Can I just hire someone to get me published?

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I came upon a question today in my Facebook writer’s group that I feel needs an in-depth response as I have seen ones like it time and time again. I got permission from the poster to copy and paste it here, and of course, provide at least some of the answers.

Legitimate question…could I hire someone to handle all the nagging, nitpicking nonsense associated with tracking down and securing a publisher? I don’t know how to write a “query” (it seems), I get frustrated chasing after publishers who never even return a phone call…I’m a writer. Couldn’t I just write and hire someone else to handle everything else?

Now, you might think to yourself, duh what you just described is an agent, but when you take the question in its entirety, you would be able to see that the answer is not that simple because it does not alleviate the frustration of the writer about the publishing industry.

Let’s break it down, piece by piece.

“Hiring” an Agent

An agent does, in fact, do all those things the poster asks for – know the publishers, send the inquiry, go over contracts, and finally sell the book. Most big publishers don’t even accept unagented manuscripts because they only want to deal with people experienced in the industry (as do writers!) and know they’re getting high quality work through them.

However, one does not simply ‘hire’ an agent (not a real one anyway so beware of scammers). There are thousands of writers looking to get represented by a few dozen agencies. Even if your book is great there’s a chance none of the agents you query will accept it for reasons completely irrelevant to your writing skills, including:

  1. The genre is not what publishers are looking for at the moment.
  2. The agent already represents a similar book.
  3. The agent really liked the book but didn’t love it enough to rep it because publishers are even more picky and the agent doesn’t feel confident they’d be able to sell it. This one hurts the most – believe me.

In order to even consider querying an agent you need an exceptional, polished, edited, completed manuscript, a query with a hook, and a synopsis. In order to get an agent? Perseverance, research, and luck. None of which have a monetary value, which brings us over to the publishing aspect.

‘Tracking down’ a Publisher 

Let’s put aside the big five whose submission sections say they don’t accept unsolicited (aka unagented) manuscripts, and go with those who do. There are quite a few choices:

  1. Imprints and big boutiques such as Sky Pony Press and Entangled. They have the distribution and marketing for a large audience.
  2. Independent presses such as Future House Publishing, Clean Teen Publishing, and Blue Moon Publishers. They do the editing, covers, marketing, and get your book out there in local bookstores, but are limited on their distribution.
  3. Micro/epubs that only publish your book on demand or in electronic format.
  4. Vanity presses that you pay to publish your book just so you can say it’s been published.
  5. Starting your own independent publishing company.

So what happens when you query a publisher on this list? Your query goes to an acquisitions editor, who then decides if he/she thinks the manuscript is worth a look. Most (note: all) publishers do not take submissions or follow ups over the phone. They just get too many. Imagine agents getting 100+ queries a week. Publishers get even more from all those writers rejected by agents.

After the editor reads your manuscript, he/she decides if the book is worth the risk of publishing it. The lower on the totem pole you get, the higher the chances are of getting signed because of the lower costs (aka risk) to the publisher. For example, just one round of professional editing costs around $800 for an 80,000 word manuscript. One round. A customized professional looking cover for two formats (ebook and print) can run you $600. A publisher has to truly believe that the sales from your book can cover those initial costs and then some. Marketing is expensive. Netgalley subscriptions run upwards of $599 per title. You can see how picky publishers must be in order to be successful.

The thing is, it’s not about chasing down publishers. It’s about finding the one who is not only willing to publishing your work, but is passionate about it to give you the best chance at success. There’s no point in hiring anyone to find you a publisher because you can just as easily Google a list and scroll through their submission guidelines, querying every single one until you get a bite. There’s no way to skip the process, and no middle person will make it easier.

Self-publishing Sucks. 

There is, of course, the other option. The one no writer wants to consider until the sea of rejections begins to drown them. The publishing industry is horrible. No one is denying that, agents and publishers included. So many amazing works go unpublished and unseen because of it.

