New Leaf10. Do What You Got To Do11. Survival System2. From Syria to Chicago, Ukraine to Jamaica, we endure, we survive. Praise Jah12. Keep Dreaming Ours meaning mankind,  it’s that human thread worldwide that give us endurance to make it through financial hardships, personal struggles, health issues, war crisis, abuse, we all survive. Table Turn9. We documented our stories while delivering messages of survival through music..” – EarthKrySURVIVAL 6/30/171. Move On4. Live Good6. Liberation Time8. SHARE / Jun 27, 2017 09:20 am

EarthKry “The Making of Survival” was recorded and edited by Georgiana Chitea ( at Tads Recording Studio and Harry J Studio in Kingston, Jamaica.” SURVIVAL songs were written by experiences, these are our daily stories. Mini-Documentary: Reggae Band EarthKry, The making of Debut Album “Survival”

by Contributed
As EarthKry prepares for the release of their anticipated “Survival” debut album June 30th, and a summer tour kicking off on International Reggae Day, July 1st, the reggae band has taken fans and music lovers into the making of their inaugural anthology. Wild Fire7. Philosophy3. Wake Up and Live5.

You can register for all five sessions, or just individual sessions. Email marketing is the No. Rather than being driven by trends (or what your friends are doing), we’ll look at how you can make the best decision for you. Click here to register for individual session
Session II (8/8/17): The Author Website: Your Most Important Storytelling Opportunity. I’m delighted to announce I’m offering a month-long master class in author platform this summer, in collaboration with Writer House in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is an in-person class only, held on Tuesdays in August from 6 p.m. 1 overlooked means of reader engagement when authors evaluate their overall platform. This session will cover best practices of email design and content, strategies and tools for securing sign ups (to pop up or not to pop up?), as well as what email service providers to use. Click here to register for individual session
Session IV (8/22/17): Social Media for Authors: How to Make It Worth Your Time. Time is one of the most precious resources   anyone has, so it’s a smart writer who asks, “Is this social media stuff really the best use of my time?” While it can be a highly subjective matter (every career has different needs and phases), we’ll talk about how to quantify your activity on social media, analyze its impact, and make the best choices for the short term and long term. For writers who want to see their online writing and activity pay off,   it requires some high-level and strategic thinking about who that writing is meant to reach and who you want to attract over the long term. Click here to register for individual session
Session III (8/15/17): The Email Newsletter: Your Most Important Engagement Tool. We’ll also touch on the basics of search engine optimization. Being able to directly reach your readers, or most avid fans,   is a powerful capability that every author should have. Learn about best practices for design and content, the most important areas to focus on (what do visitors see first or most often—and how can you take advantage of that?), plus valuable online strategies to help grow your career. Click here to register for individual session
Session V (8/29/17): Content Strategy and Content Marketing: How to Attract Readers to You. Writers are often baffled by platform because it’s seen as a marketing and promotion mindset—antithetical to the artist mindset. to 8 p.m. Most authors have heard about blogging, but they don’t have a clue what it means to develop a content strategy or participate in a content marketing effort. This session will look at key strategies and principles for producing content in a way that’s productive and even monetizable—and how to think beyond the blog and beyond the book to the different ways you can deliver your writing to readers. However, there is a way to approach platform that isn’t about selling, but rather understanding human behavior—including your own! Thankfully, it’s easy to get started with e-mail newsletters, and it doesn’t require technical know-how. Whether your website is one day old or ten years old, you want to make sure the resources   you’ve put into your site will pay off with more readers, more sales, and more opportunities for your career. Session I (8/1/17): The Art and Business of Platform: A Working Philosophy and Approach. Here’s the registration page. We’ll discuss how you can make informed and meaningful decisions about how to best spend your time, and what advanced platform-building looks like for an established author. Session descriptions below; don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the class. During this session   you’ll learn what it means to have a focused, consistent,   and meaningful effort over a long period of time,   in way that doesn’t exhaust you, but leads to finding high-quality readers who love what you do.

When I failed, the failure wasn’t as important as the next steps I took. The capitalist pursuit of passion is the new horrible form of enlightenment we’re told to chase. What activities or interactions do you value or prioritize on a daily basis? Shouldn’t I be? Or did you always want to work in publishing? As someone who has probably listened to too much Alan Watts, the answer didn’t come as a surprise, maybe because Watts encourages you to peel back every layer you have to find yourself, to help you realize that there’s no “there” there—the Buddhist belief that there is no self to find. (Time stops; you’re in the flow.)

These questions pave the way to a happier or more satisfying life. If you don’t have a passion, you may be closer to the truth of who and what you are than anyone else. Patterns emerged. Circumstances and serendipity dictated a lot of early life. I recognized and built on my strengths. (There’s a reason, and don’t feel guilty about it.)
What activities or interactions do you most look forward to, anticipate, and hope for more of? In Zen, students are given koans—a puzzle or a problem to solve—that’s meant to bring awareness, or literally wake you up to the true nature of life. Photo credit: pirate_renee via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND
Here’s a word I have eliminated as fully as possible from my information and advice lexicon for writers: passion. Is that properly termed passion? The truth is: I have no idea. I’ve also met many who seemed unable to do anything but write, to the detriment of their health, families, and/or long-term financial stability. You’ve probably heard a koan even if you don’t recognize the word. What if I fail at my passion? Ask:

What are you avoiding? Is that properly termed passion? They seek some external validation that they’re not wasting their time. Endless books and courses advise people on how to turn their passion into a full-time career, and I meet many writers who say they are (finally) returning to their “passion for writing” after long careers in business, finance, real estate, law, and other occupations commonly chosen for financial stability. Is that properly termed passion? And in the current cultural moment, the word has become ever more fraught—it’s tinged with a value judgment, that there’s something wrong if you haven’t discovered your passion and found the way to make it into your career. They made bad decisions for little in return, in the name of becoming a writer or being recognized as one. Looking at myself, I have always felt rather boring when faced with the quintessential questions from an interviewer that look for the origin story, e.g.: When did you know you were a writer? Such people I can’t discourage. There are also people who show up at the desk every day and treat their writing like a profession, who are willing to bend their work to the market, to be entrepreneurial and ensure that they earn a certain dollar amount per hour. You don’t have to be Buddhist to take a page out of its book and set this particular anxiety aside. Forget about passion; go for self-awareness instead. But is this really my passion? Yet, at the same time, such writers ask for an evaluation on whether it’s worthwhile for them to continue pursuing this passion. What activities can you get lost in? This is partly why I avoid the word “passion.” It is an excellent way to stoke someone’s anxiety: What if I’m not pursuing my passion? A popular koan: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
A koan of my own, that’s been on my mind for the last decade: “What is passion?” And also: “What is my passion?”
I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t have a passion.

However, more and more images are being issued by rights holders under Creative Commons rather than traditional copyright. Discusses song lyrics, mentioning famous people, what constitutes fair use, and much more. You also do not need to seek permission when you’re simply   mentioning the title or author of a work. Learn more about Creative Commons. Major legal battles have been fought over this question, but there is still no black-and-white rule. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the entire quoted work. If your use of the original work affects   the likelihood that people will buy the original work, you can be in   violation of fair use. There are four criteria for determining fair use, which sounds tidy, but it’s not. The four criteria are:

The purpose and character of the use. Finally, if your use falls within “fair use,” you do not need permission. Most publishers have a formal process that requires a signed contract. But be aware you can still be found in violation of fair use, and guilty of copyright infringement, when paraphrasing. No permission is needed to mention song titles, movie titles, names, etc. These criteria are vague and open to interpretation. That’s why opinions and guidelines vary so much. You do not need permission to include song titles, movie titles, TV show titles—any kind of title—in your work. Remember that   crediting the source does not remove the obligation to seek permission. For more help

12 Copyright Half-Truths by Lloyd Jassin at CopyLaw—addresses mistaken beliefs commonly held by authors; Jassin’s entire blog is very useful and worth reading
Citizen Media Law: Works Not Covered By Copyright
Is It Fair Use? To search for such images, you can look under the “Creative Commons” category at Flickr or VisualHunt. Facts cannot be copyrighted. To seek permission means contacting the copyright owner of the work (or their publisher or agent), and requesting permission to use the work. But understand this is a gray area, and every case is different. Some people say 300 words. In short, it’s a controversial issue. For example, a distinction is often made between   commercial and not-for-profit/educational use. You can also try to restrict yourself to using work that is licensed and available under Creative Commons—which does not require you to seek permission if your use abides by certain guidelines. Andrea Costa Photography / Flickr
Whenever you decide to directly quote, excerpt, or reproduce someone else’s work in your own—whether that’s a book, blog, magazine article, or something else—you have to consider, for each use, whether or not it’s necessary to seek explicit, legal permission from the work’s creator or owner. You need explicit permission. 7 Questions to Ask Before You Use Copyrighted Material by lawyer Brad Frazer
Copyright Office FAQ: very helpful—addresses recipes, titles, ideas, names, and more
Very helpful interview with Paul Rapp, an intellectual property rights expert, over at Huffington Post. More creative or imaginative works generally get the strongest protection. But there is an unfortunate Catch-22 here. That is: If you quote the material extensively, or in a   way that the original source would no longer be required,   then you’re possibly affecting the market for the quoted work. This is where we enter the trickiest area of all when it comes to permissions. Any time you state unadorned facts—like a list of the 50 states in the United States—you are not infringing on anyone’s copyright. This isn’t always a simple matter to determine, but any work published before 1923 is in the public domain. Unfortunately, quoting or excerpting someone else’s work falls into one of the grayest areas of copyright law. The nature of the copyrighted work. It’s also fine to link to something online from your website, blog, or publication. It is expected that you always credit your source regardless of fair use; otherwise, you are plagiarizing. There is no legal rule stipulating what quantity is OK to use without seeking permission from the owner or creator of the material. But any rules you find are based on a general institutional guideline or a person’s experience, as well as their overall comfort level with the risk involved in directly quoting and excerpting work. How to avoid the necessity of seeking permission
The best way to avoid seeking permission is to not quote or excerpt another person’s copyrighted work. For understandable reasons, you might be seeking a   “rule” to apply to   reduce   your   risk or reduce time spent worrying about it. Furthermore, each and every instance of quoting/excerpting the same work may have a different answer as to whether you need permission. Typically, you have to pay licensing or royalty fees for any photos or artwork you want to use in your own work. If a negative review   would dissuade people from buying the source, this is not   related to the fair use discussion in this post.)

To further explore what these four criteria mean in practice, be sure to read this excellent article by attorney Howard Zaharoff that originally appeared in Writer’s Digest magazine:   “A Writers’ Guide to Fair Use.”

In practice, if you’re only quoting a few lines from a full-length book, you are most likely within fair use guidelines, and do not need to seek permission. Ultimately, when disagreement arises over what constitutes fair use, it’s up to the courts to make a decision. So I hope to provide some clarity on those principles   in this post. But it makes your case less sympathetic if you’re borrowing a lot of someone else’s work to prop up your own commercial venture. Probably the   biggest “rule” that you’ll find—if you’re searching online or asking around—is: “Ask explicit permission for everything beyond X.”
What constitutes “X” depends on whom you ask. Once you start asking for permission—to reduce your risk—that gives the creator/owner of the work the opportunity to ask for money or refuse to give permission, even in cases where the use would actually be considered fair. If you can’t find or contact the rights holder for an image, and it’s not in the public domain, then you cannot use it in your own work. You do not need to seek permission for work that’s in the   public domain. Often, you are charged a fee for the use, anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. If the purpose of your work is commercial (to make money), that doesn’t mean you’re suddenly in violation of fair use. However, it’s still fine to use song titles, poem titles, artist names, band names, movie titles, etc. That’s because if the portion quoted is considered the most valuable part of the work, you may be violating fair use. If you need help,   I recommend my colleague Kelly Figueroa-Ray, who has experience in permissions and proper use of citations. I’ve written a separate post explaining the process for seeking permissions, with a sample request form. When do you NOT need to seek permission? But: be very careful when quoting song lyrics and poetry
Because songs and poems are so short, it’s dangerous to use even 1 line without asking for permission, even if you think the use could be considered fair. Some say one line. These are facts. When should you   seek permission? (Don’t confuse this criteria with the purpose of reviews or criticism. So you can get taken advantage of if you’re overly cautious. The same rules apply to work published online as in more formal contexts, such as print books or magazines, but attitudes tend to be more lax on the Internet. Are You Worried Your Work or Ideas Will Be Stolen? It simply means they are usually cheaper to pay for and overall less of a hassle. It’s like citing a fact. What about using images, art, or other types of media? The same rules apply to all types of work, whether written or visual. Read this guide from Stanford about how to determine if a work is in the public domain. Some say 10% of the word count. If you use someone’s copyrighted material in such a way that it might not be considered fair use, then you should ask for explicit permission. Some works published after 1923 are also in the public domain. You can also include the names of places, things, events, and people in your work without asking permission. That said, most publishers’ guidelines for authors offer a rule of thumb; at the publisher I worked at, that guideline was 200-300 words from a book-length work. If you need personalized assistance
With more authors publishing independently than ever, this can be a tough issue to navigate without having an experienced editor or agent to guide you. Linking does not require permission. When bloggers (or others) aggregate, repurpose, or otherwise excerpt copyrighted work, they typically view such use as “sharing” or “publicity” for the original author rather than as a copyright violation, especially if it’s for noncommercial or educational purposes. What about using work from websites, blogs, or in other digital mediums? I’m not talking about wholesale piracy here, but about extensive excerpting or aggregating that would not be considered OK otherwise. The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the quoted work. What constitutes “fair use” and thus doesn’t require permission? So there is no one rule you can apply, only principles. Note: If you find “rights-free images,” that doesn’t mean they are free to use. The law does not offer any percentage or word count here that we can go by. Some believe that paraphrasing or summarizing the original—rather than quoting it—can get you off the hook, and in some cases, this may be acceptable.

