Pushing Beyond the Page: Getting Published

Traditional Publishing

I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to getting your work published.  There are many factors to consider when making the decision about how to publish your work.  What kind of work are you producing?  Do you have a family album for which you will only produce a few dozen copies?  Is this a masterpiece of fiction or prose?  Do you have the next best answer to common health or fitness?  For every genre there may be a different solution for the best options of publishing your book.  The market for your book may also be very specific and must be considered early in the process as well.

My experience is in publishing fiction.  Some principles apply to all genres, but some publishers are very specific about what they produce.  It is worth the time to read about how some of the best authors began their writing careers too.  Some of them struck it rich on the first try (Nicholas Sparks) while some wrote one or more novels before they hit the “big time” (John Grisham).  I have, by no means, made it into that elite, but have enjoyed the journey.  I still have hopes of reaching greater and greater audiences.

Finding a Publisher

One of the greatest frustrations in writing is finding someone who is willing to take a risk and publish your work.  Traditional publishing companies take a lot of financial risk every time they accept a new author.  A novice author, no matter how well they write, had few readers.  We start with family and close friends, but the publisher, to make a profit, must sell the books beyond that small audience.  There are many resources and listings of publishers, but my favorite is “The Writer’s Market,” edited by Robert Brewer.  This book is published annually and contains names and information about many of the North American publishing companies.  This book has resources, also, on how to find an agent along with some agent listings.  There are chapters on what publishers and agents look for, how to write a query letter, and how to identify your audience.  When venturing into the world of publishing it may help to do this initial reading and preparation.  You may save yourself a great deal of frustration as you go.

Digging into the publisher listings pay attention to how many new books the publisher puts out in a year, how long can it take to hear back from them, what are their submission requirements?  It seems that every publisher has their own unique method of gaining information from potential new authors.  Some will not accept an author without an agent, some require that you be previously published.  It is much like hearing from a potential employer, “You’re too young and need more experience.”  How can you gain experience without that job?  Or how can you have a previously published work unless someone accepts your book in the first place.  Also the listings usually indicate what genres the publisher prefers to publish (some only publish romance novels or children’s books).

I recommend developing a list of the most promising publishers gleaned from your publishers’ resources.  Check out the websites for each one.   Most of them will have a tab for “submissions,” or “new authors.”  This will give you the details of what is actually required.  In most cases you will need to write a “query letter.”  This is a single page document where you make you case as concisely as possible.  You need to sell yourself and state, briefly, what your book is about.  Many publishers also want a sample of your book, but often they only want a few pages.  It is hard to tell much about the book in a few pages, but they learn about your abilities and your style.  They don’t need the very first pages.  Be selective.  I found some publishers still required paper submissions.  This gets expensive, as you have to print each page, double-spaced and mail it.

Smaller publishers are a little hungrier, but they may also not put many resources into marketing your book.  This was my experience with my first novel.  I found many publishers, in 2009, were not accepting any submissions.  It seemed to be a low point in publishing.  Nevertheless, I submitted query letters to about thirty different publishers, most of whom I found in “The Writer’s Market.”  I sent first chapters, bios, whole printed novels, emailed whole novels, synopses, you name it.  If they required it I sent it.  I sent them in bunches and hoped daily for that letter to come in the mail saying, “Congratulations! You will be our next best-selling author.”

The reality, for me, was that I received a handful of replies.  They were in generally form letters saying, “Regretfully, we are not able to publish your book.  It is just not right for our company at the moment . . .”  More often I heard nothing.  Dead air.  This is much like the job market today.  “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” or not.

Finally, after one full year of sending query letters and synopses and waiting, I decided to look into self-publishing.  As I began to research the process, the long-awaited letter finally arrived.  “Congratulations!  We are considering your book for publication . . .”  It was thrilling and I dropped all desire to self-publish.  I had a contract within two weeks and began the process of fine-tuning my novel with the help of a “real” publisher.

Watch for more about publishing.  In future blogs I will go over the process of getting the book ready for publication.  I will also be discussing self-publishing as I have ventured into that world as well.


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About smcpherson58

Aside from loving chocolate and coffee (not necessarily in that order) Scott McPherson has learned that he loves to write. He writes fiction and, so far, has published two novels. Scott has many varied interests, though he tries to focus on one at a time. He has worked for nearly thirty-five years as a family physician, a pass-time that gives him great pleasure and pays the bills. He has five daughters and dotes upon three grandchildren. Recently married, he really loves life. Scott writes from his life experiences and from travel. His career in the active Air Force was brief, but he has been a member of the Nebraska Air National Guard since just before 9/11 in 2001. The aftermath of that great disaster changed the face of the Guard and led to missions in far-away lands. He has spent time in Turkey, Iraq, Spain, Crete and Guam in missions related to support for Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has been to Iceland and Antarctica as well. Scott has no personal experience with violent death or murder, but has gained knowledge from experts. In his first novel, “A Step Ahead of Death,” his character, Jack Sharp MD, becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. First as suspect, then as amateur sleuth, Jack tries to make a difference. He finds himself right in the middle of an investigation well beyond the scope of a local murder. A man of faith, Scott traveled to Africa with his small family in the 1980s and served as a medical missionary in Zaire (known as Congo today) with a church organization. The vast difference in what it takes to exist in such an environment served as a basis for much of his second novel, a thriller, “Congo Mission.” His character, Jack, is twenty years younger than in the first novel. In “Congo Mission” Jack serves as a physician in a missionary hospital in the jungles of northwestern Zaire. There he is not only captivated by a young woman visiting the region, but falls victim to his nemesis Jacques Levant. His motivations and faith are tested and his resolve to do God’s work gets pushed to the limit. When he is not writing Scott enjoys walking, a practice that actually led to his first attempt at writing a novel. He began making notes and writing prose about the mundane things around him. He tried to make the details sound interesting, even though it was just for his own pleasure. Eventually he found that he could expand his prose to “what if?” “What if I just kept walking?” “What if I, or my character, found a dead body in the ditch along the side of the path?” That was the premise for the first novel, “A Step Ahead of Death.” Scott McPherson is an avid trombone player and has played since he was nine years old. He marched in the Cornhusker Marching Band at the University of Nebraska and now takes advantage of one free football game a year by playing in the half-time show with the UNL Alumni Marching Band. He plays in the Lincoln Civic Orchestra and a community band from the nearby town of Waverly, Nebraska. Scott loves to sing as well, though his range seems to have diminished in recent years. He has sung in college and church choirs and remembers performing parts of Handel’s Messiah as a highlight of his singing experience. One little-known fact about Scott is that he once sang soprano in a boys choir. Scott plans to keep writing as long as the ideas flow and others show interest in his stories. He loves to interact with other writers or readers about what has become a passion in his life. Reviews are always welcome as are questions and comments.
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