Submit One Manuscript at a Time

Tip: When you are submitting a manuscript to a publisher, do just that--submit A (as in, one) manuscript.

Just this week I've received 4 submissions of multiple manuscripts in multiple genres all at once. When I get an e-mail that has 18 attachments--that's 9 query letters and 9 FULL manuscripts, ranging from picture books to historical fiction to romance to gritty realistic drama--it makes my head spin. And I don't mean that in a good way.

There are just so many reasons why I don't like that.

Don't do this. Pick your best one and send it. If you get a positive response, but it's rejected because it's not a genre the publisher does, or they've already got one like it, or they ask what else you have, then query another manuscript.


Right of Refusal Clauses

[Okay, I'm done ranting. This is my real post for today.]

What is the purpose of a right of refusal clause in a publishing contract. They publish my first novel and then they want claims on everything I write for the rest of my life?

I have heard rumors that there are some publishers who ask for all rights to all your future works, but I have honestly never seen it in writing. Nor have I seen the non-compete clause that says if you end your contract with them you can't publish with anyone else for X number of years. (I've heard both 3 and 5.)

A good contract protects both parties given various eventualities. We have a right of first refusal clause in our contract that simply says to submit your next work to us first. If we reject it, you are free to shop it and any other subsequent projects to anyone you please.

A publisher takes a huge risk in signing a new, unknown author. Right of refusal compensates the publisher for taking that risk. It requires a certain level of marketing ($$$) to get your name and your book out there. It's not like you have a reading public waiting for your book to hit the shelves. We have to convince readers that they want to buy your book. Once you have a following, marketing becomes a little easier, with each new book advertising all previous books.

That said, right of refusal should only apply to the next novel and there should be some time limit on how long the publisher has to accept or reject.

And you should never, ever sign a contract with a "non-compete" clause that prevents you from submitting to or publishing with another publisher after the first contract is terminated. That is just wrong!

In my opinion, the only time a non-compete is ethical is if I (as the publisher) want a book written on a particular topic--say, 101 recipes using green jell-o--and I hire you to write this book according to certain specifications. Then I could say that if the contract is terminated before the book is published, you have to wait 1 or 2 years before you write and publish a book of recipes for green jell-o with another publisher. That's because it was my concept, my idea, and basically you are doing a work-for-hire.

But if Green Jell-o (Vol. 1) was entirely your idea, and I don't want to do Green Jell-o (Vol. 2), but my competition thinks it's groovy, then you should be free to take it to them the minute after you receive notification of rejection from me.

That doesn't mean you'll get the rights back to Green Jell-o (Vol. 1) if it's still selling. But there should also be a clause in your contract that states under what conditions the rights revert to you if I let Green Jell-o (Vol. 1) go out of print.

Make Sure I Can Reach You If I Want To!

Can I just rant here for a minute?

What is with authors and illustrators who either do not have an e-mail address, do not send it with their submission, or they never check their e-mail?

Or--and this one is very frustrating--they have a great website (that seems to be updated fairly regularly) with complete contact info--e-mails, phone numbers, fax number, P.O. Box. But none of them work! E-mails bounce back repeatedly or receive no reply, phone and fax disconnected, and no response to snail mail.

For weeks now, I've been trying to track someone down. I have a contract for them. I have a marketing plan. I have money I want to give them. And I can't reach them. This is nuts!

And guess what?! I stopped trying. I threw their whole folder in the rejection pile this morning. (Of course, they won't know they're rejected because I can't get a message to them.)

So, if you want to be a published author/illustrator/whatever, here are a few basic communication tips:

1. Get an e-mail address and check it daily.

2. Put multiple avenues of contact on every communication to an editor/publisher.

3. If you use a P.O. Box*, check it at least weekly.

4. If you have a website, be sure to include CURRENT contact information.*

Words of Caution:
  • Don't post your e-mail address. Spammers love this. Do it with a link.
  • Don't post your home address. Use a P.O. Box.
  • Don't post your home phone. If you have an e-mail address (and you check it) and a P.O. Box, that should be adequate.


2 Requests

1. I get a lot of really funny and/or clever comments sent to my e-mail. These are not questions or anything that requires a response from me, but are comments based on posts I've written or sparked by something someone else said in their e-mail or comment. PLEASE, please, consider posting these on this site in the comments trail, rather than sending them to me. I think others would like to read them too.

[Thanks, Beulah, for sharing the info on carpal tunnel relief in the comments trail. That's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. While not directly related to writing or publishing, many authors suffer from this affliction and I bet I'm not the only one starting a B6/flax regimen.]

2. Someone suggested I talk about publishing contracts. And I'd be happy to, but that's a HUGE area to cover. What about contracts are you most interested in? What do you want to know?


Critique This! #4


Dear Editor,

Hardly anyone gets off at the Regret exit unless they’re visiting relatives or having car trouble. But for single-again Jane Field, Regret, Wyoming may be her best last chance to build a secure home where she can raise her seven-year old twin daughters within the gospel.

Jane faces that challenge with skimpy finances, a derelict old farmhouse, disapproving non-member parents who urge her to “Come home”, her ex-husband’s gambling addiction, midnight mailbox mashers, power tools, skunks, and a meddling sister-in-law. She is so busy she has not noticed her twins, Hannah and Faith, are keeping a secret from her. A frightening secret about someone hiding in the derelict [Only use derelict once.] chicken coop behind their new “old” house. [Is this a horror story? Suspense?]

