Recently, I’ve had several people approach me with the fabulous news that they’ve written a book (congratulations!), and they’d like to look into publishing, but they don’t know what to do next.
I’ve been working on getting published for so long, that I sometimes forget that the things I’ve learned about how to get published aren’t always obvious. With so many people asking this same question, I thought it might be helpful to share this information with all of you.
I’m going to warn you, this will be a long post, but I hope it will be helpful.
First of all, before you do anything else, you should have someone who is not family read your book and comment on it. Then you should consider those comments, make changes, and repeat the process. I would recommend sharing it with at least three people at a minimum.
Finding people can be hard, but if you’re serious about it, you should be willing to exchange manuscripts with someone else. I actually find that critiquing someone else’s work can be really helpful in showing me what kind of improvements I could make in my own work.
Also, a great place to find critique partners is the Querytracker.net forum.
There are all kinds of discussion threads, including one called “Critique Group Central.”
Do you just want to see your book in print? Do you want to share your work with family? With a broad audience? Do you want to traditionally publish? Do you want an agent or would you rather submit to publishers on your own? Do you want to self-publish? Do you want control over every aspect, or would you rather pass some things off and just work on writing?
Here are some things to consider:
This option can get your book out there faster, but it can be a hard road, and there are steps that normally a publisher would do that you would need to take care of. For example, you would need to do things like editing and copy-editing. I would strongly recommend that you pay someone to do that for you, as outside eyes will catch things that you as the author will not.
You will need to design a cover and format the e-book (or pay someone to do it). Also, you would be in charge of all marketing to get your book known and out there. This can be really frustrating, and it can be hard to find an audience, but these are things you would be responsible for. One thing to consider is that it can cost a good chunk of money to self-publish (if you do it right), and that is not always earned back.
That said, there are many benefits to self-publishing. For example, you get a higher percentage of any sales. You have a lot more control over content, and cover, and marketing and promotions. Some people very much want that control.
To give some other perspectives, HERE is an article from Harold Underdown, who has worked in publishing a long time. He gives a lot of good information in this article.
And HERE is an article from Elana Johnson who has both traditionally and self-published.
So there are two options here. One, you search for a publisher on your own. And two, you work to get an agent, who will then submit to publishing houses.
For both of these options, I highly recommend using QueryTracker.Net. You can use it to search for agents and publishers who publish your genre. Whether you are looking for an editor or agent, you will need to research each agent or publishing house and find out what they are looking for and whether or not they are open to unsolicited submission/queries. QueryTracker provides links to many of these agents and publishers so they are easy to research. Certainly, there are other places to find this information. There are yearly books published, but I have found QueryTracker works for me.
Once you’ve done your research, make a list of those editors/agents you want to submit to. Once you know who you want to submit to, you need to write what is called a query letter. A query letter is a letter asking the editor or agent if they would be interested in considering your work.
For good information on how to write one, here are some sites to check out:
HERE is Nathan Bransford’s post on writing query letters.
Rachelle Gardner breaks down what to include in a query letter HERE.
Janet Reid’s Query Shark is a place to see real-time improvement on query letters. You can see exactly what an agent is thinking as she reads a query letter. I recommend reading through the archives to get a sense of what a query letter should look like.
Finally, HERE is an example of a successful query letter received by Andrea Somberg.
Reasons to search for a publisher on your own:
You don’t have to split your earnings with anyone. Also, many people don’t want to take the extra time to find an agent. It would be faster to go straight to the source.
Reasons to find an agent first:
(Caveat, this is the option I chose, so I might be biased.)
Many publishers are only open to submissions through agents. The reason for this is because it saves them time. Agents have vetted the work, often done rounds of revisions to get the book closer to being publication-ready.
Agents also help you with contract negotiations. They know what to look for, and they will help you avoid contracts that aren’t favorable to authors. This can be a big deal. BIG DEAL. Better to have no contract than a bad one. I’ve seen it.
Agents act as a go-between for you and your publisher. Agents will do the hard stuff like pushing back on a cover an author doesn’t like, or dealing with problems that may come up in the editing process. Or pushing for edit notes when they are long overdue. This allows the author to maintain a more open, less tension-filled relationship with the publisher and editor which is so needed throughout the revision process.
HERE is an article on what agents do and don’t do for writers:
Honestly, I can’t imagine trying to get published without one.
