Don't Give Publishers the Benefirt of
by Jan Fields
a writer who knows a thing or
two about publishing books.
We have a number of people on the CW list (or
who have been on the list) who like testing the waters for
a new thing. We've also had Linda Joy (who had done plenty
of books with VERY known houses) who decided to give ebooks
a try, knowing they don't produce a lot of sales -- but because
she had a book that wasn't selling and she just wanted to
see what ebooks were like.
We had Dotti, who had a story she decided to try out with
a brand spanking new publisher who was doing some...well,
really unfortunate things. Dotti knew the publisher was probably
going to end up not working, but she had this story and it
wasn't going to go anywhere else -- so why the heck not? She
was curious. When the publisher crashed and burned, she dusted
off her britches and continued on her career path because
she'd already KNOWN that was the likely end result of her
gusty move. She was prepared for it, so it didn't cause any
kind of set-back for her.
So, sometimes people have reasons for choosing
off-road publishing with full knowledge that it's probably
not going to go anywhere much (and possibly go nowhere at
all)...but it will be interesting, and educational and they
have lots of other books. I'm impressed by that -- it's
gutsy AND realistic. I like gutsy
AND realistic. There is nothing wrong with looking at a
publisher from a position of experience and saying -- okay,
I know this is not how it's done. I know the crash and burn
likelihood is high -- but I'm gonna ride this wave because
it's going to be interesting. I don't have
that kind of nerve, but I am actually impressed by those
But to stubbornly stamp one's foot and insist that a publisher
should be given the benefit of the doubt when they're doing
an ever increasing number of unfortunate things -- that's
not so good and does make a writer look more than a little
gullible so try not to be too insulted when folks suggest
gullibility might be coming into play.
PUBLISHERS SHOULD NOT BE GIVEN THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Publishers (not editors) are trying to maximize profit while
still abiding by whatever mission statement they may have.
They are not trying to protect you. They are not trying
to hurt you (unless they're a scam). They are doing business
for their best interest which sometimes coincides with your
best interest and sometimes doesn't. So, you always need
to go in totally and boldly looking for the "screw
you" potential so that you can deal with it. Okay,
I see it here, here, here, here, and here -- let's see if
we can change any of those -- and those I cannot change,
let's think about whether
I can deal with the possible bad end. If I can deal with
it and I still want to see what happens then I'm going in.
I have actually worked with a publisher that has been around
a long long while but who was trying something totally totally
new -- children's series fiction with an unusual marketing
method. They wanted me to do a series for them and they
would pay me up front so whether their marketing idea worked
or not would not effect my getting paid. I paused, looked
for all the "screw you" potential in the deal
-- changed those things I could change, and then thoughtfully
decided if I could live with the rest if those things turned
around to bite me. The end result is NOT a normal publishing
experience. But I got good money, a right pretty book, and
possible steady money in the future -- though I am definitely
NOT banking on possibilities.
So, feel free to doubt publishers, question
publishing methods, consider the "screw you" potential
-- then decide. But know, the folks who aren't giving a
business the benefit of the doubt -- they're making a reasonable
logical choice too. If you're going to do the gusty bold
thing -- admit it, because otherwise, you're not going to
like the end result when the benefit of the doubt bites
When Guidelines say, "No Unsolicited
Norman - who
sold a book based on an unsolicited query
"No unsolicited manuscripts"
does not mean you can't send something to these publishers.
(Those who are truly closed will say something like "Not
just means you must send them a one-page QUERY first. If they
like your idea and feel your book is a possible fit for their
list, they will reply to your letter inviting you to send
your manuscript. Then, WHEE! Suddenly you're sending a solicited
I understand your confusion.
I used to think that "no unsolicited" meant they
actually only approached famous people and solicited manuscripts
from them. Sounds incredibly naive of me now, but that's honestly
what I thought.
You do not have to be previously
published or famous or have any sort of contact in the industry
for a publisher to take your query seriously. I got many "yes"
responses to my queries early in my career, when I didn't
know a SOUL in "the biz."
