Novel Writers; Poem Writers; Magazine Article Writers

Let me get the most important issue out of the way, right from the start.

If any publisher or literary service organization / business charges you money to read your material, or charges you money to publish your material, or offers to rewrite your material for a fee, you are being screwed!


There are many confidence scams out there preying upon authors who are ignorant and gullible. If you must pay to get your material published, it must not be good enough to be published: get a job selling burgers at some fast-food joint instead.

The one exception is paying for the services of a literary agent, who works damn hard placing your material. But the time to get an agent is AFTER you have sold some of your material. If you do not have a history of selling your material, the agent will probably require from you a fee to read your material: this is fair. After all, why should he or she spend her or his time reading your material if it is crap? (And yes, the vast majority of unsolicited material is crap.)

If the agent tells you your material is crap, believe it. I don't care if your friends and family tell you otherwise. A literary agent (just like publishing editors) knows what is good work and what is shit. If they offer advice, take it (within reason), even if you believe the agent is wrong: advice from a literary agent is worth money to you, the writer.

Literary agents usually get a percentage of sales. This means that if your material is good, and they know it, they have an excellent motive for working hard for you: your success is their success.

The First Step
The first step in selling your material is NOT to start writing: it is to find a buyer! Write query letters to editors and publishers, and ask for "Writer's Guidelines." Below are links to six examples of Writer's Guidelines. They are just examples: all editors and publishers have different wants and needs.

If you do not have a target buyer, or a target audience, you are wasting your time writing. You do not wish to write a large manuscript and send it off to Woggawogga Books, just to find that they have no interest in the subject of the manuscript, do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, and do not pay well, and that they clearly say so in their Writer's Guidelines (which you didn't bother reading.).

Get a copy of Writer's Market. This is a thick book that is published every year. Inside you will find the name of the editors to submit manuscripts to, their addresses, and a brief synopsis of what the businesses publish and where to write to for Writer's Guildes. If you do not write for a target audience / publisher you will not succeed selling your material.

Once you have found a target publisher, purchase and read some back-order magazines that they have published, or review the types of books they have published in the past. For poetry (and Goddess help you if you actually believe you are going to sell poetry!), read any published anthologies the publishing house may have previously released.

Learn The terms
If you cannot speak the language, you may have difficulty talking with editors and publishers. It is helpful to know the basics. A Selected Glossary of Publishing & Literary Terms

Know What Sells
Does your manuscript contain many themes, such as combining cooking hints, gardening hints, poetry, and anecdotes about your pet dogs? THROW IT AWAY. It is crap, and not worthy of publication. Indeed, you should be hauled out into the street and shot for such behavior.

A manuscript must be lean. Fat-free. Not just low-fat: no fat! It should say only what is required to tell the story, explain the subject, or relay the message. If you have too many ideas for one book, write more than one book: don't put them all into one book and hope they will all fit.

Write What You Know
If you are writing about a subject you are not intimately familure with, your readers will know. So will editors and publishers: they will reject your manuscript, and no doubt be pissed at your wasting their time. If you believe you can write a romance novel, isn't it a good idea to experience romance a few times first?

If you want to write a romance novel, you should read a few dozen first. This is obvious, right? The same holds true for every other genre. Most would-be authors are avid readers, so this is usually not a issue.

You're Finished. Now What?
Once you have finished writing a novel, magazine article, poem, play, screen script, or other literary work, the next step is to rewrite it. You may believe that you are finished once you type "The End," but you're not. Have someone read out-loud to you what you have written, and notice when that person stumbles over awkward sentences--- this is a good sign that you need to rewrite that sentence.

Use a spelling checker and grammar checker. If you cannot spell or use proper grammar, editors and publishers will not bother reading your material--- you will be ignored, and rightly so. They are not in business to teach you the craft!

Do not expect to make a good living from writing. Indeed, do not expect to make even a poor living from writing. Get a real job, and write when you can. The time to write full-time is when you can afford to. The time to go professional as a writer is after you have sold many manuscripts and have made decient money at the craft. If you want to be rich, do not become a professional writer.

Vanity Presses
If you have a manuscript you believe is good, try your best to sell it to a known, respected publishing house. Spend years sending your manuscript from house to house if need be. If you still believe in your manuscript, you can pay someone to print it for you. These companies are called "Vanity Presses," because vain writers want to see their manuscript in print. (Almost always, books from vanity presses are pure crap, but some can be quite good--- sometimes bad luck prevents a real publishing house from buying a good manuscript.) I have read some good books published by their authors themselves via vanity presses, so it is not a "bad thing" of itself to publish / print ones' own work.

However, if you have not sold your manuscript to a real publishing house after a year or two of submitting it, chances are damn good that your manuscript is poor, and not worthy of being published. REWRITE IT.

That said, you may still want to go the vanity press route. This means that you pay for the type-setting, the lay-out, the cover art, the cover title, the printing, the advertising, and the promoting. To be a success, a book published by a vanity press must be very good, and the author must work extremely hard at selling it to readers. This means going to book conventions, author's tea parties, book signings at book stores, and generally getting out into the world and busting ones' ass, selling the book.

Personally, I believe that much work, for so little pay, is just not worth it. It is far better to write a good manuscript and sell it, and let the publisher do all of this work for you.

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