Yet literary journals still operate and market themselves as if we were all starved for high-quality literature. When they consider what distinguishes them from their peers, what is their answer? It’s finding time to read the great many wonderful things that are published. They do things “right” and treat writers well. Each journal has a print subscription available, combined with some online offerings. And they all suffer from the same problem: They distinguish themselves based on delivering high-quality literature. If I stopped acquiring new reading material tomorrow—if I canceled all my subscriptions and turned off the internet—it would take years before I exhausted my supply of high-quality literature. And the third has just released its first issue and is in the beginning stages of establishing a readership. It already has an admirable roster of contributors. The moving power of our words, the clarity and meaning of our reporting, the brilliance of our wit, the counterintuitive nature of our insights, the elegance with which we sum up the world’s problems; these things, we imagine, will leave the universe no choice but to conjure up an audience for us each day. Here’s a description of three of them:

One of the journals is a household name in the literary community with lots of subscribers—a strong brand in an enviable position. The short answer is you can’t unless readers are willing to pay and/or someone is willing to gift you into existence (e.g., grants or institutional support). … The audience for quality prestige content is small. (For a publishing operation that has considered these questions meaningfully, take a look at this post from Coffee House Press.)
The bald truth is that no one cares about a high-quality literary journal, just as they don’t care about high-quality writing, as pointed out in this excellent piece by Hamilton Nolan:
Many writers believe that our brilliant writing will naturally create its own audience. To be fair, some have been around for decades and established their missions during a very different era. We look through our slush! There is no magic solution or sustainable model for the garden-variety “high-quality” literary journal. It’s doing well compared to its peers. The result: These journals become indistinguishable from one another. Today, our problem is not finding more great things to read. They engage with the literary community online. But now that we’re in a transformed publishing landscape, how many journals have meaningfully revisited what they do, why they do it, or who they’re doing it for? As Nolan says, “I am here to tell you that it will not work.” In fact, this imaginary Universal Law of Writing—“Make something great and the readers will come”—is false. The problem is that nobody ever bothers to inform the audience. Even smaller than the actual output of quality prestige content…
At the 2017 AWP, I sat on a panel about money and transparency, and someone in the audience asked how they could turn a publication based on volunteerism and free contributions into one that paid staff and writers. Of course, this speaks to my many years of acquisition and the particular demographic I belong to, but the primary audience for high-quality literary journals is more similar to me than not. (I remember fondly The Formalist, an erstwhile poetry journal that published only formal poetry.) But a publication that wishes to grow and flourish by positioning itself as a high-quality literary journal? There may be a meaningful audience for high-quality writing that’s focused on a particular issue, cause, or movement. And whether readers pay you or patrons do, everyone looks for something deserving of their dollars, that has some kind of unique or inspiring place in the market, something beyond “quality.”
There is no meaningful audience to which you can market high-quality writing, at least outside of the AWP Bookfair. Here’s a sampling of statements from a few well-known journals that describe what they publish or who they publish for:

Has a long tradition of cultivating emerging talent
Has published many great writers
For the many passionate readers
Publishes quality literature
Devoted to nurturing, publishing, and celebrating the best in contemporary writing
Finds and publishes the very best writers

These journals often take pains to emphasize, “Hey, we publish great writers, but we also publish undiscovered writers, too!” That’s really not any more distinctive than a dedication to high-quality literature. Or a publication that is unfailingly focused on promoting and celebrating a specific style of writing. Another has been around for several years and has established a good reputation. For many I’ve talked to, the answer is to reiterate “quality” and how that quality gets sourced. Over the last year, I have consulted with a range of literary journals at very different stages of development. It’s just high-quality literature from a different source, while appearing perhaps more gracious, enlightened, or hard working.

As far as the student who sent me the 15 generic questions, I did respond. There’s a saying, attributed to Malcolm S. The majority of queries that agents receive are from people who will never attend a conference or educate themselves on proper etiquette. They have committed one of two misdemeanors (or both). And I have a responsibility to that community—to help others and share what I have. Early in my writing and publishing career, I was invited to speak to an undergraduate class about research and interview techniques. I was immediately sorry I had let down my guard. Here, I likely diverge from Pressfield. The question stymied me—why wouldn’t someone respond to a polite request? Most authors choose specific and meaningful ways to give back to the community, and answering unsolicited emails can be a thankless, invisible, and time-sucking task. Recently, though, I did, to a brief and well-written request, and when the follow-up came, it was about 15 very generic industry questions—probably sent to half a dozen other people as well. Forbes: “You can easily   judge   the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Assuming for a moment this is true, then in the Internet age, how could one live up to this maxim without considerable sacrifice, given how easy it is for public figures to be exposed—and expected to respond—to the communications of the many? It states that if it takes me a few minutes to respond to a message, I will; if it really requires a business transaction (a consultation), then I will not. I was still eager to check my inbox. And I receive at least one or two requests per week from students who are researching a dissertation or class assignment. First, they have demonstrated that they have no respect for my time—and no concept of the value of what they’re asking me for. Without question, my contact page pushes against the clueless ask. What authority, status, and success I have is partly (maybe wholly) the result of those who have granted it to me. If you read the comments under Pressfield’s post, you’ll see what I mean. Because when I walk I don’t just dangle my legs in empty space. You don’t get the good parts without the more annoying. Last week, I read a post by Steven Pressfield: Clueless Asks. “What is the future of publishing?” they ask. The clueless asks never go away, but perhaps there’s a better way to handle them than to judge or dismiss them entirely. One of the student questions was, “How do you get important people to respond to an interview request?”
I failed to offer any advice beyond the obvious: Write a good request letter. So   what I’m doing at the moment is not completely described unless your being here is described also. Maybe it’s a small thing, but at least it’s acknowledgment. Airing such a complaint can be a terrible idea, as few are likely to be sympathetic (except other successful people). We and our environment, and all of us and each other are interdependent systems. It seemed the students—by the very fact of being students—had difficulty getting their requests taken seriously. Perhaps it helped this was during a different era of email, around 2000 or 2001, prior to social media, when I was still crafting emails the way I did handwritten letters—long, drawn out affairs. Pressfield defines clueless asks as requests coming from strangers who send him unsolicited work, want to schedule a “pick your brain” lunch meeting, or ask questions they could find the answers to themselves (among other things). Or, “How has the publishing industry has changed over the last 10 years?”
Often, I don’t respond. That said, anyone—including myself—who receives clueless asks already knows the most frequently asked questions. We know who we are in terms of other people. I didn’t respond to every question, and sometimes I simply linked to relevant and publicly available articles I’ve written. What was my responsibility to this person? Answering them thoughtfully was going to consume an entire afternoon. So in describing my talking at the moment I can’t describe this just as a thing in itself because I’m talking to you. How could they overcome that hurdle? I’m reminded of an Alan Watts lecture, where he says:
You can’t talk about a person walking, unless you start describing the floor. Back then, I responded to every email and request I received when working at a publishing house, as it was flattering to receive any attention at all. It reminds me of a similar phenomenon with agents who never stop admonishing: “Read the submission guidelines! There is no easy answer that I can see, but at least we can reflect on and recognize what choices we make—where we draw the line. He writes:
These are not malicious asks. … The real ask in these cases is “Can I have your reputation?” In other words, “Will you give me, for free, the single most valuable commodity you own, that you’ve worked your entire life to acquire?”
As someone on the receiving end of many clueless asks, what Pressfield says resonates with me deeply. Yet at some point (it’s irresistible), it seems every successful person (at least those who blog) eventually write a post that can be summed up as: “Please, for the love of God, be smarter about the questions or asks you’re making.”
The thing is, it’s pretty rare that one’s pleas will reach the people who need to hear it or would listen. So in order to describe what I’m doing when I’m walking I have to describe the room, I have to describe the territory. Yes, I see you. It also helps to remember what it was like when no one answered my emails (yes, I’ve made some clueless asks myself). Only submit what I actually represent!” It’s a valid admonishment, but probably 99 percent of writers who go to conferences or read publishing guidebooks know that already. Today, even before I open my email, my blood pressure spikes thinking of all the requests, problems, and complaints I’m likely to find. And that makes it straightforward to create standard responses that can be sent in less than a minute, even by an assistant, that offer next steps, resources, and information on how the asker can help themselves. His post is the sort of thing I might have written, and certainly not a week passes when I don’t privately share a clueless ask with my partner and express frustration. I’m sure he’s accepted that “clueless asks” are a feature of the successful person’s life. You exist. It seemed a good compromise. If I am a publishing expert, it’s because you say or believe I am. My reputation is not something I own; it is something that has been formed and granted over time within a community. The professor jumped in, as this was a problem that annoyed her as well. I move in relationship to a room. But Pressfield may be letting us both off the hook a little too easily. I did what I could to meet her halfway. This doesn’t answer the question, though, of what responsibility the successful might have toward others—or what is owed. This is not to say that I am doing better than Steven Pressfield, or that he is abdicating responsibility in some way. First, and most obviously, this is a complaint of the successful and privileged few. They know the pattern of request. They’re just clueless. But because it’s the thing that annoys agents day in, day out, they can’t help but admonish the people whose ear they do have. … We define each other, we’re all backs and fronts to each other. The writers who send them are nice people, motivated by good intentions. Still, for the community of people I reach, email is the tool of those of very little means, and I feel I’m doing some good through those I do answer. What I have was not created solely through my own hard work. Pressfield is the author of The War of Art, as well as the more recent Turning Pro—some of the best insights into writer psychology.

Many authors change only their last name so they don’t have to remember what first name to use at conferences. Remember what happened to J. Second, the life of the copyright will be shorter: 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from its creation, instead of 70 years after your death. For example, the American Bar Association and the California State Bar would consider my book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook a “client communication” and “advertisement.” Therefore I must disclose my real name according to ethical rules. Identity theft involves intentionally acting to impersonate someone for financial gain. If you happen to use the name of a real person, you are not committing identity theft. The simplest pen name would be a variation of your own name, such as a middle name, nickname, or initials. Licensed Professionals Using Pen Names
Using a pen name for a book containing professional information may not be permitted by the rules of your license. Don’t use a pen name to avoid a pre-existing contract. If you become very famous under your pen name, then you might have other options. Photo credit: Thomas Rousing Photography via Visual Hunt / CC BY
Today’s guest post is by attorney Helen Sedwick   (@HelenSedwick) and is adapted from her newest edition of   Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook. You may register the copyright of your work under your pseudonym, your real name, or both. You are still breaching your obligations. Even then, someone will know who is behind the corporation, and word may leak out. Try to avoid using the name of a real person. Never claim credentials you don’t have. Usually, you will not be able to hide your real name from your publisher since contracts are signed in your real name. I recommend that authors register their pseudonymous works under both their real names and pen names. Research the name. Plus, you need to keep track of which identity to use in what context. David Savage (a pen name) did that with his bio for his book How the Devil Became President. 3. This is the most expensive alternative and may require an attorney. Some authors are more discreet. Do not use the name of anyone famous. If you write a book under the pen name Taylor Swift or Derek Jeter, you may be accused of trying to pass yourself off as the celebrity. This creates a permanent record of ownership, and few readers are going to research copyright records and find out the author’s real name. If you found this post useful, I highly recommend Helen Sedwick’s   Self Publisher’s Legal Handbook. There is no way to “claim” a pen name as exclusively yours. 6. 2. The higher the level of secrecy, the more complicated the process. They try to maintain their privacy, but not to the point of lying. Once you decide on a list of possibilities, do the following. I also suggest a trademark search through the U.S. Buy available domain names. Place the pen name on your cover and your copyright notice: © 2017 [your pen name]. For a bio, they use their own life story, but told in generic terms. Don’t expect a pen name to protect you completely from defamation claims. First, it may be difficult to prove ownership of the work at a later date. Most authors choose to be open about their pen names. If you have granted a traditional publisher first-refusal rights or have signed a confidentiality agreement as part of a legal settlement or employment agreement, a pen name won’t change anything. There are downsides to registering the copyright under a pseudonym only. Claim the name. Rowling? K. Search the internet and bookselling sites. 5. She tried to keep quiet about her pen name Robert Galbraith, but it was leaked by, of all people, her lawyers. But if your writing affects the real person’s life, consider changing your pen name. Other authors put up roadblocks. Using made-up credentials, especially to market an advice book, would be a misleading business practice. Be open with your publisher. If that happens, you should engage a lawyer to help you. In this internet age, secrets are almost impossible to keep. You may go through the process of filing an FBN Statement, but that gives you the right to use that name, not the right to stop others from using the same name (unless they happen to be doing business in the same county as you). Maintaining secrecy is difficult. For example, Dean Koontz lists his various pen names on his website. Choosing a pseudonym can be as daunting as naming a character, especially since the character is you. The exception is when you form a corporation, LLC, or other entity, but even then, most publishers want to know their authors. 4. Some authors put the copyright notice in both their pen name and real name, but it is not necessary. What Not to Do

Don’t go overboard in creating a fake identity. If you use the name of registered trademarks, you risk getting a cease-and-desist letter. In some jurisdictions, you may have to add the word Books or Publications after your pen name because the local jurisdiction won’t accept a Fictitious Business Name that looks like the name of a real person. Register your copyright. Most likely, you will be found out either through legal process or technology. Secrecy and Pen Names
You should consider how secret you want to be about your true identity. Trademark Office. File a Fictitious Business Name Statement (FBN Statement) if you will be getting payments made out to your pen name. 1. Avoid any name already used by a writer, since that is likely to confuse readers. They don’t put photos on their books and blogs, do not link their websites, and limit public appearances. You will want to buy a website domain for your pen name. Use the name. They set up corporations and trusts to hold the copyrights and contracts. If I were writing a novel, I would have more freedom to use a pen name because readers are not relying on my legal credentials. At book signings, they use their pen names, but at writers’ conferences they use their real names with a reference to their pen names.

