Writers Need to Research Publishers First

It completely amazes me the number of newly published writers who will brag about being “published” through vanity presses! I fail to understand the joy they feel when they have to pay sometimes thousands of dollars. Even worse is the fact they use companies without conducting proper research. I belong to several groups on LinkedIn, and the topic has come up on numerous occasions–some writers will have enough insight to ask before using a publisher. Two such examples are iUniverse and Author House. In spite of the insight of some to question the integrity of these vanity presses, a week or two later someone else will post they actually have a contract with them! Why do they belong to writing groups if they are not going to take the time to read posts, especially those that relate to a topic of such importance?

The Importance of Researching First

One of the big problems with vanity houses is they exploit unpublished writers, even to the point of telling them traditional publishers will see their book in bookstores and offer them a contract. They are so excited about the offer that they don’t take the time to weigh the facts.

  • Bookstores do not stock self-published books unless the authors contact them directly.
  • Vanity presses will publish any book when the author is willing to pay the price. It doesn’t matter if the book is any good or not–they are only looking for the money it will bring from the author.
  • Authors usually only get a few copies of their books for the price they pay–any others they must pay for although they might get a discount.
  • Vanity presses charge for every service they offer: printing, promotion, proofreading, editing, etc.

Learn to Follow the Advice of Others

While I am still working on my book, I have learned enough to know how to choose a publisher, and that includes conducting research. Whenever someone mentions I name with which I am not familiar the first thing I do is go to Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. In the case of both iUniverse and Author House you will discover they are listed by P&E as “not recommended.” I know they have been on the list of publishers to avoid since at least the turn of the 21st century yet novice authors get in such a hurry that they don’t take the time to research first.

In addition to checking out Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware, Angela Hoy has a newsletter she publishes that includes a section called “Whispers and Warnings.” She includes various publishers who have attempted (or succeeded) in scamming writers. While these are often publications, you can gain a great deal of insight.

Speak to other published writers to see what kind of experiences they had with their publishers or agents–yes, you should check out agents first as well, another feature Preditors and Editors includes. You can learn much more from other writers than you can from just online research. It can certainly take time, but you can save yourself a great deal of frustration and avoid making a costly mistake.

Do Not Pay Someone to Publish Your Book

This is one of the most expensive lessons authors need to learn because any company that wants up front fees is a vanity press. I have had self-published writers try to tell me the term is obsolete, that they wish to be called Indie publishers, but the problem is that can also refer to a small independent traditional publisher.

If you are insistent upon self-publishing choose an online source such as Create Space or Smash Words–other authors have indicated they take a percentage of the sales rather than charging an up front fee. Of course, the perfect solution is to work hard to find a traditional publisher–print or e-book–but the bottom line is avoid any company that has a bad reputation and is listed as “not recommended” on Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware.

Forget the Resolutions and Set Goals Instead

The past month has been a very busy one for me which is very good indeed. I started ghostwriting a blog on luxury sports car which has brought in some additional income and a regular client has been providing me with some regular work as well which brings me to the topic of this post. Now that we have passed the holidays and entered 2011, many of you are probably thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. The question is: when is the last time you made a New Year’s Resolution you kept?

Breaking Resolutions Causes Anger and Frustration

At one time I used to have at least one New Year’s Resolution every year, and it was usually to lose weight. It worked for a while but then I started slacking off and lost track of what I had intended to do. The result? I became angry and frustrated with myself, so I quit even trying.

The Process of Goal Setting

As writers there are things we need to do on a regular basis and those things should not be based upon the coming of a New Year but should be things we do every single day. This year instead of attempting to create New Year’s resolutions you will not be able to keep anyway (probably because you set your sights too high), define some achievable goals.

What do I mean by “achievable goals”? Many people make the mistake of setting their sights too high. As writers that might include any number of the following:

  • Seeing your book in print when you don’t even have a publisher yet.
  • Finishing the novel you haven’t started.
  • Finding an agent or publisher for the novel you haven’t finished.
  • Doubling your income from 2010.
  • Expecting to double your current freelancing fees.