The process is long and arduous to get traditionally published, and I think it’s important that people understand that up front and know what they’re getting into.
All of these options can work. It mainly depends on what your personal goals are, what you are willing to put into the process, and what you hope to get out of it.
I hope this has been helpful for you, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments.
Hi all! I haven’t been around much with all the fun stuff I’ve been doing lately (conference presentations, school visits, family fun, etc.), but in all of that, I had a chance to visit with Mindy McGinnis for her podcast series, Writer Writer Pants on Fire. It is out today!
So while I collect myself and work on getting a better post written, you can enjoy listening to a conversation between Mindy McGinnis and I on querying, agents, books, writing middle grade, and humor HERE.
Have a fabulous day, and I hope you enjoy it!
“You know, it’s actually kindof boring to watch pineapple. . . . But somebody’s gotta do it.”
And with a big sigh that carried the weight of the world, she put those puppy’s back up and dutifully watched the pineapple.
Outwardly I simply thanked her for being so dutiful in her job. Inside I was laughing hysterically, and the first thing I did was snap this picture so I could post about it on Facebook. (Oh yeah, I’m totally that mom). And lots of people smiled at the picture, and laughed at her totally made up job.
But here is the thing. It wasn’t long after this that she looked away for a second. And guess what happened??! Big Brother sneaked in AND STOLE SOME PINEAPPLE!! Turns out that Pineapple Watching really WAS important! And nobody knew it but Girlie.
So of course I’m going to turn this into an analogy, because analogies make me happy. Ready? Here we go:
Sometimes, when we do things that aren’t the norm, people are quick to laugh. And to be honest, that doesn’t feel very good. Actually, it feels downright crappy. And sometimes, we let other people’s laughter or criticism decide what we will or won’t do. It can be hard to stand alone and follow our convictions . . . whether it is about watching pineapple or sticking up for a friend (or a not-yet friend). But you know what? Life is better when you stay true to you.
You watch that pineapple! You wear those socks! You try out for the juggling team if that’s what you love! You be you. And just remember that when others laugh, it’s only because they don’t understand.
But you do.
And that’s all that matters.
Congrats to our winners!
Winner #1: Kimberly
Winner # 2: Colleen
Winner #3: Amy
Winner #4: Diane
I will be incognito from now to the new year, but thank you for hanging around, and may you all enjoy the holidays, whatever you may celebrate!
A personalized signed copy of THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY by Janet Sumner Johnson (me!!)
A signed copy of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY by Laura Shovan
THE DISTANCE TO HOME by Jenn Bishop
THE RAT PRINCE by Bridget Hodder
Simply enter using the Rafflecopter link below. The first winner will have first pick, the second winner will have second pick, and so forth. Sorry fourth winner, you get what’s left, but lucky you, it is bound to be fantastic!
Also, I have given the option to earn extra entries by posting a review. Just as an added incentive, if I get to 50 Amazon reviews (this is me being hopeful), I will release the never-before-seen final chapter that was cut before publication. Exciting, right??? To be clear, you can review PB&J Society however you would like, but every review is helpful.
Have a great day and good luck!
This last week has been a whirlwind of book events! On October 13th, I flew into the beautiful city of Cincinnati, OH for the Books by the Bank Regional Book Festival.
I had never been there before, and I was amazed at all the beautiful houses, the river views and of course the wonderful and friendly people.
On Friday, I participated in an author panel, along with Dee Romito (The BFF Bucket List) and Jenn Bishop (The Distance to Home) for a local school. Blue Marble Books arranged this visit, and if you are in the area, and haven’t been to their store, you should go!
On Saturday, I attended the Books by the Bank Regional Book Festival, along with so many of my fellow 2016 debut authors. I saw many friends, and made a few new ones. Just to give you an idea:
And then I got to meet some other wonderful authors:
Laura was my table mate, and her super awesome book about dinosaurs being brought back to earth was a huge hit! (Alas, this blurry piture is the only one we got of the two of us). She sold out before the event was even over. You should look her up!
She was kind enough to take some paparazzi pictures of me signing books for some of the kids who came by. I loved meeting all the amazing kids who came through the festival. The grins on their faces because they were in a place with so many books, and so many authors. So proud of their reading abilities, and so proud to be talking to an author. They would ask, “Did you write that book?” And when I said “Yes,” their eyes would get so big. Working with kids is honestly the best part of being an author.
