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Also by Kathryn Lively
Pithed: an Andy Farmer Mystery Little Flowers
How NOT To Get Published copyright 2010 by Kathryn Lively All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
PO Box 55071 Virginia Beach, VA 23471 Cover art © 2008 Kathryn Lively
First DLP Edition – January, 2010
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This very brief primer is adapted from a talk I gave on November 14, 2009 to the Virginia Romance Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America on the topic “How Not to Get Published.” While it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of publishing do’s and don’ts, I find this basic information can at least guide the author submitting work for the first time to properly follow directions set before them by agents, editors, and publishers. This is not a guide to writing fiction or non-fiction, but a few common sense rules of the game I have observed being broken with alarming frequency. Future revisions of this work may come in the future as new things are learned. Whatever happens, this will always remain a free work. If you see it for sale, it is unauthorized. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s hoping any novice author who gains a bit of wisdom from this short piece manages to receive The Call quickly. Keep writing!
Thank you for taking the time to read this today. Before I get into the heart of this primer, I think it would be appropriate to give you a little background on my history in publishing. It’s not exactly a glamorous story, as I’ve endured more headaches than triumphs, but I like to believe I’ve come away from every experience having learned something, even if I wasn’t always compensated at the end. I received my BA in English Literature in 1993 from a small university in Florida—I had intended to go into journalism but found I was more comfortable writing fiction. In college, as the Internet came into the mainstream, I would send short stories and poetry out to small websites in exchange for bylines and exposure, and this would lead to some regular writing assignments and the occasional stipend, depending on the site’s budget. As I became more adapt at creating websites and searching for information online, I went to work for a major media corporation that had just opened an Internet division as their search engine optimization specialist. This was before anybody really knew what SEO was, even back before Google launched, to give you an idea of how long ago that was. In this time, I wrote my first novel, an inspirational romance called Little Flowers. My goal was to find a Catholic publisher for the work, considering the themes of the story, and discovered to my dismay that my target publishers either did not deal with fiction or, despite the good feedback, did not have it in the budget to publish my work. Eventually I found a small press utilizing this new platform called print on demand. Highbridge Press published the book in 2000, but due to poor management the house folded in 2002. Undismayed, I continued to write and completed a mystery novel, Saints Preserve Us, which I placed with a small eBook press, as I was coming to learn more about this digital medium. In 2003 I wrote another mystery called Pithed which was picked up by another small house. While waiting for the release of Pithed, this press announced plans to launch an erotic romance imprint in response to the success of another eBook house called
Ellora’s Cave. The imprint opened to submissions in early 2004 and I, being several months pregnant at the time and whacked out on crazed hormones, decided to see how far I might go in that genre. I wrote a romance called Truth or Dare, under the pen name Leigh Ellwood, and got a contract. Both Pithed and Truth were released in 2004, and I do have to tell Truth sold circles around the non-erotic mystery, even though I devoted equal time to promote each book. In 2005, the imprint’s publisher put out a call for editors and proofreaders and I signed on, citing my experience in college newspaper editing and my English background. By the end of the year I moved up to Acquisitions Editor, and in mid-2006 the publisher had to step down due to health issues. The house’s president then asked me to step in until such a time when a replacement could be found…and that went on for close to four years. However, more recently, most of my duties as publisher, which pretty much have included everything but promotions and cover art—which are more than capably handled by two wonderful ladies—have been parsed to other staff, and I now act as Executive Editor for the imprint, with my primary responsibility being the acquisition of new works. So now you know a little bit about how I came to be here, we can move on to the material defining the title of this work. **** I have attended quite a number of conferences and seminars over the years where authors, agents, and editors discuss how to get published. When was I asked by a chapter of Romance Writers of America to deliver a presentation on this topic, the first thing that came to mind was that there were probably many members who have been published before—either with a traditional or small press, or with an eBook house, so why would they care what I have to say? Well, having been published myself, I can tell you that even though you may have received a contract offer for one book, it doesn’t necessarily mean an offer for the next book is a guarantee. I have several novels published under two names, but
