Friday, November 5, 2010

Know the Business Before You Submit

Being ready to particpate in the professional writing community takes a lot more than simply having one or several manuscripts finished. It requires much more than having additional works that you want to write later or are in a "work in progress stage." Readiness really does mean you have a clear sense of how this business works and the intricacies of the publishing industry.

I was recently working with a group of beginning writers in a creative writing seminar. All of these writers were very energetic about their craft. They were writing fools and honestly have the drive to make it. But for every one of the writers in that seminar, they didn't have a clue as to what it really took to move that project from their computer to the book shelves.

Now I know what some of you seem to be thinking. If I get an agent, that person takes care of everything for me. All I need to do is write. While part of that is certainly true, it is not the job of the agent to teach you the business. Agents can certainly fill in some gaps in your knowledge, but they cannot teach you "the basics."

Let's try it this way:
  • Do you understand the role of the following people in the writing process: agent, editor, copy editor, content editor, developmental editor, publicity manager?
  • If a writer has a story approved what is the step by step process it goes through?
  • How about these terms: advance, royalty, subsidiary rights?
  • Are you aware of the time necessary to move the project from one stage to the next?

This is just a sampling of the questions you should be familiar with.

As an agent who looks at a lot of new writers, this is actually one of the factors I consider when I am thinking about signing someone. It is not the 100% deciding factor but it certainly works into the equation. The writer's level of knowledge needs to balance out with the book. I'll be honest, if I see an AMAZING, BREAK OUT novel, I might cut that writer a little slack when it comes to their knowledge. But if the book is at that "mid-list" level then I will certainly expect a bit more

Let's try it another way. You are amazing at literature. You have a BA and maybe a MA in Literature. You like kids and maybe you have 1 or 2 floating around your house. Does this mean a school district should immediately sign you on as a classroom teacher? Certainly not. In fact, as a parent of three kids, I would hope the district the kids are in doesn't hire people like, that. The simple truth is that it does take knowledge of HOW to teach. Make sense?

So what am I getting at here? Simple - take your time and learn the business. That book can sit there on the shelf and wait until you learn the business enough.

Have a great weekend everyone and I'll see you on Monday!



  1. Thanks for the tips as always. You can guess what I'll be brushing up on today :)

  2. I'm with Julie Anne. Thank you for the continued teaching format of this blog. It's the one place I can come regularly and know there will be no nonsense advice, although I might not agree 100%.

  3. Thanks for the tips! I'm happy to say I could answer all but one of the questions you posed!!!