It's hard to keep current with the times. I'm awaiting the
day I see my first electric car pull up to a gas pump. The smartest of those who
laugh will be laughing with the hapless driver, not at them. We've all thrown away rechargeable batteries, or left a fork in our soup
sparkling away in the microwave oven. We know a lot about how things used to be,
but less about new things arriving on the scene. The fast pace of technological
change catches us all by surprise now and then.
For writers, future shock is the current state of the
publishing industry. We all know how traditional publishing works. A publisher
accepts a manuscript. The writer receives an advance payment. The book is
published, thousands of copies at a time, and distributed in brick and mortar
book stores. The books sells like peanut butter. Royalty checks are issued at
regular intervals. It's what many of us expect of the experience of publishing a
book. This is still largely how the industry operates. The new aspects of the
industry are the internet and POD, or print-on-demand publishing. They
complicate the process rather severely.
Using my own experience as an example of how things have
changed for better and for worse, I wrote a book on a manual, portable
typewriter in the late sixties and sold it first time out for a pencil-written
check for five-hundred dollars. I used one-half of the money to pay for the
I wasn't a particularly skilled writer. It used to be far easier to sell the
written word. The process of writing itself was both a substantial chore and a
financial burden. Words on paper can't be edited. Enormous quantities of paper
were invested in rendering a well-written, error-free novel. Because of the
foresight and care needed to complete a
manuscript, writing took genuine motivation, and publishers had less to work
with. Typewriters cost then what computers cost now, even manual portables. They
required constant supplies of inked ribbons and paper, which were not cheap
items in that day and age.
The fifty-two thousand word manuscript I sold was
never published per se, but used for "lines". I didn't know what that
meant. Two or so years later, I stumbled across what it meant at a local
drive-in theatre. They had made a B-grade biker movie out of my story. The
experience seriously overinflated my ego.
I used an electric typewriter in the late seventies
that could backspace and correct a single typo as they occurred. I wrote four
science-fiction novels and sold those first time out without an agent to a small
paperback publisher. I received one quarter of my advance, and then they went
bankrupt. I've been bankrupt myself, so stuff happens. They reorganised as
another publisher and reprinted three of the four novels. I received another
check for a couple of hundred dollars and was out several thousand.
End of round two. Something of a draw; at least I got
Finally, Berkley Diamond published one of my horror novels
in '92, the epitome of the traditional publishing experience. I mailed the
manuscript to an agent. The agent sold the book. Copies appeared in drug and
grocery store paperback racks everywhere. I received an advance and earned no
royalties, because it was a vampire novel that got delayed until Christmas and
didn't sell well. Unfortunately, the sales effort was exhaustive. I didn't have
another book ready to go. My agent dropped me.
End of round three, and out for the count of ten.
At this point, I got seriously distracted. My next novel
was written on a computer, green on a tiny black screen, a pittance for a
memory, no hard drive, five and a quarter-inch floppy disks, one chapter per
360K disk, no internet connection.
I wrote too fast. The quality of my writing suffered. I
wrote one novel after another in record time, but fast writing tends to be
superficial writing, surfing roof-brain chatter. Fiction needs a hefty
investment of depth of thought to hold a reader's attention.
Once the internet arrived on the scene,
epublishing made an appearance. Writers across the world had a simultaneous
thought. Why waste paper? Read books on the computer! No agent needed.
Downloadable novels in ebook format need no publisher, not on your own
I put my eight books on seven epublishing sites,
including my own, and over a four-year period received another pencil-written
check, this one for $3.87. My own unadvertised website averaged just a few
hundred hits a year and sold nothing.
What happened? I've noticed that most ebooks were
not well-written. My own were in bad need of objective feedback. I encountered
one "publisher" who took pride in not reading or filtering any ebook
submitted to his site. It was up to the reader to pay and then evaluate the
material for other readers. Yeah, like that worked out really well.
Traditional publishers have endured slush piles
of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts per year down through the decades.
Where do we suppose they all went to? Why, on epublishing sites, one must
suspect. The best quality writers and their books are still to be found
associated with traditional publishers.
Even so, many ebooks are of professional quality.
I didn't think mine were half bad, certainly worth three or four bucks per read,
but good ebooks are in perpetual bad company, because many ebooks are
unreadable. They compete with hardcopies of flawless professional fiction on
nearby paperback racks at sometimes half the cost of even a stupidly priced
ebook. Epublishing sounds like an ideal scheme from a writer's point of view,
but the effort to see the pitfalls from the standpoint of a reader is crucial.