Why waste countless months or years trying to please this or that picky agent/editor when you can easily get your book available on Kindle (or as print-on-demand) at almost no cost to you? The publisher gets to decide the cover, the title, the design, the format, the price, etc. During any formal appointments or critiques, plan to talk about 10-20% of the time. It’s tough to achieve objectivity. Novelists and memoirists often face the biggest battle—there’s enormous competition. It must reveal the ending. You must persuade them to accept your work by delivering an effective pitch or manuscript. It’s essentially a sales letter that attempts to persuade an editor or agent to request a full manuscript or proposal. You can find out more about protecting your rights here. Read in your genre, practice your craft, and polish your work. While I think writers   should undertake this task for themselves, if you prefer to hire someone to find appropriate agents and publishers for you to submit to, try Grad Student Freelancers. Here’s how to write a   query for a nonfiction book. Almost no agent or editor accepts full manuscripts on first contact. This is “the dream”—what most writers imagine when they think about getting published. Submit your materials. It depends on what you’re selling. Agents and editors do not want you (a non-client or author) to visit them at their offices. Seek out a   writing critique group or mentor who can offer you constructive feedback, then revise your story. Every agent and publisher has unique requirements for submitting your materials. (More on this below.)
Novel synopsis. While you need support, you also need to ignore what these people are telling you. Publishers, editors, and agents support authors or projects that will make money and provide a good return on investment. Rather, you must already have the platform and authority, and thus be qualified to write a book. You mature and develop. About 200 publisher listings and 1,000 agent listings. Some authors are rejected hundreds of times (over a period of years) before they finally get an acceptance. Geared toward the literary market; very useful if you’re shopping around poetry, short stories, essays, or literary novels. Perhaps most important, agents negotiate the best deal for you, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher. Subscription required. Sample chapters. A good critique partner can be invaluable to your growth as a writer. Again, be aware that most New York publishers do not accept unagented submissions—so this list includes where to find both publishers and agents. Protecting your rights
You have nothing to fear in submitting your query or manuscript to an agent or publisher. Ultimately, though, some manuscripts have to be put in the drawer because there is no market, or there isn’t a way to revise the work successfully. If you wish to publish a book, you have more choices than ever to accomplish your goal, and the path can be confusing when you’re new to the publishing industry. Traditionally, agents get paid only when they sell your work, and receive a 15% commission on everything you get paid (your advance and royalties). A request for the full manuscript. You’ll be far more attractive to a publisher if they believe you’ll be an active marketer and promoter of your book. A little self-reflection might be in order before you chase after an agent or publisher. Your writing gets better with practice and time. Work that doesn’t fall into a clear-cut genre is sometimes called “mainstream fiction.” Literary fiction encompasses the classics you were taught in English literature, as well as contemporary fiction (e.g.,   Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood, or Hillary Mantel). Determine your work’s   genre or category. If your project doesn’t command a sizable advance (at least 5 figures), then you may not be worth an agent’s time, and you’ll have to sell the project on your own. Be knowledgeable for any chance conversations you have; having this knowledge will also spark questions you could ask during panels or social hours. In 99% of cases, there’s no reason to rush. For most nonfiction:   Rather than completing a manuscript, you should write a book proposal—like a business plan for your book—that will convince a publisher to contract and pay you to write the book. If you’re not sure if you should traditionally publish or self-publish, here’s how to make a decision. Be   confident that you’re submitting your best work. You have to go through rounds of revisions and will likely have to change things you don’t want to change. Nonfiction book proposal. About 1,000 agent listings and an excellent community/resource for any writer going through the query process. This is what “No unsolicited materials” means when you read submission guidelines. You’ll gain an understanding that’s often impossible from just reading about it. Some books are “big” books suitable for New York traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin Random House, HarperCollins), while others are “quiet” books, suitable for mid-size and small presses. It usually takes a few   books out on the market before you can really   gain momentum, and most   first-time authors   don’t like to hear that—they’re not that committed to writing without an immediate payoff or some greater validation. Traditional publishers assume all costs and pay you an advance and royalties. If you come to the table with media savvy or an established platform (audience or readership), you’ll have an easier time getting that first deal. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editor or publisher would be most likely to buy a particular work. Most authors don’t sell their first manuscript, but their second or third (or fourth!). When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir,   start from the beginning of the manuscript. Select a conference where you can meet with a specific author, editor or agent who is absolutely ideal for your work (after lengthy and intensive research). Some writers really dislike conducting this research. You’ll mess it up. (Just being blunt here.)
If you’re worried about protecting your copyright, then I have good news: your work, under law, is protected from the moment you put it in tangible form. Make your questions count. Novelists (fiction writers) follow a different path to publication than nonfiction authors. That said, independent authors are   fiercely passionate about their work and their process, and some are much happier and satisfied going it alone. The self-publishing option
Typically, writers who get frustrated by the endless process of submission and rejection often look to self-publishing for satisfaction. So … do you need an agent? Do not plan a visit to New York and go knocking on doors, and don’t ask an agent/editor for a lunch or coffee appointment if you don’t have a relationship already. There is not an industry standard definition of what a “novel proposal” is. If you don’t have it, you will get frustrated and give up. If you want to be published by one of the major New York   houses (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, etc), probably. Preparing your submission materials (a query letter, usually). Do you have to “know someone”? (If they do not accept queries, that means they are a completely closed market.)
After you send out queries, you’ll get a mix of responses, including:

No response at all, which is usually a rejection. 4. Agents are motivated to represent   clients based on the size of the advance they think they can get. Subscription required. It’s tough to make progress without a mentor. Finding appropriate agents or publishers for your work. Mostly what this game boils down to is patience. If you write nonfiction, the marketability of your idea (and your platform) often matter as much as the writing, if not more so. If you have an   appointment or consultation with a publishing professional, it will shorten your path to publication. And why rush it if you’re new to the publishing business? The best agents are career advisers and managers. However, almost every agent or publisher will accept a one-page query letter unless their guidelines state otherwise. Read my post 3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask. These are complex documents, usually 20-30 pages in length, if not double that. Do not attend any appointment expecting to be offered a deal or representation. Here’s how to write a novel synopsis. Find publishers and agents. This is important. And especially if you’re trying to identify, from a market or commercial standpoint, why your work is appealing to agents or editors, a great amount of distance is required. When you finish a significant manuscript or proposal that took a long time to complete, you need time away and distance to assess it without feeling attached. If you put years of time and effort into a project, don’t abandon it too quickly. This is a brief summary (usually no more than 1-2 pages) of your story, from beginning to end. Here’s my definitive post on writing a query for a novel. 1. It’s easy to take validation from family and friends as a sign you ought to write and publish. Unless you live under a lucky star, you will get rejected again and again and again. There’s no one right answer for everyone, but I discuss considerations and guidelines here. You need to write because you can’t do anything else. Self-publishing requires   significant and persistent effort into marketing and promotion, not to mention an entrepreneurial mindset. A request for a partial manuscript and possibly a synopsis. For more explanation, see my comprehensive post. This is a 1-page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work. No, but referrals, connections or communities can certainly help! Get a critique session or an appointment—but only if you feel like you’ve taken your work as far as you possibly can on your own. We’re talking about years of work. Delve deeper. Read more about this issue here. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. The query and submission process takes enormous dedication and persistence. There are many types of publishing services out there, some cheap and some expensive. The quality of the writing may only need to be serviceable, depending on the category we’re talking about. Novels and memoirs:   You must finish your manuscript before approaching editors/agents. Never call an agent or editor to query or ask questions (or just chat) if you are not a client or author. How Long Should You Keep Querying? Prepare your submission materials. If you’re worried about protecting your ideas, well, you’re out of luck—ideas can’t be protected under copyright, and no   publisher or agent will sign a nondisclosure agreement or agree to talk with a paranoid writer who doesn’t trust them. If you’d like an in-depth guide on getting published:

My book:   Publishing 101:   A First-Time Author’s Guide
My course: How to Publish Your Book, with The Great Courses Some of the most common novel genres are: young adult, romance, erotica, women’s fiction, historical, mystery, crime, thriller, and science fiction & fantasy. When to hire professional help
Should you hire a freelance editor to help improve your manuscript before submitting? The most common   materials you’ll be asked for:

Query letter. Hire a publishing service to help you publish your book. YOU bring the audience to the publisher, not the reverse. You can get a sense of what nonfiction categories exist by browsing Amazon’s categories (see their lefthand navigation) or simply visiting a bookstore. This post focuses on getting a   traditional   book deal. (See the next step.)
Deciding If You Need an Agent
In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire are sold to them by agents. See the related question below about conferences. Never query by telephone—and I wouldn’t do it even if the guidelines recommend it. Works that can be difficult to sell:

Books that exceed 120,000 words, depending on genre
Poetry, short story, or essay collections–unless   you’re a known writer, or have a platform
Nonfiction books by authors without expertise, authority, or visibility to the target audience
Memoirs with common story lines—such as the   death of a loved one, mental illness, caring for aging parents—but no unique angle into the story (you haven’t sufficiently distinguished your experience—no hook)
Literary and experimental fiction

If you write fiction or memoir, the writing quality usually matters above all else if you want to be traditionally published. In brief, no, you are not ruining your chances. Don’t be the person who asks the obvious question you could’ve figured out by paying attention to the program. In a traditional publishing arrangement,   the publisher pays   you   for the right to publish your work. Submitting your materials to agents or editors. Find out more   information on book proposals and how to write one. That’s what it is. But if you’ve just spent months (or years!) writing a manuscript, why rush it to an agent or editor, and why rush it to just ANY agent or editor? Finish the work first—make it the best manuscript you possibly can. (Don’t select a middle chapter, even if you think it’s your best.) For nonfiction, usually any chapter is acceptable. This is the best place to research literary agents; not only do many have member pages here, but you can search the publishing deals database by genre, category, and/or keyword   to pinpoint the best agents for your work. Posting your work online
Many writers wonder if they’ll ruin their chances at traditional publication if they self-publish   an ebook, use Wattpad, or put chapters on their website. The All-Important Query Letter
The query letter is the time-honored tool for writers seeking publication. Self-publish. If your work isn’t a good candidate for a New York house, don’t despair. Here’s how to find literary agents and how to evaluate them. Such options may afford you the ability to hold your book in your hands, but it rarely   leads to   your physical book reaching   bookstore shelves—which ends up surprising authors who’ve been led to believe otherwise. If you’re writing for a niche market (e.g., vintage automobiles), or have an academic or literary work, then you might not need one. Thousands of listings can be found here—it’s by far the best place to research book publishers. In short: It’s a ton of work, like starting a small business (if you do it right). But those who succeed and profit often devote years of their life, if not their entire lives, to marketing and promoting their work. Within the publishing industry, nonfiction is often discussed as falling under two major, broad categories:   prescriptive (how-to, informational, or educational) and narrative (memoir, narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction). Because you would suffer if you didn’t. This is not an exhaustive list of where you can find   listings, but a curated list assuming you want to focus on the highest-quality sources. It used to be that this return on investment could happen over a period of years or several books. If you receive   no   requests for the manuscript or book proposal, then there might be something wrong with your query. So, you can self-publish, but it all depends on your goals and what will satisfy you. There are three primary paths to getting published:

Land a traditional publisher who will offer you a book contract. 4 steps to getting a book published
Getting your book traditionally published is a step-by-step process of:

Determining your genre or category of work. Here are 3 ways you can get the most out of your experience. This usually refers to your query letter, a synopsis, and perhaps the first chapter. The most important thing to remember is that not every book is cut out to be published by a New York house, or represented by an agent, but most writers have a difficult time being honest with themselves about their work’s potential. Here are some   rules of thumb about what types of books are suitable for   a large, traditional   publisher:

Genre or commercial fiction: romance, erotica, mystery, crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, young adult
Nonfiction books that would get shelved   in your average Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore—which requires a strong hook or concept and author platform. Some of the most popular nonfiction categories are: business, self-help, health, and memoir. Avoid agents who charge fees. Now, it needs to happen with one book and in less than one year. This is where you act as the publisher, and hire the help you need to publish and sell your work, generally through Amazon and other major retailers. But you must approach the process like a professional, not a high-maintenance artiste. Here is how to improve your query letter. Are you writing fiction or nonfiction? They’re not publishing professionals. Basic service is free. Rejections can be lessons to improve your writing. You just need to find them. You may be   very excited about your   story idea, or about having a partial manuscript, but it’s almost never a good idea to   pitch your work to a   publishing professional at such an early stage. When you don’t have the time or willingness to take enough steps back from your work, or see its flaws, others can offer a really hard push. Reasons you might fail to get published

You rush to submit your work before it’s ready. Closely study the backgrounds/bios of every speaker, agent, and editor who is attending. Before meeting, develop a specific list of questions that, if you had the answers, you would know specifically what your next steps are (for your project or your career) when you leave. It’s not likely your first attempt will get published. You will meet agents and editors, and start to see them as real people. Have your friends told you that you’re a brilliant writer? There are many mid-size houses, independent publishers, small presses, university presses, regional presses, and digital-only publishers who   might be thrilled to have your work. This is my theory on why so many queries and proposals fail. Novel proposal. You can get the reasons, immediately, that an agent or editor may not be responding favorably to your work. What you really need (require) is your own inner conviction. For nonfiction authors: Don’t go looking for a publishing deal because you   need   the authority or platform that a book can give you. You can also purchase the print edition, which comes with free access to the online database. If you’d like to interact with an agent or editor, attend a writers conference. Do your children love your stories? Free. Why you should attend writing conferences
Your education and insight into the industry will advance exponentially. 2. Find   other titles that are competitive or comparable to your own; make sure that your book is unique, but also doesn’t break all the rules of the category it’s meant to succeed in. You’ll have to pay a modest monthly fee to access their database. Usually a New York publisher won’t sign a nonfiction book unless they anticipate selling 10,000–20,000 copies. Go for the learning experience and the opportunity to have a professional consultation. This is particularly true of writers who are dizzy with   excitement   after   having just completed their very first book-length manuscript. Repeat this cycle endlessly. To learn more:   Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book. Don’t write (only) because you were given validation or permission by someone close to you. When working with a traditional publisher, you have to give up a lot of power and control. Once you know what you’re selling, it’s time to research which publishers or agents accept the type of work you’ve written. You need to methodically research the market for your idea before you begin to write the proposal. 3. Navigating the publishing industry

Publishing is a business, just like Hollywood or Broadway. But the main thing they have in common is that they charge you to publish. This post lays out the process in the simplest terms possible. Has your family encouraged you? Professionalism and politeness go a long way toward covering up any amateur mistakes you might make along the way. The work itself may be outstanding, but the writer hasn’t achieved the necessary distance to either evaluate or communicate the commercial merit of her own work. Look at the rejection slips for patterns about what’s not working. Finally, most self-published authors find that selling their book is just as hard—if not harder than—finding a publisher or agent. If you succeed in getting your material   requested, but then get rejected, there may be   a weakness in the manuscript or proposal. Many writers are familiar with the reasons to attend conferences, but not all understand how to get more out of them. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is rushing to get published. Also consider: What is your motivation for trying to get published? Your motivation to write has to come from within.

