Friday 9 November 2012

A Peek Into The World of the Publisher (as told by an unpublished writer)

So it's Friday but I'm admitting now, I am so very far behind on NaNoWriMo that it's actually kind of ridiculous so instead, I want to talk briefly and very informally about publishing. Of course this isn't coming straight from me because as you guys know, I am more than an unpublished author I am an unwritten author (how's that for deep thinking on a Friday) so I dug up my old notes from a workshop I attended a while ago and thought I'd share with you my little adventure.

Alright so way back in April 2012 I was walking around at Comic Expo in Calgary and I saw a sign in one of the ballrooms that said "What Do Publishers Do?" so immediately I thought I should at least sit in on this panel to see what they have to say. I found myself sitting in the second row of this tiny little ballroom that was barely filled with people with notebooks and iPhones chatting with two women at the front of the room looking friendly as ever.

So the first thing I learnt in the workshop is that not a lot of Calgarians seem interested in books and publishing - though to be fair, the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation was there which might have explained some absences. Regardless, I sat down with my notebook that was meant for autographs (that I didn't get used AT ALL) and waited to hear what these women had to say.
They were Tina Moreau, Managing Editor and Margaret Curelas, Acquisitions Editor from the Canadian-Based Virtual Publishing Company Tyche Books and the workshop, they said, was meant to demystify the publishing business for writers and potential publishers and I must say it was very interesting. Some of it I had learned before from my basic perusal of the internet but they had some tips from a small company just starting out on what publishers from a small business actually do which I enjoyed because I think a lot of writers tend to focus on just getting a publisher to like them rather than what actually goes into publishing a book.
Admittedly my notes weren't very good because...well I was at Comic Expo and... Who takes notes at a Comic Expo? But I did remember their main points and the ones that bear repeating because they've been said a million times before so obviously the ENTIRE internet isn't wrong.
The first tip they had which cannot be repeated enough is always check submission guidelines. Regardless of whether it’s a large or small publishing house, each company has their own set of submission guidelines and in order to query them, you must follow each specific one or else your query will go to the bottom of the pile (I learnt that from Sara Megibow: follow her on twitter for 10 Queries in 10 Tweets). Once you’ve sent out your queries you also have to be aware that the person going through the slush pile won’t get to it right away. Bigger companies have longer wait periods but even small companies are propositioned consistently so you just have to have patience.
Oh and for people asking "what is the 'slush pile'?" Wikipedia says it is the set of unsolicited query letters or manuscripts sent either directly to the publisher or literary agent by authors, or to the publisher by an agent not known to the publisher. So there you go.
Once your query has been accepted, each house will have their own policy on accepting full manuscripts or the first three chapters before accepting a full novel. And then of course once they accept it, there are line edits and scene cutting and all of those messy things that not all writers like to think about but are necessary to produce good fiction/non-fiction. And then comes formatting; it’s the publisher’s job to format you novel for the actual book stage – ensuring that there aren’t any one word pages or punctuation faux-pas – and while some would assume that formatting for e-books would be simpler it is, in fact, the opposite. You need to format for each type of e-reader from Kobo© to Kindle© so it's a lot more work on their part.
They also discussed some of the differences between self-publishing and working with a publisher. They mentioned Ingram Coresource for E-book Distribution – otherwise self-publishers need to sign a contract with a specific store to get their e-books out. The way they described their philosophy of publishing was that publishers are like partners for your book – they are there to help you publish your novel for a certain price – of course they aren’t necessarily ‘partners’ in the strictest sense but I liked that way of thinking.
Now, print distribution – for self-publishers – really depends on how much money you want to spend. Print companies have sales representatives assigned to get books sold which, of course, costs money. Basically third party distribution is the only way to go if you’re publishing your novel yourself. There are also two ways to go in terms of the actual printing of your novel. There is traditional and there is digital.
Traditional printing is the stuff they’ve used since the dawn of time – or at least longer than digital – it’s a stamp with your words printed on it and then they send it through machines to fold, cut and glue it together; it’s used best for large runs. Digital printing is used mainly for print-on-demand so they are better for short-runs and can be complete a novel in about seven minutes (I’ll provide links on the actual process for anyone who is interested).
The last subject they touched on (it was only a half hour session) was publishing scams. Every writer has come across some company claiming to publish your novel for a ridiculously high price, myself included from way back when I first thought of being a writer and hadn't done my research. To this, the dynamic duo told readers to remember Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer. To quote them, “you should never have to spend money to write, only get money”. Now for self-publishers a certain investment needs to go into expenses but you should never have to pay for a particular company to publish your work. This is another place where you MUST DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Two well-known scams they mentioned are “Publish America” and “iUniversal” and they also mentioned several forums where you can go to find out what publishing houses other writers have used and what their experiences were.
As I said before, some of this may be common knowledge but I definitely thought this session was worth sharing and I even queried them once! But when I got rejected I took another look at the manuscript I'd sent them and realized how poorly edited it was. That's another thing. They didn't mention it but I've heard cried from publishers, editors and agents alike who all say: always edit your work before querying. You should never assume that this unedited first draft nonsense is going to cut it and that the publishing house will just edit all of your mistakes. It doesn't work like that. So before you query make sure you edit and never query unless you have a finished manuscript.
I've provided links below to some of the things they talked about in the short little workshop. The last thing these guys demystified for me is the notion that Publishers are these scary people in dark cloaks sitting around a table, condemning and rejecting everyone while flames burn around them in an eternal, burning inferno of death.
It was nice to know that publishers are people too and they're just looking out for you - so don't piss them off.

Tyche Publishing:
780-851-6818 from 9am-4pm (MST) Monday – Friday
Sara Megibow:
Twitter/Facebook: SaraMegibow
Ingram Coresource:
Traditional Publishing:
Digital Printing:
I couldn’t really find a good video but it’s essentially the same except instead of a stamp, it’s printed digitally.
Writer’s Beware:
Preditors and Editors:
Absolute Write:

And now I want to here from you guys. How much of this did you already know? How much of this was informative? Let me know in the comments below.

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