Monday, December 13, 2010

What's my name?

A skit on a recent "Saturday Night Live" episode featured a game called "What's my name?" Contestants were challenged by people they see every day (a doorman and a cleaning woman) to tell them their names. Of course, the contestant confronted by the doorman had no idea what his name was, nor did the woman know the name of the cleaning lady who emptied her work trash every night. And, of course, "Norman the doorman" and "Mary the cleaning lady" were ridiculously offended.

Everyone wants to feel important enough to be addressed by name. Even publishers. Over at John Kremer's blog, a guest post by Jeff Rivera (founder of stresses the importance of not addressing your query letters, "Dear Agent."

It should really go without saying that this is a no-no, but...

The same thing happens to publishers who receive un-agented submission. We receive queries just like those received by agents, so we're just as frequently the recipients of cool, impersonal salutations like, "Dear Sir" (with the unfortunate assumption made that only men work at the company), "Dear Sir or Madam," or even, "To whom it may concern."

All of the above (with the exception of "Dear Sir") are appropriate when--and only when--there is no possible way of knowing to whom the letter should be addressed. Before addressing it this way, however, I highly recommend you do everything you can to find a name. Look up the company online, find the department you're contacting, and find a person whose name you can use. Or call the company's customer service or information line and ask to whom your letter should be addressed.  At least then, if you still can't find anything - even after looking up the publisher in the Writer's Market or Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents - when you write "Dear Publisher," you'll be confident you had no other option.

- Lyla P.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Best Seller, Schmest Seller. And: Why go with a trade publisher, anyway?

More of your questions answered. And, finally, we get into the "Stump the Publisher" questions readers sent in. Our boss hasn't been stumped, yet, so keep sending them in. Remember, too, that the purpose of this site is to be a resource for writers who want to know more about the publishing industry. Consider it "everything you always wanted to know about publishing but were afraid to ask." If you have or want a publisher, or have or want an agent, and have questions you're afraid to ask those you hope to work with, ask us. 

Now, to the questions.

Isn't it always a good thing to be a New York Times bestseller?
The New York Times bestsellers list is the most prestigious and by far the most recognized bestseller list of books in the world. Any authors who have made it to the New York Times bestseller list will have bragging rights for years to come. However, making the list doesn’t necessarily mean your work is good. It simply means it's sold enough copies in one week to be placed among the top sellers for that week nationwide. Rather than it being about the book, it is far more about sales and your ability to market well enough to get people to buy your book in a given week. Books that already have a buzz, like Harry Potter, automatically secure a place on the list because of their following.  If the New York Times is your goal, go for it. Just know what it's about: not quality, but quantity.    

From a publishing company's perspective, a New York Times bestseller is great -- but only if it's a consistent bestseller. When there's a spike in sales of the magnitude generated by a NYT bestseller listing, a lot of money goes into trying to maintain it. If the readers don't continue to buy it, the publisher eats the promotion cost and has to wait for book two (or rely on other consistent sellers) to make up for it.

And here are the first two stump-the-publisher questions:

Convince me that traditional publishing is worth the effort, if a writer's goal is something other than becoming a household name and/or making a million dollars. (Submitted by MK)

Well, I don’t know that I could really convince anyone of anything he or she already has a strong opinion about. Traditional publishing is the route for those who want to have shelf space in the traditional bookstore. Such placement gives your book visibility it's extremely difficult to achieve as a self-publisher. Going the traditional route doesn’t ensure name worthiness, and certainly not riches. However, it's a start. An author ultimately has to decide what is best for him or her. Both avenues can lead you to success. I prefer having the strength of a publisher on my side to create a much needed synergy. I guess I believe in the old adage, “Two are better than one.”

What exactly is "Slipstream"? (Submitted by Ian)

Slipstream is a sort of convergence of hyperbolic fiction and conventional literary fiction, seen as crossover fiction for its ability to exists in and speak to two genres. The phrase was first used by Bruce Sterling and has become known as “the fiction of strangeness.” Slipstream in and of itself is not actually a separate genre but rather a literary effect.