But the self-publishing world is just as bad. The drawbacks to being successful at self-publishing are numerous, including:

  1. The costs of professional editing and cover creation, which can be over a grand. I don’t have an extra grand sitting in my bank. I can’t even afford a $250 ISBN.
  2. Then there’s the marketing. Marketing is expensive and half the time it doesn’t pay out. You pay $25 to get featured and get ten sales off a 99c book. Worth it? Usually not.
  3. Third, there’s the amount of books that fight for that limited amount of spots on your kindle and hours in your day. Most indie books are priced 99c or even free, especially if it’s a first in a series. That’s where reviews come into play, and the best way to get them is to give the book away.

Now that doesn’t mean that an indie book can’t be successful. I’ve read plenty that have been. It just takes a lot of research, hard work, and time, things some people just don’t have, and thus don’t want their writing to be just another needle in a haystack. And I totally understand that, which is why we have the next option.

Yes, you CAN get help – but is it worth it?

If you have the money but not the time, there are options for you. The hard part is figuring out who is legitimate and who is trying to scam you. Thanks to Google, you can usually find out with a simple search. However, there are other things to watch out for, like:

  1. Agents do not, EVER , respond to a middle man. They expect queries directly from the author. If the query says anything like ‘my client’ it’s an auto no. Don’t pay for someone who say they will do this for you – it’s a scam.
  2. Agents also do not use sites like Authors.me because they have plenty of queries in their inbox. There’s no shortage of talent or submissions.
  3. Many companies, such as Author Solutions, offer a lot of services to help you successfully self-publish your book, but so do self-publishing companies such as CreateSpace and Lulu. Shop around if you go this route.

What I’m trying to say is, there’s plenty of ways to spend your money out there, but you have to decide what’s worth it (and usually it’s not).

So I’m screwed?

Not at all! On the contrary, you are now more informed about the publishing industry than ever and knowledge saves you both time and money when going ahead. Here are some great options to help you get started.

As far as paying for services goes in publishing, your best go to is hiring an experienced editor. A professional editor is not just for finding typos in your manuscript. Many editors have worked for a major publisher before and offer services to help you with your query letter, synopsis, and pitch. These editors know what agents are looking for and will do their best to help you be prepared for it, so that all you have to do is hit send on your email and wait for a response. This is the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Here’s a good place to start. Don’t have the cash? Find a critique group, such as on Goodreads or Reddit, and get help.

Sadly, no matter how you put it, you have to sell your work – whether to an agent or a publisher. Just writing is not enough, the same way inventing something is not enough – you need to sell it to an investor to make it happen. Not showing initiative in marketing your work is a huge turn off for those in the publishing industry, which is why a third party is always a no-go. You can hire someone to write your query letter and research agents, sure, but then you still have to go through the process yourself. Even after you’re published, you still have to be a marketer (or learn to be one) in order to sell your book, both online and in person. There’s just no way around it.

As far as looking for publishers and agents seeking your type of manuscript, a great go to is pitch contests. Twitter is an incredible source of agent and publisher requests and if you’re a writer and not on it, you’re doing it wrong. Pitch contests are simple – for most of them, all you need is a tweet long pitch of your book that you post on the day of the contest. Then, agents and publishers favorite them and you get to send in your query to someone who is already interested in your book. This really works – it’s how I, and countless others, got published.  Here is a list of upcoming contests to put on your calendar.

If you want to get published you have to do your research. Make sure you are following submission guidelines to the T or your great book won’t see the light of day. Use QueryTracker to track your queries. Another great source for finding the right agents is Manuscript Wish List. Follow agents and publishers on twitter to see what they have to say. Check out #tenqueries #mswl #askagent and #querywin. Follow writing blogs and Writer’s Digest. There is a plethora of information out there, and I cannot stress the importance of being informed.

And last and most important of all – don’t get discouraged. It might seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but as long as you keep writing, keep improving, and keep sending out those queries and getting feedback, you will get published. And it will be totally worth it in the end.

 

Book merchandise – what to get? A small breakdown of options and prices.

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I think we can all agree that book merchandise is incredibly important. It can act as promotion, a prize for a contest, or a gift for those who were kind enough to purchase your book.

But when I was faced with actually choosing which merchandise I wanted to use, I came to a lot of options and little help. So, here is what I’ve learned, and hopefully it will help others looking for a breakdown.

