So far we’ve largely talked about the practical side of writing, the crafting of plots, the sculpting of characters, that sort of thing. Unless you are just writing for your own pleasure this is just half the battle. When it comes to getting published in the age where the market is over saturated with disposable content the trick is to know the business. When it comes down to it you are trying to sell a product to a particular audience. There are a number of things that can help you as a writer get your product to your target audience, in this article we’re going to discuss some of these methods, what they do, and where to find them.
An editor does exactly what you might expect, they read and usually edit manuscripts before publishing. A publisher will actually do the publishing, but won’t edit your manuscript. An editor will help you get your novel to a point where it will be published by their firm. It is not unheard of to stick with a certain editor if they move company, but this is largely dependent on your contract. However if you have an Agent, you won’t need to worry half as much about contracts. An agent does a number of very important jobs for a writer. Agents know contract law, they negotiate and fight for their client. They also have a substantial amount of contacts, generally based in the world’s two major English language publishing centres, New York and London. If you give your Agent your manuscript odds are they’ll know just the editor that will snap it up. An Agent can also help you be the bad guy, if an editor or publisher wants to use a particular cover or wants specific translation rights, your Agent can fight on your behalf to get you what you want. Importantly a good Agent won’t fiddle with content, although they may make suggestions as someone who will have read a great deal. Generally you will stick with your Agent for a long time, it is an important and symbiotic relationship that will benefit both parties if they work together.
Finding people in the industry is easy, finding good ones and ones that suit your talent and personality can be difficult. A good rule of thumb is that money flows to the author not away from the author. Agents and Publishers who charge reading fees are to be avoided. There are a number of blogs, forums, and sites that can help in this regard. Do your research before approaching an agent. E-mail other writers that they represent. their response may be bias but it will give you a sense of the personality of the agent. You can find agents, publishers, and editors online through writing websites, however there is another way. Many of these people will attend writing and genre specific conventions, they may be representing clients, they may be looking for new talent. Generally it is easier to find editors at a convention than it is to find agents. It is important to have a plan. Don’t run up with a hundred questions and waving your hastily printed manuscript around. The book should be finished but don’t bring it, ask for a few minutes of their time, let them talk, and only pitch if prompted. They may agree to reading to full manuscript. The most important part of this is really to have met them. An editor or agent is much more likely to read your material if your letter or e-mail mentions that you met them at a particular convention.
Contract law can be complicated so I’ll just mention a few of the more important things that you should keep an eye out for regardless of whether you have an agent or not. Most contracts will have a Right of First Refusal (ROFR), which means you will show the next book in the series to this particular publisher first and that you can’t take less for the book from a different publisher. Your Agent will also negotiate who gets what rights in terms of Translation Rights, Dramatic Rights, and E-Book Rights, to name but a few. Your contract will also contain the particulars of your Advance and Royalties. Advances are generally split either; one half on signing, one half on publishing, or one third on signing, one third on acceptance, one third on publishing. For those who don’t really understand how advances and royalties work I’ll explain because it can be complicated. Your advance is an advance against earnings, you won’t receive royalties from your book until that amount surpasses the amount they gave you as an advance. In a way your Advance is a bet on how well your book will do. In this way your book is considered successful if you surpass your advance or “Earning out”. Generally royalties are given as such; you earn 10-15% of the cover price from hardback copies, 6-8% of the cover price from paperback copies, and 25% of the price of online copies. These percentages don’t really change even if you are a bestselling author, though they can vary depending on genre. In the next edition I will be discussing Self-Publishing and how it differs to traditional publishing.
The Wordsmith’s Apprentice