More questions answered next Thursday. Remember: if you have questions of your own, we want to answer them. (And don't you want your shot at $50?) We love talking about publishing more than we love talking about almost anything else. (Writing may tie.) Contact us here. Also, remember we're accepting query letters for critique.

- Lyla P.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No day off on Thanksgiving: your questions still answered.

We're down to our final question in our initial list of questions writers commonly have for publishers, which means Thursday we'll start digging into your submitted "stump-the-publisher" questions. So: to be posted Thursday - yes, Thanksgiving day, because we're that devoted - answers to the following three questions (unless our boss is, in fact, stumped):

Final commonly-asked question: Isn't it always a good thing to be a New York Times bestseller?

Stump-the-publisher questions

Submitted by MK: Convince me that traditional publishing is worth the effort, if a writer's goal is something other than becoming a household name and/or making a million dollars.

Submitted by Ian: What exactly is "Slipstream"?

You can only eat so much turkey. Eventually, you'll need a break. And we'll be here. See you Thursday.

- Lyla P.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Your query critiqued - in person! (Sort of.)

Of the many painful, time consuming, and dreaded tasks writers are faced with in the hunt for a publisher, writing the query letter may be the most painful. Sure, writing a synopsis is difficult - how are you supposed to capture the meat of a book and show the conflict progression and give a healthy taste of the characters in the requested one-page synopsis? - but a query is worse, because the query is the "Hi!" to the agent or publisher that's supposed to, in a single page, make them want to read your manuscript.

It seems like it should be easier than it is. All that's asked for is a page, after all, and the format is pretty standard: hook, brief synopsis, bio. Simple, right?

Have you tried writing a hook and a gripping synopsis? offers very helpful query-writing instruction that includes a detailed explanation of what's expected, and even sample hooks. If you're having trouble, or if you're unsure of the basic query format, I recommend taking a look.

Our boss (the one you're still trying to stump so you can win $50) wants to help you write a successful query letter, so he's inviting you to send your letters for a critique. It could be your first one, or it could be one you've been sending around for a while and just haven't had a response to - if you want to know why it may not  be working (or whether it will work), send it in. Selected letters will receive an in-person (that is, video recorded) critique we'll post here on our video page, as well as on YouTube.

Alternatively, if you have a query letter that has been very successful, our boss would like to see that, too, and share it with those who may be struggling so they can learn from your technique.

Attach your letter to an email as a Word doc. and send it to (Your name and the title of your work will not be shared during the critique.)

- Lyla P.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stump the Publisher: E-Book Rights, Money, and Self-Publishers; Oh, My!

Well, our boss continues to amaze us. You sent in your questions and he was able to answer them without breaking a sweat. This week's Stump the Publisher tackles three questions that have been causing many of us to scratch our heads for a while. To be honest, I personally didn't know the answer to a couple of these, and were it me attempting to answer them, we would've had ourselves a winner already (and that would've made our recurring contests a bit of a misnomer). Thankfully, our publisher came through with the information that is much more important.
If you're curious about what this contest is all about, click here for details.
For everyone else: questions and answers after the jump.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stump the Publisher and win $50.

We (Lyla P. and Zach U.) keep hearing from our boss that no one has yet asked a question about publishing that's stumped him, but we're pretty sure there's someone out there with a question he won't be able to answer. We said, "What if we put the question out there to your twitter and facebook followers? We bet one of them can stump you."

"Okay," he said.

We made it more fun by suggesting he pay whoever stumps him $50. We weren't sure he'd go for that, but again, he said, "Okay."


"Stump the Publisher" will go on until someone, well, stumps the publisher. Stumping the publisher means asking a question related to publishing that the publisher, our boss, cannot answer. In the meantime, we'll be posting our answers to the submitted questions, 3 at a time, every Thursday. The person who does manage to stump the publisher will be notified in a blog entry (and on twitter and facebook) and then asked to provide us with a mailing address or paypal account information so we can make the payment.