If they wish to see your manuscript
based on your query, they'll write back and tell you their
company procedure for you to send the now-solicited manuscript.
Usually that means marking your envelope as "requested
material," or something along those lines.
(Now I know what some people
are thinking: "Why not just mark the envelope "requested
material" FIRST and send it off? Answer: Editors have
good memories. They will not only know they did not request
a falsely marked manuscript, they will also remember the deception
if you try to contact them later, even if you do it "by
the rules" the 2nd time.)
There is lots of information
online and in books on how to write a good query. It's a form
of marketing yourself. The query serves as a first glimpse
of your writing style, so it needs to have personality and
yet be professional. I know it seems hard to convey the quality
of a million-times-revised story in a li'l old query, but
trust me, editors are well-trained to spot potential in a
query. Plus, you can always insert a small excerpt from your
manuscript so they can get a sense of your style as well.
Do a search online or in an
online bookstore on "How to write a good/strong query,"
and you'll hit a mother lode of helpful information.
Most big publishers will take
unsolicited submissions, too. You just have to send them
a query first. It's as hard to get an agent as a publisher,
large or small, so I started with getting a publisher, and
managed to snag a "big" one for my first book.
(Medium-sized house owned by one of the big conglomerates.)
Margot has published one of my previous CW posts explaining
how queries will get you around the "no unsolicited"
warning. Go to her site http://www.margotfinke.com/
and click on her collection of "Great CW posts,"
then select "No unsolicited submissions" (Or some
There are pros and cons of the various publishing house
sizes. A bigger house may be better known or more prestigious,
but you may feel a little more on your own, more like a
small cog in the machine, since they tend to concentrate
on promoting their bigger names. A smaller house is more
likely to give you a more "hands-on" treatment,
although your advance may be smaller. But advance size doesn't
really matter all that much. It's the number of books sold
in the long-run. My second book is with a smaller house,
(owned by big old B&N, but still small.) I have a feeling
that book will sell just as well as my first, if not better,
because it may get more play in the B&N stores rather
than online alone. Only time will tell.
Small houses receive fewer submissions but select a very
small number of those submissions to publish. (Perhaps as
few as 2 or 3.) Big houses receive more submissions but
publish more each year, (as many as 75, say), so I think
your chances of being picked up are about the same selling
to large or small. You'll raise your chances of selling,
regardless of house size by carefully targeting your submission,
sending your manuscript only to houses which publish the
type of book you've written.
You'll also raise your chances by reading lots of interviews
with editors, (in the CWIM or on websites & blogs with
editor interviews) to find out the various editors' tastes.
That really does make a difference. Both of my editors (at
different houses) will buy rhyme, but only one cares to
look at cumulative construction. ("The house that Jack
built" type of stories.)
The other told me that she just doesn't care for it. That's
not a house policy, just the individual editors' taste.
Sometimes there's no way to know, but the more you can find
out about an editor before you submit to her, the better
your chances. I never throw out my old CWIM books. Those
editor interviews are gold. Even if the editor has moved
to a different house, her tastes will likely remain the
Advances and Royalties
Trade publishers (ones that
sell mainly to bookstores and libraries) usually pay an
advance and royalties. An advance is just like an advance
against any pay. You are paid before your book earns any
For picture books, the advance is split between the author
and the illustrator. For a first-time author, an advance
between $2,000 and $10,000 seems to be the norm, depending
on the size of the publisher and other factors.
Once the book is being sold, the royalty is a percentage
of the saleprice (gross or net...it gets very complicated).
The first several thousand dollars' worth of royalties,
though, have already been paid to you in the form of your
advance. So if you get a $5,000 advance, you don't start
getting royalties until *after* your book sells enough
copies to make up for that advance...so you see no more
money until your book earns *more* than $5,000 in royalties.
This is just the general info. Contracts, rights sold,
Hope this helps,