One of my favorite current books is “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” So when Chris Grabenstein casually strolled up and started chatting with us before the whole event began, I was fangirling like crazy. He humored me (and quite a few others) by letting me take a selfie with him. Not only are his books amazing, but he is, too.
Of course, the local PBS tv station was at the event, so I couldn’t resist taking a picture with the famous Mr. Carson. He is as stiff in person as he is on Downton Abbey (hahaha!). 😉
And when Little Critter came by my table, I had to ask for a picture, because Little Critters by Mercer Mayer are a staple at my house. Even my older kids run over when we’re reading a Little Critters book.
I have spent a long summer of absenteeism here on the blog. But now that school is back in session, it’s back to work. Today, I give my official report of how I spent my summer vacation. And because pictures tell a thousand words, this will be a photo essay:
For my summer vacation, my family and I went camping with our good friends. We met them halfway (almost) at National Lava Beds Monument, and we tromped through caves, scooted under rocks on our bellies, and somehow managed to avoid claustrophobia. Happily, we all made it back out, but unhappily we had to bid our friends farewell (for now).
I also wanted to be useful during my summer vacation, so I skipped off to the Red Cross, and donated some blood. Doing stuff for others makes me feel good. Speaking of which . . . it just might be time to make another appointment, so if you’ll excuse me for a moment . . .
Okay, I’m back. Seeing as how I have three children, I also spent a lot of time at parks this summer. My sons attended a cub scout camp, and there happened to be some amazing swings right nearby. My daughter begged to go there everyday, and so this is the kinds of thing we did. She would swing, and I would be hypnotized by her spinning pony tail. And suddenly I have the urge to go buy a stuffed animal for my sweetest of sweet daughter. Weird. Because we already have a lot of those, most of which I don’t even know where . . . must . . . not . . . resist . . . urge . . .
One family tradition we have is that every summer we make homemade ice cream in bags. Each kid gets to make their own, and choose their favorite flavor. It almost always goes like this: Oldest – Vanilla (though sometimes he’ll mix it up and try mint . . . except that didn’t turn out so well one time, and he’s stuck with Vanilla ever since); Second – Chocolate (he has never varied. Although this year we forgot that you have to decrease the sugar when you add chocolate syrup, so he ended up throwing his out. Who knew there was such a thing as TOO SWEET??? This picture is of his blithe ignorance shortly before he learned the horrible news); and Girlie – Pink Vanilla (clearly, this is a food coloring thing. We tried using Kool Aid once to give it a pink flavoring. Yeah. We haven’t tried that again, either.).
I live in a very small town, so we don’t have any major sports teams. BUT!!! We have our own hometown minor league baseball farm team. The Klamath Falls Gems. When I first heard the name, I just assumed we were talking things like Diamonds (for baseball, right???), and Rubies, and Emeralds, and cool things like that. But I was wrong. We are the Potato Gems. Their mascot is a big old box of fries with a face. Which is even cooler!!!! Because who doesn’t LOVE fries???
I already mentioned the small town thing, and the potato gems thing, and since I know my readers are astute, they can only conclude that I live in a farming community where 4H and horses and cow wrestling and all that is a big thing. As our first full summer here, we would have been remiss if we hadn’t attended at least one rodeo. And see all that pink? It was even a fundraiser for cancer research. What better combination can there be? A cause I strongly believe in, and a crazy, new, homegrown, educational experience for the kids. But wow, I was sore just watching those cowboys ride. Or maybe it was watching them fall that made me sore . . .
Okay, my summer vacation report is about to extend past the maximum length allowed, so I will conclude with this lovely picture. My in-laws celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary (Congratulations again, you two!), and took us all on an Alaskan Cruise. It was amazing, and Alaska is beautiful, despite the COLD, and I did all kinds of things I don’t have time to tell you about here. But one thing that was a BLAST (of Arctic Rain), was the zip-line in Juneau. It rained the whole time, and that first step was pretty frightening, but I pushed past the fear, and I think this is my favorite memory not just of the cruise, but of my whole summer. Surrounded by family. Screaming through the trees (and I mean literally, not the going super fast kind of screaming you sometimes hear about). Defying Fears. It doesn’t get much better than that.
