5 basic tips for approaching a publisher

Hi, friends!

I thought I’d reprise some basic tips for approaching a publisher (since I am one).

I’ve talked a bit about this in the past, most recently, these 5 tips for finding a publisher that’s right for you. But let’s get down to some essentials.

So let’s say you’re interested in publishing a manuscript you’re working on and you decide to approach a house. Here are some tips to help you do that correctly.

1. Make sure your manuscript is finished. This may seem obvious, but it’s not to some writers, especially those who are just starting out. I get it. You’re working on a novel and you’re really excited about it and you want to get it published. BUT…

There’s an old saying: “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” What that means is, don’t do things in the wrong order because it’ll cost you time and effort at the very least.

Most publishers do not want to see a partially-written manuscript. Publishers don’t grant contracts on the basis of a chapter or two (unless you’re a long-established author). They may read the first few chapters, but they will only do that if the manuscript is complete and the query letter and synopsis piqued their interest and if the manuscript fits their lists.

So don’t send an email to a publisher saying you’re working on a manuscript and you have X words done. They don’t care. They want the COMPLETED project, not 10,000 words of a draft.

2. Do not ask a publisher to assess the first few chapters of your unfinished manuscript to “see if you’re on the right track.”

Time is money, people. You want someone to assess your work? That’s what editors do, and they’re professional and offering a service. So pay them. Or get some fab beta readers who are willing to work with you.

This scenario — asking me as a potential publisher to assess part of an unfinished manuscript — has happened to me more than a few times in the past and just so you know, it’ll get you tossed out the airlock at almost every house you try this. I’m an exception, because I’ll explain to you that this is not how you go about approaching a potential publisher and I’ll probably provide you some links to resources that tell you how to effectively approach a publisher with a submission. Then I’ll toss you out the airlock, but gently.

Unless you’re a dick in your approach. In which case, no resources for you. Just a “we do not consider unfinished manuscripts. If you’re looking for guidance, we recommend you consult with beta readers or hire a developmental editor,” and then we put your name in the “hell, no” forever file.

It is not a publisher’s job to assess your work or help you write your manuscript so they can publish it. That’s a developmental editor’s job, and you should hire one if you’re having trouble writing a manuscript. Or hire a writing coach. Or chat with your beta readers. Don’t have any? Get some. It’ll save you getting flung out a publishing airlock and/or being put in a “hell, no” file.

3. Put a professional query packet together so it’s ready to go. This includes your FINISHED manuscript; a query letter (no more than 2-3 paragraphs that includes your background, bio, and any other things you’ve written); brief synopsis (no more than about 250-300 words). And have a longer synopsis ready to go in case a publishing house requests one.

The key here is to look professional. You want a publisher to take you seriously? Then put together some serious materials that help a publisher get a sense of who you are and what your writing approach might be. Don’t forget to have a website for your writer self ready to go to include in your contact materials.

Caitlin Berve has some great info on query packets at Ignited Ink. You should go see.

4. Make sure you read the submissions guidelines THOROUGHLY and prepare your query packet and manuscript accordingly. If you don’t do that, a publisher will wonder what other instructions you ignore. Every publisher is different, so make sure you know what each one is looking for.

And with that in mind, make sure you send the right query packet to the correct publisher. This has happened to me more than a few times, too — I’ve gotten query letters addressed to someone at a totally different house.

Details are important, friends.

5. It’s okay to ask if you’re not sure about something in a publisher’s submissions requirements. It’s okay to send a quick email to ask for clarification. Be polite and get to the point immediately in that email. Don’t go on about the project you’re working on or your super-sexy query packet. Just ask your question, say please and thank you, and go about your business. And if the publisher doesn’t respond to that one little email, well…maybe you’ll want to approach other houses instead.

All right. Just remember, publishing is a business. Think of approaching them as if you were getting ready for a job interview. You want all your materials ready to go, and you want to present yourself as a fellow professional. Don’t give them reasons to think otherwise.

Happy writing!

Why the hell are you writing a new edition?

Hi, all! Hope the weekend treats you well.