Let's clear up one fact of life off the bat. There are
more good books to be read than there are readers to read them. The
publishing industry has nothing to do with that fact. They do their best to
attract readers. They spend major bucks in the attempt. In the end, they are not
responsible for the fact that one quarter of US citizens are illiterate.
Illiteracy rates may be lower in Europe and higher in developing nations, but
they represent a stillborn market.
And now POD has arrived, print-on-demand
publishing, the equivalent of a printed ebook, increasing the number of books
that can be placed in the hands of that limited readership. They don't read any
more than they have in the past. They just have a broader choice of what
Electronic storage and laser printing enables the
likes of Lulu.com, Wordclay.com, and probably other sites of which I'm not
aware, to offer POD printing. This is not POD publishing. These
printed books have no ISBN and are available only through the site that offers
the service. If a three-hundred page file contains nothing but the letter
"a" on each page, that will be the content of the book shipped.
Lulu.com and other POD printers do offer paid servicing and otherwise free POD
publishing, but this aspect of their business will be discussed a bit later
where they will be grouped with POD
publishers in general.
You can upload your manuscript and a cover, or use an
online cover-wizard and a selection of stock cover images, fill in some
information and a blurb and "publish" a book entirely free of any charge
whatsoever. You're not required to buy a copy, or to sell copies on their online
I've printed fourteen books in this fashion, for
myself, my family, and friends. They sit upon my bookshelf and look rather
magnificent. I have an online Lulu bookstore where they are available in either
paperback or hardcover. I thought perhaps readers would buy my attractive,
professionally-written hardcopies, if they were not willing to read downloadable
Have I sold any yet?
Nope. Nary a single copy, aside from from my own
Do not expect to sell books in this fashion. Lulu.com and other POD
printers earn their living from their authors, from the books they order,
although I'm profoundly grateful for their existence. If you want to provide
your new novel to a friend, family member or associate for a free read, why not
as a high-quality paperback, or hardcover, complete with a professional-quality
As for the sales potential of POD books in
general, browse Lulu's catalogue of books and other media. Calculate the amount
of time it would take to glance at each and every one of tens upon tens of
thousands of offerings. Calculate the odds of having your own book encountered
by a browser who just happens to take an interest in what you have to offer.
Amazon.com's literary base is far larger.
Here's where publishing gets scary. Advertising and
distribution are everything. Not just important. Everything. Only
the old-fashioned traditional publishers will load trucks with tens of thousands
of copies to be shipped to brick and mortar book stores. If they don't let us
play their game, if they don't have room for us, what are we to do? What are our
There are vanity publishers who will "publish" your book
for hundreds to many thousands of dollars. They cannot guarantee sales. They do
not necessarily care if your book is coherent. They may go through the motions
of some minor advertising and distribution, but they are helpless in that
regard, because the proven earnings of their product sustain nobody. The books
they print are intended for their authors' "consumption".
Vanity publishers are, in essence, very expensive printers.
They have a right to offer these services and are to be respected when their
intent is honest. If they delude authors into believing they are publishers in
the traditional sense of the word, only then are they dishonest and of
Many electronic and POD publishers are vanity
hybrids. Because these services are offered piecemeal, less confusion ensues. A
manuscript can be critiqued for a price. Edited. Copy-edited. Ghostwritten.
Books need covers. Professional graphic artists provide such services. You can
pay to have a POD book published. It will be featured on the publisher's website
alongside a downloadable ebook and will be included in literary databases
accessible to Amazon.com and other online and brick and mortar book stores.
There are, however, a rapidly expanding number of online
publishers who emulate traditional publishing. They will publish your book
entirely free of up-front charges and pay royalties. Because they rely upon the
sale of books for their and your profit, these publishers are not
indiscriminate. Your novel will have to meet their literary standards, although
they tend to be lower than traditional standards which will have print-runs of
tens or hundreds of thousands of books at stake.
These publishers, vanity and traditional POD
publishers, will publish your book as a POD with an ISBN number, which will make
it available on the publisher's website, Amazon.com, and online and brick and
mortar book stores. It will exist as a string of binary code in a database
awaiting an order and be printed and shipped one book at a time when an order
There is a pitfall here, a serious issue that has
the audacity to raise its ugly little head. POD books which need to earn money
for their publishers can be quite expensive, far more so than hardcopies from
traditional publishers who cut costs printing thousands of copies at a time and
who take a far smaller percentage in profit per book. In my personal opinion,
POD books are prohibitively expensive and POD publishing will consign a
book to relative and perhaps total obscurity. Online epublishers tend to
flash on and off like fireflies on a warm summer night, because nobody's found
the magic formula for selling more books than there are readers to read them.
Then what's an author to do? With a completed manuscript in
hand, what's the best route toward that illusive goal of fame and fortune?