Here’s an example of how to pitch the premise and not the plot:
Young Ragnar Lothbrok, the very first Viking to sail west from Scandinavia, sets off a chain of events that will forever change England and the heart of Europe. Don’t talk about how your family and friends love your work—and be careful of mentioning anyone’s praise. It’s where you try to explain in detail what happens in your book, thinking that the more intriguing or juicy description you share, the more interested the agent or editor will be. After many travails at sea including a devastating storm which almost sinks their craft, they arrive in England and plunder a monastery with their crew and take slaves back home to Scandinavia, including a young monk named Athelstan. Agents and editors want to feel excited to read the manuscript, and not linger over the query any longer than necessary. (If agents want to know that, they will turn to the novel synopsis.)
Here’s an example where there’s waaaay too much detail. All you need is something very simple (yet difficult): the story premise. The premise consists of the protagonist(s) and the challenge they face. The query letter is about seduction; you want to leave something to the imagination, and you want to leave the agent/editor wanting more. Earl Haraldson feels threatened by the success of the raid, and Ragnar is put in his place, but not for long. The paragraph above is basically a plot synopsis, which we don’t want in a query. Almost no one will complain that your query is too short. Use a light touch when discussing your novel’s themes or “lessons.”
This is kind of like the cousin to your motivations for writing your book. (Read my guide to novel queries for more on query elements.) All together, your query length should be around 300 words, maybe less. Think twice before you do. You may be very concerned about demonstrating a certain value or judgment or lesson through the characters or story line. No. Remove anything that sounds like a book report. (I’m using the TV series “The Vikings” as the story I’m pitching, as if it were a novel.)
In eighth century Scandinavia, a young Ragnar Lothbrok and his brother Rollo have just won a major battle together against Baltic tribesman, but Ragnar feels dissatisfied with his life. Notice how this gives us a sense of what Ragnar is like and his motivations for doing what he does. Possessing a heretofore-unknown navigational device obtained from a foreigner, he tries to convince the Earl Haraldson that instead of raiding again in the east as they’ve done for generations, they should try voyaging to the mythical lands to the west to find riches. Here are the biggest problems that afflict novel queries and how you can fix them. A long series of raids to England begins, and Ragnar finds that as he gains confidence and stature, his brother Rollo feels left behind and jealous, and ultimately betrays him. Frankly, no one’s opinion matters except that of the agent or editor who is evaluating your work. Seen as an arrogant fool by his kingdom’s earl, he manages to convince enough people, including his brother, Rollo, to go with him on the unpredictable journey. (It’s rare for someone to do so, but it’s usually the only kind of endorsement that will really change how much time an agent or editor puts into considering your work.)
Keep total query length to around 300 words. However, it’s totally fine to reference research you conducted or perhaps professional experience you have that may have helped you produce a more credible or authentic story. You might summarize this in a sentence or so near the end of the query, e.g., “Through Olivia’s journey, we learn what it means to love others, and through them, love ourselves.”
It’s not a problem if you mention such a thing briefly (usually after delivering the story premise), but if you have a full paragraph dedicated to explaining the novel’s overarching theme, it may make your work sound pedantic or too self-serious. Your query letter mostly consists of the story premise. Notice the length: not even 100 words. It tends to be mind numbing and sometimes hard to follow. His daring adventure will turn the Viking world on its head—and also turn his family against him. He has undertaken a secret project—better designed boats and navigation devices—to sail to the unknown west. Whatever people you mention would first have to be known and meaningful to the agent/editor being queried, and second, it raises the question of why these people who are praising your work haven’t given you a formal referral or written on your behalf to an agent/editor. You should avoid anything that is an accounting of the plot twists and turns. Leave out your motivations and reasons for writing the book. In fact, you want to pull back—way back. If your query runs an entire single-spaced page, you’ve likely said too much. You’ll also mention the basic facts of the work—title, word count, genre—and probably include a line or two about yourself. Ragnar is torn between being loyal to family and punishing his brother. Bottom line: your motivations rarely matter to agents/editors making a decision on whether to read your manuscript. They definitely don’t care about how much your writing group or beta readers have enjoyed the book, nor do they care about your students, friends, family members, or anyone else for that matter. This is by far the biggest sin of most query letters. Sometimes writers will be tempted to add the praise of mentors, authors, or even professional editors who’ve read and helped with the work. Ragnar and Rollo argue over the which of them will lead this voyage, and they eventually agree to sail as equals and form a crew, after having their shipbuilding comrade Floki design a new, fast-moving boat. Leave that discussion for your interview with Terry Gross or others who are curious about your creative process. We need a fairly equal balance of character and plot here—enough to connect with the character and enough to be interested in the problem that will drive the story from beginning to end. In my many years of critiquing queries, I see the same weaknesses again and again. Ragnar is a warrior and a farmer, headstrong, who is frustrated by his kingdom’s tired tradition of raiding to the east. We don’t need to know the plot specifics beyond what sets the story in motion and what will keep us turning the pages.

Read the entire essay. After reading “Looking Back,” by Andrew Porter, perhaps I’ll become more sympathetic. Yet still he holds on. Some of it includes things he’s written, things he would probably say he’s embarrassed by. Photo credit: rusty_cage via / CC BY
My partner, Mark, is a packrat. Why be so sentimental? While he has tried hard to “purge” his various collections in between moves, we still have closets, and an outbuilding,   filled with boxes of ephemera from his youth. Sometimes they may belong there, but other times I think they remain there simply because we’ve chosen to forget them, or worse, because we’ve given up on them. Also this month from Glimmer Train:

A 100% Rejection Rate by Weike Wang
Some Lessons Learned   by   Bipin Aurora
On Gathering Material by Stefanie Freele
Laying Fiction Over History   by   Peter Ho Davies

  This gives me plenty of opportunity to tease (or taunt) him about it. He writes:

There are any number of reasons for why stories get orphaned and forgotten, why they get sent to the darkest corners of our hard drives. …   [I tell students] if there’s something at the heart of the story that still interests them, that keeps pulling them back, that still haunts them years later, then that’s probably a sign that there’s something worth struggling for there, that somewhere, in the midst of all that mess, they might even find some of their very best work.

Before long, they have a book-length work, and friends and family say (as a form of well-meaning support), “You should find a publisher.”
No, you probably shouldn’t. Of course, anything is possible, but you’re relying on being an outlier. (Unless you’re Hillary Clinton and you lost the 2016 presidential election.)
Your memoir consists of diary or journal entries, letters, or other ephemera from the past. Here are the most common problems I encounter in memoir pitches and manuscripts. Of all the projects I’ve heard pitched over the years, memoir is the category with the most intractable, hard-to-solve problems. You’ve written the memoir of someone else. This is the hardest thing to tell a writer: “Sorry, but your story of addiction or cancer survival or loss of a child just doesn’t seem that special.” In other words, your story sounds like everyone else’s story. It’s not written in a way that makes it stand out, or it could be written poorly. What I’m about to write may come off as cold and insensitive. This problem often goes hand in hand with the first. Again, people love to reference David Sedaris, as well as Erma Bombeck, as a way to say, “But look how popular they are!”   But you are not them, and you won’t get the same latitude if you’re a relative unknown. This type of project is unlikely to go any further than your computer hard drive unless you self-publish it. There’s no real story; there’s no question that keeps us turning pages. One of the fastest ways to get a rejection is to pitch your book as a collection of entries from a diary or journal you kept or a family member kept, or letters sent and received. While this principle is common   in relation to fiction writing, I think it applies to any type of storytelling. A distinctive lens or angle is applied—which means many chapters (and characters) of your life will not enter into the picture. You have a family member and they have an amazing story to tell. So you embark on writing the memoir (or sometimes biography) of their lives. (Yes, I know Sedaris is publishing his diaries. Quite the contrary. Use diaries, journals, and other personal written materials as the basis of research to write a proper, narrative-driven story. If you’re a memoirist preparing to pitch your work this year, it may benefit you, and it’s not too late to register. Some authors can get away with publishing essay collections or something that looks like a collection of vignettes. Someone has experienced something traumatic, and as part of their therapy or recovery, they write about the experience. In other words, it looks more like an autobiography. A vignette is a story that stands alone and is little more than an anecdote about your life. Sometimes you can get away with something very broad ranging indeed, but it requires a skilled storyteller, who knows how to weave together scenes to create a cohesive narrative. There is great value in writing and self-publishing such a story for the family legacy, but   unless you have a track record of writing and publishing amazing stories about (or for) other people, prepare to be disappointed in the reaction of editors and agents. If your writing was:

undertaken as a way for you to deal with a painful experience
if that painful experience is in the recent past (within the last few years), and/or
if you have no other writing experience or ambition …

… then publishing a memoir isn’t the best next step for you. But don’t use them as the story itself, or use them very sparingly within a larger narrative. For more tough love on memoir, I highly recommend this agent roundtable published in Writer’s Digest in 2010. Partly this is a function of what memoir is: something that’s very personal. This happens about half the time I read a memoir chapter outline or synopsis: it begins in childhood and ends in the present day. But you’re motivated to do something. But they’re not a writer, or they don’t care to write it (or they’re dead). Note from Jane:   This week, I’m kicking off a 5-week online course on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. While many phases of your   life may be referenced, or there might be flashbacks or flash-forwards, the narrative ought to have a clear focus, or a beginning-middle-end, that isn’t defined by the day you were born and the day you started to write your life story. You’re not Sedaris.)
Your memoir is really an autobiography. It’s great that you’ve used writing to aid in recovery, but it doesn’t mean you have a book that’s appropriate for the commercial market. You’ve written a series of vignettes. Don’t do it. File it under “tough love for writers.” It’s not that your life is unimportant or without value. The only antidote to this problem is to either become a better writer, or to find a more interesting story to tell. Okay, maybe if you’re a celebrity, notorious for some reason, or otherwise in the public eye, perhaps these materials will hold interest to a general readership. The memoir is the first piece of writing you’ve ever   attempted. Everyone has a meaningful story to tell, but not everyone’s story (or writing) is going to deserve a commercial publishing deal. But for the most part, a collection of journal entries is going to elicit a yawn from those in publishing. It’s often said that a writer’s first manuscript never gets published; it’s the third, fourth, fifth (or later) manuscript that gains acceptance by a publisher. It’s still relevant today. Your memoir is primarily pain focused, or an act of catharsis. People have a hard time achieving any distance between the meaning and importance of their life’s events and the commercial market that might exist for it. If your memoir is the first thing you’ve written and finished, it’s unlikely you knocked   it out of the park on your first try. Your story is like a million others (and the writing just isn’t special enough). Some memoirs consist of nothing but back-to-back vignettes. They might be beautiful and touching vignettes, but the manuscript lacks a narrative arc. Most memoirs should be limited to telling a story about a particular period in time.