Questions may be submitted via Twitter (follow us on Twitter), as Facebook comments ("like" our facebook page), or in the comments section of this blog.

Good luck! Game starts: NOW.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher? (and other questions answered)

Last Thursday, we answered some popular questions writers have for publishers, and this week, we answer more.
If the trend is vampires, does that mean I should write a vampire book in order to be published?

Don’t follow trends. Or maybe I should say, if you want to have longevity in this wonderful world of writing, don’t follow trends. Being trendy makes a writer look dishonest.  At the end of 1999, when every doomsayer and fundamentalist Christian was claiming the year 2000 (or Y2K) was going to be the end of the world,  a number of publishers in need of money at the time proposed that I write a book on the subject. I refused. First, I am not an authority, and all authors should be an authority on their topic. Second, I didn’t believe the end of the world was coming. So, it would have been dishonest for me to follow that path. My best advice may sound a bit like a cliché, but it’s true: write from the heart. Trends come and go, but your heart is forever. 

What do publishers usually think is the least attractive quality in a writer?

This is a loaded question. I’m not sure I could narrow it down to just one thing, so I’ll throw out a few. Publishers have zero tolerance for writers with bad grammar. Another thing publishers find unappealing is when writers say, “You really need to publish this book.  It’s going to be a bestseller.” If a publishing company got a quarter for every time they heard that line…  

 A better approach would be to tell the publisher you’ve written a heartfelt treasure you believe—with the proper synergy and marketing plan—can create a niche market. Most publishers are far more interested in creating new niche markets than in fighting with the bloody pool of people out there. 

Finally, most publisher hate (yes, hate) authors who are ignorant about the profession and don’t understand their role in the process of making a book come alive. Some writers think all they have to do is write a book, and that’s it—their job is done. Wrong. The author’s job has only begun once the book is written. There are many steps to take after that. The writer’s willingness to learn those steps and get involved makes a publisher to feel much safer about their risky investment. 

What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher?

Another biggy! This time I’ll only tackle one. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make after signing with a publisher is not being in the know concerning the language of the agreement. Most, not all, agreements in the publishing world are pretty standard. (Sometimes publishers will use tricky language to their benefit, but it’s not the norm.) Although I believe you should ask questions to make sure you understand the contract, there are some questions that, when asked, raise concerns and make publishers wonder whether they’ve signed someone who’s just too green and will waste far too much of the publisher’s time with questions about the contract. (For example, questions about publishing rights versus copyright - this is a basic concept writers should understand before going into the contract, and not knowing it often indicates to publishers they'll be spending a lot of time explaining things.)

Have questions of your own? Email us at  

Questions to be answered next week:

Why should I give up my ebook rights if I sign with a publisher?
Why publish with a publisher when I can use a print-on-demand service or a vanity press?

Why is it so hard to make money as an author?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get Your Think On: Idea Generation

Today’s discussion will probably be of great service to those currently stalled in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You may be having the easiest time just letting your fingers carry you away once you have an idea, but once the mental fuel runs low, there’s little for those fingers to do on their own. I’m not talking about writer’s block here, which is a subtly different problem (of which I personally can’t define the differences between at the moment, but trust me, they’re there). Thus, today’s post will focus upon how to generate ideas when you seem to be hitting a wall or just can’t figure out what to write about period.

Now, generating ideas can be a somewhat difficult business, but once one is generated they soon start to roll out, a self-perpetuating mental process. It’s the act of getting this process started that proves to be truly problematic during the brainstorming phase of a writing project, or when your story has hit a dead end and you’ve returned to the drawing board. Our own Lyla P. wrote a wonderful blog recently on writing what you know (or don’t know), and I suggest you check it out here. I’m going to be focusing more upon the process associated with this writing of what you do/n’t know and provide it to you in a list format of things I often run through during the planning process.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"What kind of an advance can I expect when a publisher signs me?" and other questions answered--by a publisher.

