Self-publishing 101 – part 2

4 Aug

Well. I promised a look at literary agents this week, and I’ll deliver, but briefly. There is a reason why they would be mentioned at all in an article dealing primarily with self-publishing, and we’ll get to that in a minute or so, as well.

As mentioned last week, agents aren’t new. The first known literary agents appeared in Great Britain in 1875, and have flourished since, wherever the publishing trade exists. Generally speaking, the agent serves as middle-man or buffer between author and publisher. As an author, it’s pretty difficult to tell the publisher ‘I’m a fabulous author, and you really need to publish my book!’ Guess what? That’s exactly why agents were born. Entirely too many new authors did then (and still do!) bombard publishers and editors with exactly those words! Sometimes the letters even threaten – ‘You’ll be really sorry if you don’t publish my book. You’ll lose millions if you pass up this terrific opportunity!’ (I do know this for a fact. During my short stint as publisher, I received this sort of letter almost every day. Usually for some story so far afield from those I published as to be beyond laughable!)

As more and more of these improper (and frequently illiterate) submissions flooded publisher’s offices, the quick and easy solution was this edict: ‘agented submissions only.’ So, publishers just dumped the problem into the agent’s laps! I think they figured that if an agent read it and liked it, there was at least a minimal chance they might like it, too! Plus, that would allow them to get rid of another layer of employee!

Also, it is to be presumed that an agent will be careful to send out submissions to the appropriate editors. An agent can brag about you and/or your book, and it seems reasonable and even believable. If the editor is sincerely interested, the agent will do his or her best to get the very best ‘deal’ possible. Frequently, agents can get more money up front, or a higher percentage of royalties than can the author acting as his or her own agent.

Some agents will suggest corrections to your manuscript. It’s up to you to decide if you want to follow this advice, but generally, the agent is better informed and is sincere in wanting to get you into print. The agent is not usually paid anything until a sale is made, and an advance check issued. An agent who is a member of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives) will not charge you a reading fee or any upfront expenses, but will only be paid on a commission basis. Obviously, no sale equals no commission for anyone, especially the agent.

Many agents specialize – they handle only certain types of books. Perhaps the specialty is non-fiction. Or maybe only mystery or thriller type novels. It is as important for you to find the right agent as it is for the agent to submit your work to the right publisher.

Most important of all, though is for the agent to LOVE your work! If the agent has any wishy-washy feelings about your work, success will be even more elusive for both of you. Conversely, an agent who does truly love your writing and story-telling ability cannot guarantee success. My agent professed to love what I did, although recognizing that what I wrote did not always fit any certain slot very well. Sure enough, she never did sell anything for me, but not for lack of trying! She religiously sent me the rejection letters she received on my behalf: almost always they parrotted each other. “I love the writing style, but the story just doesn’t fit our requirements.” This was clearly my fault, no one else’s. So, I turned to doing something else—for a while.

The notion of POD (Print on Demand) developed around the turn of the century – 2000 or so. There were a very few such publishers before then, but the quality was just not there. It takes time to get the bugs out of any new technology, and now, ten years later, I believe it to be a very viable technology. And not just to save the millions of trees who labor to see their by-products filling up landfills!

(I promise not to get started on the old self-publishing concept of having a garage full of boxes of books – and not knowing where or how to start getting them into the hands of booksellers and/or librarians.) Distribution has become the 9000-pound gorilla in the room. And that’s also a topic for another time.

To be very honest, not every book published needs to be on the Best Seller List. Heresy, I know, but it’s true. If we all liked exactly the same things, what a boring world we’d inhabit! It truly is variety that makes the world go around. I’d never read a word if the only books available were horror or vampires or werewolves and such. But that’s just me! I just don’t get them. Nowhow. Obviously, I’m greatly outnumbered here, and that’s fine. My personal preference is for the comedy-of-manners type of Regency novel. And cozy mysteries. I’m just simply a wimp when it comes to reading (and movies, for that matter.)

But far be it from me to tell you (or anyone else) what to read. (or see.) So my books don’t appeal to the masses. That’s okay with me. I happen to think that a ‘historical romance’ is fine with having more history than romance, but I know that’s not the standard of the industry. I know there is a nearly insatiable demand for erotica and/or erotic romance. (pun intended.) But I don’t really read a lot of that genre, and try as I might, can’t write it either.

I like writing short stories. So, I’m compiling a collection of them, and will self-publish them next month, I hope. They’ll be in regular print and large print, so that various readers of all ages will hopefully be able to read and appreciate them. (Don’t fret – more info WILL be forth-coming, as it becomes available.)

I know that what I choose to write is not mass-market material, and I’m not going to beat my head against that particular brick wall. This is why I choose to self-publish. Another category that may benefit from this new technology is the family history or memoir, or life story of a most unusual person on a somewhat local basis (not everyone acts on the world stage!), or maybe a volume of poems. Just to have the book in print may be enough satisfaction for the author—monetary rewards may not be of the utmost importance.

Immediacy is another benefit of POD. If you’re any kind of writer, and are reasonably computer literate, you can have a book in print about a month after the manuscript is completed. It is highly adviseable to have someone else read it and proof it for you. (The best readers/proofers in the world are hard-pressed to read/proof their own work, believe me. Your eyes see what the brain means, not necessarily what is really there on the page. Fingers don’t always obey the brain’s commands.) You may also need to hire someone to produce your cover, if you’re not able to do it yourself. Formatting the words properly is also not the easiest trick in the world, but with practice, it does get easier. You’ll be amazed by the myriad small details to which you will need to pay attention. You may in fact, spend up to $1000. for all of this to happen as it should, but if the person you hire knows what he or she is doing, it will be well worth it in the long run.

So, where’s the harm to society by turning this possibility into reality? Darned if I can see it. It gives you a terrific sense of accomplishment – to hold a book in your hands, with your name on the cover as author. It’s a little bit like holding your first child in your arms for the very first time. You look at that little being with awe and wonderment, love—and not a little pride.

Next week’s column might stray a tad off the path I’ve started here. But just for this one week. I think it’ll be an essay I wrote several years ago on another topic. Please come back next week and investigate? If you have questions, please write to me at:  Thanks!


One Response to “Self-publishing 101 – part 2”

  1. mode20100 August 26, 2010 at 2:02 am #

    A+ would read again

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