Are there any trend articles, statistics or research about your readership   that might be helpful? If not, try asking the following:

What social media outlets seem to be most important, active, or relevant for your target audience? Here’s a platform worksheet to help you cover the most important   bases. Analyze how you reach readers. Explore and understand   competing titles. You want to look like you measure up well but also have something fresh or different to offer. My expertise on this topic comes from more than a decade of acquisitions experience at a traditional publisher, where I reviewed thousands of proposals. By this point, you’ll have considerable information about the print and online landscape   related to   your topic. How do you fit among them? Look for online education opportunities, if relevant. As you go through Steps 1 and 2, you’ll uncover authors, experts, and influencers on your topic. Searching for competing titles—the books that currently exist on your topic and serve the same audience—is one of the easiest ways to begin your research process. Study the books closely and take notes. This is where you look at your platform and measure how well you reach your target readership, through the following:

Your website/blog
Email   newsletter
Social media
Speaking and teaching
Professional memberships or affiliations
Partnerships or special connections, especially those that might influence media coverage or buzz
Any other tools you have! (If not, go back and look for clues as to who the books or media appear to be targeting.)
It’s a big red flag to any agent or editor to say that your book is for “everyone.” Maybe it could interest “everyone,” but there’s a specific audience that will be the most likely to buy your book. Your platform directly informs the marketing and promotion plan that’s included in your proposal. Research the digital media landscape. Is it free or behind a pay wall? Are there hints about how you need to develop your own platform to be competitive in the eyes of a publisher? Understand how your audience might be fulfilling its needs for information from online and multimedia sources—and also from magazines, newsletters, databases, and events/conferences. It would be a mistake to think your competition is limited to print books. Go to the shelf where you would expect your book to be placed. And of course be sure to look at Amazon. Step 4. Here’s a worksheet to help you take notes on authors and influencers. Who are those people, and how/where can you reach them? Don’t stop at Google. Today, your greatest competition may be a website, online community, or well-known blogger. After you finish combing the bookstores and libraries, check specialty retailers that might carry books on your topic (e.g., Michaels for arts and crafts books). You will probably have some notes about the type of audience or demographic being served. Pinpoint   your primary audience. Just as you studied the books and media, dig deep into the platform and reach of these people. Where does your audience gather online? Here’s a worksheet to guide your research of competing titles. How will you set yourself apart? Also search YouTube, app stores, iTunes podcasts, and online communities relevant to your topic. Step 3. Step 2. Try running a keyword search through Google, then clicking on the “News” tab to find features or   trend reports on your topic. Step 1. (E.g., if you search for “millennial parents,” you’ll find a boatload of trend pieces and advice on marketing to that demographic.)

The better you know your target reader (or primary market), the better you’ll able to build a proposal that speaks to why anyone cares about what you’re writing. Also, being thorough in describing your platform (if only for yourself) helps you more effectively develop a marketing plan before your publication day, and collaborate with your publisher on marketing and publicity. You’ll have a much easier time writing your proposal if you take time to conduct market research beforehand. What do they watch? Writing a nonfiction book proposal—a good one—requires not only sharp clarity about your idea, but also how that idea, in book form, is relevant and unique in today’s market. This information may or may not end up in your proposal, but the upside is this: you’re developing an amazing map and resource of how to market your book when it’s published. Photo credit: The City of Toronto via / CC BY
Note from Jane: I’m offering an interactive course on nonfiction book proposals starting June 5. This is a good time to refer back to Step 3, and review the authors and influencers you’ll be competing and/or collaborating with. Furthermore, an   intimate understanding of your audience often leads to a better book. Again, Steps 1–3 have probably given you some pretty good hints. Visit the bookstores in your area, and the library, too. What’s there? Who do they listen to in the media? Is it easy to get needed and authoritative information? What are their behaviors or attributes in those gathering places? The best marketing campaigns begin with what you have in place today, not what you hope to happen (e.g., Oprah calls). What else does   your audience read? Do a thorough Google search for   digital content and online experts serving the same audience as you. Step 5. Study the authors and influencers you’ve found.

An Amazon search turns up more than 10,000 books with “dog” in the title

These are meaningless statistics. You need to show that your ideas are not just pie in the sky, but real action steps that will lead to concrete results and a connection to an existing readership. Book proposals are used to sell   nonfiction   books to publishers. Your memoir is not salable unless you’re confident of several things. (In some   cases, a ghostwriter may come into play, but this typically requires deep pockets on the part of the author or a very motivated   publisher.)
The biggest mistake writers make in their book proposals
It’s natural to assume the book proposal should discuss what your book is about. No following/friending required; just show up on my Facebook page at the appointed hour. The writer hasn’t articulated a clearly defined market or need—or the writer has described a market that’s too niche for a commercial publisher to pursue. The most important thing is to show how your book concept will play out from beginning to end, and strongly convey the scope and range of material covered. Some agents may even ask for both the proposal and the complete manuscript if you’re an unpublished author. A U.S. Your offline following—speaking engagements, events, classes/teaching, city/regional presence, professional organization leadership roles and memberships, etc. But this is a mistake. You have to convince agents and editors you’re the perfect author for the book. It can be very tempting to make a broad statement about who your audience is, to make it sound like anyone and everyone is a potential reader. You should be able to clearly   differentiate your title from the competition, and show why there’s a need for your book. More resources on book proposals

Agent Ted Weinstein outlines the necessary parts of a book proposal, and also   offers an audio recording of his 90-minute workshop on proposals. Publishers don’t need to be given broad industry   statistics; they need   you to draw a clear portrait of the specific type of person   (beyond “book buyers”) who will be interested in   your book. Would you be OK reading a serious   guide on how to invest in the stock market by someone who   is living in a van down by the river?)
Some types of nonfiction   can be credibly pitched   by anyone with proven journalistic or storytelling skills. Big houses may want to sell as many as 20,000 copies in the first year to justify publication; smaller presses may be fine with a few thousand copies. If a publisher is convinced by your argument, it contracts you and pay you to write the book. Chapter outline (or table of contents)
A chapter outline works well   for narrative or meaty works, especially those that are text-heavy and anticipated to come in at 80,000 words or more. Make it concrete, realistic, and attach numbers to everything. The most common problem leading to rejection: no author platform
A sizable platform and expertise is typically required to successfully sell a nonfiction book to a major publisher, especially for competitive categories such as health, self-help, or parenting. You might be okay discussing just a few titles if your book is on a specialized topic or for a very narrow audience. (Would you, as a reader, trust a health book by an author with no medical experience or degrees? Eastern. The   problem with pitching memoir
Submission guidelines vary tremendously when it comes to pitching memoir. Addiction and cancer memoirs, for example, are common, and will put you on the road to rejection unless you’re able to prove how yours is unique or outstanding in the field. My favorite comprehensive   guide on book proposals is   How to Write a Book Proposal   by agent Michael Larsen. Weak
I plan to contact conferences and speak on [book topic]. A book proposal argues why your book (idea) is a salable, marketable product. Plus, given the significant change in the publishing industry, authors shouldn’t consider a print book their first goal or the end goal, but merely one way,   and usually not the best way, for making money. It’s still necessary to prove there’s a market for that story, but you won’t be successful in your pitch if you can’t deliver on the writing. For each entry in your competitive title analysis, begin by listing the title, subtitle, author, publisher, year of publication, page count, price, format, and the ISBN. Strong
I have also guest blogged every month for the past year to reach another 250,000 visitors, at sites such as [include 2-3 examples of most well-known blogs]. Note from Jane: I’m offering an interactive course on nonfiction book proposals that begins   June 5. Looking for more help? Note:   You may occasionally hear someone refer to novel proposals, which typically includes a query or cover letter, a synopsis, and a partial or complete manuscript. Never discuss what you hope to do, only what you can and will do (without publisher assistance), given your current resources. Professional, published writers can typically sell a memoir based on the proposal alone, if they clearly have writing chops or publication credits to back up the proposal. At the publishing house I worked at, this was called “evidence of need.” Why this book? It’s not out of the question for a   proposal to   reach 50 pages   or more   for complex projects once sample materials are included. Traditional houses are pickier than ever; producing anything in print is a significant investment and risk. If there are truly no competitors, then your book might be so weird and specialized that it won’t sell. Many people write their marketing plan in extremely tentative fashion, talking about things they are “willing” to do if asked. The secret of a marketing plan isn’t the number of ideas you have for marketing, or how many things you are willing to do, but how many solid connections you have—the ones that are already working for you—and how many readers you NOW reach through today’s efforts. If you have a way to reach readers, without a publisher’s help, then you’re more likely to get a book deal. Competitive title analysis
This section analyzes competing book titles and why yours is different or needed. Rather than focusing on the content, focus   on why the content will benefit the reader or why the reader will care. But don’t just copy and paste your bio into the proposal and consider the job done. The writer wants to do a book based on his or her own amateur experience of overcoming a problem or investigating a complex issue. If your book doesn’t require a narrative structure,   then your skills as a writer mainly   have to be up to the task of producing and revising a book manuscript with an editor’s or agent’s guidance. Especially in fields such as health, self-help, or parenting, your credibility and platform as a professional in the field may be   most   critical; your background must convey authority and instill confidence in the reader. If properly developed and researched, a proposal can take weeks   or longer to write. Strong
I am in contact with organizers at XYZ conferences, and have spoken at 3 events within the past year reaching 5,000 people in my target audience. Always discuss the content in relation to the reader’s need or society’s needs. This is deadly language. You don’t need to list things such as Amazon ranking, star rating, or reviews. It acts as a   business case or business plan for your book that persuades a publisher to make an investment. Target market or target audience
Who will buy   your   book? Instead, you need to be confident, firm, and direct about everything that’s going to happen with or without the publisher’s help. Some agents don’t require a book proposal for memoir, while others want only the book proposal and the first few chapters. The book proposal persuades agents/editors that   readers   will pay $20 or more for the benefit that your book provides. Many book ideas I see pitched should really start out as a site or community—even if only to test-market the idea, to learn more about the target audience, and to ultimately produce a print product that   has a ready and eager market once it’s published. (Here’s a definition of platform.)   An agent or editor is going to evaluate your visibility in the market, and will want to know the following:

The stats and analytics behind your online following, including all websites, blogs, social media accounts, e-mail newsletters, regular online writing gigs, podcasts, videos, etc. Author bio
It can be helpful to begin with a bio you already use at your website or at LinkedIn. For each chapter, you write a brief summary of the idea, information, or story presented, usually 100-200 words per chapter. Weak
I plan to contact bloggers for guest blogging opportunities. Avoid it. Sample chapters
If you’re writing a narrative work that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end, then include sample material that starts at the beginning of the book. Eastern on June 1. (You can see this played out in the rejections received by award-winner Rebecca Skloot.)
If your book’s purpose is to   impart useful information or to benefit readers’ lives, then you’re selling it based on the marketability of your expertise, your platform, and your concept. Also don’t worry about including the sales numbers of the competing titles. Marketing plan
What can you specifically do to market and promote the book? Avoid generic statements like these:

A Google search result on [topic] turns up more than 10 million hits. They need to know there’s an audience waiting to buy. Show how your expertise and experience give you the perfect platform from which to address your target audience. Then comes the   most important part: for each competitor, you   briefly summarize the book’s approach in relation to your own (about 100-200 words per title). The New York Times recently wrote about the increased interest in military memoirs; [X and Y] media outlets regularly profile soldiers who’ve written books abour their experience. Instead of writing the entire book, then trying to interest an editor or agent (which is how it works with novels), you write the proposal first. What need does it fulfill? Recent reviewers of [X books] complain that they   are not keeping up with new information and trends. But having the manuscript complete does not get you off the hook when it comes to writing   the proposal. Keep in mind that for some nonfiction topics and categories, the availability of online information can immediately kill the potential for a print book. The   analysis typically includes   5-10   titles. If you’re told the market isn’t big enough, maybe you approached too big of a publisher. If you’re writing about situations that affect thousands (or millions) of people, that’s not necessarily in your favor. Avoid generically describing the book buying audience in the United States, or—for example—broadly discussing how many memoirs sold last year. Resist trashing the competition; it will come back to bite you. And if you want to use both, that’s completely acceptable. I offer book proposal consultations and critiques if you have a proposal draft ready for review. Finding a   literary agent (and do you need one?)
If you are   writing a book that has significant commercial value, or   you want to publish with a New York house, then you’ll need to submit your work to literary agents. And don’t skimp on your title research—editors can tell when you haven’t done your homework, plus fully understanding the competition should help you write a better proposal. Your presence in traditional media (regular gigs, features, any coverage you’ve received, etc)
Your network strength—reach to influencers or thought leaders, a prominent position at a major organization or business
Sales of past books or self-published works

You typically need to be visible to tens of thousands of people, with   verifiable influence, to interest a major publisher. Also, you can join me for   a free introductory session on getting your nonfiction book published and ask questions during my Facebook Live session on Thursday, June 1, at 7 p.m. It needs to sing and present a water-tight business case. The most common   book proposal sections
While there’s no single “best” way to write and assemble a book proposal—it will depend on the   category, the author, and the publishers’ submission guidelines—the following sections appear   in almost every   book proposal. We need to be able to envision who the readers are   and how they can be marketed to. While proposal length varies tremendously, most are somewhere around   10 to 25   pages double-spaced, not including sample chapters. If writing a chapter outline seems redundant or unnecessary for your book’s content, then use a table of contents. That is: To learn how to lose weight, readers don’t need a poet; they need a clear communicator who can deliver her ideas and methods in a way that will help readers achieve their   goals. If your memoir is your very first book or very first writing attempt, then it may not be good enough to pass muster with an editor or agent. Common problems with book proposals

They’ve been submitted to an inappropriate agent, editor, or publisher. Don’t try to get off easy by using the introduction; this is your opportunity to show that you can deliver on your book’s promise. Travel is a good example—its print sales have declined by 50 percent since 2007. The proposed idea is like a million others; nothing compelling sets the book apart. If it has a specific edition number, include that, too. Projects that don’t necessarily require agents include scholarly works for university presses, books likely to be published by regional or independent presses, and other   niche titles   with little commercial value. Is there a smaller publisher that would be interested because they have a lower threshold of sales to meet? For professors and academics, I recommend taking a look at The Professor Is In. Overview
This comes at the very beginning of your proposal; think of it as the executive summary, around two to three pages. Why will it sell? (No expertise or credentials.)
The writer concentrates only on the content of the book or his own experience—instead of the book’s hook and benefit and appeal to the marketplace. Strong
Within 6 months of launch, my blog on [book topic] already attracts 5,000 unique visits per month. Why does it matter? I have invitations to return on each site, plus I’ve made contact with 10 other bloggers for future guest posts. The following statements show better market insight:

Media surveys indicate that at least 50% of quilters plan to spend about $1,000 on their hobby this year, and 60% indicated they buy books on   quilting. The concept is too general or broad, or has no unique angle. Your writing must be outstanding. While everyone expects the writing to be solid, they’re probably not expecting a literary masterpiece. If this is a weak area for you, look for other strengths that might give you credibility with readers or help sell books—such as connections to experts or authorities in the field, a solid online following, and previous success in marketing yourself and your work. New, emerging writers who have no publishing track record will likely be asked to submit a complete manuscript to prove they can write,   sometimes in addition to the book proposal itself. (I discuss   the research process here.)
Whatever you do, don’t claim there are no competitors to your book. There’s no way for an average author to find out that information, and the agent or editor can look it up   if required. Census shows more than 20 million people in this demographic. Your proposal must focus on these questions, and not   get lost in explaining your book’s ideas. Join me for a free Q&A on Facebook

All that’s required is that you visit my Facebook page at 7 p.m. This bears little to no relation to a nonfiction book proposal. In as much detail as possible, discuss an   identifiable market of readers who will be compelled to spend money on your information or story in book form. Weak
I plan to register a domain and start a blog for my book. New writers might find it easier to simply write the book first, then prepare a proposal—which isn’t a bad idea in the case of narrative nonfiction, since many editors and agents want assurance that an unknown writer has sufficient writing chops to pull off their project. You must have a compelling and unusual story to tell. I suggest you write it last. Your business case may matter   more than the writing
People don’t like to hear   this, but for many nonfiction books, the   artfulness of the writing   doesn’t matter as much as the marketability of the book or the author. You have the start of a   platform. (Think of a narrative nonfiction book, such as   Seabiscuit.) If your book must succeed based on its ability to artfully weave a story,   then your strength as a writer becomes more and more important. If your work isn’t a narrative, then write or include a sample chapter that you think is the meatiest or most impressive chapter.