Into the mix, come Jane’s ailing and homeless ex-father-in-law and his little dog, Moxie. And Luke and Rosina, a young couple trapped Luke’s mother’s past. [This sentence doesn’t make any sense. Who is Luke? Who is Rosina? Why do we care?] Douglas Riley, the 11-year old who has been accidentally abandoned by his divorced parents [how in the world is a child “accidentally abandoned”? Is this a humorous novel?], and Sariah, the twins’ future step-sister. [step-sister because her Jane remarries or because her husband does?] [Incomplete sentence.]

As Jane rebuilds her life and her house, she learns a home is more important than a house but both must be set with sure foundations and framed with strong timber by supporting and unselfish parents. [Who are the parents? Hers? Does she marry and she and her new husband are the parents? This is confusing.]

Regret, Wyoming Jane [huh? This title doesn’t make any sense. Also, don't bold, just italicize the title.] is primarily intended for LDS women and emphasizes the importance of individual righteousness and strong family relationships in creating a gospel-centered home. It is the first in a collection of novels set in Regret, Wyoming and comprised of stories, some set in different time periods, about individual residents. [Generally, a series follows the characters, not the town they live in. I’m not sure this is a strong selling point.]

I'd be happy to send you a complete copy of the manuscript of Regret, Wyoming Jane for your review. [Review is not the word you want to use.] Thank you for your consideration and time. An SASE is enclosed for your reply.


The best thing about this query is the name of the town the book is set in, but you don’t mention if that title reflects an underlying theme—as in, we all have regrets, or we should never have regrets, or we only regret…whatever. Don’t waste that name. At the very least, make it a sub-theme.

Based on this query, I have to assume your book has no plot. Without a plot line, I have no clear sense as to what type of book this is. Is it a romance—does she marry the father of Sariah? Is it a literary novel, about growth and personal strength? Is it a mystery? Is it horror? If I don’t know what category to put it in, I have no idea if I can sell it our not.

You have too many characters in this query. Pick two or three of the strongest and then lump the others together in a generic category. These characters also have no clear and solid connection to the story. What about them? Does Jane learn and grow from her encounter with them? Are they all connected to a plot somewhere? Or do they just float in and out of her life? And the one character I’m interested in is the stranger in the chicken coop. From the set-up, this should be a key character and we need to know more about him/her. Is this a man Jane is going to fall in love with? An elderly, homeless woman? A child Jane befriends? Or a psychotic killer who intends Jane as his next victim?


Dear Editor,

No one chooses Regret, Wyoming as a destination unless they’re visiting relatives or having car trouble. But for recently divorced Jane Field, Regret, Wyoming may be her last best chance to build a safe and secure home where she can raise her seven-year old twin daughters, Hannah and Faith.

Jane’s new life in Regret begins to fall apart when her child support disappears due to her ex-husband’s gambling addiction. Coping with midnight mailbox mashers, skunks, and a meddling sister-in-law is trouble enough, but then Jane discovers that Hannah and Faith are keeping a secret—someone is hiding in the chicken coop behind their new “old” house.

Just as Jane is about to give in to discouragement, a handful of eccentric townspeople—including Luke and Rosina, who are trapped in the cycle of Luke’s mother’s past, and Douglas Riley, an 11-year old who has been accidentally abandoned by his divorced parents—teach Jane that a home is more important than a house, and both must be set with sure foundations and framed with faith.

Regret, Wyoming is a literary novel of 90,000 words, intended for LDS women. It emphasizes the importance of individual righteousness and strong family relationships in creating a gospel-centered home. It is the first in a collection of novels set in Regret, Wyoming. I'd be happy to send you the complete manuscript for your consideration. Thank you for your time. An SASE is enclosed for your reply.


Great Links

I've got some carpal tunnel or similar such thing going on, so I've had to take a typing break for a few days. Still resting the muscles, so this will be a short one. Here are a few of good writer links (not in any particular order). They are all from Writers Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers. Go check them out. And please, put links to your favorites in the comments section

*Disclaimer: In no way whatsoever do I endorse the products or classes sold and/or advertised on these sites. These links are for educational purposes only. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Agent Query (list of national agent profiles)

Angle on Writing (especially like their revision checklist)

Backspace--The Writer's Place (miscellaneous articles on writing and publishing)

Creativity for Life (articles on creativity)

Baby Names (popular names by year, since 1880)

The Dabbling Mom (writing tips for moms and others)

Fund for Writers (C. Hope Clark; huge site with lots of freebie info)

Verla Kay's Writer's Tips (geared to children's writers & illustrators, but good for everyone)

Write4Kids (this links to the page with the free articles)

Writer's Break (lots of free articles)

Writing World (link to the articles page)


Critique This! #3

Please give me feedback on my query letter! I'm panicking! Thank you for your time.


Dear Publisher/Editor, [I know you can’t properly address this particular version of your query, but when sending the real one, be sure to find out who to send it to and address it correctly—double check the spelling of the name.]

