Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Your Path to Publishing

By Jason Evans

Wow.

This is the big one. Today we begin our discussion on paths to publishing. This is a BIG topic. So I apologize now if I forget to mention something, or don’t address a question someone might have.

I remember someone told me in college that people confuse simple with easy and complicated with hard. A hammer, for example, is a simple tool to use, but if you’ve ever swung one for a while, it can be hard on your muscles. The same is true with publishing. So, before we begin, I need to ask a question.

Why do you want to publish your book?

The answer will determine the path you take to publishing as well as how hard you’re gonna work.

I have a mentor who taught at Christian private schools for 40 years. He has self-published five books on Christian scholastic education. For him, writing & publishing gives his small audience something introspective to chew on. It is a service to his community that burnishes his credentials in his field.

On the other hand, I know a writer who has published eight books in four years, has plans to publish at least four more in the next two. He goes to all the conventions and sells books. But for him, fame and the love of the crowd is what he desperately wants. So the bigger the crowd, the better.

Finally, I know a third author who writes schlocky Sci-fi with fart jokes and comic book level violence. He wants to feed his family – and he does. He writes four books a year – each around 100K words – and pays his mortgage with his writing. Is he the next Hemingway, or JK Rowling? No. But his fans love him and buy everything he sells. And that’s enough.

Ask yourself why are you on this journey? Be honest. Talk to your spouse, or closest friend. Talk to your rabbi or shaman. Dig deep for the answers.

For some people, simply having a book published is enough. They had one story in them. It’s a life goal to check off. Others want to write, but aren’t committed enough to figure out how to pay the bills with it. So they write, publish and never sell any books. Some people are passionate about success. They want to write the perfect book. They want people to be moved by their stories, to fall in love with their work. They want it all.
None of these approaches is wrong. Your motivations, however, will determine how hard you’ll work. Just remember that.

OK. Enough with the pre-amble. Let’s do this.

There are essentially, two paths to publishing. Traditional and self-publishing. Both have their struggles, their frustrations and their victories. If you feel like you need mentors along the way, people who know the business and can guide you, then traditional publishing is probably for you.

If, however, you like to learn every aspect of the business. If you are fascinated by color choices and font types (so many font types); if you feel you have to have control of the entire book pipeline – from edits to cover options – then you will want to self-publish.

PLEASE NOTE: There will be a lot of work on either side of the fence – especially marketing.

Traditional Publishing

The one true upside to traditional publishing is about exposure. A publisher can get your book into bookstore chains and stores like Walmart. That kind of exposure is gold, baby. But don’t expect this to happen overnight. I’ve known authors who’ve published dozens of books and their publisher only warmed up to them late in the game. Some never get this kind of love.

But if you’re truly committed to a traditional publisher you have to know about agents and editors.

Editors work for publishers and will take your work, read it, and if they love your story, will fight to get it published with their company. An agent is someone who loves your story so much, they will use their contacts within the publishing world and put it in front of other editors. The editors have relationships with agents and trust them to recommend great stories.

So, how do you find an agent?

Go to conferences such as Pikes Peak Writers.

Agents and editors go to these things to find the next George RR Martin. They want to hear your story. But you can’t be a wallflower here. You’ve got to be charming as hell. You’ve also got to look and act like a pro. Men, put on some slacks and a jacket. Women, get that nice outfit you wear for business stuff out. Dressing well helps.

Also, be clear what your story is about. What’s the hook? In my W.I.P., the Gallowglass, I invert the trope of the rebel Irish being the good guys. My story has the English as the good guys. It’s fresh and different.

When you go, you’ll also want to have your pitch down. What’s your pitch? A short speech about your book. Author Aaron Michael Ritchey’s pitches his Juniper Wars Series like this: “It’s a family of women with machine guns on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive.” When I first heard that, I so wanted to read it.

Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat has an entire chapter on pitching to agents. Get his book and check it out! He also recommends talking to complete strangers about your pitch. They don’t know you, so they’ll be honest about your pitch. Also, walking up to complete strangers and talking about your book is great practice for walking up to a complete stranger who happens to be an agent or editor, too.