First of all, I wanted merch that was inexpensive, which meant no t-shirts or mugs or anything over $1/item. I’ve had great success with bookmarks for my children’s book series because kids love bookmarks, so I wanted to at least get some for Rise. My publisher said that usually, bookmarks end up in the trash, but I figured that if I have several different options for (free) merch, then people would only take something they actually want instead of taking something they feel they have to (and then throw it away). So, I also decided I was going to get stickers and buttons for my YA crowd. The posters I made are going to be for giveaways and to use during signings.

Bookmarks, stickers, and posters

After checking out several sites, I settled on two printing sites that were comparable. They both have a simple online builder where you can design your own bookmarks, stickers, and posters, and see what they will look like before ordering. They also both have many different coupon codes and promotions going on, so one item may be cheaper on one site one day but the opposite another day. Always google promo codes before buying!

Vistaprint.com

Pros:

  1. Fast shipping. I got my orders within a week through Fedex.
  2. Very good quality. My high resolution artwork looked amazing.
  3. Post-order deals: after you order, you get an extra bargain, such as another set for 50% off or something similar.

Cons:

  1. The higher you go in number, the more expensive shipping is. It starts at 6.99 for the lowest.
  2. Even with promo codes, it’s sometimes still more expensive than other sites (not counting the extra deals)
  3. Their customer service is a little meh. I had to cancel an order and couldn’t reuse the free shipping code.

 

Overnightprints.com

Pros:

  1. Super cheap. I got 250 bookmarks for under $30 on one of their promos.
  2. Base shipping is less for higher quantities (but $1 more for lower ones)
  3. It feels like there are more options to include/exclude things that cost more, such as single sided bookmarks while Vistaprint only offers double sided.

Cons:

  1. The quality is significantly lower. The words and images seemed blurred in the printing process. If you’re looking to give the merch away for free, this isn’t a huge deal.
  2. The base shipping takes foreeeever. It look almost three weeks for me to get my bookmarks! Don’t use this service if you’re in a hurry unless you want to spend a lot on shipping.
  3. The builder was a little confusing and I got my bookmarks messed up to where the back was upside down from the front but it showed right side up on the engine.

 

Takeaway

If you want high quality and fast shipping and are willing to pay a bit more, Vistaprint is the way to go.

If you don’t care much about quality and don’t have a deadline, Overnightprints is a great option for less money.

My advice: order a small quantity of each item before going for the large, no matter how much it hurts to pay for the shipping twice. You’ll thank me later. It’s never exactly like you see on the computer screen and once you’re holding it in your hand you can tell where the colors don’t mesh (black vs near black) or where it’s a little off to the side, etc. Don’t end up with 200 bookmarks where your name is distorted or your website is cut off.

Buttons

For buttons I used Purebuttons.com because it was the cheapest one I found that had a good builder, promo codes, cheap/free shipping, and overall seemed to be better than the other sites I went to.

I was really happy with my order! The shipping was super quick, the buttons look and feel great, and I would totally buy from them again.

The only downside is that I registered on their website and the amount of promo email they send it ridiculous. I had to unsubscribe like day two.

 

Well, I hope that this was helpful to some of you, and if anyone has any more insight or personal experiences with purchasing merchandise for their books, I would love to hear it!

 

Ideas are easy. It’s making them into something that’s hard.

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If you’re ever thinking about telling an author about your great idea for a novel, please stop.

I’ve been warned that once I ‘come out’ as a writer, people will be throwing ideas at me of what they think I should write about.

I never realized just how true that is.

Ever since I announced my book deal, I’m being approached by others telling me of awesome ideas they have for a book I should definitely write. All I need is an idea, they say! Everything else will come. I’ve even gotten texts of witty dialogue I could ‘plug in somewhere!’ because it’s so easy to write a story around a great idea!

Well, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Ideas are easy.

I have an entire Word file of ideas for books. Ideas I have thought through thoroughly (I bet that’s a mouthful) and have plot outlines of. Ideas of main characters, calculated twists, and perfect endings.

Ideas that cannot, without taking months upon months of work, dedication, and more ideas, be made into something.

A book is not just one idea. It’s an entire world, a slice of time put down in words.

