A Novel Way of Catching the Eye of a Publisher

1895 HoughtonMifflin HolidayBooks Armstrong

1895 HoughtonMifflin HolidayBooks Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always worth keeping up to date with whatever is going on in your world, so as a writer, editor and publisher, I have kept myself up to date over the years by including writing magazines from time to time, in addition to direct author contact. These mags have given me many useful tips, but above all, they’ve given me an insight into the problems faced by writers, along with an equal insight into their triumphs. One thing that has always been clear, is that the Holy Grail for writers has always been to receive a phone call from a publisher who wants to publish their book.

It’s always been difficult for an author to interest a publisher in a manuscript, particularly as a first time author, but now it is almost impossible. Right now, in mid 2013, there are practically no UK publishers accepting unsolicited work. Very interesting that the same applies to literary agents – they are turning away potential new business.

I will explain the reasons for the worsening situation in another blog, but for the time being, I will suggest a way around the problem. To be honest, I got the idea for from an article in an American magazine, but I can see how it can work elsewhere as well.

The author in the article had self-published several ebooks in a science fiction series or saga. Conventionally published print books must be a certain size / number of pages, because the size affects the cost of production and the final price of the book. It also impinges on the position it can take on a shop’s bookshelf and the appeal it may have to the book buying public. This means the publisher will want the book to contain a certain number of words, which may be anything from 70,000 to 150,000, while an ebook that you publish yourself can be as short or long as you like.

The author in the article had started by self-publishing an ebook novella of about 50,000 words in length, and then he’d gone on to write further episodes of the saga of about the same length. The author built up a following for his work, and he actually made quite a bit of money from his ebooks, but then an agent spotted his work and approached him. It took the agent a while to persuade the author to let him find a conventional publisher for his work, but the agent soon managed to get a deal with a major US publisher. The author refused to give up the ebook rights, and amazingly, the publisher agreed to take him on for print books alone, on the basis that his ebook followers would also wish to buy the printed books. The author didn’t say what happened next, but my guess is that the publisher bundled a few of his novellas together to make one book.

The author hadn’t considered foreign rights, but agents live by these, so between the publisher and the agent, the book was printed and sold in shops in the US, but the agent also managed to sell translation rights to several foreign countries.

The author himself advocates self-publishing your own ebook, because in his opinion, it’s better to have the work out there where people can see it, than languishing in a drawer or as sheets of paper in a self-addressed envelope coming back from yet another publisher or agent. At the very least you will immediately reach people who like your kind of book, while you may also catch the eye of an agent or a publisher.

Editors don’t have time to read through piles of submissions, so they prefer to take books from agents, who only send them those that have real potential. However due to the changes in the book trade these days, neither publishers nor agents are bothering as much as they used to with the “slush pile”, while some savvy agents are searching through the list of self-published ebooks to see what’s hot. This way, they don’t need to rely purely on their own judgment to work out whether a book is likely to sell or not, because it will already be doing so, and the author will already be building up an audience for their work.

For information on how you can publish stuff yourself, or how you can let us do some or all of the work for you, for an extremely affordable price, please contact me at info@stellium.co.uk

A Few Notes about Copyright

 This article is mainly aimed at the UK copyright situation. It has to be country-specific, as there are a few differences between the UK and, say, the USA. Other countries may vary even more widely, so I won’t even try to discuss their copyright jungle. I’m sure that most countries, and certainly the UK and the USA, have their copyright laws available online – search Google for your specific query. If you can’t find what you need, please feel free to ask me. Likewise, if you have anything to add, please do.

 Some UK journals and magazines tell their contributing authors that they cannot re-use their work anywhere else, without having a signed agreement to this effect, and this includes material that has already appeared in such magazines in the past. This is not necessarily the case, unless you specifically signed a piece of paper saying that you’re giving up all rights to your work.

 The copyright for everything that you write automatically  belongs to you as soon as it’s published, unless:

  •  You agree in writing to give up the copyright. This sometimes happens with “packager-type” book publishers, where you give up copyright in exchange for a large (hopefully…), one-off payment.
  • You normally licence your work to a book publisher, so that you keep the copyright, but allow them to use the work in various, stated ways. The publisher will usually want the exclusive right to use the work for the duration agreed and within the terms of the contract.
  • A magazine editor commissions you to write an article, pays you and takes “first serial rights”. This can be a complex matter, and you may have to pay the magazine a royalty if you wish to re-use the article somewhere else and receive a second fee from it. This is similar to the sale of book or film rights. Check your agreement to discover exactly what you are agreeing to beforehand, and stick to the terms of the contract afterwards. With a magazine, you stand little chance of getting them to amend the agreement.
  • You contribute a piece that becomes part of something else with a variety of contributors and/or a large input by the magazine’s sub-editor.
  • You sign an agreement giving up all your rights.