my backlist does give me some street cred, and as an editor I have turned away work from authors who have been published previously with my house, including works by some of our top sellers. Granted, in those cases the reasons varied, and thankfully none of those authors committed any of the sins in the list I’m about to recite. Rather than focus here on how to get published, I’m going touch on what you need to do to ensure that getting published doesn’t happen to you. The more you know about what not to do, perhaps like George Costanza in that well-known Seinfeld episode, you’ll do the opposite and things will turn your way. So without further rambling, I give you the Top Ten Steps to take to not get published, in no particular order: 10. Don’t Follow Any Directions As you research potential agents and editors, you will find that not all of them work on the same schedule. Some only accept full manuscripts, some want you to query first. Others want you to send a synopsis and three chapters, and there are publishers who don’t want to talk to you unless you have agent doing it for you. At the imprint for which I acquire work, we are always open to submissions and don’t require material to be agented, whereas our parent company is open to submissions four times a year. If you send a manuscript to them at any other time, it will be rejected. If you call an agent who expressly requests on her website no phone calls, you will be rejected. If an editor wants specific formatting on the submission you send—margins, font, single-spaced, etc—and something is missing from your book, chances are you’re getting it back. If a publisher requests a synopsis, manuscript, and marketing plan, and you only send the book, you’ve just told that publisher you cannot follow directions, or you didn’t read their submission guidelines, so why would they bother with somebody incapable of doing just that? In our defense, the majority of publishing guidelines don’t read like Van Halen’s infamous tour rider. Agents and editors are not in the business to gleefully dash away hopes, contrary to
popular belief. They want to hear from authors because their income is dependant on good books from good writers. They depend on you to get it right the first time, otherwise chances are they’re going to think you don’t want it enough or you’re unwilling to adapt. 9. Clutter the Editor/Agent’s Inbox with Unnecessary Material Let’s say you follow submission directions properly, and to your delight the agent and editor wants to see your work. This is your chance to shine, but rather than follow this set of directions given to you, you decide sending the book isn’t enough. Maybe you have a long list of testimonials from your critique group to share, or maybe the book is the first in a seven-book series you’ve planned, and you’re thinking maybe this is a good time to interest the agent in buying everything at once. Well, chances are it isn’t a good time. Chances are this act of overwhelming somebody who has agreed to make time to read one story will turn off said editor/agent to the point where he just says no thanks. Agents and editors are very busy people. Some could have as many as a hundred books to read a month, with many more queries to sift through. Their time is limited as it is, so when one asks you for a manuscript it probably means they have budgeted just enough time to read that manuscript and nothing else. It’s no crime to appear overjoyed and eager on receiving a callback, but this is the time to show that agent/editor that you are a professional and that you agree to and accept their requisites. 8. Lie About Having a Finished Book As I understand it, non-fiction authors can get away with pitching an unfinished work depending on the timeliness of the work and the subject. When Michael Jackson passed away, I doubted anybody had a book ready for publication that day, but no doubt some authors pieced together a salable outline and a list of credible sources to pitch to a publisher. Fiction is different—if you’re at a conference or have the ear of an agent and you pitch a
work they want to see, they want that book now. If you have only one chapter written, if you are halfway through, if you are three quarters of the way through, do not pitch anything unless you are confident you can deliver when the agent wants it. John Lennon once said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. You might think you have time to finish up a book, but nobody ever expects the power to go out or a laptop to crap out right at the pivotal moment where you press control-S to save. Finish the book, then pitch. That way you’ll have something to deliver. 7. Lie About Your Book’s History Some publishers will consider reprinted material. This is something I’m very familiar with, and if you have experience in the eBook realm you may be able to sympathize. In the last few years we’ve seen a number of eBook houses fold—some due to illness, while others just imploded in ugly messes. Those that survived were consequently pitched orphaned stories, my imprint included. Right now our policy is to only consider reprints from established authors. New authors to our imprint are asked send something original first, and once you’re in then you can pitch the backlist provided you own the rights. In my experience I’ve had authors send works and omit the book’s history, thereby violating our guidelines. Now, in this age of the Internet, hardly anything is secret. A simple Google search will tell me not only if your book was published previously, but if it’s still contracted and made available through another publisher. A Google search will tell me if you published your book through Lulu or Createspace and haven’t taken it down— I’ve had this happen to me. An author pitching us had selfpublished the book, then decided maybe she ought to find a real publisher, but she didn’t want to take her book off the market until she had a contract. I politely told her that wasn’t our policy, and because she’d made this work available she very likely diminished any chance of placing the work elsewhere.