Sometimes authors   think there’s a secret to producing more that they don’t know yet. by Jason Mrachina / Flickr
In my author consultations, I’m hearing more often about the pressures that writers feel   to produce more product more quickly, in order to keep up with the competition and stay front-of-mind with readers. This is the topic of my latest column at   Publishers Weekly, where I recall one of the first business principles I learned: “Fast, cheap, and good—pick two.”
Read the entire column. Whenever you produce titles fast, you’re making trade-offs. There isn’t one.

Thus, the vendor’s payment will have paid the publisher and thus the author. Only offers for new books are eligible to be featured.”
At the heart of the matter for publishing people is the question of “new.” If   that book is in fact new, then it will have been bought from the publisher (or an official wholesaler/distributor) by the third-party vendor. Over the last month, there have been a couple publishing stories receiving wide play across mainstream news sites such as The Guardian, Vox, Huffington Post, and others. The Concern about UK’s “Screen Fatigue” Report
The latest UK   Publishers Association’s report   included a purported rise of 8 percent in physical sales (to the highest level since 2012) and a 17 percent drop in the total consumer ebook market. Let’s start with Amazon’s statement to the press on this: “We have listed and sold books, both new and used, from third-party sellers for many years. He suggested that they might have “considered ‘bookstore fatigue’ or ‘high prices fatigue’ while they were brainstorming.”
And at the Bookseller, editor Philip Jones, arguably the single most astute of all UK industry observers, noted that,   when the Publishers Association report announces falling ebook sales, they don’t count Amazon’s numbers, of course, or Bookouture’s, or those from Head of Zeus, Endeavour Press, Amazon Publishing, or self-published writers. While that problem can be laid at the steps of Amazon, it’s the job of publishers associations to characterize what data they do have on digital sales as only partial, and to be wary of contributing to overstatements of what’s known about ebook sales and print supposedly blasting back. Are they being sourced legitimately? As usual, without an understanding of context and nuance, the mainstream media waded right in for the latest doom-of-the-ebook wallow. David Vandagriff at the Passive Voice blog wryly posited that “screen fatigue” sounds like a marketing phrase. The recent changes allow sellers of new books to be the ‘featured offer’ on a book’s detail page, which means that our bookstore now works like the rest of Amazon, where third-party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items. Not coming clean about this is misleading to their own customers, as well as to the culture at large. In every part of Amazon’s far-flung retail operation, third-party vendors “compete with Amazon”—that’s Amazon’s own language—to be the default sellers of items in a product’s buy box—the box that contains the purchase button and indicates the seller and purchase price. This wasn’t the case for non-used books, however, until earlier this spring, when Amazon introduced this same capacity for third-party vendors to be made the seller in the buy box of new books. The publishing industry in the UK and US has a real problem—not necessarily of its own making—in trying to assess its digital reach, given the lack of accurate digital sales data from online retailers. It’s well known that Amazon and other online retailers don’t make ebook sales data available. The dust cover and original protective wrapping, if any, is intact. “Were we a little clearer about this missing bit, we would not today be reading about how … the ebook was dead (again),” he wrote. (I’ve addressed this problem before.)
Here are the latest stories that are causing confusion—and sometimes   moral panic—where it’s not deserved. So, the question is: Are these new books really new? Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch   has reported that Penguin Random House is asking Amazon re-sellers “specifically how and from whom you are acquiring our books.”
Coverage from Publishers Weekly has included a precise definition from Amazon of new as “brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition. His listings have been removed by Amazon, he says, “because of complaints about used items sold as new.” In the course of this exchange, you see the vendor being told by colleagues that he should have an invoice “directly from the publisher” as protection, to prove the books were legitimately bought new, if Amazon inquires. Chief among these was the Guardian’s piece proclaiming that ebook sales have plunged in the UK “as readers return to print.” In that story, Publishers Association chief Stephen Lotinga speculated that “people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched, or looked at in their week.” This, of course, as every other screen-distributed medium seems to thrive. The Guardian published another story on the same day in which it asserted that ebooks have “lost their shine” because “Kindles now look clunky and unhip.” More such misinformed coverage could be found at CNNMoney and Engadget: the pile-on was underway as print fans rejoiced and yet another industry report left the unseeable   unsaid: we can only guess at how many ebook sales are out there unless Amazon suddenly becomes more transparent. While such outlets may be respectable and   have the ability to get most stories right, in the publishing industry, two problems often come into play:

A lack of understanding   of industry statistics—and an inability to put them in their proper context
Knee-jerk judgment   regarding anything Amazon does

Publications with business models that predominantly rely (or did rely) on print also have the “nostalgia” problem—where they’re particularly prone to latch on to any story that indicates a possible resurgence of print or decline of digital. It’s not clear yet how much actual impact this may have on revenues for authors and publishers if third-party sellers are indeed held to dealing in actual new books. And the retailer isn’t the only one inquiring. That said,   at the heart of the disturbance is a mystery as to how third-party vendors can sell new books at the low prices they charge (and still make anything) and how they’re obtaining the books they say are new. Amazon says it’s working hard to be sure that books offered as new are actually new. This change has kicked up a firestorm of complaint in the publishing community. If you enjoyed this analysis, try a 30-day free trial of The Hot Sheet. If anything, this development will lead to a healthy tightening of some publisher’s own sales policies—particularly as it relates to advance review copies, hurts, and remainders—as well as to tighter controls on what books are sold as new on the Amazon platform. (Note that the following material is adapted from The Hot Sheet, the subscription email newsletter I run with journalist Porter Anderson.)
Amazon’s Buy-Box   Policy Change for New Books
A lawn-mower vendor or a light bulb manufacturer could have told you this was probably coming. All supplementary materials are included, and all access codes for electronic material, if applicable, are valid and/or in working condition.”
As is frequently the case, reaction to Amazon’s application of its standard buy-box policy to books is probably overheated. And rather than explaining that we simply don’t have adequate data to assess how much of the market is going to ebooks, publishers’ trade organizations tend to favor the narrative that supports the concept of the print resurgence dear to many. In this seller forum thread, you can see a third-party seller (called “tomepusher”) working through a long exchange with other vendors.

For example:
“We chatted briefly at the San Francisco Writers Conference reception, where I bought you a glass of merlot. However, some agents (and editors) have spoken out against customization or personalization, going so far as to say such   methods backfire. Have you heard any helpful advice   on personalizing queries? Some people customize their queries by saying something like, “I see from Writer’s Market that you’re looking for thrillers.”
Well, so what? It’s much better salesmanship to have some level of customization that demonstrates appreciation of the recipient’s needs and wants. For instance:
“I follow your blog and know you are currently looking for paranormal romances—without vampires or werewolves—and want to offer my novel for your consideration.”
There’s a bit of a wink and a nod here, and it’s unlikely to be annoying to an agent who likely appreciates someone is paying close attention. Do mention specific books represented or published, but don’t overly flatter. (“You’re the greatest and have the best clients!”)
In fact, that   last bit is a good rule of thumb for any personalization: The more you could potentially lift that language and insert it any query, regardless of who is receiving it, probably the less meaningful it is. Photo credit: Fotografik33 – via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND
When I worked at a mid-size commercial publisher (from 1998-2010), one of my primary responsibilities was acquisitions. I’m following up with the requested materials.”
There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules as to what’s “too much,” but don’t try to affect an intimacy that doesn’t exist. If it was a rejection, I tried to explain the honest details of why and, furthermore, if I could see a way to successfully reposition the book for our needs. For more help on queries

How to Write a Query Letter: Novels
How to Write a Query Letter: Nonfiction and Memoir It shows you’ve done your homework and you’re selecting the recipient with some care. Some writers will try to go a step further, look at the agent’s submission guidelines, website, or blog, and then insert the agent’s own language into their query as a way to personalize the letter. Again, you’re telling the agent something they already know. Personalize or no? At best, it’s probably neutral information; at worst, it could be annoying. 2. This is why I often counsel writers to personalize their query letters, whether they are approaching an agent or an editor. 1. However, there can be ways to do this that are charming or effective. This works best if you can be specific, rather than saying something that could be lifted and placed into any query letter for any agent/editor. When I speak or work with writers, there is understandably some confusion as to how to best proceed. When you mention this sort of thing, you mainly want to do it to spark their memory: “Oh, right, I remember this person from the San Francisco pitch event.”
But it’s possible to go too far and evoke a coziness that isn’t really appropriate. However, avoid buttering up or flattering the agent to a degree that makes you look silly or subservient. Whether the materials were hard copy or digital, one thing was the same: very few were addressed to me personally unless they came from a literary agent. It’s hard to find an agent or editor who doesn’t like it when you demonstrate knowledge of their clients or list. And even fewer seemed to demonstrate a good understanding of what types of books my company published. But it’s not mandatory. That’s not particularly convincing or interesting information to the agent. Talk about their list or their clients in a way that shows you have knowledge of the literary landscape or that appreciates their place in it. It doesn’t say anything about you or your work that they wouldn’t pick up from the rest of the query. Avoid first name only, since it may come off as too casual. Avoid being too personal or chummy. Share in the comments. The bare minimum
At the very least, address the agent by name. This is simple: you’ll always be a better sales person when you’re aligning your pitch with the stated desires or submission guidelines of the recipient. If the agent or editor has said publicly they don’t like personalized queries, don’t do it. 3. And spell the name correctly! It must be hard to travel so much for your work.”
“We chatted briefly at the San Francisco Writers Conference reception and   later I pitched you [such-and-such work]. Sometimes it’s great to open with a paragraph that acknowledges that you met the agent, conversed on social media, or had some other kind of interaction. It’s ideal if you can reference such work in relation to your own, or express enthusiasm for it in some way that might connect it to the work you’re pitching. My novel is set in Italy…”)
4. I evaluated queries and proposals coming in and also recruited writers I wanted to work with. Especially if you’ve never met the person in question, tread carefully—it’s easy to come off as creepy if you’ve been stalking someone online and found details they wouldn’t want or expect you to reference in a query. If your personalization is weak, don’t bother. Whenever something came in that demonstrated the writer or agent understood what   we published—and could explain why the proposed book was a good fit—I immediately paid close attention and put more thought and care into my response. (“I see seven years ago that you went on a long vacation   in Italy with your family. I hope your two schnauzers didn’t miss you too much—I can’t bear to be away too long from mine. The answer can be complicated and is based on the following factors.