Last week, we listed ten questions writers often have about publishers and publishing. This week, we answer three of them. (And next week, we answer three more. And so on.)

       Why does it take so long (6 months to a year) for a regular person to get a book published, but a famous person or a politician can have theirs published within just a few months?

Actually, "long" is a relative term. The larger the publisher, the longer it will take to publish a book, between 12-18 months on average, and often up to 2 years. The reason for this is that there are several parts of the process of publishing a book, and each part has its own timing. For example, the distributor requires a six-month lead time to properly distribute the books. Printing on average takes between 4-6 weeks. If there is a marketing campaign, P&R can take more than 90 days to put their plan together. The larger the company, the more titles and authors there are waiting in line before you. So, once they sign you on, you have to wait until your name is pulled, and just sweat out the process if you chose this traditional route. 

With regard to famous people and politicians, they aren't treated any differently. They, too, have to wait out the process like everyone else. There are exceptions, however, such as in a time of tragedy or breaking news. If the publisher wants to connect with the “hot” market while it's still hot, they'll accelerate the process for that reason. But under most circumstances, everyone goes through the same process. 

 What kind of an advance can I expect when a publisher signs me?

The days we now live in are quite a bit different from, let’s say, 3-5 years ago. Today, even the largest publishers have cut back as much as 50-80% on their advances. This is, in part, because of the current economy, but it's also because the publisher just can't be certain they’ll recoup the money they spend.  A new author with only 2-3 published books shouldn’t expect to receive an advance, but rather a solid publishing deal. If you've had some success in the industry and have sold 20 thousand books or more, you could expect anywhere from $5 - $20 thousand for an advance (if you can prove you’ll be able to sell at least that amount in books to cover the advance cost). 

Why do publishers usually want authors to sign a two-book contract?

Publishers put an enormous amount of money into your first book.  They put money into graphics, editorial, marketing, promotions, travel, and so much more. On their first book with you, they’ll spend the greatest amount of money, and usually the publisher doesn’t make much money off the first book. That first book is used to create and  prime the market for the second book. So, most publishers want the right to at least take a look at your second book to accept or refuse it, since they’ve done all the hard leg work on making the first one do well. It wouldn’t be fair for another publisher to reap the rewards of the first publisher's efforts. 

Questions to be answered next week:

If the trend is vampires, does that mean I should write a vampire book in order to be published?
What do publishers usually think is the least attractive quality in a writer?

What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher?

Have questions of your own? Email us at

Monday, November 1, 2010

Top ten questions for publishers

1. Why does it take so long (6 months to a year) for a regular person to get a book published, but a famous person or a politician can have theirs published within just a few months?

2. What kind of an advance can I expect when a publisher signs me?

3. Why do publishers usually want authors to sign a two-book contract?

4. Isn't it always a good thing to be a New York Times bestseller?

5. If the trend is vampires, does that mean I should write a vampire book in order to be published?

6. What do publishers usually think is the least attractive quality in a writer?

7. What's the biggest mistake a writer can make after signing with a publisher?

8. Why should I give up my ebook rights if I sign with a publisher?

9.Why publish with a publisher when I can use a print-on-demand service or a vanity press?

10. Why is it so hard to make money as an author?

Your questions will be answered every Thursday, starting November 4, 2010. We'll choose questions at random. This Thursday, we may answer some of the questions above, and we may answer some of yours. Send your questions to, and don't forget to come back on Thursday for some answers.

- Lyla P.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Originality is Dead

You may have heard from a cynic or two out there that there is no originality left in the world. They may have been referring to Hollywood’s penchant for sequels and remakes in order to make a quick buck or this guy, or they may have been referring to Harry Potter’s striking similarity Star Wars. So, are those cynics right? Is there, in fact, no originality left in the world? Have all of those jerks from Ancient Greece taken up all of the great stories of humanity while Shakespeare filled in the gaps a thousand or so years later?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I want to write a book--but how?