The key is to set short-term goals and move forward from there. For instance, you might set a goal of increasing your freelance rates by $.20 a word by the end of the year or finishing your novel so you can polish it by the end of the year–then look for a publisher and/or agent. When you set small goals that are easier to achieve, you do not suffer the frustration that is common when you set your sights too high and fail.

Be Consistent in Your Efforts

Another problem that is common with people in all walks of life is lack of consistency. This is essential no matter what type of job you do, but it is even more important for writers because it is so easy for us to give up when we don’t reach the level of success we expected. Writing is a very competitive field and as such we have to be in tune with what is going on and never lose sight of our goals. Unless you work consistently someone else will obtain what you were seeking to achieve.

Strive for Perfection

One of the most important things a writer can do is always work toward achieving perfection. You should never send a manuscript to anyone unless it is as perfect as you can make it. Don’t rely on spell check or grammar check but take the time to read yourself and even ask someone else (someone who can give an objective analysis) to read it as well. Polish everything you write until it shines before you send it to a publisher, agent or editor.  There is no easier way to kill your chances of publication than to send a manuscript that is full of spelling and grammatical errors.

Editing is not a Writer’s Responsibility: WRONG!

Many novice writers make the mistake of thinking they do not have to edit their manuscripts before they submit them to a publication, agent or publisher. They have the mistaken idea that editing is not their job because the publisher has someone in-house to edit before the manuscript is published. The reality is that the editor will not review manuscripts that contain numerous errors. When you submit your manuscript to a publisher without taking the time to self-edit you run the risk of finding your hard work going right into the slush pile.

One of the things writers need to remember is that more publishers are reducing the amount of time they allot to editing functions. They depend upon writers to submit manuscripts that are clean and free of errors. The function of editors is not to spell-check and proofread the work of editors but to make sure the document adheres to the guidelines and is in accordance with the approved topic. The editor may also verify the facts and sources of information, but it depends on the publication.

When it comes to fiction, it is very unlikely that editors will do much proofreading, spell checking or grammar checking. They are usually looking for formatting, structure and plot. If something stands out they may fix it, but that is not the purpose of editing fiction. Of course, this is AFTER the manuscript has been approved for publication. On the initial submission they will not be doing anything but looking for plot, structure and potential salability. The editor will overlook a few minor errors; after all, even the best proofreader and editor can miss something. However, the manuscript should be as perfect as you can make it.

If editing is the responsibility of the writer, does that mean each writer needs to invest money into paying a professional editor? While it is a good practice to develop, you can certainly avoid the expense if you have a friend who can objectively review your manuscript. having a second pair of eyes review your writing is always a good idea. Remember, you are too close to the writing and will have a tendency to read what you meant to type rather than what you actually typed. Another way to avoid hiring an editor is to put the piece down for a month or so and then reread it with fresh eyes. Certainly this will not work when you have a specific deadline, but if you are working on a book or short story, it will definitely work and is a good idea. In fact putting your story down for a while will also help you see any flaws in your storyline

The most important thing to remember is never under any circumstances submit any work that is not as perfect as you can make it. Read it, reread it, read it again and have others read it before you send it to a publisher or agent. No matter how good your storyline may be, if you submit it to an agent or publisher with many errors, it will end up in the slush pile. Even worse, you will find your name on the black list with other publishers–remember, they talk to one another, and an author who submits error laden work will make the rounds among editors and publishers.

Should a Writer Pay an Editor?

I recently became involved in a discussion on the topic of paying an editor to review writing prior to publication. It surprised me to read the remarks from one of the posters who was dead set against the idea of writers enlisting the services of a professional editor. This person had the idea that anyone who charges to editor a manuscript is exploiting writers. This line of thinking actually shocked me. What was even more shocking was when this poster indicated that any writer who is not good enough to be published without the benefit of a professional editor is not good enough to be published in the first place.

The question now is this: are professional editors taking advantage of authors when they charge them to edit manuscripts before they go to publication? Is it only authors who are contemplating self-publishing who should go to the expense of hiring a professional editor? In the mind of the poster I mentioned, this is indeed the case: only authors contemplating self-publishing need to bother with a professional editor.