 In some cases, a magazine may print a note in one or all of its issues to the effect that all contributors automatically give up their copyright to their work. This is not legal or binding on you, unless your agreement with them says so. Having said this, you may wish to cover yourself by adding a note to any work that you submit, stating that the copyright of the work remains with you. Thereafter, you can put the article on your own website or use it for something else if you so wish, as long as you honour the rest of the agreement.

 The general rule about copyright is that you should never give it up unnecessarily, and certainly never do so where you are writing something out of the goodness of your heart and for no fee.

 As far as work that you have done in the past is concerned, barring previous agreements that may still be in force, the copyright stays in your hands, because laws don’t retroactively imperil you in any democratic country.

 Please don’t take the above information as gospel; things can change swiftly. In fact, the UK government is currently reviewing copyright legislation with a view to making content more accessible. I can only hope that they take on board the views of our Publishers’ Association and author bodies such as the Society of Authors, because it’s already hard enough to make money from writing today.


Writing & Publishing

This is my first ever blog. It’ll be an interesting change from my usual day job, which involves either writing a book, or publishing other authors’ books.

I’m going to start with a range of tips about writing in general, as my husband Jan and I have found over the years that there are lots of people who have an interesting book inside, but not enough experience in getting it out in a way that’s good enough for distribution and sale to the public at large.

What I would love to see is feedback from you, about what I’ve written here, as well as what you’d like me to discuss.

I’ll be covering most forms of writing, and different methods of publishing your work, as there is so much available today in the writing and publishing game that one can hardly keep up with developments. There is a vast amount of freedom of choice that never existed when I started writing; whether you consider traditional publishing, or a self-publishing project.

Another track I’ll touch on from time to time will be the pitfalls that one needs to avoid. Vanity publishing still exists, as well as exorbitant charges that really rip off unsuspecting people.

There’s no question about it, whatever you do, you have to keep your eyes open all the time nowadays. Luckily, apart from blogs like this one, there is Google always to hand, and I would always recommend that you search for reviews or other information about whatever organisation you may wish to deal with.

You’ll even find me talking about the ever-increasing complexity of software, like modern word processors, and MS Word in particular. For a start, I really feel that Microsoft is missing s trick by not producing a cut-down version of MS Office for the average, non-corporate user, who doesn’t need (or understand!) their Rolls Royce equivalent of office products. I notice this time and again, for example, when processing a book for digital publication, e.g. for Kindle. All the recommendations, wherever you look, say the same thing – get rid of all the formatting that you find in a typical Word file, only then can you hope for a decent result!

If things pan out the way I would like, and if there’s enough interest, Jan and I would consider running workshops to deal with all the issues that face everyone today. However, first of all, we would need to find out from you what are the biggest thorns in your side, and why the Internet, the source and font of all knowledge nowadays, hasn’t given you the answers you need.

Why would we even think about lectures and workshops about writing and publishing, when there are already so many being advertised across the country? Well, because:

  • Jan and I have had about fifteen years of experience in running our own, successful, publishing business (Zambezi Publishing Ltd, www.zampub.com)
  • We’ve recently formed a brand new company (Stellium Ltd, http://www.stellium.co.uk) to handle our new Fiction and Digital imprints, to keep up with developments in today’s publishing world.
  • I’ve had over twenty-five years of writing experience, having been published by the likes of Thorsons, HarperCollins, Collins & Brown, Sterling Publishing, Inc., Piatkus and others. Having written 126 books in my time, with sales of over 6.5 million copies to date, I feel I know a bit about the author’s side of things!
  • I’m constantly being asked questions about practically every issue to do with writing or publishing, and to be able to say, “it’s on my Blog, look it up!” will save me a great deal of time.

I think that’s about all for now; I’ll be back as I come up with something useful to say, but not on a regular basis at present, due to pressure of work. However, if you’d like to be emailed when there are new tips and ideas to view,  I suggest that you leave your email address here. I promise, Jan and I keep mail lists and any data we have on file totally confidential and in-house – we don’t share mail lists with anybody – period!