Brits and Pieces is a story about the power of love and the twists and turns it can take along its road. [its road? to what? to where?] This fiction/romance genre novel [fiction/romance is not a genre, per se; since your protagonist is kidnapped by a psycho stalker from her past, you may safely call this a romantic suspense, or perhaps a thriller romance. A fiction novel is redundant] has humor, tragedy and hope. [don’t tell me, show me]

Angie Carmichael never believed that famous singer Michael Winchester would actually read the Book of Mormon she sent him on a whim but when he requests to meet her after a concert, she agrees with enthusiasm. After an instant attraction, Michael invites her to be his personal guest on his concert tour rather than lose her to her boring life as a welfare worker in Las Vegas. Angie can hardly believe the turn her life has taken when she tells Michael that she has always wanted to pursue musical theater but could never overcome her vicious [find a different adjective] stage fright. With Michael's help, Angie is able to step into the concert when the soloist falls ill with no understudy. [Is this a single person concert? Or a theatrical musical production? or something in between?]. In doing so, Angie draws the attention of her former friend Michelle Davis. The attention turns deadly when Michelle feels threatened by Angie's relationship to the object of her obsession: Michael Winchester. As Angie fights to recover from the accidental death of her parents [what?! where did this come from? Is she recovering physically? was she in the accident with them? or is she recovering emotionally?] and the infidelity of her fiancé, [what?! another jolt. this needs to come sooner] Michael battles his own demons remaining from his painful divorce.

The murder of Michael's manager prompts Angie to feel responsible for his death [why? did she kill him?] in addition to her parents' [why? did she kill them too?] and she begins a rapid descent into shock climaxing with her own kidnapping by Michelle and Angie's escape. [this makes it sound like “her” and “Angie” are two different people.] Michelle is arrested and the new couple moves to England to recuperate. [what?! When did they get this close?] Michael's interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grows along with his feelings for Angie and soon he is baptized and proposes to Angie.
Through love and loss, Angie and Michael find each other only to wonder if it will last through eternity. [You end the book with some question about them being able to stay in love??]
This 94,000 word manuscript is completed and ready for review. I am currently a full time student in Las Vegas, Nevada and a Human Services caseworker. [how is this relevant?]

This query needs some work. Watch your sentence structure. Shorten them up, make them clear and concise and packing a full punch.

Your facts seem to be out of order. They don’t present a smooth story line. The query is choppy with surprises popping up in the wrong places. It leaves me with too many unresolved questions. In the rewrite below, I’ve made up some details. Replace them with the facts from your story.

After reading your entire query, I don’t get the “Brits” part of your title. Is this a typo? Or are you alluding to the fact that they go to England at the end of the book? And how long after they go to England does the book end? I can’t tell if that is the end of your story (in which case, the title doesn’t work) or if they go in the middle of the story and spend some time falling in love there (in which case, the title still doesn’t work—unless Michael is British, but there’s no mention of that anywhere.)

I know this is every woman’s fantasy, but I don’t buy the premise that a famous singer would ask to meet a stranger after the show, invite her to go on tour with him, that she would drop everything and go, and that she just happens to have the desire, the talent and the skill to replace the lead singer in the show. If this is indeed how you want the plot to unfold, you have to build in some credentials.


Dear LDS Publisher, [We’re assuming this is my real name.]

Brits and Pieces is a 94,000 word romantic suspense novel, featuring love and betrayal, murder and kidnapping, tragedy and hope.

Angie Carmichael’s life is a mess. Her parents have recently died in a suspicious car accident. She discovers that her fiancĂ© has been unfaithful. And the final straw, she loses her part-time job as the weekend warm-up singer at a local dinner theater—lately the only spot of joy in her life. Overwhelmed by grief, anger, guilt and betrayal, she jumps at the chance to escape her life as a welfare worker in Las Vegas (her day job) and go on tour with a musical theatrical group [I am not familiar enough with musical performances to know what to properly call this. But as the author, be sure to research this out and call it the correct thing.] starring none other than the British born tenor, Michael Winchester, her secret crush.

On a whim, Angie gives Michael a copy of the Book of Mormon and he actually reads it! He asks her to accompany him for a quick bite after a show and she agrees with enthusiasm. Michael confesses his own struggle with a painful divorce, and the relationship grows as both Angie and Michael learn to trust again.

Just as it seems they might be headed toward “happily ever after,” Angie is thrust into the spotlight when the soloist in the musical production falls ill and the understudy quits just before the curtain opens. Angie is the only one who can fill in at a moment’s notice. To everyone’s surprise, Angie is a hit and continues on in the role. Being the focus of a production like this is a thrill for Angie, but it has its drawbacks—namely the unwanted attention of former friend, Michelle Davis. The attention turns deadly when Michelle feels threatened by Angie's relationship with the object of her obsession: Michael Winchester.

Michael’s manager turns up dead, with all fingers pointing to Angie as the prime suspect. Even Michael has his doubts about her innocence, until Angie is kidnapped by Michelle. Angie escapes her captor and together, she and Michael find the evidence to expose Michelle as the true killer.

With Michelle in prison and the tour ended, Angie and Michael travel to England to recuperate and pick up the pieces of their relationship. Michael's interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to grow and soon he is baptized. His proposal to Angie testifies to the strength of true love and its ability to overcome tragedy and loss, replacing it with the hope for eternity.


