Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breaking Down Publisher Guidelines - What a Writer Needs to Know


As November is designated as National Novel Writing Month, I thought this would be a good time to go over with aspiring authors some things to look for when researching publishers. Popular opinion will vary on whether or not one should submit a "NaNo" novel to a publisher - critics tend to suggest that writers who participate in NaNoWriMo will write the book in November and start the agent/publisher search the very next month. I say, if you believe in your book it is worth testing the water to find another person who believes in the story. Definitely put the book through a rigorous editing process first, then make sure you query suitable publishers.

Reading Publisher Guidelines

It is important to note that the submissions page on a publisher's website is not the "suggestions" page. What you see on such a webpage needs to be followed to the letter if you expect an editor to take you seriously. I have worked as an acquisitions editor, and I do admit many books I have turned away on behalf of publishers simply did not meet the guidelines. The author may have presented strong writing and characters, but a romance novel sent to a house that only publishes science fiction and horror will likely not receive a contract...unless there are sci-fi or horror elements throughout the story.

If you are serious about finding a publisher for your book, regardless of how long you took to write it, pay attention to what the publishers want. Also, here are a few terms you might find in guidelines that you should know:

First Rights - When you complete a story or novel, you own all the rights associated with your work. The business of a publisher involves acquiring these rights for their imprints. When you offer the first rights to a publisher, you verify that your work has not been published anywhere else.

If you self-publish the work through Amazon KDP or Smashwords, or post the work on a publicly accessible website, you have exploited those first rights. A publisher may not be interested in such a work, since the book is available and may have lost sale value. There are instances, however, where a book's author enjoyed success through self-publishing that a publisher optioned reprint rights, but that is not a common occurrence.

Simultaneous Submissions - When you simultaneously submit a manuscript, you send it to more than one publisher in hopes somebody will bite. It is not uncommon for an author to query multiple publishers at once in hopes of generating interest, though not all publishers accept such submissions. When an editor invests time in reading and evaluating your book, and likes the work, he/she wants to know that the work is available. Some editors will also ask for an exclusive submission which guarantees they are the only ones reading the work.

As you research publishers, learn their stances on simultaneous submissions. If you risk sending to multiple houses against their rules, you could be caught between two potential contracts, and breaking one house's rules could work against you in the long run.

Subsidiary Rights - You may not find this information on a publisher's website, but if you research writing and publishing forums you may find information on what rights a publisher wants and for how long. Subsidiary rights refers to the different ways your work may be presented. This includes television and film adaptations, foreign language editions, audio book editions, and more recently eBook rights. Typically a publisher will contract your print and digital rights - anywhere for three to five years, or longer - and either assist in selling the rest or allow you to retain them. Depending on the house you work with, they may have subsidiary branches in place to assist you.

When you are ready to send your novel out to an agent or publisher, be aware of each house's guidelines. Study what the publishers want and don't want, and take the time to read what they offer readers. The best way to determine if your writing is a good fit is to know the books they sell.

Kathryn Lively

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