Celebrity-status or brand-name authors. You won’t find a universal, agreed-upon definition of what it means to “traditionally publish” or “self-publish.”
It’s not an either/or proposition. Avoid companies that take advantage of author inexperience and use high-pressure sales tactics, such as AuthorSolutions imprints (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, WestBow, Archway). Potential for media or review coverage declines when there is no print run. Legitimate small presses do not ask authors to pay for publication. My chart   divides the field into traditional publishing and self-publishing. Self-Publishing: DIY
Key characteristics

Authors manage the publishing process on their own and hire the right people or services needed to edit, design, publish, and distribute the book. Each hybrid publisher has its own distinctive costs and business model; always secure a clear contract with all fees explained. What to watch for

Author receives an advance against royalties, but most advances do not earn out. However, the same is true for most publishers, regardless of size. Examples of good assisted services

Matador, Mill City Press, DogEar, Radius Book Group, Book in a Box, Girl Friday Productions. Diversity of players and changing landscape means contracts vary widely. Most services are automated and offer little assistance. Writers of commercial fiction or genre fiction, such as romance, mystery/crime, thriller/suspense, science fiction and fantasy, young adult, children’s. Who they work with

Authors who write mainstream works, as well as those that have a more niche or special-interest appeal. With either approach, there’s a risk of paying too much money for basic services, and also for purchasing services you don’t need. It is available as a PDF download—ideal for photocopying and distributing—plus the   full text is also below. Writers of commercial fiction or genre fiction, such as romance, mystery/crime, thriller/suspense, science fiction and fantasy, young adult, children’s. Value for author

Get a published book without having to figure out the service landscape or find professionals to help you. Your choice should also be guided by your own   personality (are you an entrepreneurial sort?)   and experience as an author (do you have the slightest idea what you’re doing?). Mid-Size & Large (Traditional Publishing)

Who they are

Not part of the Big Five, but significant in size, usually with the same capabilities. They make money on charging authors for the services provided (editorial, design, marketing, and so on), not on copies sold. What to watch for

Same as Big Five, but advances and royalties from mid-size publishers may be lower than Big Five, especially the more specialized or enthusiast publishing houses. Such books will almost never be stocked in physical retail bookstores, although in some rare cases, it may happen. They take a cut of every book sale. Some mid-size publishers may be more open to innovative or flexible agreements that feel more like a collaboration or partnership (with more author input or control). Hybrid Publishing
Key characteristics

Author funds book publication in exchange for expertise and assistance of the publisher; cost is often thousands of dollars. What to watch for

Some self-publishing (assisted publishing) services have started calling themselves “hybrid publishers” because it sounds more fashionable and savvy, but such companies may be nothing more than an assisted self-publishing service. Nonfiction authors should have a book proposal. The author is responsible for producing ebook files, uploading marketing copy, ebook metadata, etc. Author receives better royalties than a traditional publishing contract, but makes less than if self-publishing on their own. This is   an increasingly complicated question to answer because:

There are now many varieties of traditional publishing and self-publishing—with evolving models and varying contracts. See the submission guidelines of each press. How to approach

Doesn’t always require an agent; see submission guidelines for each publisher. Crowdfunding. DIY   ebook publishing services

Primary ebook retailers that o er direct access to authors: Amazon KDP, Nook Press, Apple iBookstore, Kobo. Authors must raise money for the publisher to contract the work. Also think carefully   before signing a   no-advance deal or   digital-only deal. With well-established small presses: editorial, design, and marketing support that equals that of a larger house. (See this interview with CJ Lyons.)

There is no one path or service that’s right for everyone; you must understand and study the changing landscape and make a choice based on long-term career goals, as well as the unique qualities of your work. Physical bookstore distribution nearly assured, in addition to other physical retail opportunities (big-box, specialty). Example: Inkshares, Unbound. 2016 Key Book Publishing Paths
The Key Book Publishing Paths (2015)
4 Key Book Publishing Paths (late 2013)
5 Key Book Publishing Paths   (early 2013) Traditional publishing:   I define this primarily as not paying to publish. If not, you’ll have to hire assistance. Each author has to decide which distributors or retailers they prefer to deal with. Value for author

Possibly a more personalized and collaborative relationship with the publisher. Best chance of mainstream media coverage and reviews. Not all hybrid publishers are created equal. Authors must exercise the most caution when signing with small presses; some mom-and-pop operations offer   little advantage over self-publishing, especially when it comes to distribution and sales muscle. Examples: SheWrites Press, Greenleaf. The best and most expensive services offer a quality experience that is comparable to working with a traditional publisher. (Meaning: The advance is likely to be the only payment the author sees from the publisher; it does not have to be returned if the author does not earn out.)
Publisher typically holds onto all publishing rights for all formats for at least 5-10 years. Such   arrangements   reduce the publisher’s risk, and this needs to be acknowledged if you’re   choosing such deal—because you aren’t   likely to get the same support and investment from the publisher on marketing and distribution. Nonfiction authors with a significant platform (visibility to a readership). Primary ebook distributors for authors: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Pronoun. Nonfiction authors of all types. Big Five (Traditional Publishing)

Who they are

Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan (each have dozens of imprints). Ideal for an author who has more money than time. DIY print publishing services

Print-on-demand (POD) technology makes it affordable to sell and distribute print books via online retailers. Many decisions are out of the author’s control, such as cover design and title. Novelists should have a finished manuscript. Traditional print runs

Some authors may hire a book printer and manage inventory, fulfillment, shipping, etc. One of the biggest questions I hear from authors today:
Should I traditionally publish or self-publish? To check the reputation of a service, check   Mick Rooney’s Independent Publishing Magazine. Such books will rarely be distributed into physical retail bookstores, although in some rare cases, it may happen. Looking for earlier versions of this chart? Examples of hybrid publishers

Curated. If you have printer-ready PDF files, it costs little or nothing to start. Below I’ve pasted the full text from the chart. What to watch for

Most marketing and publicity service packages, while they can be well-meaning, are not worth an author’s investment. How to approach

Almost always requires an agent. Often more friendly to experimental, literary, and less commercial types of work. Some companies are run by former traditional publishing professionals, and offer high-quality results. How to approach

Rarely requires an agent. An older term for this would be “vanity publishing.”
Contractual arrangements vary, but the best services charge an upfront fee, take absolutely no rights to the work, and pass on 100% net royalties to the author. Services most often used: CreateSpace, IngramSpark. I’ve broken this down into hybrid publishing models, where a   publisher   is positioning itself as a hybrid approach between traditional publishing and self-publishing, and self-publishing. Small Presses (Traditional Publishing)
Who they are

This category is the hardest to summarize because “small press” is a catch-all term for very well-known traditional publishers (e.g., Graywolf) as well as mom-and-pop operations that may not have any formal experience in publishing. If you can afford to pay a publisher or service to help you, then use the very detailed reviews at   Independent Publishing Magazine   by Mick Rooney to make sure you choose the   best option   for you. Nonfiction authors should have a book proposal. Who they work with

Emerging, first-time authors, as well as established ones. Authors can find themselves unhappy with the level of marketing support received, and that their title “disappears” from store shelves within 3-6 months. It’s formatted to print perfectly on 11″ x 17″ or tabloid-size paper. Celebrity-status or brand-name authors. You can do both. Research carefully. and sell print copies via Amazon Advantage. There is no contract. Since 2013, I have been annually updating this   informational chart   about the key publishing paths. Fees dramatically vary and quality dramatically varies. Novelists should have a finished manuscript. These companies are selective or may have editorial guidelines to follow. Alternatives to traditional   publishing: I define this as paying to publish or publishing on your own. Scroll to the bottom of this post. Self-Publishing: Assisted
Key characteristics

Similar to hybrid publishing: authors pay to publish. Ebook retailers and distributors that directly serve the author market operate primarily on a nonexclusive basis and profit by taking a cut of sales; you can leave them at will. Ideal for an author who has more money than time. University or scholarly presses typically pay low advances and have very small print runs, typically with a focus on libraries, classrooms, and academic markets. Who they work with

Authors who write works with mainstream appeal, deserving of nationwide print retail distribution in bookstores and other outlets. Given how easy it is in the digital age for anyone to start a press, authors must carefully evaluate a small press’s abilities before signing with one. Value for author

Publisher shoulders financial risk. There may be no physical bookstore distribution and/or the press may rely on print-on-demand to fulfill orders. Value for author

Get a published book without having to figure out the service landscape or find professionals to help. For more information on getting published

Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published   (traditional publishing)
Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book
How to Evaluate Small Presses
A Definition of Hybrid Publishing
Should You Traditionally Publish or Self-Publish? Your royalty rate may be higher to make up for it. Value for author

Identical to Big Five advantages. What to watch for

You may not receive an advance or you’ll receive a nominal one. Be very protective of your rights if you’re shouldering most of the risk and effort. The services mentioned above can make your work available to order through online retailers and bookstore outlets. Many assisted publishing services have different packages or tiers of service, while others offer customized quotes. Earlier versions of the chart
Click to view or download earlier versions. Feel free to download, print, and share this chart however you like; no   permission is required. Examples: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, Workman, Sourcebooks, John Wiley & Sons, W.W. Norton, Kensington, Chronicle, Tyndale, many university presses (Cambridge, Oxford).

Now what? Today I’m happy to share an exclusive with my readers: a detailed look at how NetGalley’s Stuart Evers and Myfanwy Collins went from manuscript to publication. 10:00: The conventional approach
12:30: Tips for finding an agent
19:00: What happens if a publisher accepts you
22:50: The slush pile blues
25:30: How work is submitted
28:45: Submissions tools
32:30: Pre-publication marketing
39:50: Marketing tools and activities
50:00: Q&A Myfanwy Collins is the author of a novel for adults, a collection of stories, and a novel for young adults, as well as the office manager at   Firebrand Technologies   (NetGalley’s parent company), and manager of social media for   Bookish   (NetGalley’s sister site). They offer a comprehensive look at their publishing experience, including marketing and PR advice. Stuart Evers is a former commissioning editor and now author of two collections of stories and a novel, as well as the   NetGalley   UK Community Manager. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in   the hour-long discussion, with time stamps:

1:45: How to write a book
8:30: Your book is ready!

What is it that makes a hit of the book the publisher pays the huge advance on? More generally, whether it’s your editor relationship or no, publishers do more for authors they like. Try to get an agent? That’s usually more powerful than seeing an ad or reading a professional review. For authors who are worried about whether they’re doing enough to market   (or if they’re doing the right things), it’s best to consider it a long game. The ones who compete best are typically prolific and succeed financially by having a considerable amount of product on the market, usually one or more series. I’d say there’s more attention paid to making good business decisions. (An agent can play a role in getting marketing support from the publisher!) At some point, money usually speaks loudest, and authors go with the publisher that pays the highest advance, which then can help ensure sufficient attention. (For people curious about this, I have a free 30-minute discussion that gets a little tech oriented.)
Brand-name writers with instant recognizability in the market should and will be marketed differently than the debut novelist who doesn’t have any name recognition with readers. One thing I’ve noticed about many breakout authors, though, is that we’re rarely seeing an overnight success. As longtime readers know, writer Kristen Tsetsi   is the host of a regular   author Q&A at this site, 5 On, that asks 5 questions about writing and 5 questions about publishing. People who think traditional publishing will die underestimate how difficult it is for a successful author, who has built her career on that system, to go about the process in a different way, with a different team. But here’s the other side of the argument: most Big Five publishers, after your book has been out three months, they’re done with you. It’s that old cliche: luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. Interviews on daytime talk shows? The former is likely to have a more mass-market, advertising-driven approach; the latter should probably use more high-touch and targeted approaches (whether to independent booksellers, book clubs, librarians, specific blogs and online communities, etc). For example, the ebook royalty rate isn’t negotiable for now because every single author with a decent agent has a clause that says as soon as another author at the same house receives a higher rate, they’ll get the higher rate, too. (Here’s my post on evaluating small presses.)
People scoff at debut authors who want to negotiate with publishers over, for example, conditions related to film rights: “It’s your first novel. They also know why things might not be negotiable. They have to be continually drumming up support, or demanding attention. You need to figure out if you’re an “A” title, “B” title, or something further down the ladder. I think the most recent one we’ve seen is Girl on the Train, and that was released over two years ago. Unfortunately, the books that agents and editors fall in love with and champion—and that receive superlative marketing support—are   about   as likely to sink as those books that   receive little support. But the rights won’t revert to the author, who might want to find his/her own way to make it available. But you don’t hear about the failures; everyone would prefer to forget them. You won’t find many “small” presses. Kristen: Authors published by a Big Five publisher are often responsible for much of their own marketing and publicity, and chances are slim that their novel will be the one that takes off and veritably markets itself. If you become someone your editor doesn’t like—if you become the “difficult” author—that may dampen their enthusiasm, and thus their motivation to talk you up to the rest of the company. Don’t even worry about film rights and just be happy to have a publisher. While there   are books that have tried to break it all down into a formula—what are the universal qualities of a bestseller?—the results are disappointing. How does a publisher decide which books they’ll devote full marketing energy (assuming the author isn’t a known entity), and does their active promotion determine which book will become a title everyone has heard of? That’s an investment and risk on the side of the   publisher, since it requires doing a print run of books that may not sell as expected, plus all books are returnable by bookstores at any point for a full refund. Why does this happen—that is, how does it benefit the publishing company? It’s up to the editor to relay their enthusiasm for your book to the sales and marketing team. A Big Five publisher does not have time to take a customized approach to every title on its list; as you say, only a few get the attention they truly deserve, and it tends to be based on who received the highest advance, because that’s where the most risk resides. Query Amazon’s traditional imprint? Have three books and a following before you start thinking about film rights.” However, debut novels are optioned: Melanie Raab’s The Trap,   Michael Hodges’s The Puller,   Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Because authors get so concerned about seeing their print book in stores—it’s the “dream” and offers validation of their status—they’re unfortunately blind to the truth of the industry: Physical bookstore sales aren’t where most trade books sell; they constitute maybe 30-40% of sales. For more information on book marketing and publicity, check out these posts   by Jane:

