Self Publishing Blog

Publishing Questions

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal

All Rights Reserved

Manuscript Submission Questions

Who will buy My Book

Question) I have written a partial manuscript and would like to submit it.

Answer) I'm not currently in the business of publishing other peoples books. Started to set up for it this year, wasn't worth the grief:-)

Q) I was going to ask you to publish my book with POD, but I see you've written a book about doing it yourself. Is there some reason you don't publish other people's books and any reason I shouldn't publish my own?

A) The book came out of my thinking about starting a royalty paying print on demand publishing company for nearly two years. I kept procrastinating while publishing my own books to work the kinks out of the system. It's still on hold because of the instability of channel. Lightning Source, Ingram, Amazon, B&N and Borders are all changing at an incredible pace, it's hard justify investing in publishing other people's books at this point. If you have the ambition to be in the publishing business, it's always better to publish yourself. However, it is a business as opposed to being an author, the job is marketing, not writing. There aren't any print on demand or subsidy presses who will invest in promoting a title for you, so to me, the choice is between a trade publisher and self-publishing with print on demand.

Q) My mother is reading a story I just wrote and she really likes it. When she finishes, she says my father should read it and we should try to find a publisher. Will you publish it?

A) I wish you luck, but I only publish my own books at this point. That said, before use up all of the e-mail addresses you find on the web, you should study up on how to pitch a book in a professional manner. As much as I love my own mother, I wouldn't ask her advice on what books to publish, and nobody is going to be impressed by the endorsement of an author's mother, even if the father concurs as well. You could start with my article about query letters.

Q) I was going to publish through iUniverse, but I submitted a sample chapter to a trade publisher on a whim and received a positive reply almost immediately. Soon after I got an e-mail saying my proposal was being reviewed for their professional line of real estate books. Should I get my hopes up, or do publishers always respond this way?

A) I'm not personally familiar with the trade publisher you mention, but many legit (and large) trade publishers actually prefer working with first time authors because they can get them to sign lousy contracts. Non-fiction trade publishers don't usually run a slush pile, they look at proposals as they come in, so if you're going to hear back, it's usually pretty quick. The vast majority of nonfiction is non-agented, and it's not at all that difficult to get people to look at an incomplete book in the professional fields. You'll probably hear back from them in fairly short order if they really want the book, the important thing is not to sign a contract without talking to a publishing lawyer. There is no such thing as a "standard" contract. The things you've heard about it being difficult to find a publisher mainly relate to fiction, but non-fiction publishers, who produce 7 out of 8 titles published, are always looking for new titles.

Q) I found the literary agency X on the Internet and I'm really excited because they think I have potential and want to work with me. Do you know anything about them?

A) I'm not personally familiar with X, but I popped into their website for a look. They brag about not charging reading fees, but they have a mandatory charge creating a web page for you, which makes no sense at all. If they have any real industry contacts, they wouldn't be doing author web pages to try to attract traffic. I found the wording on their "industry partners" page very suspicious, where they have "submitted" manuscripts to the list of publishers. I submitted to all of those publishers myself, years ago. Doesn't mean I ever landed a fiction deal:-) The page title is also suspicious, it shows they are actively seeking unpublished writers. Real agencies don't have to go look for unpublished writers, they are beating down the doors. The only reason I can imagine an agency would solicit for new writers is to generate fees, whatever they call them.

If I was you, I would do as much research as possible before signing anything with them. Check their listing in Literary Marketplace, do some Google Searches. I just tried, and the second hit was

http://www.writersweekly.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2066

In which the writer claims they have never sold a manuscript and make their entire income from charging fees. The owners have supposedly been implicated in multiple frauds, etc...Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there aren't any shortcuts in the publishing business (unless you really know somebody), and good news from strangers usually turns out to be a scam.

Q) What percentage of new authors are represented by agents, and how to they break down by sector?

A) I've never seen any numbers on this, but the vast majority of big trade fiction is agented, and the vast majority of big trade non-fiction is unagented. There are on the order for 7 times as many non-fiction as fiction books published by big trades. Self-publishing has been stood on its head by subsidy publishers using print-on-demand, which isn't really self-publishing, but has become synonymous. Just the big three subsidy publishers, AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Xlibris, together publish far more tiles every year than all of the major trades combined! Most of these books don't sell beyond the author's family and friends.

