Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Ask the Book Doctor: About Finding Agents and Getting Published
Q: What are some of the established/credible, editors/publishers you would recommend to consider publishing my collection of self-published short stories?
A: Note that many publishers do not accept books that have already been self-published, which is another darned barrier we have to get around. I don't have a pat answer for your question; I'd have to do the same research you would do: go to bookstores and see who is publishing your type of book, check with Writer's Market or www.WritersMarket.com to get guidelines and addresses, etc. I offer submission services for a fee, where I do the research, copying, envelope-making, and mailing, but the process is far too time consuming to offer for free. Sorry, but it's a job you'll either have to do yourself or pay someone to do. It's a hat most writers don't want to wear, but it's a hat we must wear if we want to get past the gatekeepers and get published traditionally.
Q: Is there a clear, generally-accepted definition for the term "unpublished" as it is used in submission guidelines, or is it subjective? Here's why I ask:
A friend of mine has recently set up a Web site, www.sfumag.com (SPAWNews editor’s note: This Web site was down when we checked the link prior to publication of this issue of SPAWNews), where writers of science fiction (mainly) can post their work for others to read and provide feedback. The site also features articles and other information. It amounts to an online literary magazine where work can be shared and critiqued in its developmental stages. For quite some time, I have been planning a site based on a similar concept but targeted more at mainstream fiction and nonfiction. I had hoped to launch it this spring.
If I post a short story on sfumag.com, does it still qualify as "unpublished" for purposes of submission to traditional print media or literary contests? On one hand, it's posted for all the world to see. On the other, it's presented to a specific audience for the primary purpose of critique. I routinely print and share hard copies of my work, as well as email files, distributing them to others for the same purpose, something that, to my knowledge, is not considered by anyone to be publication. So where is the line, if one exists, beyond which work is considered to be published?
I don't want to spoil my chance of seeing a piece of my work traditionally published because I posted it on a Web site. Furthermore, when I set up my own site, I want others to be able to use it without fear of the work losing its "publication virginity." Can you offer some advice in this area?
A: Publication on the Internet is still considered publication in most circles. Making a few copies for your friends? Well, that’s just making a few copies for your friends. The difference is clear; you control distribution of the copies to your friends, but the Internet is available to the public, and is therefore public-ation.
Q: How can I find a literary agent?
A: Finding an agent isn't easy, and the process and methods are too detailed for me to completely answer here, although I’ll give it a little stab.
First the book has to be better than 99% of all the other manuscripts written during the year. Only 1% of fiction manuscripts get accepted for publication. It's simply not easy to find an agent and sell a book. If it were easy, anyone could do it.
Entire books have been written on how to find an agent, but the best method is to get a referral from a client of an agent. That is, if you know someone who has a good agent, try to get that person to refer you to his or her agent.
Your next bet is to go to writers conferences where literary agents are scheduling evaluations with writers. Make an appointment and be sure to submit your best work. Sometimes those connections click and result in a contract with an agent.
Last of all, search for agents who are taking on clients by using http://www.writersmarket.com/, and be sure to follow each agent's guidelines, for they all differ.
Never forget to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with any mailed submission, even if you don’t want your manuscript back. It’s a common courtesy, and without it you may not hear anything back. Sometimes even a brief bit of feedback included in a rejection can make a big difference and help you revise the manuscript enough to appeal to the next agent.
—Bobbie Christmas is the owner of Zebra Communications, a literary services firm providing manuscript editing services to individuals and publishing houses since 1992. Contact her at 770-924-0528, visit her Web site at http://www.zebraeditor.com/, or email her at the address above. Be sure to sign up for the free Writers Network News by visiting her Web site and clicking on "Free Newsletter."