Traditional publication is the only way to go if at all
possible. Many traditional publishers require submissions through agents to
filter for quality. There is considerable advice to be had on selecting an
agent, so we needn't address that facet of the process in this article.
Obtain an agent to represent you.
If you try absolutely everybody and nobody wants to
represent your manuscript, or until you do find an agent who will, start at the
Submit directly to traditional publishers who will allow
you to do so.
Avoid for the time being any publisher who mentions POD.
Comply with their submission requirements. Start with the major publishers
and work your way down. Exhaust all potential before "giving up" on that book.
If no traditional publisher expresses an interest, and that
book is the only one you are going to write in your lifetime, consider a
POD publisher with a good track record who requires no fees or payments and
offers royalties.The fact that their earnings are tied to their sales
efforts works to your advantage.
If your manuscript does not attract the attention
of POD publishers who emulate traditional publishers, vanity publishing won't
get you where you want to go. You can have your book POD printed for a tiny
fraction of the expense through the likes of Lulu and Wordclay. If you have lots
of disposable income and little motivation to do it yourself, feel free to
consider vanity publishers business partners. You are the customer they seek.
But here is where I will diverge sharply from conventional
advice on how to get a book to market.
The goal of publication is fame and fortune. Both depend on
how well you write and what you write about. Rich and famous writers don't pop
spontaneously into existence. Read Stephen King's biography. Appreciate the
years of sacrifice and slavery to what must have seemed to others to be an
unrealistic, unobtainable obsession: the goal to write and sell enough fiction
to support a family.
It was once said that a writer typically wrote one million
words before his or her first sale. That reflects my experience, but even after
that first sale, not everything you write will automatically find a publisher.
Even professionals cannot sell everything they write.
What do you do with your unsold material? How do you use it
to obtain feedback from readers?
The internet offers an untapped potential for
budding authors, and even experienced ones. Websites are easy and inexpensive.
They provide exposure and offer the potential for a bit of fame before the
fortune sets in. But before you play too openly with your manuscript, take out
copyright protection for your book. For countries in the Berne Convention
(that's nearly every country in the world, but
click here for a full list) you can do this online through the
Copyright Registration Service of the IP Rights Office [firstwriter.com
subscribers save 10% on their registration fees –
to subscribe]. In the US a file can also be uploaded to the Library of
Congress for a $35 fee, payable by credit card.
Put the book on your website in pdf form and
offer it as a free read in exchange for feedback.
Yep, I heard that chorus of protest. “Oh, no,
somebody will steal my novel and sell it as their own!”
Surely, literary thefts happen occasionally. It's
never profitable, and dangerous to those who try. Plagiarism the equivalent of
stealing soda cans for their deposit. Copyright protection is the equivalent of
having a lock on our doors. It's largely the only caution we need take. After
all, a plagiarist can as easily scan and convert a printed book, and far
more of those are available, and they're generally of higher quality. I don't
worry about thieves stealing my books because I give internet-savvy readers of
my books due credit for intelligence.
I gave up on my career and offered my books as
free reads along with the printed copies of the books on Lulu.com simply because
I enjoyed writing and didn't want to see it all go to waste. Over a period of a
year, fourteen books were downloaded in ebook format about a thousand times. I
recently reconsidered and stopped the practice, but in doing so I've engulfed
myself in total electronic silence.
Why did I stop? I didn't. I only paused. I wasn't getting
any feedback from the novels that were downloaded. I want something of practical
use for the effort of making them available. Readers can tell me how much of the
novel they read and what they found to be the major flaws or defects in the
story or writing. Once I've made that modification, the novels will go back up
as free reads on my website.
If a book goes nowhere, sacrifice it toward the goal of a
bit of fame. Let it garner some feedback to be invested in the next book. Put
hopes of fortune on that next book.
Through it all, we worry about success and failure. We all
have varying definitions of what constitutes success. A single published book
suffices for some, a career unto death for others. Failure is harder to define,
because we can always try again knowing that nobody succeeds without having
failed in their initial efforts. In other words, success and failure are
Regardless of what books get published and who makes what
amount of money, writers are the originators of ideas. If those ideas reach any
reader at all, remember those six degrees of separation between all minds on the
face of planet Earth. Ideas tend to settle in our subconscious where they
interact with other ideas and take new form. Our idle ideas evolve as they flow
from one mind to another, and they mature to fruition in minds greater than
those who gave them birth.
Ideas are the engine of modern civilisation. They originate
largely with us alone as writers. I've contributed to that pool, that resource
for civilisation, as will you.