If you’re not up front with a publisher about the history of the book, that house is going to wonder if they can trust you and wonder what else you’re hiding. 6. Send Your Child Out Into the Cold Without a Jacket About fifteen years ago I met Rita Mae Brown, a New York Times bestselling author, at a signing. She talked a bit about the craft, in particular revisions. She likened revising text to properly dressing a child—your manuscript needs to impress, so it needs to read as though somebody went over it with a fine tooth comb. In my years of acquiring books, I have read many an impeccable manuscript, and I have read disasters. I have read books with the track changes feature left on, I’ve read books where the author didn’t use quotation marks in their dialogue, and I’ve read books with numerous homonym mix-ups: your instead of you’re and vice versa. One slip-up is forgivable, one page of slip-ups is not. 5. Mass E-Mail Every Agent and Editor in Your Contact List Among various submissions coming to my inbox, I have received manuscripts addressed to editors at other houses, I have received books addressed to other editors within my house, and I’ve been addressed as sir. I have also received form e-mails addressed to “undisclosed recipients” which tells me right away that the author has taken the stairway approach to submissions— that’s when you throw a book down a stairwell and if any of the ten agents climbing the stairs catches it, more power to them. Agents and editors want to be addressed when they are pitched, and any author who wants a contract should know the exact name of the person to whom they pitch. 4. Sit on the Couch and Expect Everybody to Do the Work For You Consider this dilemma: two manuscripts come in to an editor. One is impeccable and probably wouldn’t need much work, falls within the guidelines, and there is marketing
potential. However, the author reveals in his marketing plan that he’s a writer first, and has no plans to promote the work or even set up a website or blog because that’s not his thing. The other manuscript, while needing quite a bit of work before it could be published, is not all that bad, even though it’s a genre that hasn’t done well with the house. The author’s marketing plan reveals she is active in social media, has a blog with five hundred subscribers, and already has a list of bookstores in her area willing to host a signing if she publishes. Which book would you contract? While it’s true publishers strive to offer quality material, for a house to acquire a book means they are investing in that book, and the author. A publisher may take on a rough work and assign editors to polish it if they know the author is willing to selfpromote. When you think about a New York publisher, houses like Harlequin and Kensington and how many people have contracts with them—the publisher can only devote so much time in one place before the next batch of books has to go out. Authors and publishers must work in concert to achieve success, and if one isn’t willing, chances are the other won’t be either. 3. Show Absolutely No Respect for Anybody in the Industry Author Sherrilyn Kenyon delivered the keynote at the Virginia Beach EPIC conference. One thing she said really struck me, and that was if you have too strong an opinion of something or someone in the industry, be very careful how you express it. Earlier I mentioned Googling a book title to determine history—same applies for authors. I know of one eBook publisher who, when she receives a query from a new author, first Googles that person to see what’s out there. If you have blog that’s overly critical or snarky, or at one point you’ve jumped in on the mob come to dance on the grave of particular author or house gone wrong, it could come back and haunt you. If you are active on Twitter or Facebook or blogs, think about how you present yourself to the Internet world. If a potential publisher sees this persona and is uncomfortable with what they see, chances are they don’t want that negativity or attitude carried over to their house, where others may think that
voice represents the publisher. I’m not saying you have to be all unicorns and rainbows online, but if you have no qualms about harshly criticizing another author or editor online, the editor you’re trying to impress is going to wonder if you’re going to talk about them like that one day. 2. Demand Ultimatums Where I work, the house is primarily an eBook publisher, and every title is initially released in digital format. Our print program is a bit unusual in that we take each print length title on a case by case basis—we look at sales, the author’s knack for marketing, and the health of the genre. Sometimes we’ll receive queries from new authors who don’t ask, but demand simultaneous print release because their relatives will only buy print. Okay, I don’t know about you, but I have print books out, and my relatives don’t buy them. If you have relatives who buy your books, I want to know your secret to sales. Some will argue that it is the author who works for the publisher, or vice versa. One depends on the other to meet their publishing goals. My belief is that the author works with the publisher to ensure a clean book, a viable marketing plan, and sales success. Agents and editors are very busy, as I’ve said, and don’t have time to handle divas. This author who queried me eventually went elsewhere because I couldn’t agree to the print demand. She claimed to have an auto-buy list of readers in the hundreds, but I don’t really know that. In my own experience I’ve published with one house and sold hundreds in a month, yet with a larger house I didn’t do well at all. There are no guarantees in the business, and if you try to force an agent’s hand you risk pushing yourself out of the way so the author behind you can step forward for his chance.
**** So, this brings us to the number one way to not get published. It is the easiest thing to do of all the tactics mentioned here today, and hopefully it is the one thing I hope a writer never does. The number one way to not get published is…to quit. Don’t do it. Thank you.
About the Author
Kathryn Lively is an award-winning author and editor whose work has appeared in numerous Web sites and magazines. She is also the author of Pithed: an Andy Farmer Mystery. www.KathrynLively.com