setup things like radio and/or T.V. advertisements, book signings, designing displays for book stores and other retail outlets, and many other things to get the most money from your book as they can. This in turn makes you the most money they can get from your book.

Shortly before the release date when everything is in place, you and a few "select others" get an advance copy of the finished product. Check this carefully for errors. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. If you find one, call the publisher (or your agent of you have one) immediately. They may not be able to correct the error in all copies (as they will still want to sell what they have already printed unless it’s a major mistake) but they will do the best they can and will correct it for future printing runs.

The “select others” are book reviewers for news papers that are on their list. If they read your book, they will publish a review. Usually this appears in whatever news paper or magazine the reviewer works for. If favorable (and sometimes even if not so favorable as publishers have a great spin department) the publisher of your book will use that in promoting your book to generate even more sales.

The copies (yes copies) you receive are to give out to people you know. This will also help promote your book. You usually get fifty to one hundred copies, depending on the terms of your contract. You can give them away, sell them, or even burn them. There yours do with what ever you wish.

Congratulations! You are now a published author!

11 November 2005, 10:40 PM
Part 3: Agents

Fist, here is a list of books that can help you find agents:

2006 Guide to Literary Agents:

2006 Writers Market:

2006 Novel and Short Story Writers Market:

There are many more, remember, Google is your friend.

Now that the easy part is out of the way, we can get down to business. The first question you should be asking yourself if “Do I need an agent? Really?”

There are the “big six” New York publishers (HarperCollins, Random House, Simon and Shuster, Penguin Putnam, Scholastic, and Disney/Hyperion) that only accept manuscript through agents. If you absolutely have to be published by one these, then yes you need agent.

However, there are many publishers that not only accept submissions from new authors, but encourage it. So the real answer is no, you do not “need” an agent.

When dealing with new writers, agents and agencies are even more swamped with material from new writers than publishers. And usually being a much smaller entity, have even less time to deal with the flood of requests than a good publishing house has available. This is because everyone wants to pick up the phone, say “Hello?” then turn to there friend and say, “It’s my agent.” :) Yes is gives you status, and a feeling of pride, but not much else. In fact, for new writers anyway, it can be harder to get an agent than to publish a book on your own.

So what does a new writer do then? Well, if you will ONLY be happy being published by one of the “big six” then look for agent, but it will much harder to get one than other avenues. If you really don’t care about the publishing house (at least as long it will treat you fairly and get you published) then stay far, far away from the “big six” and look for another publisher.

Once you do get one or two books in print, trust me, agents will be doing everything in there power to sign you. Why now? Because you have proven yourself among your peers (other writers) that you can write well enough to generate sales, and that you can finish what you start. These are two very key points for both publishers and agents.

What an agent does for you:
1) Submit material to publishers (This is real advantage as they can submit to publisher that normally do not accept unsolicited material. They have contacts in most publishing houses and know which ones will be best to submit your work too. This save you time in finding a reputable publishing house for your work as they are already aware of the bad ones.)

2) Negotiate Contracts (No one likes to do this. It takes a while and can get very, very nit-picky. Also, most agents have a “boiler plate” or “standard” contract with publishers that is usually better than an unagented written can get by him/her self.)

3) Collect Monies and distribute them. (An agent reviews royalty statements, which are becoming more complicated each year so publishers can hide things to keep money in there bank. If there is a “mistake” they get the publisher to pay up. If an unagented writer says they will never publish with them again, no big deal. If an agent says this, and they have over two-hundred writers signed on, they have a bit more pull. In most cases, when an agent finds an error, they usually pay up with out question.)

Keep in mind this information is ONLY the basics. Also, if you deal with more than one publishing house, you still only get one 1099 form for taxes, making H&R Block's job easier, so cheaper for you come tax time. They also can do things like “The editor says it’s standard? You shouldn’t have to do that. I’ll call the editor and see what the problem is.” They also “manage” your career and can save you from yourself by keeping you from making a major mistake.

What the agent gets in return:
Traditionally, literary agents get 10% - 15% of your actual earning. (Advances, Royalties, Permission Fee’s, etc…) Increasingly 15% is the de facto rate, and even as high as 35% for things like movie right (this is because they themselves must use agent who handles movies.)

No legitimate agent will EVER charge a reading fee. Ever! Period!

Some agents do charge back some expenses to the author, make sure you know exactly what they charge for before you sign a contract with them.