Book Marketing 101
Book Marketing Resources for Authors: The Best of 2016
3 Things Your Traditional Publisher Is Unlikely to Do Focus on building your immediate network; in-person local and regional touch points help lead to national opportunities over time. While I had some success earlier on with marketing (podcasts, WNPR, local TV, newspapers), those features and/or interviews did nothing at all   to sell the self-published book I was promoting at the time. But it’s not the publisher who pulls the book. Early on, authors need to figure out where they’re at in the publisher’s pecking order, preferably after signing the contract. So far, I haven’t addressed the subjective issue of quality or how certain books excite people more than others. Because it could happen, then, however unlikely it may be, shouldn’t each contract be approached with that potential in mind? When you find out, do that.”
I tried explaining the combination of commercial appeal, word of mouth, and luck, but I don’t think he believed me. Also, publishers more actively go after deadbeat authors for advances when no manuscript is delivered. [A title everyone knows about.] How did Eat, Pray, Love become a hit? Your relationship with your editor, and how much of a champion that editor is for your book inside the publishing house, well, that can be just as huge. Rather than trying to cast the widest net possible, focus on those people who are loyal and devoted to your work and can help spread the word. The approach may be more thoughtful and customized. A smaller press may have more time and bandwidth to spend with you both prior to launch and after, in order to find the audience. Next time you’re in a chain bookstore, study carefully the front-of-store tables and look at the publishers. Authors with a track record—who represent reliable, ongoing income to the publisher—do have the ability to make demands or threaten to walk away, switch publishers, go to Amazon Publishing, self-publish, etc. That speaks volumes. If you’re easy to work with, they’ll be more inclined to work with you. Do they not even try—do they just make the book available for sale on Amazon or available through Ingram, and call it a day? Buying enough copies to call it a New York Times bestseller and doing TV commercials? One of the complaints I’ve heard and read about traditional publishers is that if they buy the book, sell it for a year, and determine it isn’t doing well, they’ll pull it from stores. That doesn’t mean the author’s or publisher’s books will sit on the shelf of most (or even a few) bricks-and-mortar bookstores in the country—just that the book can look and appear like any other when viewed in an industry database. But the truth is that unless you’re a highly desirable author, or unless you have an agent who is able to leverage their influence on your behalf, sometimes you have to accept terms that are less than satisfying. When you’re playing that kind of game, the Big Five publishers have a huge advantage—their sales teams pitch books for placement at bookstore accounts, big-box stores, specialty retailers, and so on. Is it the marketing that pushes a book into everyone’s hands, or is it really just that perfect, unpredictable, magical combination? The 25% ebook royalty rate is not negotiable, no matter who you are. Readers are their focus and they know how to ensure their books rank well and are visible on Amazon. That can help an author better understand where to find their readers and to be smarter about finding and targeting them, whether online or offline. (You can browse them here.)
Recently, Kristen sent me questions related to book marketing that she wanted answered, but didn’t know the right   person to ask. The great marketing advantage (and curse) for   today’s author is the incredible social graph and reading   behavior available to them: that is, the   online breadcrumb trail left by people as they buy books, review them, tag them, and talk about them with each other. About the last question: What inspired it was a conversation my husband and I had after I told him I had no idea what to do with what I’m writing once I’m finished. Editors and agents are exposed to thousands of projects every year, so they have a sense for when something special or different comes through. As I reviewed them, I decided that I myself might be the right person to address them. An author publishing with Random House might have a better reason to at least hope for a Today Show or NPR interview, sure, but obviously most Big Five authors aren’t interviewed on the Today Show or NPR. You won’t hear back from the publicist or marketing team unless your book has gained traction and the publisher sees an opportunity to build further sales and attention. That’s why the rights aren’t reverting to the author. It has to be the   right book at the right time with   the right attention. So, my husband asked, “How does a Jonathan Franzen book become a Jonathan Franzen book? You can’t do everything, but you can focus your energies on what’s sustainable over a long period of time and what helps nurture readers who will evangelize on your behalf. You’re not going find Jonathan Franzen–style indie authors out there, taking five or more years between books—not any making a living. Word of mouth is more likely to be sparked through cultivated relationships, directly with readers, as well as with influencers, rather than through efforts that involve mass outreach or loose targeting, where you don’t have any   idea of who you’re reaching or if they even care. This is where having an agent is invaluable, because they know from experience where and when a publisher is willing to negotiate. All things inaccessible to the tiny writer? If their response is tepid, this is not the time to strut, make demands, or pout and ask, “What have you done for me lately?” Publishers are more inclined to help authors who can first help themselves. My rule of thumb is always “Assume everything is negotiable.” However, in every industry, there are some things that basically are not negotiable, especially if you have little or no leverage over the publisher. Partly I think it depends on the author’s personality and how they’re best complemented by the publisher, and maybe even who their agent is. But it’s interesting that we really haven’t seen that happen; most authors develop a close relationship with their editor, whom they’re loath to separate from. That way, when the publisher calls on the buyer at Barnes & Noble, they can say, “The author has this fabulous thing planned, and it’ll help sell books because…”
If you wait on your publisher to do stuff or tell you their plans, you may be waiting a very long time. Does a larger publisher sell their books for them to store accounts? Or, if your publisher is truly dropping the ball, and you need someone to hold their feet to the fire, talk to your agent—they should have a good idea of what can be reasonably asked for, and when, and how to make a request that maintains a good working relationship. Agent Donald Maass, in his various fiction writing books, tries to discuss why some books capture people’s imaginations, and result in tremendous word of mouth (“You must read this book!”), while others—most others, in fact—receive a more tepid response. But those failures were necessary to produce a work that would wildly succeed. What steps did publishers take to make that happen? Where the playing field is not even is when we look at how print books get sold and purchased in advance of publication, then stocked on physical store shelves. Do authors have any more negotiating room these days simply because there are so many publishing options available? It sounds like your husband must be an engineer or a programmer, but we’re talking about something that’s distinctly unquantifiable. We tend to hear about and focus on the successes, but it’s important to understand that the New York Times bestselling novel   by a relatively unknown author that suddenly everyone knows and talks about is pretty rare. Self-publish? When considering a small press, you should figure out how their books get sold into stores. I distinctly remember a couple years ago hearing about a debut novel by a high-profile editor who worked in New York publishing, and it received   all this pre-publication attention and publicity, as you would expect. We can take this partly as a comfort: writing and storytelling aren’t so formulaic and by-the-numbers that you can engineer a bestselling title. Retailers such as Barnes & Noble commit to purchasing hundreds or thousands of copies of book, prior to knowing how successful it will be, and their commitment is based on how persuasive the publisher’s sales pitch is. It’s that the retailers return stock that doesn’t sell quickly enough or they stop ordering it. Jane: Much depends on what we mean when we talk about a “small press with decent distribution channels.”
First, and most critical to understand, is that the playing field is more or less even when it comes to retail distribution, or what I might call “availability.” Any self-publishing author, and any small press, can make their books available to be ordered or purchased in the same retailers as a Big Five publisher if they’re willing to use print-on-demand technology. So is it worth the trade-off? But it completely fizzled. (See Nora Roberts.) Furthermore, well-established authors always have an agent who is probably not enthusiastic about seeing their clients divest themselves of traditional publishing. Query smaller (university) presses directly? When high-earning authors do part ways with their publisher, it’s often because of editorial restructures that affect how their work is handled, marketed, or championed. After the book’s launch, within that three-month window after release, if positive things happen, whether on purpose or by accident, the publisher will revisit the situation and decide if more investment would bring greater rewards. You can’t measure them by New York Times bestseller appearances, because that list is biased against lower priced ebooks that   sell primarily on Amazon—but indie authors may end up earning far   more money than a traditional author. If your advance isn’t much of a risk (let’s say $20,000 or below), then you may be better off with a small press if they offer more personalized marketing attention or support, or better and more informed reach to your particular readership. What, then, is the benefit of publishing with a major house versus publishing with a small press with decent distribution channels? But to talk about that bookstore space for a moment: a year of availability on a shelf is probably too generous! I also wondered whether an individual small press or self-published author, absent publishing house funding, could replicate what publishers do—contact these people, get this kind of interview, make a video, etc. So it is possible for an author who is not initially “A” list material to quickly become the focus of the marketing department if they break out in some way. Those publishers have paid for that placement. You have to be in front of your audience pretty consistently as an indie author, with new stuff to offer, at least once a year if not several times per year. Favorable (lower) pricing and promotions also encourage people to take a chance on a new or unknown author. Stores can only stock so many books; the shelves continually have to be cleared, to make room for new titles or old titles that backlist well—there always has to be room for evergreen bestsellers such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And is there a way around it? (As novelist and marketer MJ Rose often likes to say, no one buys a book they haven’t heard of.) When lightning strikes—as it did in the case of a self-published book such as The Martian—you can’t replicate that process, step by step, to create another success just like it. My thanks to Kristen for sparking what I think is an important—and I hope useful—discussion. So they jump to another house. If anything, it happens less than before, given ongoing consolidation and risk aversion among publishers. When publishers invest a lot in a little-known author’s advance, it’s usually because they think they’ve got something amazing—it sets off their “quality” or “commercial appeal” radar. I recently browsed the Publishers Marketplace deals database for major deals for debut authors ($500,000 advance and higher), and most of the books and authors I had never heard of. This is why word of mouth—the recommendation of someone you trust—is so often talked about. Is there a formula? Thus,   in a strange turn of events, I am running an interview with myself at my own site. That’s not a deal breaker (and the majority of all book sales are through Amazon any way!), but for authors who place a great deal of importance on seeing their book stocked in physical retail stores, then the bigger your publisher, the more muscle they probably have to get that nationwide store distribution, and possibly pay for displays or other merchandising during your book’s launch. WHAT WORKS? But all of that did make me wonder about the overall effectiveness of any marketing. Because whatever you were doing didn’t work. If your book doesn’t establish itself as a decent seller in that timeframe, it will be marked, fairly or not, for return. Little-known   or early-career authors don’t have any more negotiating room than they did before. Publishers do still fight over manuscripts from “hot” authors and you still see agents taking projects to auction, with advances being paid that may never earn out because of over-exuberance. You have to take the role of proactive author especially when you’re not an A title, and let the publisher know what you’ll be doing to support your book, many months in advance of publication—before those sales calls happen. It’s part of their job to get the biggest sales commitment possible in advance of publication. In most cases, that author has labored for years on projects that failed or were mediocre in their reception. Is it ads in the New York Times? You’ll find that Big Five and mid-size houses or strong independent houses (such as Sourcebooks or Chronicle) dominate. Do publishers (typically) fight for manuscripts these days if they’re not written by someone well-known, or could they take or leave most authors? So a Big Five author is more likely to see a cookie-cutter approach to their book’s launch unless they’re an “A” title (one of the most important titles that season) or otherwise selected for special treatment. Imagine that! Or is it strictly a matter of good luck and word of mouth when a novel becomes the novel everyone is talking about, making the possibility of this happening the same for a Big Five author as it is for even a self-published author? And how do publishers decide which books—excluding those by famous people, and specifically fiction (nonfiction seems like an easier sell)—will get the larger advances and the subsequent marketing push? Positive reviews and media appearances help, too, but for someone who is an unknown in the market, it usually requires many instances of exposure—the old “seven impressions” rule—for someone to remember and then make a purchase. That said, editors and agents can also be out of touch with what pleases the average reader, and here   50 Shades of Grey   is always trotted out as the stereotypical example. I’ve mentioned the role of the advance earlier—that’s a significant factor, but not the only factor. If you present them with your plan—what you can accomplish on your own without their help—they will often look for ways to amplify what you are doing, and combine forces. Do they have their own sales team? So indie authors compete in a different way, and their visibility is different, too. To ameliorate that, an agent can say, “We know you’re not going to budge on the ebook royalty rate, but that means you need to do better on these   other terms.”
It never hurts to ask for what you want, to ask “Can you do better?” and to get an explanation for why your requests aren’t reasonable or standard. The other 60-70% are happening through online retail—primarily Amazon, whether in print or ebook form. This feels like many questions, but I think the TL;DR version is probably, “Is a book’s success all luck, even if ‘luck’ includes hitting the right subject matter at the right time, or is it marketing—and can an indie author in any way compete with a publisher?”
I don’t want to make it sound like a crapshoot, but to some extent, yes, we’re talking about something that is unpredictable and perhaps magical. So, you need two things: a great book that   inspires readers   to evangelize for it and press it into the hands of friends and family, and some amount of marketing to   help get the ball rolling. Professional indie authors effectively   compete with traditional authors, in every way, but they have a   different approach, since they mainly reach their readers online, don’t devote much energy to the physical bookstore market, and mostly eschew mainstream media coverage and reviews. And this is not to dispute the issue or throw a tantrum, but to be prepared and set your expectations accordingly. It’s not logistically complicated or expensive. There’s not one   answer to that question. It’s different skill set that’s required and it’s a different kind of career. Granting ebook rights along with print: it will be demanded. Maybe four to six months? You can read John Scalzi on this to get a sense of what I mean.

It was one of well-being. In his answer—in the practiced manner he delivered it—I could tell this was an issue he had to address with many patients, a   shame that adults in particular may have in   seeking non-essential treatment. What Vaz discovers is that the act of writing each story can be a vital exploration about the nature of truths you might not   even know you carried. The orthodontist gave an answer that was immediately empathetic: This wasn’t a superficial concern. Now, twenty years later, I’ve sorely regretted my lack of diligence. The easiest thing would have been to dismiss him out-of-hand. It reminded me of how I find myself addressing student writers (of all ages) who are often   reluctant to write about themselves—they believe they   have led ordinary lives that would bore others. Also this month in the Glimmer Train bulletin:

Why I Shouldn’t Be a Writer by Courtney Knowlton
How to “Write Science” Without Becoming a Lecturer by Stefani Nellen
Daily Momentum: A Little Progress Goes a Long Way by Andrew Roe But I asked him   if this was indeed what he wanted to write about—he did—so I asked him to tell me more about that night. Photo credit: Darron Birgenheier via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA
When I was a teenager, I had braces, but quickly stopped wearing my retainer after the braces came off. Read the entire essay. In   an essay at Glimmer Train, writer Katherine Vaz tackles this issue in part, when she discusses an assignment that is given to every student at her university: to write about   “the most important thing ever to happen to me.” Immigrants may   have breathtaking and heartbreaking stories, she notes, but what about the average student, a “So Cal surfer guy”? [One student]   wrote that the most important thing ever to happen to him was…the night he and his pals got drunk and knocked down the mailboxes in the neighborhood. So I visited an orthodontist for a consultation, and sheepishly alluded to my vanity-oriented goals. Vaz asks:

What’s the nature (or even the point) of truth-telling here? It turns out that   teeth have a long memory about where they used to be, and wander back to their original starting   position.