Critique This! #2

Dear LDS Publisher,

I just came across your site and I'm so glad to see someone who doesn't use profanity in their critiques and comments. Thank you for creating this site. [You’re very welcome.]

I've been working on my novel, "Teen Romance" [not the real title] off and on for nearly 20 years. [Since this is not part of your actual query letter, I will not chastise you for including it here. However, this is not something you want to tell an agent/editor at this point in your conversation. Even if your novel is wonderful, it makes it seem like you will only be a ‘one-hit-wonder.’ I mean, at 20 years per novel, you’ve got time for what, 1 more? Two tops? Most publishers
are looking for a writer who can pump out a steady flow of pleasurable reading material.]

I've read everything I can get my hands on about how to write novels, and have tried to hone my craft to the point where I think my novel is ready to go to market. However, I've been struggling with my query letter. I've sent my queries out to numerous agents, all receiving pretty much the same response, "not for me." So, below represents my latest revision of my query. I'm hoping this one will work.

Any comments?


When 17 year old Mark Wilkerson is thrown free of the fiery crash that kills his family on the XYZ Bridge, his guilt, thinking he caused the accident, nearly tears him apart. [Sentence too long and convoluted. Why does he think he caused the accident?]

Before the accident, Mark had been popular [how do we know?] and talented [how? Give us concrete examples of this.] in his old school. Now living with his grandmother in a new town where the bridge [is this the killer bridge?] dominates the town’s skyline, he suffers from nightmares and visions [what kind? Does he become a psychic? Is this a paranormal story? Do the nightmares and visions have any impact on the plot?]. He meets Genie Lombardi who promises to help him overcome his phobia of the bridge [what is his phobia? Can’t cross it? Can’t look at it? What makes her think she can help him and how does she plan to help him?], and soothe his tortured conscience [how?]. But her ex-boyfriend, Jeff Marino, wants her back and will do anything to get her away from Mark, including killing Mark - or her if he must. Knowing of Mark’s phobia, Jeff kidnaps Genie, and Mark has to overcome his fear of the bridge to try to save the girl he loves. [Sentence structure needs work. This implies a non-existing relationship-—because of Mark’s phobia, Genie is kidnapped.]

The "Teen Romance" is set in the small . . . town where I grew up. The XYZ bridge, known for dense fog, multi-car pile-ups, and even suicides, inspired many of the elements of this story. At 73,000 words, this book is a romantic/suspense novel written primarily for young adults.

I recently finished my young adult novel "Teen Romance" and am trying to find a good agent or publisher. [Of course you are. You don’t need to say that here.] You can check out my website at: www.thanks_but_no_thanks.com [We don’t have time to go check out websites. Put your important info in your query and let it speak for itself. The only time I care about what’s on your website is when we’re ready to market the book.]


In the summer, my kids and I have a movie day once a week, so I get to see lots of trailers. At least once during the previews, I lean over and whisper to one or another of my kidlets, “This could be good or it could be [insert disparaging word here].” If there’s nothing in the commercial to convince me I want to plunk down my hard-earned cash to go see the movie, it does not bode well for the full experience.

Unfortunately, I feel the same way about your query letter. Your book could be good or it could be same-old, same-old. There’s not enough meat in your commercial to make me want to explore more deeply. There’s no hook.

Also, keep an eye on your sentence structure. If you’re unsure of what I'm talking about, find a critique group or a friend who’s a strong grammarian to go over it. If your manuscript is written in the same tone and style, it will need some work too.

This is a 90 pound weakling query. There’s not enough here for me to work with. Pump it up with action, involve the senses, get those descriptive juices flowing. Feed it some steroids and send it to me again.


Poems Are Not Profitable

I've been shopping a book of poetry to every publisher I can think of and they all say they really like my work, but then they pass. What's wrong? Are they just being polite?

If they all say they like your poetry, then chances are they're not just being polite. It's probably good stuff.

So why are they passing? Because books of poetry are extremely difficult to sell.

Unless you've got a unique angle, you'd probably do better breaking up your collection and selling individual pieces to magazines.


Critique This! #1

Here is a sample query letter that I'm hoping you can critique for me. All advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Dang! (oops, that isn’t a swear word, is it? Because I promised.) I was hoping to get a really bad query letter first out of the chute so I could rip it to shreds with my clever repartee. (No, “clever” is not redundant, it’s emphasis.) Actually, this one isn’t too bad. Just a few comments (in red).


Hang on! (Not sure what this is. Is it the title of the book or a new way to say “Dear Publisher/Editor”?)

When Jonathon Bradford reluctantly accompanies his father on a research trip to Peru he learns the eerie legend – the entire Inca nation vanished overnight. Some claim they fled from their enemies by takingtheir gold and sacred mummies into secret caverns carved deep in the Andes Mountains. Jonathon isn’t sure he believes the stories until a wrong step plunges him deep into an underground labyrinth.

If you are looking for a manuscript that can run in a national market, this YA thriller can set the pace. Suspense begins on the very first page and moves through the entire 62,000 word story. Readers willfind themselves buried deep in an actual Peruvian legend alongside the book’s young hero. (Wrong place for this paragraph. It breaks up your storyline.)