Q) Is it true that self-publishing or publishing with a subsidy press can lead to an author being black-balled by the publishing community if they try getting a trade publisher later in their career?

A) It's worse than an old wives tale, the opposite is actually true. There are no blacklists, nobody knows or cares about unknown authors and their books. The trick is becoming known, at which point they'll knock on your door. The "publishing community" only exists in the minds of magazine editors who need something to publish. It's a business, like any other. For what it's worth, I actually write a book for the world's largest trade publisher, McGraw-Hill, which has sold well over 150,000 copies, and can sell whatever I write - I self-publish out of choice. For me, later in the career is self-publishing, not the other way around.

Q) To whom it may concern. I've written over 100 poems that I need published and I'm will to give 25% of the earnings to you if you publish it.

A) You're asking the wrong guy here, I don't publish other people's books yet, and when I start, I doubt it will be poetry. I suggest you pick up a copy of the 2004 Writer's Market for poetry. Authors in general are lucky to receive 15% royalties, the only way you can get the majority share is to self-publish, but marketing is the challenge. I would suggest you do more research about who you're sending e-mails to so you can at least include an editor's name. I really doubt many successful book placements have started with a query addressed "To whom it may concern."

Q) What do you think of AuthorHouse, out of Indiana and Trafford - in B.C., Canada?

A) They are two of the biggest subsidy presses, I've hear bad and good things about both, depends on your expectations, I suppose. Make sure you aren't signing away any rights in the contract, if you can't take the book and walk at any time, it's a rip-off. You're paying all of their expenses, so they have no excuse to be asking for any rights to the work. The easiest way to research a subsidy publisher is to search on Google with the name of the publisher and a modifier, like "rip-off," or "awful." You'll get a lot of search results from discussion group threads where the issue is being debated.

Q) I read in the Wall Street Journal that the average print-on-demand author is lucky to sell 100 copies, and any book that sells over 1,000 is an easy pitch to a trade publisher. How can I find out how I'm doing vs other POD authors?

A) The basic numbers you're quoting sound right to me - I doubt most POD authors sell 10 books unless they have very large families or buy their own books. It has nothing to do with luck, it's the complete lack of marketing most authors put in. I've been selling over 100 copies a month of my first print-on-demand book, and just published a second. I could easily have either book done by a trade, still could, but I'm a lot happier doing it myself, and I'm probably making around the same amount of money since my take is around 8 times what I'd get as an author.

That said, Amazon is as good a place to compare as any. You can use the advanced search feature on Amazon to build bestseller lists from POD publishers only, the big ones being xLibris, 1stBooks, iuniverse, etc.

Question. I am an Indian writer and worrying about how my English will be received by American publishers. Should I hire an editor before sending out the manuscript, and who may I be sending it to?

A) As long as you've done the best you can with the book, it's normal to send it out without editing. Many professional editors who work for large publishers actually prefer to get the manuscript in a "pure" state. Just don't send it out before you're sure it's the best you can make it. There are two primary references for English Language publishers in the States. "Writer's Market" and "Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents." I prefer the latter, as it's put together by a literary agent who interviews many of the editors at the Trades. I broke into publishing by putting the draft of my first books online, and the e-mails I people sent gave me something to convince a publisher they should publish my book. The primary reference for all agents in the States is "Literary Marketplace." This is an expensive subscription type publication commonly found in University and large Public Libraries in the US, I suspect a big University in India would have it. Breaking into fiction publishing in the US is nearly impossible for an unknown. If you can find a good agent to take you, that would be best. It's more normal for novels from overseas to succeed here after they've been a published in their native land. My guess is that your best bet would be to find somebody local to work with, either a publisher or an agent, with contacts in the States. I would also suggest searching Amazon for books by Indian authors you know, making a note of their publishers, and contacting those publishers. I'd also try contacting the authors and asking them how they did it:-)

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