Friday, April 8, 2016

Getting Published...Ugh! (Part One: Submitting)

As a companion to my first "On Writing" series:

The Art of varies (Part One: The Idea)

The Art of varies (Part Two: The Outline)

The Art of varies (Part Three: The Writing)

I bring you another three parter, this one called: Getting Published...Ugh! (Submitting, Rejection, Published) detailing my experiences in the publishing world and all its fine nuances.

Before we go further it should be noted that I am an "Indie Author", meaning, for you lays out there, that I've had my stuff published by small publishers/magazines and/or have self-published my work. I've done both, but bigger commercial houses have always been and still are my goal. In the meantime: I'm a writer, so I must write...and all writers need an audience no matter how large or small.

Okay, so let's get to it. Here's Getting Published...Ugh! (Part One: Submitting)

For this example I will be using my sci-fi novel, The Vatters of Klon. Okay, so you've written a novel, or a short story, or a novella, or something in between, now what? For the most part, we have four options: Submit to a Big House, a Small House, Self-Publish, or File The Story Away in your secret stash. (We NEVER do Vanity, no, no. If we get paid to write, we must never pay to publish).

It should be an easy decision but this is where some people get stuck. The common thought if you're a new or little-known author is to submit to the smaller houses or mags for a greater chance of being offered a contract. This is somewhat true but it's not the hard and fast rule. Nevertheless it's a sentiment I followed when I first started submitting my work, to much success, starting with my currently out-of-print fantasy novelette,  The Enigma of The Master Stone, which had been published by the now defunct Sorcerous Signals Magazine, in 2007, and leading up to my most recent, The Vatters of Klon by Double Dragon Publishing, published in 2015.

But in truth, where to submit should actually be dictated by your goals. My goal isn't to be the next Stephen King, or Robert Jordan, or Timothy Zahn; I want to be the first Jason J Sergi.
I want to share my weird and twisted stories with the masses, I want to make those stories the best they can be and grant them the highest validation possible. To achieve this goal, back between 2004-2009, my mission plan was to submit to the smaller houses, use them as kind of a front door to get in, get big, and then head over to the big guys, like an amateur boxer learning his craft before going professional. I should also add that during this time that I had a phobia of agents, the literary kind, because I read/heard that many weren't on the up-and-up, so I avoided them like a girlfriend on a shopping trip.

That was then.

What changed my philosophy was when I used to follow David Farland's Kick In The Pants, his sort of Writers' Resource/ Advice Program for writers, and something I learned a lot from. Anyways, on one of his Kick in The Pants segments, he addressed the issue of Where To Submit? and whether new writers should start with small houses, or some of the bigger traditional houses; his answer was (and I'm paraphrasing heavily here) "Why start at the bottom? If you start at the bottom, you risk staying at the bottom, so why not start at the top?"

It's all clear to me now. My hindsight's excellent but my foresight had been plagued with "Good ideas" and "Clear intentions" all my life. I will expand on this below.

So I finished writing The Vatters of Klon in the summer of 2010.
Using my new "Start From The Top" philosophy, I submitted first off to DAW Books, my reasons being a) I've read and liked many of the authors DAW Publishes, and b) I didn't need an agent to do so.

Returning to the main point of this post: the main thing new writers fret about when submitting to any house, large or small, is FORMAT.  Basically, to start off, you should begin your manuscript (or MS, as we say in the biz) in Standard Manuscript Format. What's that? The format genius William Shunn explains it here in perfect detail. Most editors will want your MS in Standard Manuscript Format, but others will want something totally different while a few others will make you jump through hoops. The main thing when submitting to any publisher is: FOLLOW THEIR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES TO THE LETTER. No matter how arbitrary or asinine, just do it. They have their reasons, and if you want them to pay you, then do as they say.

In addition to the most important thing, your MS, your submission package should also include a cover letter and a synopsis of the MS, at minimum. Individual editors might want more or less, depending on their specific guidelines.

The cover letter is basically you introducing yourself to the editor. Might sound simple, but there are a few guidelines you should follow. For one, make sure you address the right editor. Many editors don't care if you begin with Dear Editor but it's better if you take the extra effort into finding a name. They're there, even if you have to dig. Makes it less impersonal.

Content: short and straight to the point. Tell the editor exactly what your submitting, genre, word count, title, etc, etc, put in a few writing credits for a resume, anything else the editor might have asked for in the guidelines, such as a short bio or pic, and then say thank you and get the hell out. Editors don't have time to read a massive letter filled will useless information about how great your story is. Being concise and informative is the way to go.

But let's go back to writing credits for a sec. Logic dictates that if you've had your work published by any publisher, that work should count as a "writing credit" right? Not so, believe it or not. Unless you're the proud owner of an indie bestseller, if your work hasn't been published by an SFWA Approved house then your "writing credits" simply don't count when submitting to the big boys. Mine as well just write: blah, blah, blah. (I will get into this more in my next post: Getting Published...Ugh! Part Two: Rejection) And while I don't necessarily agree with this sentiment, I do see why.

Most of the indie houses I've worked with have given my books the briefest of edits. I edit the shit of my books but I'm sure each MS could still use plenty of improvement from another set of trained eyes. Also, some other houses seem to only want to expand their catalogue, regardless of quality. Which means your book gets lost in the sea of mediocrity and crap. So, I get it. Just another reason to shoot for the big houses, I guess.

Oh, and back to agents! I no longer avoid them. On the contrary, I've been whoring myself out to them to no avail. Repeat after me: AGENTS ARE AWESOME! For other writers looking for agents as well, this site seems pretty legit:Agent Query. The same general rules apply when submitting to agents as they do to editors so, bonus.

IF ANY AGENTS OUT THERE ARE READING THIS: HELP ME! (collapses sheepishly to sob into my arms)

Okay, so now you have your submission package in order, its time to send it off. Oh, and make sure to only send it to one editor at a time unless they state otherwise, as simultaneous submissions are mostly frowned upon, wink wink. No but seriously, don't do it, wink wink.

Like I said, I sent The Vatters of Klon off to DAW Books back in 2010, but then what? Time to play the waiting game, My least favorite game of all.

Keep an eye out for my next post: Getting Published...Ugh! (Part Two: Rejection) 

PS: Here's a good resource for writers looking for a home for their projects:  Ralan

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