Trapped inside the deadly tunnels, Jonathon struggles to survive tomb traps, depravation (what kind?) and his own fears when he discovers the legendary mummies do exist. He also stumbles into a modern-day terror, the Shining Path Terrorists of Peru. Now, with more at stake than just his own life, (not being familiar with current Peruvian terrorists, I’m not certain what else is at stake here) he escapes the tunnels only to find himself pursued by a growing evil that claims the lives of all those who try to stop it. Desperate to live, Jonathon must decide if he can trust the young Peruvian pointing a rifle at him. (Huh? Where’d he come from? Why would Jonathon even consider trusting him? Isn’t he one of the bad guys?) Can he follow the terrorist back inside the tunnels? (Does he have a choice?)

Filled with plot twists, mummies and hardened terrorists, (already said this) the story drops Jonathon into an ever-growing maze of danger where he is forced to rely on his wits, his courage and the words of his father just to survive. Research (love it when fiction writers do their homework!) into South American tomb traps, Peruvian history, culture and actual legends gives the story credence and multi-cultural interest. This manuscript can work as a single title or grow into an adventure/thriller series. (Good--you’re thinking ahead, but not too far ahead. Don't try to pitch an entire series on your first query. A simple mention like this is adequate.)

I had the opportunity to live in Peru (great! A personal fact that actually has bearing on the story) and found myself fascinated by their legends of ancient passageways boring through the vast mountain realms. This manuscript brings that legend to print along with the sights and sounds of a culture I cherish and deeply respect. (This is assumed to be the case with good writing.)

I have been published both as a fiction and non-fiction writer (is this in addition to the publications listed next? If so, be more specific.) and have written for various national and international publications including Reader’s Digest, Highlights For Children, Parenting Magazine, and more. I have also written scripts for radio and video production. (Were they produced?) Currently I work as a copy editor and write a weekly family values column (where? If it’s a paper or magazine, cite it. If it’s your personal blog, delete it.).

Enclosed is a synopsis (Wonderful!) and three sample chapters from the story (Good. Saves a lot of time. Hopefully they’re the first three chapters) for your consideration. The completed manuscript is available for your review. (Manuscript is finished. That’s good.) Thank you for your time and consideration. (This is always so nice.) I look forward to hearing from you.



You’ve got a good tone. I was intrigued. Even though it rambles and repeats a little, it’s good enough as is that I would read the enclosed chapters. However, I’d suggest cutting it so it fits on 1 page.


Dear LDS Publisher,

If you are looking for a YA thriller that can run in a national market, Hang On! can set the pace. Suspense begins on the very first page and moves through the entire 62,000 word story. Readers will find themselves buried deep in an actual Peruvian legend alongside the book’s young hero.

When Jonathon Bradford reluctantly accompanies his father on a research trip to Peru, he comes face to face with the eerie legend of the vanishing Incas—complete with hidden gold treasure, sacred mummies, and secret caverns carved deep in the Andes Mountains. Jonathon doesn’t believe this legend for a second, until a wrong step plunges him deep into an underground labyrinth.

Trapped inside the deadly tunnels, Jonathon struggles to survive tomb traps, impending starvation, and his own fears when he discovers the legendary mummies do exist. He also stumbles onto a modern-day terror, the Shining Path Terrorists of Peru who embody a growing evil that claims the lives of all those who try to stop it. Now, with more than just his own life at stake, Jonathon must escape an ever-evolving maze of danger where he is forced to rely on his wits, his courage and the words of his father to survive.

Just as escape seems possible, Jonathon finds himself looking down the barrel of a rifle. But things are not always as they seem. Can he trust this young Peruvian terrorist who claims [insert something here] and follow him back inside the tunnels to [insert something here]?

I had the opportunity to live in Peru and found myself fascinated by their legends of ancient passageways boring through the vast mountain realms. Research into South American tomb traps, Peruvian history, culture and actual legends gives the story credence and multi-cultural interest. This manuscript can work as a single title or grow into an adventure/thriller series.

I am a published fiction and non-fiction writer, having written for national and international publications including Reader’s Digest, Highlights For Children, Parenting Magazine, and more. I have also written scripts for radio and video production. Currently I work as a copy editor and write a weekly family values column in [name the publication].

Enclosed is a synopsis and three sample chapters from the book for your consideration. The completed manuscript is available for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Feel free to use any of my suggestions, verbatim or otherwise, in the revised query letter you actually send out.

(Sometimes it's a disadvantage being anonymous. I'd really like to see this one. Maybe I'll get lucky.)


Let's See Your Marketing Plan

So I've been looking at some publishers websites for submission guidelines and some of them want me to submit a marketing plan. What's that about? I thought the publisher did that.

Well, yes, the publisher does a lot of marketing. But that doesn't mean we don't need your ideas too. Nobody knows your book better than you do--who better to think of ways to market it?

When a publisher asks for your marketing plan, what we're trying to determine is if you're willing to support our efforts. Will you do book signings and interviews? Will you go out and hustle up some interest? Yes, we can sell your book without you (if it's really good) but it's much easier if you help out. Your excitement, your love of your story, the characters, will go a long way in selling your book.

Not too long ago, I got two submission ideas. One author made it clear that he didn't really want to do much in the way of marketing himself. He wanted to be that romantic recluse who churned out literary masterpieces from some mountain top in Idaho, and I was to do all the rest. The other submission came with no less than two pages of 10 point type, single spaced, bulleted summaries of marketing ideas.

