Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Common Questions from New Writers

I get emails and phone calls from people with all sorts of questions. I thought it might make more sense to answer some of them here.

1. I’ve written a Christian counselling book, how can I find a publisher?
As I’ve said in this column before, unless your book is for schools then you won’t find a publisher in Botswana. They might agree to publish it, but they don’t know how to market a book for a trade market so it will sit in their storeroom, which does you no good.

For a book like this, you need to know a bit about yourself. Do you work in religion or in counselling? Do you already know people who will buy your book? Do you do speaking engagements around these topics? If the answer is yes, than I think your best bet is to self publish. Make sure you hire a good editor. Get your book designed and printed. And then market it yourself. Sell it when you move around and speak on these topics.

 2. How do I find a publisher for my novel?
Again, if your novel has no chance of being chosen as a prescribed book in Botswana, you’d rather look for a publisher elsewhere. The first place might be South Africa. You can approach publishers in South Africa directly without an agent. To find South African publishers, take a tour of the local bookstore. Which books are like yours? Note the name of the publisher. Then do research on the internet to find their website with their submission guidelines. Sometimes publishers want you to send only a synopsis of your novel. Others want the first three chapters and others want to see the entire manuscript straight away. Follow the submission guidelines to the letter; you don’t want them hating you even before they’ve read your manuscript.

If you want to see your manuscript published overseas, then in most cases you need an agent. The best place to find a good up-to-date list of agents is the website Predators and Editors. What is good about this site is they tell you if the agent is a deadbeat or if they're a star. They give you the agent’s website so you can check the other authors they represent. Do your research. And again, most agents have submission guidelines on their websites- follow them. Once an agent takes your manuscript on, they will then approach publishers on your behalf. This is good because if you have a good agent, they have connections and know what type of books each publisher is looking for so your odds of getting published are increased. But note they will not do this for free, they will be taking a percentage of your royalties, usually 10-15% but that varies. This is good in a sense because they then have a vested interest in the success of your book. If an agent asks you to pay them any money directly, say no and stop communicating with them, they are trying to cheat you.

 3. How can I get my poetry or short story collection published?
Getting poetry and short story collections published is very difficult. The reason is that publishers find it difficult to sell them. If you do poetry readings often, I would suggest self publishing. Your market will be the audience at each of your readings.

If you want to get shorts stories and poems published, you would best start by being published in literary magazines. There are many online magazines and some very prestigious print magazines. The more your stories are out there, the more your name is known, and the more likely a traditional publisher will be willing to publish a collection of yours.

Some prestigious literary magazines in Southern Africa and Africa are New Contrast, Coin, African Writing, and Botsotso. But with the internet there really is no reason to restrict yourself to Africa.Most literary magazines have submission guidelines online.

4. How can I be sure they won’t steal my manuscript?
This is such a common fear of new writers but if you are careful it is one that is completely unfounded. By careful I mean, you check out the people you’re sending to. You never send to a publisher or agent that charges a reading fee. If you think about it, what would be gained by a reputable publisher stealing your manuscript? You would likely complain and complain loudly. Writers would begin to see the publisher as a crook and would stop sending them their manuscripts. The publisher, having no books to publish would go out of business. It’s simple- reputable publishers don’t steal manuscripts. 

(These questions and answers were first published in my column in The Voice newspaper, It's All Write, 4 February 2011)

1 comment:

Ann Summerville said...

I hear from many people at writing conferences that they are afraid of someone stealing their manuscript.