Where is the mindset of the aforementioned poster? The biggest problem appears to be he/she feels that when you have a piece edited by a professional that person will take away from the voice and style of the original author. While this could certainly happen, the job of an editor is to help an author turn a manuscript that may not be salable into something that will make money for the author, publisher and agent. This need not involve changing the voice of the original author nor should it do so.

First time authors should certainly take the time to hire a professional editor if only to make sure their manuscript is as perfect as it can be before they send it to an agent or publisher. There is nothing worse than sending a manuscript full of errors to an agent or publisher; it is also the easiest way to find your hard work in the slush pile without a second glance. That doesn’t mean once you are published you can depend on your own self-editing skills. Remember, you are close to the writing, and you are likely to miss things. As writers, we tend to read what we intended to type rather than what we actually typed thus missing some errors.

The final answer to the question whether a writer should pay an editor depends on whether you are a hobby writer or a serious author looking for publication in the traditional market. Even if you aren’t looking for traditional publication now because you are writing something in the niche market that will not appeal to the average publisher, you want to make sure you don’t submit anything that is less than perfect because publishers communicate with each other. If you submit something that is full of errors you will not be well-received in the publishing industry the next time you are ready for publication.

 

Why Writers Choose Self-Publishing as their First Alternative

In spite of its growing popularity self-publishing still has a stigma attached to it in the traditional publishing world. Many supporters of this publishing format will attempt to encourage new authors to adhere to the practice by telling them if their book is good enough a traditional publisher will see it and perhaps offer them a contract to republish it traditionally. The reality is that this seldom happens, and one of the reasons that is besides the fact that traditional publishers do not search online or in bookstores for exceptionally talented self-published writers is because very few bookstores will stock self-published books. Why is there a hesitation on the part of bookstores? They are concerned about sales, so therefore they don’t want to stock books they are unable to return. Of course, if an author wants to provide the books on consignment to the bookstore they may succeed.

The big question is why so many novice writers are looking at self-publishing as the first option. Of course traditional publishers are taking fewer new writers, but that should make a writer work harder to produce work that is perfect, right? Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. That doesn’t mean all self-published writers produce inferior work, but the fact that so many do is why self-publishing is still looked down upon by agents and royalty-paying publishers. What are some of the reasons writers choose self publishing? From my own experience I have found the following major reasons from self published authors:

Total Control Over their Work

Novice and even some experienced writers seek total control over their work. They know publishers/editors will likely demand they adhere to certain guidelines. In addition, they don’t want to have to change anything in their work, even the most simple detail. This is their “baby,” and they are confident they know the best way to sell it.

Unfortunately what they don’t see is they are also sacrificing continuous sales of their work. They either think they know better than the publishers what is selling or they develop an unrealistic mindset that says they just want to tell a story and they don’t care about the public. I ask what kind of sense that makes: if you don’t write what the public wants to read you are not going to make any money. It doesn’t matter that you invested money into self-publishing and all the profits belong to you; you have to sell something to make a profit!

Lack of Confidence

Many unpublished writers do not have enough confidence to believe they will be accepted by an agent or publisher. They know the competition is strong, that they will be competing with authors who may have published dozens and even hundreds of books. They give up before they even make an attempt, developing the misconception that once their name is on a self-published book they will increase their potential for being accepted by a traditional publisher. Unfortunately in many cases quite the opposite happens.

Impatience

The turnaround time for traditional publishing can be as long as a year or more from the time of approval to the time the book arrives on the bookshelves. Even fiction writing that is complete must go through an extensive editing process before it is ready for printing. Novice writers become impatient, they want to see their work in print now–they want to KNOW they have captured the attention of an audience.

Fear of Rejection

One of the reasons many novice writers choose to self-publish is because they fear rejection. They don’t want to send out the query letters and book proposals only to find out their work is not good enough for traditional publishers or it isn’t what is currently selling in the market. Self-publishing allows them to avoid rejection before publication, but they don’t consider the fact that lack of sales is also a type of rejection.