All else being even, who do you think should get the contract?


Large Press vs Small Press

Just read an older post on Evil Editor where he talks about the advantages and disadvantages of large and small publishing houses. Although all LDS publishers, by definition, are "smaller" houses, we still have our own distinction within the market between larger houses (namely, Deseret Book, Covenant, Cedar Fort...) and smaller houses (namely, me)--and Evil Editor's remarks hold true.

If you'd like to read his piece, click here:
Large Press, Small Press, Short Press, Tall Press

Unfortunately, he doesn't have his blog set to assign each piece it's own URL, so this takes you to the April archive and you'll need to scroll down to April 27th's post.

(I mostly like this blog, but occassionally, he is crass and impolite. Hence, the "Evil" part of his nom de plume. So read with caution.)

And speaking of Evil Editor, he critiques query letters. That's kind of cool. I'm willing to do that too. If you'd like my critique of your query letter, e-mail it to me with "Critique This" in the subject line. I'll post your letter, sans identity, with comments. (Expect responses in the vein of E.E., but I won't swear, ever. I promise.)

Let's Talk Actual Numbers

In your last post you said that in the LDS market, “the total number of copies you can sell are limited” as compared to a national market. What numbers are we talking about here? How many actual books could I realistically expect to sell in the LDS Market?

Uhmm, that depends on how well your book is written, the timeliness of the topic, the brilliance of your marketing plan, and how pretty the cover is.

A few years ago I was at a convention where several book and movie people were holding a panel discussion and that very question was raised. The consensus of the panel was that although our Church membership is much larger, the LDS buying public is really only about 3 million, with 1.5 million in the U.S. They estimated that the average product would capture between 1 and 10% of the U.S. market, so 15,000 to 150,000 units.

If I could guarantee that I’d hit that 1% mark every time, I’d be in seventh heaven. That would mean I could do a print run of 10,000 and cut my per book cost way down. And it would mean that every title I brought out would not only break even, but it would also make a little profit. Anything over that would be gravy.

That’s a great goal to shoot for, but in my experience many LDS titles don’t even sell through a first printing of 2,500 copies—or they take so long to sell through that the profit is eaten up in other expenses.

Then again, others are still picking up speed when they hit that 150,000 mark.

So, practically speaking, I’d say you want to plan your P&L based on selling 2,500 units. Plan your marketing strategy on 10,000. And plan your hustle for 150,000+.


Subsidy Publishing Pt. 2--"Author Assisted" Publishing Through a Legit Publishing House

Is it a good idea for new authors if it's a reputable publisher. Also, if a publisher asks for $4000, is it too much? Do you suppose all of that money goes toward the publishing of the book?

Based on the last half of your question, I’m assuming you’re referring to an increasingly common option offered by legitimate publishing houses who will publish a book if the author puts up some of the money. Many houses, agents, editors and authors are appalled by this trend. I know some people in the industry who insist that money flows to the authors, always, period, no exceptions whatsoever. And ideally, this is indeed how it should be. But there are two legitimate reasons for asking an author to share in the risk of publishing—particularly in a small niche market like ours.

But before we get to that, you need to understand that when you publish in a small and limited market, like we do, the per book production price is higher**, the total number of copies you can sell are limited, lifetime of the book is shorter, the avenues to reach the consumer are limited, the cost of marketing to a scattered demographic are higher, and yet, we can only price our book so high because in the consumer’s mind, we are competing with a national market. Therefore, the overall risk is higher, causing us to take a pass on “good” books, and concentrate on the “better” books. (Who decides on the criteria of good vs better books is a whole ‘nother post.) If you write “good” books for this market, you may be called upon to share in the risk.

Without knowing the specifics of your book, the publisher you’re negotiating with, their contract, whether this is a rare practice with them or fairly common, etc., it’s hard for me to say if this is a good idea for you or not. Our company does, on occasion, offer this option, but it’s extremely rare. The only time we do so is when we’d love to accept the book under the traditional publishing process, but 1) Our publishing budget is already committed for the year and it’s a timely topic that we feel needs to be on the bookshelf soon; and/or 2) It’s a midlist/backlist title—meaning we could probably sell a few thousand, but it’s not going to be a money-maker and it will probably not go into a second printing.

Under no condition do we make this offer on a book that is poorly written. We have our reputation to consider. If your book stinks, you could offer me a million dollars and I wouldn’t take it. (Well... maybe I would take a MILLION dollars, but I certainly wouldn’t sell my reputation as a publisher for only $4,000.)

On the extremely rare occasion when we do make this offer, we pay for all the pre-press and marketing costs and the author pays for the printing costs. We have the author write their check directly to the printer—the author absolutely knows what his/her money is paying for. Then, as we sell the books, we pay the author the standard royalty PLUS we reimburse them for the cost of printing the book. If the book sells through, they get their entire investment back and we pay for all subsequent printings. If the book doesn’t sell, then at some point we give them the remaining copies of their book to sell or give away as they please. At no point does the author ever reimburse us for our share of the expenses.