So that, my friends, is what I did on my summer vacation. What did you do on yours?
Okay, okay, and one bonus activity, because I have to protect my Mean Mom image or my kids might expect me to be this cool all the time . . . I also spent this summer forcing my oldest to practice the Cello. He humored me with a picture of how he felt about this particular activity. I have affectionately titled it “Death by Cello.” And so now you know. I am a Mean Mom. And don’t you forget it!
Summers are always so full. Kids out of school. Vacations. Running through the sprinklers. Backyard barbecues. Friends. Fun. . . . and then of course you have to add in the work stuff that adults never really get out of, but that’s not nearly as fun to talk about.
At the beginning of every summer, my husband and I sit down with our kids and write out a summer bucket list. We started several years ago when a friend of mine posted a picture of theirs on Facebook. That was all the incentive I needed. A list (Who doesn’t love those?)??? Fun things to do? A get-out-of-jail free card for when the kids are bored? I was SOLD.
Anyway, it’s been a favorite tradition ever since. This year, we had a BBQ with friends on our list. So last week, each child got to invite over one friend, and we barbecued hotdogs, ran through sprinklers, had epic video game battles, and yeah. Best. Day. Ever. (at least according to my kids)
And here is where I am finally leading you to the title of this whole thing. The day before, I had discovered the iMovies app on my phone, and their fill-in-the-blank movie trailer videos. And they had the perfect template for my book! So while the kids wore themselves out, I planned out all the scenes I would need.
I even made some COOL props. Like, I could have totally been a map-maker in another life, right? (heehee) And when I pulled out the lighter to burn the edges and make it look super cool and super old, all the kids gathered around and BEGGED to have a turn. But yeah. I’m not THAT cool of a mom. Even I have my limits. 😉 But I sure had fun.
So I borrowed one of the visiting kids (with permission from the mom) and used one of my own and I made this epic book trailer! Woot! Seriously, it was one of the funnest things I’ve done this summer (and I’ve done some FUN things!). I forgot how good it can feel to stretch your creative self with new and different activities.
Since it’s Friday, and Friday is all about having fun and exciting things to come, I thought it was the perfect day to present you with my homemade book trailer extraordinaire for THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY!!
Hope you enjoyed it! And now, please tell me about your Epic Summer Adventures in the comments (because we need more ideas for next years list). 😉
In April 2014, I watched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag take over my Twitter Feed. I remember watching it and reading all the tweets, and trying to understand the urgency that was clearly evident in everything that was being said.
I didn’t join in.
Perhaps some of you are criticizing me now, but there you are. I didn’t join in. I didn’t feel qualified to join in.
Instead, I listened. I examined my own self and worked to figure out what I really thought about all this.
I thought back on my childhood reading. I remembered books like Mildred Taylor’s “Roar of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” and “Let the Circle be Unbroken.” I thought of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and perhaps there had been some “Dear America” books with diverse main characters . . . and that’s where my memory failed me.
And I was horrified.
Though l grew up in a very un-diverse neighborhood, I always craved to know more about other cultures and people. As a child, I grew up with 2 Tiawanese exchange students who I now consider to be my brother and sister. Before 2014, I lived in a Melanesian country for a year-and-a-half. I learned French and Spanish. I lived in South America for 3 months. I got a Master’s degree in French that focused on the French works from Africa and Haiti and Tahiti and anywhere else French was spoken outside of France. I LOVE other cultures . . .
. . . but I still hadn’t seen the lack of diversity in children’s literature. I hadn’t see it. Even when an editor told me my Ecuador book would have no place in American publishing, I didn’t question that.
I was blinded by privilege that I hadn’t even realized I had.
It is a no-brainer to me that all people deserve respect. That skin color means nothing. I never saw myself as racist, but I also never acknowledged the inherent racism that permeates the world we live in.
I remember the night I first understood. I was out with my dear friend and neighbor. She grew up in Nigeria, but came to the USA for university. She is beautiful and intelligent, and compassionate. When I first met her she’d recently finished her family medicine residency. We were almost home when we noticed our neighbor’s garage door was open. It was late, so we stopped to let them know. Since I was driving, my friend ran to the door, then immediately ran back. She didn’t dare knock at the door for fear of their reaction to her skin color. And it wasn’t a silly fear. Because I was afraid for her, too.
No one deserves to feel that way.