Finding an agent:
The best method seems to be to get published and they will come to you. If you attend writing conferences, you will probably meet several there. Just make sure you interview them as if you hiring someone: you are, they work for you.

If you want an agent now, then there is some work to do, and keep in mind it can be hard to find a good one that is your field and has a good reputation with publishers.
Here are some things you will want to find out when sizing up an agent or agency:

1) See if they are listed in the Novel and Short Story Writers Market 2006, or are member of the AAR(see below).

2) If not, the why not? New agents in particular might not be, so don’t count this against them right away.

3) If they are new, did they leave a job in publishing? Or strike out on there own from agency?

4) If no to the questions in #3, then what qualifies them to be a literary agent?

5) If they have been around a while, do they have a good track record of sales to reputable publishers?

6) Do they charge any fee’s other than marketing expenses, which some agents do charge back to the author.

How to find out about an agent:
First, start with the listing of books in the start of this section. You should always have an up to date Market Guide for the area of writing you're interested in.

Then check with the AAR. Agents who are members of the Association of Authors Representatives must follow of code of ethics. You can contact them at:


The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.
P.O.Box 237201
Ansonia Station
New York, New York, 10003

For $7 (payable to AAR), and a self addressed stamped envelope with 55 cents postage, anyone can receive AAR’s package info. This includes:
1) A list of agents which are AAR members
2) A brochure about what agents can and can’t do for authors
3) Sample question to ask when considering working with an agent
4) The canon of AAR ethics

You may also want to check out Predators’ and Editors’ here:

along with checking the warnings at http://www.sfwa.org/ frequently.

DO NOT rely on these as your only sources. Again, this is just the basics.

Is that all:
No, not at all. I have given you the information needed to find a reputable agent on your own, if you decide you need one. The real work still has to be done by you, and was never intended to be step by step guide to getting an agent. The fact is things change, so no guide, no matter how complete can ever do that.

My advice:
Get published at least once by yourself. The experience alone will be worth the effort, and will give you a better feel for what the agent really does. Once you are in print, the publisher put’s your name and your book title on a list that nearly ALL agents, and definitely ALL agents that work with that publisher, read on a daily basis. You will get offers, guaranteed by your second book. If your book actually makes a best seller list any ware on the planet, you WILL GET TONS of offers. It is at this point you should follow this guide. I also suggest browsing the AAR web site and reading as much as you can there.

In the next section I will discuss cover/query letters.

16 November 2005, 10:51 PM
Part 4: Composing a cover letter

Composing a cover/querry letter shouldn't be all that hard to do, but it can be. Why? Before your manuscript is even looked at, the editor reads the cover letter first. If you fail here, your work is dead before it ever got started. Undeniably this can place a lot of pressure, especially on new writters, to try to create the perfect cover letter. The only perfect cover letter is the one that gets the editor (or agent) to read the manuscript, not always to purchace the book. (That's the manuscript's job). All the cover letter really does is let the editor know that I know what I am doing, and I do it well. Again, it is up to your manuscript to say you are great at it.

So what do you then to get the editor to at least look at your manscript? Start by downloading the attached file, Sample_Letter.zip. Inside you will find two (2) documents. Both are identical in every way, save one. One is saved with the .wps extension for Microsoft Works 7 and higher. Earlier version may be able to open this file but there are no garuntees. The second file is saved with the .doc extension, and for maximum compatibility, should be able to be opened with out any problems by OpenOffice.org 1.1.0 or newer, MicroSoft Office 95 or newer, MicroSoft Works 7 or newer, and StarOffice (not sure of version info here).

Your cover letter should be printed on 20lb. Bond White Bond Paper with out a water mark. Leave a 1 1/4 inch margin, and hand sign it at the bottom in blue or black ink only. Your letter should NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER (did I mension never) be more than a single page.

Looking carefully at the sample letter, you can see some formating that is considered standard in the industry.

Center your contact information. Use single line spacing.

Skip one line and put the date.

Skip one line and put the contact information of the person(s) you are trying to get the manuscript too. Always include the name of (and the correct spelling of) the editor that handles submisions and his/her title.

Skip one line.

Start with "Dear (Mr./Ms./etc) (LastName):"

Skip one line.

Do not indent the first line of each paragraph. Rather, skip a line between paragraphs. Use Justified Text (Text that apears even down both sides of the page). Use a "normal" font like Times New Roman. Use a font size of 12. 10 point font size is ok if you need to fit everything you HAVE to say about your submision on a single page, but try to get it all in using 12 if you can. The ONLY TIME you use Italics is when stating the exact title of your book. Never use bold or underline text.