So if the contract is something like this, and you have the money, and you believe in your book, and you trust the publishing company to market your book the same as the books they’ve fully invested in, and you’ve tried every other publisher in the market, and those other publishers have liked the book but just don’t feel it fits their needs (ie: they’re rejecting it due to causes other than quality of the manuscript) then you might want to consider taking the risk. But if you don’t feel good about it, then definitely do not do it. (Also, just to be safe, have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry read through the contract before signing it.)

Now, as to the $4000 all going toward publishing? Yes, I’m sure it does. “Publishing” refers to everything involved in getting your manuscript onto the bookstore shelf—and that costs much more than $4,000. We budget a MINIMUM of $10,000 per title—and that’s for a small print run. If you mean does the entire $4,000 go toward printing costs, then the answer is still yes. Our smallest print runs are 2,500 and the per book charge in that quantity averages $2.** But if you want to make sure, ask for an itemization of the budget and what the $4,000 will be applied to. If you’re investing in your book, you have every right to know how that investment will be used.

** Price per book is the answer to 90% of the questions concerning the nuts and bolts of publishing in the LDS market. For a price comparison of our per book costs with that of a large national, see this estimate on book pricing from Anna Louise at Live Journal
"...the more books we can print, the cheaper it is to print them. It's too bad we're only printing 35,000 copies...because if we were printing 100,000 copies...then instead of paying $.5513 per book for the PP&B [paper, print, binding], we'd be paying $.3944, and that would be with both foiling and embossing on the cover, instead of just a plain matte finish."

Subsidy Publishing Pt. 1--The True Vanity Press

Can you talk a little about subsidy publishing. Is it a good idea for new authors if it's a reputable publisher. Also, if a publisher asks for $4000, is it too much? Do you suppose all of that money goes toward the publishing of the book?

Are you asking about a true subsidy press (aka VANITY press), which will print anything—regardless of quality—for a fee, does no editing, very little or no marketing, and is basically just a printer or POD company (like Press America, Author House, lulu.com, etc.)? Or an author subsidy/assisted publishing program offered by a legitimate publishing house?

Let’s talk about the true subsidy/vanity press first. I rarely recommend using these types of programs for the reasons stated in their description above. They will “publish” anything that arrives with the appropriate payment. They rarely do any editing. They do no design, or they only do stock design. Most of the time they take the files you send and print them as is, warts and all. For this reason, most distributors and bookstores won’t touch these titles with a 10 foot pole. (Also because it is assumed the reason you had to go vanity is that the quality of your manuscript is seriously lacking.)

But let's say you’ve had your book professionally edited, designed and typeset, and it is now virtually wartless. It’s still not a good idea. Your price per book will be too high to give you the needed profit margin to allow the book to be sold in a traditional bookstore.

The only time this option is a good idea is if your book speaks to a very small niche market, you want to print in quantities of 100 or less at a time, you have direct access to the consumer, and you don’t need to sell through a bookstore—for example, if you’re a public speaker in a tightly focused market, and you sell your books after your speaking engagements.

And is the $4,000 too much? It depends on how many copies you are getting, but probably, yes, it is way too much. If you do decide to go this route, I recommend lulu.com. They are a true POD press and only make money when you buy/sell the book. But read all the fine print very carefully.


Free Money for Writers!

Did I get your attention? I hope so, because I want to stress a recommendation I frequently make to authors upon acceptance of their manuscripts. (I sometimes also mention this in the process of rejection, if I think it will do any good.)

Every serious writer needs to buy a copy of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (latest edition) by Tom and Marilyn Ross. (No, it's not just for self-publishers, so keep reading.) (And no, don't check it out from the library--you'll want you own copy to dog-ear, highlight, and keep nearby for regular referencing.) In addition to all the wonderful information on publishing (and as a published, soon-to-be-published, or published-wanna-be author, you are part of the publishing business and you need to educate yourself)...uhm, I got lost in that aside, where was I? Oh, yeah.

In addition to all the wonderful information on publishing, each chapter ends with a section called "Web Sites, Wisdom and Whimsey." These sections alone are worth the price of the book!

Just to whet your appetite, here's a sample:

Dynamite discussion groups for grants are online. By hopping over to http://groups .yahoo.com[*], you can search for two informative chat forums that deal specifically with grants and information for writers. Enter "fundsforwriters" in the search field to subscribe to the group that talks about grants, contests, sources of partnerships, and the like for wirters making a living through their passion for words. By searching on "FFWJunior"** you can join a smaller network that provides a weekly list of easier to achieve grants, awards, and other funding information. (p.111)***

Free money isn't the only good tip you'll find in this book. They also have ideas for marketing and promotion. For example, have you thought of teaching a class which introduces some of the basic ideas or concepts discussed in your book? According to this book, "Writing an information-based book makes you an instant 'expert.' ...Many authors begin by teaching courses on the subject..."

This is a great idea and has been used successfully by several of my authors. One author teaches classes at her local grocery store and library. Another does workshops and seminars all over the U.S. and Canada. These classes lead to increased book sales--both immediately after the class, and later as your students help spread the word.

And this is not just for non-fiction, how-to's. I have an author who has created a tie-in to the title of her fiction book. She starts with a humorous intro, reading a few excerpts from her book, then speaks more seriously on topics related to home and family. Another author wrote a fictional story about a woman in an abusive marital relationship. She often lectures on how to recognize abuse and what to do about it.