You're rocking back and forth in your desk chair, thinking, "I should do it. I should just do it." You swivel to face your computer screen and let your fingers hover over the keyboard for about ten seconds, then you roll back the chair, stand up, and go to the kitchen to stare inside the refrigerator because it's a lot easier than trying to figure out how to write a book.

Writing a book is less daunting once you figure out the basics can actually be quite simple. Continue reading for 5 easy steps.

Getting Your Genius in Print

 Let’s talk about publishing. That’s why you’re here, right? I mean, the blog’s titled “Publishing: Uncovered” so you must be wishing to uncover the ins and outs of publishing (…or you’re just a vociferous reader of blogs, which is okay too). That being the case, today’s topic will be on publishing your work. Now, there are many ways to get published, from large-run book publishing (which includes those on the New York Times Bestseller list and the like) to small-run book publishing (which includes books for niche markets or those with low-marketability: which of course doesn’t mean that they’re bad, just that the public-at-large isn’t ready for it), self-publishing (which the lovely Lyla P. has recently written on), and journal publishing (which publishes short fiction, poetry, short nonfiction, and essays in various zines, literary journals, and the like). For today’s post, I’ll be focusing upon journal publishing, and how to get your work into print.


New publisher offers BOTH traditional and indie publishing

It used to be publishers were exclusively traditional or indie-friendly.

1. Traditional: These publishers will typically only accept submissions from literary agents. The smaller ones will sometimes let you send your manuscript, yourself. But either way, if they don't like your work, they don't publish it, and you move on. If they do want to publish it, you may or may not get an advance, and your books will appear in bookstores nationwide. These are your Random Houses, your Harper Perennials, and your Little, Brown & Cos.

2. Indie-friendly (whether "vanity" or POD): they print what you send them and you pay to have the book distributed through online bookstores. (There's a little more to it than that, but the point is, there's no acceptance necessary from a publisher to use any of the self-publishing methods. No gate-keeper is stopping you from releasing your book to the virtual shelves.) These are your Lulus, your Xlibrises, your iUniverses, and your AuthorHouses.

Traditional publishers: Pretty books. Quality books. Professional books. Edited books. Good distribution.

Indie-friendly "vanity" or POD publishers: Not really edited (you can opt to pay for editing "services," but ... well ... ). So-so to really bad paper quality and flimsy, curling covers. Little to no bookstore distribution.

It used to be authors had to make a choice...

Nobody cares what your book cover looks like.

Keep telling yourself that as you, self-published (or "indie") author, create your title in Comic Sans with drop-shadows, inner glow, and some contouring to make it "pop," plopping it dead center on a free stock-photo image you found online.

"Ew," they'll say. "That book looks self-published."

Getting Some Distance

You have just finished your brilliant work—a piece that combines the wit of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman with the social commentary of Midnight’s Children and the style of Finnegan’s Wake—and you are soaring in the clouds. Your long-awaited goal as finally arrived and you are ready to pack your baby off to the nearest publisher and wait for the money and Pulitzers to roll in. But, before you do, there are some things you need to consider that, if they catch you unawares, could cause you to stumble and fall from your great heights in angsty, writerly frustration (Be honest, you’re a writer and thus have a slight tendency towards the melodramatic).

Write what you know. And don't.

"Write what you know" generates a lot of discussion, some arguments, and even some anger.

WRITER 1: What do you mean, "Write what you know"? If I wrote what I knew, I'd write about sunken couches and empty cashew tins.

WRITER 2:  Yes. Do that. Because you have felt the couch. You have eaten the cashews. You know the taste of the salt on your fingers, the corduroy rub of the flattened cushion under your buttocks. That is real. That is pain. Write it. Write!

WRITER 1: I'd rather use my imagination and write what I don't know, thank you very much. I want to write about angels.

WRITER 2: Are you an angel?

WRITER 1: No. I mean, I'm not not an angel. Like, I'm not a bad person, or anything, but I'm not--

WRITER  2: How can you write about angels if you don't know what it's like to be an angel?