First Paragraph:
Should contain a request for review, the title for the book, and an interesting synopsis of what the book is about. You may also wish to include the view point and/or the plot structure used. (In the sample letter I only mentioned the view-point and this is ok too.) You should also state your intended reading age. In the sample I wrote "This is not a childrens book.", I then elaborated on why.

Second Paragraph:
Should contain ONLY more information about what the book is about. In the example I left out the details of the ending. This is NOT always advisable, but in this case it was my choice. The cover letter, combined with the included "piece" of the work should "hook" the editor in to reading/requesting the entire manuscript. Or perhaps I did include the ending, and left it open for a second book. The editor will have to read the whole manuscript to find out.

Final Paragraph:
Tell the Editor what (s)he has, and how to contact you should (s)he like what (s)he has so far. It is also a good idea, but not manditory, to tell the Editor wether or not the manuscript is disposable. You should always send a disposable manuscript as this will save you return postage should you get rejected.

Change the formating back to "left align" and use "Sincerely,".
Then skip three lines (this will leave room for your signiture) and then place your name at the bottom. If you do not have a "professional" signiture, and it looks more like the proper cursive you learned in middle school, have someone coach you on a better way to sign your name. This may sound trivial, but it really isn't. Your signiture says a lot about you, including your level of education, and intelligence. No this isn't always the case, but this is the way it affects complete strangers who do not know anything about you, and they have to make judments and assumptions based only on the available information. The right and/or wrong of it is a debate best left to others. The fact is, this is the way the world works. People always judge others based on incomplete information.

Addition Notes:
Try to hook the Editor with the first paragraph, indeed from the first sentance. (S)He will most likely gloss over the top of the page as they recieve more than they can ever publish in a year. That is unless of course you misspell there name or title. If you do that, it's as good as dead. Call or write the submisions dept. to get the name (and correct spelling) and title of the person to contact.

Never fold a cover letter or manuscript. It makes it harder to flip the pages and will get trashed. Instead, use a large envelope or cardboard box to send it in. This may sound obvious, but place the cover letter ON TOP of the manuscript. This acttually a fairly common mistake, and if the editor sees no cover letter, they will assume there isn't one and trash can the whole thing.

DO NOT staple or bind your manuscript in any way. Make sure ALL pages are numbered as per the example in manuscript format, and they are shipped in the proper order.

When placing your contact info at the top of the page, some people prefer to use "right align" ranther than centered text. Some editors do not mind this, but most will so just leave it centered.

Remeber, if you cannot give an adaquite synopsis of your work in a few lines, then niether can advertisers. Make sure you can sum up the book in one or two sentences.

Publishers that accept electronic submissions:
You should alwyas follow the above examples and guideline when possible. If the publisher "also" accepts electronic submission, include a copy either on a 3.5" diskette, or on a cd-rom. Use a file format that is common, meaning use only a Microsoft Word format. Even Microsoft works can save files in some format that MicroSoft Word can read. Even if they use non-MicroSoft software, you can be assured they still have the capability to read documents in the Microsoft Word file format. DO NOT SAVE ANY MACRO'S IN THE FILE! This will be seen as a potential virus, and it will NOT be review. There is NO place for macro's in a plain manuscript. Period.

If they "only" accept electronic submission (as in some e-zines), then follow there submission guidelines, but make sure you include a cover letter file along with the file(s) containing the manuscript.

Final Note:
If you feel this Quazi-Psudo-Guide is either incomplete, incorrect, or would just like to ask a question, then please let me know. I will try to make myself available to answer all questions regarding this guide.

The information is guide is a compilation of personal experience, and gathered bits of information from the internet. Where possable, I have included links to other guides that go in to more to detail on specific subjects/topics. Some of the information found on the net has been updated and represented here due to it's age and/or lack of completeness and/or modern relevency.

Thank you for taking the time read this guide.

Added a .RTF file as well.

17 November 2005, 05:58 AM
*hates to intrude*
RTF format would be the most ubiquitious format to choose as it's readable in just about every word processing package :)

17 November 2005, 12:01 PM
As you wish :D

Snib Snub
17 November 2005, 12:26 PM
Wouldn't a spell checker and proofreading be a good consideration? ;)

Jax Nova
2 March 2006, 10:19 AM