Frequently Asked Questions about Magazine and Book Publishing
1. How can I get started publishing my poems or stories in magazines?
First get acquainted with the magazines you want to be published in. Read a couple issues of each and then ask yourself honestly if your work is similar enough in style and theme that it might attract an editor’s eye. Next, go to each publication’s website or to its listing in one of the popular reference works, Poet’s Market or Novel and Short-Story Writer’s Market, and read whatever advice the editors have for writers. Pay special attention to “reading periods” (the times of the year when the editors actually read unsolicited manuscripts).
If the editors state that they prefer to receive work electronically, their website will provide instructions and the necessary mechanism. If they ask for hard copy, do not send electronically hoping that they won’t mind. If you mail work, always send a self-addressed stamped envelope for reply.
Include a very brief cover letter, telling them who you are and how many poems or the title of the story you are enclosing. (A good rule of thumb: send only one story at a time, or 5 to 7 pages of poetry.) If you have a couple publication credits that you are proud of, write, “my work has appeared in such-and-such, and in so-and-so.” Do not try to describe the work(s) you are sending in any way. Do not send the same work to more than one magazine at the same time unless the editors’ listings say, “simultaneous submissions okay.”
Be patient and wait. A reply may take many weeks. If four or more months have passed. you may send an email asking about the “status” of your submission. Do not call the editors on the phone. Remember, unless you’re a cross between God and William Carlos Williams and Philip Roth, you are going to get rejections, especially early on, but even well-known writers get rejected sometimes. Do not take the rejections personally, and don’t quit. Instead, when work is rejected, reread it; ask yourself why it was rejected, revise if necessary, and send it out again.
Remember to back up your work on a disk or flash drive, and don’t send out your only copy. Work does occasionally get lost in the mail.
2. Do I need to copyright my work before I send it out?
No, and you shouldn’t. It is the publisher’s responsibility to copyright the entire issue of a magazine or a printed book. If the author copyrights the work on his/her own, it complicates the process. Keep in mind that incidents in which poems or stories or even novels are stolen are exceedingly rare, and you shouldn’t worry about them.
3. I have published a number of stories or poems in magazines, and now I want to collect them in a book. Do I need to get permission from the magazines?
If those publications sent you a contract, check to see if there are any republication restrictions, but usually there are not. Most journals and magazines buy what is called “First Serial Rights,” and usually stipulate in their contracts (or on their websites or in their listings in the reference works and writer’s guides) that all rights revert to the author after publication. However, it is expected that you will note their earlier publication on an “Acknowledgments” page in your book. Check the front or back matter of a few story or poem collections for proper phrasing and presentation of this very important page. Remember that the editors of those publications will appreciate and remember you fondly for it.
4. I have written a book and I want to find a publisher. Should I first seek the services of a literary agent?
The function of a literary agent is not only to find a publisher for you, but to find the publisher who will give you the best contract (with the greatest financial reward). Agents earn, usually, 15% of whatever you will earn from your book, so naturally they are only interested in books that will interest large publishing houses that publish books for wide audiences, and will pay out considerable advances. Therefore, the first question to ask yourself is, Who is my audience?
Usually agents are not interested in poetry, experimental fiction, story collections, philosophy, scholarly books, arcane subjects, or any works directed at a very narrow or specialized audience. They are interested in “mainstream” fiction, popular genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, mystery, crime caper, romance, bodice rippers), non-fiction books on “hot topics,” self-help (pop-psycho-sexual-getrichquick), biographies of well-known Kennedys, tell-alls, etc., because those kinds of books make enough money that 15% is an appreciable sum.
So, if you deem your work to be within the interest area of literary agents, by all means seek one out. In fact, many big publishing houses rarely read non-agented work—agents are even a kind of screen. Go to the library and ask for the multi-volume reference work, Literary Market Place, or “LMP,” and look for the section on agents in Vol. I. Rochester Public Library has it at Central, and some larger suburban libraries have it. Or, there are other books on finding agents, such as Guide to Literary Agents 2008, published by Writers Digest Books. Pay close attention to what these references say about each agent’s specialty area of interest. Then go to their websites and read them thoroughly.
Finding an agent can be very much like finding a publisher, that is, you may suffer a number of rejections before one finally sends you a contract. But they are the best way in the door of a big publishing house.
One more word of advice: Do not send to any agent who is not officed in Manhattan. That is where the publishing industry is centered, and agents there have the most success. And do not send to any agent who requires a reading fee because if they are going to make money by simply reading your book, then they have less motive to sell it to a publisher.
5. Okay, so I’m too literary for an agent. What do I do now?
Go back to the guides I mentioned earlier, Poet’s Market, or Novel and Short-Story Writer’s Market, or the all-encompassing Writers Market (you can buy the online version of the last one, which includes regular updates, for only a few dollars more). There you’ll find book publishers that are more up your alley. Again, note each publisher’s specialty area of interest, note what authors each has already published, and their reading times. One thing is to your advantage: simultaneous submissions are okay when sending out book manuscripts, provided a publisher does not already have an agreement with you. And again, don’t take rejections too hard. It’s a tough business.
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