I decided — after some comments (some cranky; others not so much) I got regarding my decision to reboot my first mystery, Land of Entrapment — that it might be a good idea to explain what a new edition is and why some authors decide to do it. LoE for website

There are many reasons authors come to these decisions. We don’t wake up one day and decide, “Oh! I’m going to re-do one of my earlier works and re-issue it! Won’t that be fun?” Because not. It’s not fun. I mean, some of it is. But for the most part, it’s stressful and time-consuming and the longer the book stays off the market, the less opportunity there is for readers to read it. And authors never make this decision to piss people off. Trust me on this.

So let’s chat about some of the reasons authors decide to create a new edition of an earlier work.

Continue reading

Writing is taxing (and taxable)

Well, kids, it’s that time of year again. When we start thinking about getting our taxes together for THE MAN. Or WOMAN. Whichever IRS agent has a look at your stuff.

I know. Wow, what an exciting topic. Unfortunately, it’s a reality and it’s one that self-employed folks (and most writers are indeed self-employed) have to deal with all the time. And by now, you’ve probably noticed all the tax commercials showing up on your networks. You know the ones. TurboTax and H&R Block are already at it, as those icky reminders to get your tax on. Or off, which is what deductions are all about.

source

For those of you living overseas in countries whose governments take care of all of this for you (and they just send you a statement saying how much you paid in taxes), I can only dream of such ease. Here in the States, every citizen is required to put together his or her own tax/income portfolio between January 1 and April 15 of each year. That means you report your income and all kinds of other things to the federal government as well as to the state’s government where you live. Some states do not have what’s called a “state income tax” while others do.

Included in this process are things we here in the States “write off” each year. That is, expenses we incurred with regard to specific situations that relate to businesses or other things (like tax deductible donations, e.g.). In my case, I have to keep track of all my expenses as a writer, since that’s a “self-employed” position and my income is what I earn in royalties. So I keep files of receipts and royalty statements. Lots of receipts, since anything I buy and use in the furtherance/maintenance/development of my work as a writer is something I report to the IRS.

And yes, royalties are taxable. So if you write, you need to keep track of those. If you’re working with a traditional house, those houses will send you a form with your total earnings for the year so you can report that. If you’re self-published, you need to make sure you keep track of your earnings because that’s reportable and taxable.

Some of the things I report as deductions are:

  • writing conferences (registration, travel to and from, hotels, meals if applicable)
  • promotional materials/advertising for my books and blogs
  • office supplies
  • internet (because without that, I definitely would not be able to work as a writer in today’s world)
  • mobile phone, which I use quite a bit for business
  • office space (you may be able to deduct your home office)
  • shipping costs for books and promotional materials
  • website/domain fees
  • writing association fees
  • research materials
  • computer equipment (last year I deducted my new printer)
  • editing, typesetting, and covers for my books
  • expenses I incur as an editor (yes, money I make from that is also taxable), like my subscription to Chicago Manual of Style

So I keep track of all of this during the year. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass. But if you keep things organized during the year, it’s not that big a deal to get it all put together to send off to either the IRS (with the proper forms) or your accountant. I have one of those, so I put my stuff together for the accountant which for me is a lot less stressful than having to do my taxes myself. Yes, it costs. But it’s worth it for my peace of mind.

So readers, in case you wondered, everything a writer makes in terms of sales is taxable, which means the government can take a chunk of it. So no, writing does not give anybody “free money.” It’s income. And therefore taxable. For writers who are just starting out, keep this in mind and start getting organized with regard to your expenses and earnings. Regardless of whether you’re publishing through a traditional house or doing it indie (or both), your royalties are taxable, depending on how much you make from them.

To help you get a handle on what you can deduct as a writer, try these links:

More writer-y
Writer’s Digest: “What Writing Expenses are Tax-Deductible?”
Savvy Book Writers
Jane Friedman’s blog: on self-employed writers and taxes (Friedman is super-knowledgeable about the biz)

More business-y
Internal Revenue Service deductions info
Riley & Associates (accountants) have some cool fill-out sheets and info
Freelancetaxation.com
Kiplinger.com on overlooked deductions (some of these may not be applicable to you and your writing career, but it’s good to know regardless)

I know. Doing your taxes is a level of suckitude with which we can all sympathize. But if you stay organized and get cracking early in the year, you’ll be done a lot quicker each year.

Happy Monday, happy tax season. Or something.