It’s circumstances that drive the plot forward. It is the growth and the change between the first chapter and the next. It’s never just x happens and y has to z. Each step has to mean something. Each decision should be carefully calculated on the writer’s part to seem real. The main idea accounts for less than .001% of what truly happens to make reading a book worthwhile.

It’s interactions between all the characters. The world does not consist of the protagonist and the antagonist. It’s full of people (or whatever constitutes as a people) and we have to create them out of nothing to make the reader care for them. They are not ‘extras’ in the background. Supporting characters do just that – support the book in a way the main characters cannot. That is never part of the main ‘idea’ but it’s a huge part of the writing process.

It’s endless amounts of research. I’ve never been to 1800s France or traveled by boat and yet somehow I have to make do with Google. I can’t just make it all up or it won’t feel real. How can you show in words something you’ve never seen? How can you describe a feeling you’ve never felt? Whether the fear of an air raid siren or a gunshot to the leg, it’s things like that that make writing seem impossible at times, and have nothing to do with the ‘idea’.

And lastly, it’s making it all work. Life is not simple. There is no one direction, no one path, no one door. While writing, we have to make the world work. We have to make sure that each part is seamless with the rest. Continuity is preserved. There are no plot errors or time jumps. It’s not just the spelling and grammar that we have to worry about, it’s everything.

 An idea cannot be made into a 50,000+ word manuscript. A collection of ideas woven together with blood, sweat, and tears can.

I still can’t believe I wrote even ONE such manuscript.

I have a lot of ideas. I want to do them all but I have to prioritize. I already write slow because English is my second language. It’s hard enough to write as is. Someone else’s idea won’t even make the backlog.

So yeah.

That’s my PSA for the day.

Querying advice you won’t find anywhere else.

It’s finally that time – my manuscript is polished and ready to be sent out. I wrote my hooky query letter, synopsis, author bio, and thought I was ready.

Boy was I wrong.

So let me save you some time and show you what I’ve learned that I haven’t seen on other query advice sites.

1. It takes forever.

It took me over 4 hours to query 15 agents. That’s roughly 20 minutes per agent. I’m using QueryTracker so finding them isn’t the issue. It’s everything else.

2. Pay attention to detail.

Every agency has special submission policies you can find on their website. If you’re using QueryTracker do not just assume they don’t have guidelines if they didn’t post them in their info. Here are some examples:

  • Send only query letter with salutations to agent.
  • Send only query letter to agency but do not mention an agent.
  • Send query letter and 1-2 page synopsis in body of email.
  • Send query letter, 1-2 page synopsis, and first 5/10/50 pages of manuscript in body of email.
  • Send query letter, 1-2 page synopsis, and first 3 chapters of manuscript in body of email.
  • Send query letter, a chapter by chapter synopsis, and the entire manuscript as an attachment.

See what I mean?

3. Subject line matters.

Same thing with email subject. Some want QUERY, QUERY Title of Book, QUERY Name of Agent, etc. Make sure you find this info out before emailing or your query might get immediately trashed.

4. Pick one agent per agency.

Almost every agency has several agents who like different genres. You have to read every agent’s bio in order to find the right fit for your query and only query that person. They don’t like it if you email more than one agent in the same agency, so your best bet is to pick one and go for it (and make sure you keep track). Some agents and agencies specifically list genres they don’t represent. That’s kind of important.

5. You will probably get a heart attack.

Some agents take days while others take months to respond. Some have autoreplies while others have nothing. Basically, you’re in limbo. Every time your phone buzzes with an email for the next month it will make you jump. If you have anxiety, this is going to suck.

6. An agency is not always a publishing company.

There are many agents with individual agencies who sell your manuscript to a publishing company. You can tell because the name is usually the company name (Ex: Sue Moor with Moor Inc.). And that’s ok. Companies like Scholastic do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so if your next Hunger Games gets an agent it can go anywhere. You don’t need a full representation and publishing company to be successful.

7. Don’t doubt yourself.

It will make you question your manuscript. Even if you’ve been working on it for five years. Stay strong!

8. Don’t forget!

And lastly, don’t forget your contact info! Every query I’ve seen requires three things: genre, word count, and contact info. If you have those, you’re on your way!

Oh boy I can’t wait for my first rejection!

Happy querying!