Greed and Selfishness

Greed and selfishness are two other reasons both novice and seasoned writers choose to self-publish. Instead of paying commission to an agent to find them a publisher and living off the advance and royalties, they want the entire price of their book. They don’t want to share their profits with anyone, not even an agent or publisher. They would prefer to to pay substantial up front costs to self-publish and then attempt to recover their initial investment which frequently fails to happen. Of course, in today’s e-book market the costs are lower, but writers who restrict themselves to only one format are setting themselves up for failure.

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While there are certainly other reasons writers choose to self-publish, these are the ones I have noted from articles I’ve read and people with whom I have come into contact. That doesn’t mean all self-publishing is unnecessary; there are certainly times when it is justified such as those who are writing in a niche market that would not draw enough of an audience to interest a traditional publisher or if you have a great book but are unable to find a publisher after numerous attempts. If you do fall into those categories, you need to make sure you hire a good editor who will make sure your manuscript is well-written, grammatically correct and free of errors.

Writing for Content Mills: How it Can Affect Your Reputation as a Professional Writer

There are probably very few writers who have not been exposed to content mills at one time or another, especially those who have taken the steps to become full-time freelance writers either by choice or necessity. When you first start your writing career as a full-time freelancer it is natural to see dollar signs and not give it a second thought. In addition,  you think you have to begin by writing for free or making minimal pay just to test the waters and find your niche. Writing a few articles for minimal pay will help you get your foot in the door, but you still have to be careful where you post your articles.

One of the mistakes many novices make is becoming involved with content mills and not understanding the importance of looking for better paying writing gigs. They initially see this as a way to make money, but since most content mills hire freelancers on a work-for-hire basis, you are not accomplishing anything more than earning a few pennies on the dollar for the work you perform.  While some content mills pay larger amounts such as Demand Studios that pays $15 for a 400-500 word article and actually puts your name on the article, there are many that want to pay a penny a word or less with no credit to the writer.

The other tactic content mills want to take is pay-per-hit. They expect you to write a perfectly well-written article free of errors, perfect grammar, and well researched, but they don’t want to pay you for it unless people read it! This is a tactic Suite 101 employs completely while Demand Studios tries to encourage its writers to choose those articles from the article pool. They also want to hire writers that have substantial knowledge and experience even though they want to pay very little for those writers. In reality what they are hoping to find is highly experienced hobbyists.

As I already mentioned, there is nothing wrong with building your portfolio by writing for free or low pay, but you have to learn when to stop. You also have to understand that if you don’t receive a byline for the work you do it is not going to help you build a portfolio. Work-for-hire or ghostwriting means you sell the copyright to what you write in exchange for a previously agreed upon price. This means you cannot then or at any time in the future republish that manuscript anywhere either online or offline. If you are looking to build a portfolio writing for a content mill without a byline is not going to provide you with what you need.

Many writers who become involved with content mills doing work-for-hire tend to write articles and other material they would not ordinarily write under other circumstances.  For instance,  I prefer fiction writing but do non-fiction for a living. I would only ghostwrite fiction in genres in which I would not write for myself and even then I may not choose to do so. I once agreed to ghostwrite a fiction book based on the Mafia with the background information provided by the client. I began to have problems collecting what the client owed me for projects I wrote previously, so I told them I would not write the book. However, I have no interest in Mafia-related writing, so it was a genre outside of my interest.

This brings us to the question concerning how this might affect a budding author. If you aren’t getting a byline, you certainly cannot include that work in your portfolio unless you have permission from the author of record. On the other hand, if you receive a byline, isn’t that a good thing? While writing for free or small pay for a website can help build your reputation as an author, you have to look at the source. When I first started looking toward publication in the first five years of 2000, I wrote many articles for an online publication and even became an assistant editor-in-chief and major editor. However, as I began to look toward publishing other material, I had to re-evaluate my involvement since the publication in mind was more interested in quantity than quality.  I also believed it was time to move forward and begin looking for earnestly for paying gigs. However, if you can build your reputation writing a few articles for free for a reputable online or offline publication you will have clips and tear sheets you can use in your portfolio.

On the other hand if you write for content mills, even those that put your name on the work, you may be damaging your future potential. Most content mills are not looking for the high quality writing that is necessary for an author to obtain a contract with a literary journal or other high paying publication. In fact, many print and online magazines look negatively at authors who have published with content mills because in most cases the work is minimally edited and the majority of authors are just looking for a few extra dollars–these are popular outlets for college students and others just needing some extra money.