Our endeavours, not our successes, deserve our pride and
fw: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Carol, and
congratulations on securing a publishing deal! Tell us a little bit about the
book you sold.
CC: The first one's working title is Glass House and Girdles
Anthology. It is a non-fiction collection of stories, first, of my childhood
memories of my 1950s neighbourhood and its characters,
my experience on my first professional job as a caseworker and the characters I
knew, and how I changed the face of the department and several other compelling
stories like the one of my friend who at a young age was a POW in WWII and
walked the "Death March" from Germany.
The other, which I hope is a separate book was
ghost written by me for my cat. Its title is The Chronicles of Blitzen.
fw: Where did you get your inspiration from?
CC: Easy – my experiences and of course,
a very naughty loving cat.
fw: Did you find it easy to finish the stories?
CC: I am still working on my last story! All of them took years with
a lot of breaks in between. I didn't force it.
fw: Had you done any writing before?
CC: I had written a children's story for Celebrating Greyhounds
magazine (free of charge). I wrote my first play in third grade, so I have
waited a long time for some success. I also, this past week, had the lead
article in Antique Trader and will have another published in the near future.
fw: Did you find that writing credit helped when you were approaching
CC: I don't think most care at all. In
fact, a lot of publishers are looking for "fresh" people who aren't
published. The only book I had before was one I helped my husband with: Goner
Ceramic Arts – a Comprehensive Guide. Hardly writing!
fw: Did you get a literary agent before approaching publishers?
CC: I had the hardest time trying to even find where one got an agent,
so I went directly to the source!
fw: Had you tried any other methods of
finding a publisher before you joined firstwriter.com?
CC: I hadn't really given it much of a try before other than looking
up different publishing house who usually didn't want anything sent unless you
had been published before.
fw: And what feature did you find most
firstwriter.com in helping you to find your publisher?
CC: The major one was the descriptions of the publishers provided.
fw: So once you'd selected suitable
publishers based on the
firstwriter.com descriptions, how did you go about approaching them?
CC: I composed my own query and used no flourishes, just honesty and
an attempt at a short description to get their attention. I sometimes sent out
several at a time knowing I'd never her from some. I can't wait forever for
someone to reply and sit around. I was proactive.
fw: What kind of experience did you have before you got signed?
CC: I got more than several rejections, but persisted. Most were quite
polite. I spent about one year approaching publishers, initially. I was accepted by one house that
eventually went under right after I signed. I didn't give up.
fw: That must have been a blow... but at least you secured another
deal. Who is your latest deal with, and why do you think they signed you?
Dogma. They are small and looking for meaningful subjects. Mine seemed to
fit the criteria.
fw: How is the editing process going?
CC: I haven't seen an edited version yet, but I am anxious to see soon
what was done, to give my okay. I still insist it has to sound like me.
fw: And what advice would you give to other writers trying to
secure a publisher?
CC: From my perspective, forget agents. It is almost impossible to
find a good one. If you believe you have a good product don't give up. Have some
friends read it and comment. Tell them to be honest. It can only help.
fw: What plans do you have for the future?
CC: I have no schedule until my editing is
finished. I also write science fiction or, in my case, sci-str (science
strange!) stories and will try to get a group of them published. Then it's a
cookbook I believe.
fw:Thank you for your time, Carol, and best of luck with
search firstwriter.com's database of over 1,000 publishers, click
uses English spelling conventions.
Spellings such as "realise"
differ from other spelling conventions
but are nonetheless correct.
Big prize for true-life story FieldReport.com will be awarding $250,000 on January 1, 2009, for the highest-ranked true-life story to its site. Each story must be true, must have happened to the author, and must be 2,000 words or less.
There is no fee to enter, you simply need to rate five other stories in order to submit your own.
Blue Mountain Arts seeks new writers Blue Mountain Arts is seeking freelance greeting card writers. Submissions may also be considered for inclusion in book anthologies. Payment is $300 per poem to publish it on a greeting card and $50 if your poem is used only in an anthology.
guidelines send a blank email to
with “Send Me Guidelines” in the
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Arts, Inc. Editorial Department P.O. Box
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TAN acquired by Saint Benedict Press TAN Books and Publishers, a publisher of traditional Roman Catholic titles, has been bought out of bankruptcy by Saint Benedict Press, LLC, a publisher of Catholic Classics based in
TAN Books and Publishers will continue as an independent imprint within Saint Benedict Press, maintaining its brand identity and publishing direction under Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Brent
Bristol Short Story Prize The 2009 Bristol Short Story Prize is now open to short stories up to 3,000 words from writers anywhere in the world. Entry costs £7 and prizes include cash, gift cards, and publication of the top 20 stories in the 2009 anthology.