While you’re at this writing conference, make sure to go to classes run by agents on writing query letters. You’ll see the business from the other side and begin to understand why they have the rules they have. I went to a conference a couple of years ago and listened to an agent say that 90% of writers don’t follow their submission guidelines. She then went on to say her staff deletes all of those submissions. This made me extremely hopeful because I know how to follow directions!

Find Agents online and query them

If you can’t afford to go to conference, or don’t have the time, then find an agent online.
The easy thing to do is get a monthly subscription to www.publishersmarketplace.com. Agents on this website want to be queried with new stories. It’s $25 a month and you can cancel any time. Try to find those agents with lots of sells under their name. Sure, you can take your chance with new agent Larry who’s never sold anything, but why when bigger sharks are circling and you can lasso one? Go for the big dawgs!


Do it the hard way

Another option if you can’t afford or don’t want to pay the $25/a month is to do what I did. It will take you about 12 hours to get information on about fifty agents. But it is worth it.

First off start a spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet should have labels for agent names, their agency websites, contact info, and check off boxes for if you’ve queried them and when.

Do you have a Linkedin.com account? There are literally thousands of literary agents on Linkedin. If you don’t have an account, make one, now.

In the search bar, type in “Literary Agent,” and thousands will appear. I know, it sounds overwhelming, but you can do it!

Click on the people tab and start checking these agents out! Find out what agency they work for, open another tab on your web browser and go to the agency website. Read their query policy and find that agent’s bio. Do they represent what you write? If not, move on.

Begin populating your spreadsheet with agents you feel you’d be successful working with. Get their names, email address, when they accept queries, and their query guidelines in your database.

This process took me 12 hours to do over two days but is was worth it. I now have a list of 50+ agents I can query my books to. Agents who accept historical fiction. 

Learn to write query letters

A good query letter can get your foot into the door. Don’t know how to write one? Most conferences offer at least one class about query letters. If you can’t make that class, then visit a couple of websites to help you out.

Super Agent and Pikes Peak presenter Angie Hodapp started a new website called www.tightenyourquery.com. It’s a great resource on how to write query letters. Her information is quite topical and issue specific. If you don’t learn that way and want someone to edit you, then try www.Queryshark.blogspot.com. WARNING: Query shark can be brutal, so make sure to have tough skin. The writing can be very funny and is always insightful.

When you get an agent, do everything they tell you to do

Agents are not perfect. However, they understand the industry in ways we do not. So, if they tell you to make revisions on your W.I.P., DO IT. They already believe in your story, or else they wouldn’t have signed you. Having an agent means you have potential! But now you want to sell your book and make it a product for the market place. You are now in business. So act like it and don’t take revisions personally. Do your job.

One last thing before you sign that contract . . .

Hire a lawyer. Seriously. Hire a lawyer who specializes in copyright and trademark law. They are called literary lawyers. You don’t have to have a retainer, but do cough up the couple of hundred bucks to have them look over your contract. Let them figure out things like royalties, reversion of rights, digital rights and overseas markets. It is worth it for your piece of mind.

If you have an agent or publishing house that doesn’t want you to hire an attorney – that is a red flag.

Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mysteries, is also a lawyer. I talked to her about this. Here is what she said about literary contracts.

“Even simple contracts can have missing or sub-standard terms and other pitfalls authors may not notice. Without an experienced publishing lawyer or agent on your side, it’s far too easy to find yourself in a contract you regret.”

If you get the impression the literary world is full of predators, I apologize. That isn’t the point. The point is people make mistakes and errors all the time. Also, some people are predators in the literary world. At the end of the day no one is going to protect your rights but you. Do your homework, hire a lawyer, and always remember to protect yourself.

I know this is a lot to process, but the journey to publication can be labor intensive. This is why I asked you why are you writing a book? I know it is hard because I am in this process right now. But it will be worth it if you put in the work. I promise.

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About the Author:  Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s where he watched way too much television, but was introduced to literature by his grandfather and his favorite middle school and high school teachers. He wasted his youth working at the So Cal Renaissance Faire (a dangerous place because it’s the gateway drug to other historical costumes,). In his leisure time he’s an educator, a writer, and a bon vivant. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, with degrees in History & Renaissance Studies, a teaching credentials from CSU Los Angeles, as well as a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. He currently resides in Denver with his wife, the fetching Mrs. Evans, their three dogs and a mischievous cat who calls him his thrall.