One of the problems is the content mills target those they know are unfamiliar with the effects of their involvement. I have written for my share and only recently discovered the real scope of the market and how it could affect my future as a professional writer. I won’t say I will never do it again because writing puts bread on my table, but I will be more selective with the clients for whom I write. In the meantime I am seeking other outlets for my work, clients who value my services and wish to pay me a living wage for my writing. After five years as a full-time freelance writer it is time to move forward in my career and look for higher-paying work and perhaps write one article for the same pay I previously received to write five or more articles.

Novice writers need to look to their future and evaluate what they what to do. If you are seeking a career as a writer content mills will have a negative effect on your future reputation. Keep in mind if you published articles in your college newsletter, those are clips you can use in your portfolio. Did you write for your church bulletin or other volunteer organizations? All of these outlets are sources of clips and will help your writing career much more than writing for the content mills.

Publishing: Making Choices that are Right for You

As a writer, I understand that what is right for me is not necessarily right for someone else. How to publish is a personal choice, but it is one that requires a great deal of research before reaching a decision. The problem with many novice (unknown) writers is they understand the competition, and they understand it will be difficult to find a traditional publisher but without doing any research or attempting to contact a publisher or agent, they immediately make the decision to self-publish. The problem I am seeing is many seasoned authors are encouraging these new writers to self-publish while failing to provide all the information they need to make the right decision.

I have to admit, I have not yet published a book though I have done a substantial amount of ghostwriting and have published many articles online. However, that doesn’t mean I am going to rush out and self-publish my first book even though at 58 I may only have 20 more years to earn my recognition. In today’s market there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing, and it is not confined to just publishers and agents. Many readers even hesitate to read self-published books because they are not certain of their literary worth. I have done it on occasion myself, especially if the book is from one of the vanity presses or from beloved Publish America, the latter of which is the lowest on my list of potential books to review. I attempted once to read a review copy from an author who published through Publish America and couldn’t get past the first page–the entire thing was narrative, no showing, all telling.

Where does that leave new authors, myself included? With digital technology there is an entire world out there–e-books, and you don’t have to pay someone to publish for you. What many people don’t know is there are many royalty-paying e-book publishers–you just need to take the time to search. You don’t need an agent even for a royalty-paying e-book publisher, and many of them even offer the option of publishing your book in print if it does well in e-book format. However, if you choose to pay to publish your e-book, you will face the same stigma you will if you self-publish your print book.

I have learned through various contacts over the past 8 years or so that self-publishing is not the way to go unless you fit into one of two categories:

  • You have attempted to publish your book traditionally without success and you believe in its worth.
  • Your book fits into a niche market that a traditionally publisher is unlikely to accept.

Unfortunately there are many people who disagree with this reasoning and feel it is strictly a personal choice. For some it’s a matter of having “control” over what they do. They talk about not allowing a publisher to take most of the profit from the book, but they fail to look at the big picture and what they receive in return for giving the publisher most of the cost of the book.

  • The publisher pays all the costs of printing and binding the book.
  • The publisher secures your copyright registration and ISBN number.
  • The publisher does much of the pre-release promotion and marketing for your book and helps you identify your target audience.
  • The publisher will help you arrange book-signings and distribute review copies of your book.

One of the biggest reasons many authors give for self-publishing is because they want to have complete control and because they don’t want to depend on someone else to do marketing and publishing. Even when you are traditionally published in today’s market, the publisher expects you to help market your book. The days of publishers doing all the marketing have faded into oblivion; besides, would you really want to depend on someone else to get your “baby” before the audience.

I am not telling you not to self-publish, but you do need to make sure you have all the information you need before you make that decision. You also need to understand you may be placing your career in a stalemate since many bookstores will not carry self-published books. If you only want to sell your books online, you are in a better position to self-publish, but if you want to see your books in bookstores at some point in your career, you should look at a royalty-paying e-book publisher that also offers print publishing. After that, PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE and never stop.

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