Which is why diverse books are so important. Books and stories bring empathy, compassion, and comfort. They help us understand the Other and the Unknown. They eradicate the fear that leads to hatred and racism and bigotry.
We have all heard that everyone deserves to read about people like themselves. But diverse books are not just for them. We all need these books. All of us. We need to read about characters from all over the world, from all walks of life, living through all sorts of experiences. Because understanding and sympathizing and empathizing with an Other makes us better humans.
We. Need. Diversity.
It has taken me nearly two years of listening to understand just how much I have to learn. Just how much I wasn’t seeing. So I will be continuing to listen.
To those of you know who are speaking out, your voices are being heard. You are making a difference.
But please don’t forget how important it is to still listen. Because it takes both speaking and listening for the world to change.
When I tell people I went on a book tour, I get that look that says they are impressed. That if I’m going on tour, I must have “made it” as an author. A few people dare to dig a little deeper and ask, “So who pays for the tour? You or your publisher?”
And this is where I smile.
So much of what it’s like to be an author is shrouded in mystery. We have old school views of how things work, and when we think “author,” we tend to think Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, who are anything but typical.
Today I’m going to share what it’s like being a mid-list author. Because the reality is very different than what I always imagined. So below I’m going to answer some of the more common questions I get:
Yes! I most definitely get paid. Buuut, it’s not very much. Numbers vary widely depending on who the author is as well as who the publisher is. 12% of net profits for hardback books, and 25% for ebooks, is pretty common. Especially for a debut author such as myself.
Basically what that means is I get paid less than a dollar per book. So can I retire all my other jobs now that I’ve been published? I really can’t. Maybe if I had enough books out, but “enough” is a questionable number, and it’s higher than you would guess.
This is a bit of an awkward question. Because honestly, I really don’t know. You would think that as an author I should know. But I don’t. Twice yearly (and for some, this is quarterly), I get what is called a “Royalty Statement.” This statement tells me how many of my books sold (and in what format – hardback vs. ebook) during the 6 months of the reporting period.
So if you caught me at just the right time of year, I could tell you how many of my books have sold (though I probably still wouldn’t), but even that is not an answer to how my book is doing. There are just so many things at play, it’s not an easy answer.
This really depends on who you are. For me, as a mid-list author of a smaller publisher, I pay for my tours. This is why I have chosen to do tours in places that I have a connection to . . . whether I was already planning to go there, so I set up some book events because I could. Or I used to live there and know there will be people interested in my book. Or maybe I have a friend who lives there and so that gives me a reason to want to go. But in any case, the cost of a book tour is a big deal, because it is all coming from me.
This is why authors who do school visits outside of their home area require travel fees. Because tours take a lot of time and energy and money! And even though I want to promote my book, I also want to spend time with my family and be there for them (not to mention spending time on writing the next book!).
Again, depending on who you are, how big your publisher thinks your book will be, or even the business model of your publisher, your publisher might set up some of these things. For me (and for most other mid-list authors that I know), I set these up.
For the first leg of my tour, I joined a group of authors, and they set up our panels and visits (since I was coming from out of town). But it was up to me to find the group and help with planning for discussion topics, etc. Group author visits are wonderful because you not only share the work load, but you can pull in a larger audience and have someone to talk to in case you don’t have an audience (and yes, that really happens).
The last two legs of my tour, it was up to me to contact schools, teachers, librarians, and bookstores to find those who were interested in having me come. I contacted people I already knew, and this worked great for my first tour, but this won’t always be the case. The art of cold-contacting is something I am learning.
For blog interviews, I have been fortunate enough to be contacted by the bloggers to ask if I was interested in participating. Also, I have a publicist (hired by my publisher) who works to get my book in front of the right readers who can best help spread the word, including to industry reviewers (School Library Journal, Booklist, etc.).
Promoting a book is a lot of work! And since this is not my area of expertise, it has been a steep learning curve. But for me, the reward really comes when I’ve gotten to meet my readers and see the excitement in their faces at meeting a “real, live author.” (Which I still can’t believe means me!)
So wow, this post went a lot longer than I intended, but I hope you have a little bit better idea about what it means to be an author. It’s hard work. It’s a lot more than just writing. The pay isn’t great. But I love what I do so much, and that’s why I keep doing it!
If you have other questions for me, don’t hesitate to ask!