Think about your book. Brainstorm a list of topics or spin-offs based on your title and/or story line. Make a list of at least 20 ideas for workshops or seminars. Then refine the list to a couple of areas you are most interested in. Create a presentation and practice it on your friends and family until you're ready to go public. Make sure you mention your book at the beginning, the end, and wherever appropriate in your presentation. When applicable, use scenes from your book as supporting examples of your main topic points.

Now, who might be interested in a free lecture**** or workshop on your topics? High schools, PTA groups, senior centers, community ed--the possibilities are endless. Do a little research and start contacting people to schedule events. Advertise on your website or blog that you're willing to do speaking engagements and be sure to include how to contact you. And start telling everyone you know--friends, family, neighbors--that you're available to speak.

*Since this printing, they have moved to Zinester.com. Or you can go straight to www.fundsforwriters.com

**Now called
FFWSmallMarkets (at Zinester) or link here for the latest issue

***I'm looking at the 4th edition

****While gaining experience, offer to do your lectures for free. If you need to travel, it is appropriate to ask for expenses to be reimbursed--that is, actual mileage, plane tickets, and motel costs. Some authors never charge for the actual speaking engagement, feeling this is a service they do to the community and that they will be repaid for their time through book sales. Other authors who are in high demand have determined they must charge for their time because it takes them away from other income-producing activities (their day job).


Are Dumpy Divas and Clunky Hunks Allowed?

I was wondering if there is a certain requirement for romance novels that the two main protagonists have to be incredibly good-looking, thin, and sexy. What if I were to write about a romance between a girl who isn't the best-looking one of the bunch, maybe even a bit chunky, and a man whose ears stick out and who's going bald? It's not currently in my plans for the future, but I was just wondering. I don't read romance on the whole, but whenever I have, I couldn't help but notice how physically perfect the protagonists were. Maybe it's just me, maybe I just notice it because I'm not exactly model-thin or model-pretty. Do you think anybody besides me would go for a romance between "average-looking" characters, or have such books tried and failed, because everybody wants to live vicariously when reading, so that they can experience what it's like to be thin and beautiful, and get the best-looking guy?

I have to admit, I'm not the definitive voice on romances. I don't read romance for fun (only profit). When one comes across my desk, I always make sure I get a second opinion from someone who loves the genre.

My guess is that romance readers want to imagine themselves in the role of the heroine--flowing tresses, lithesome figures, and all. If the heroine is too much like the average reader then what's the point? But I could be wrong.

I do read romantic mystery novels, but they have a little more leeway in the area of required physical beauty. A national series that comes immediately to mind is the one by Diana Mott Davidson--the caterer turned murder mystery sleuth. She describes herself as plump and plain. Now, it's more mystery than romance so maybe it doesn't count.

An LDS example is Walker's Gold by Shirley Bahlmann. The heroine describes herself as plain, clumsy and overweight. Again, that's a romantic mystery, so romance rules may not apply.

I'm sorry I can't give you a better answer. Maybe a reader who knows romance well can chime in here and let us know if there are any memorable romantic "anti-heroes."


I Love My Job!

Back from another convention. This one was a 15 hour day, on my feet, selling and promoting books. For those who say publishers never promote/market books, let me just say, "thluuuubbbb!" That's the sound of polite but sincere raspberries. It's also the sound of my swollen ankles deflating.

I love promoting "my" books. (Yes, they're really yours, but they're mine too because I love them.) I love the energy. I love seeing the spark in the eyes of the buyers I'm courting--the moment I know I've hooked them. (I know it about 3 seconds before they do.) I love that sense of mission accomplished. And I love e-mailing my authors afterward and giving them quotes from the people who bought their books. That is fun. It's the second funnest part of my job.

The first funnest part is creating, editing, polishing, designing...in other words, being midwife to the birth of your soul baby. That is the reason I was born. I love my job.

I just thought it was important to share that with you, to help dispel the myth that we editors and publishers are just a cranky old bunch of snooty writer wannabees.

P.S. To those of you who were expecting some posted entries to my writing prompt contest, apparently no one felt like playing this week. That's okay. We'll try it again another time.


Turn Your Vacation Into Book Sales

It's summer! That means vacations and travel plans for most of us. Did you now that as an author you have the ability to write off some, if not all, of your vacation costs as a legitimate, tax-deductible business expense?*

It's true! Plan a book signing, workshop or fireside at the location you're visiting and you can call it a business trip. It only takes a few hours away from your vacation time, and it's a great way to boost book sales and earn a few tax deductions. For example, the last time I visited my family (out of state), I gave a fireside in my home ward on a topic from one of my books. It was a wonderful experience. I got to share something I believed in with people I have known and loved all my life. It boosted sales of that particular book in that area. And my plane ticket was a business expense.

In some cases, you can also write off a trip as research for a new book. This works well for fiction writers who want to regionalize their book (ex: visting Nauvoo to research the setting for a historical novel) or if you need to interview someone in the location you're visiting (ex: interview your grandparents, then use that as an example in a book on writing personal or family histories).

Think creatively. I'll bet you can come up with several ways your vacation can be turned to a business advantage.

*This posting is to help spark ideas for combining business with pleasure. The examples cited may or may not be legal deductions in your personal situation. This post is not to be considered accurate tax advice or information. Consult your accountant for details on deducting legitimate business expenses.