This isn't what "Write what you know" means.

Are You Being Followed?: Self-Promotion in the Web 2.0 Age

Self-promotion of your new book has begun, you’ve printed advertisements, told your friends so much about your book they’ll buy it just to shut you up, and you’ve set up a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, you’ve even set up a MySpace page and a Friendster account, you name it, you’ve set it up on the tech front. But, now that you have all of these accounts opened, activated, and ready, you’re in sore need of something to fill your endless gigabytes of message board. I mean, you can’t just keep spamming “LOOK FOR MY BOOK ‘FLIGHT OF THE SALAMANDER’ AUGUST 24, 2011” for an entire year. This forward attempt may have worked with your friends and family, but the internet is a different beast altogether, one who is not above leaving a nasty comment on your wall and cutting off all further contact.
So, what do you do? Well, that’s a big question and requires different answers tailored to the specific social networking formats you’re using. Today’s post will center on the newest social networking site to hit the net; you’ve guessed it: Twitter.

Be a tortured artist, but don't be a spoiled writer.

You’ve written the book, and it’s good. It’s even published—whether by you or by a traditional publisher—and now you want people to read it.

But you don’t really want to have to think about how to GET them to read it, because you’re not a publicist or a marketer—you’re a writer. You spend minutes, many of them, searching for the perfect word (Work? no…Toil? nooope…Labor? yes! labor!). You craft your sentences with purpose, intentionally choosing words with a certain number of syllables (and maybe some assonance, too), and you place your commas (or refrain from placing them at all) very deliberately, all of it working together to draw the reader into the scene or the narrator’s mind and mood. You’ll even spend days—days!—pondering a character’s name—Paulo? Chadwick III? Bob?—until you find the perfect fit for your protagonist’s second cousin. How could you, an artist, be asked to—*choke*—sell your own books?

I say this in the nicest possible way: get over yourself.

The Secrets of Self-Marketing; or, You're Published, Now What?

So, you’ve managed to write your book, snagged a publisher, and are now wondering what you can do to help your book sell once it finishes its run through the publishing process. Well, it looks like you’re not the only one. Recently, the Huffington Post posted an article by publicist and marketing expert Arielle Ford concerning the various factors that motivate someone to buy one book over another. You can find the full article here. While short, it contains some useful information regarding what you yourself can do to drum up book sales both before and after your book hits the shelves. The article can be boiled down into three main ways in which you can work up your audience into a buying frenzy for your book.

Blogger's Block

Today I will be writing about that Sauron to your creativity’s Frodo, that Magneto to your intellect’s Professor X, and that Jar Jar Binks to your inner fanboy’s self-respect. Today, I will be writing about writer’s block.

The irony of writing about writer’s block does not go unnoticed by me, your heroic blogger. I came up with this topic following a desperate bout with this ultimate evil that left me with a fragment of an idea and a near-concussion after applying my forehead to the desk multiple times with increasing force. Now, I wouldn’t suggest such a response to writer’s block if one can help it. If not professionally done, the Head-Desk Method will only result in blunt trauma, a trip to the hospital, and possibly a broken keyboard. So, you may be asking, how do the non-“professionals” deal with this juggernaut if we don’t wish to fork over the money for a new keyboard? Well, I’m glad you asked, as it will provide me with a post for today.

In Defense of Ghostwriting...

Justin Bieber is getting a lot of flak for writing his memoirs at 16. Not only is it difficult to buy that a 16-year-old could have enough to say to fill twenty pages, never mind a book, but it’s just as hard—primarily
for writers who have been struggling for years to have their own work published—to see “Bieber” and “write” and “book” and “published” in the same sentence. Not because he’s not capable of writing a book—maybe he is, maybe he isn’t—but because we all know what he does, and it’s not writing. He sings. He performs. He does talk shows and guest appearances on “Saturday Night Live.” Who has time to write with that kind of schedule?

“He’ll probably have a ghost writer,” writers who write their own work scoff.