Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tutorial Tuesday - Finding and Wooing a Publisher

The book is finished, critiqued, and polished.  You’re ready to unleash it upon the world.  However, you’ve decided to not publish it yourself, preferring to let an established publisher deal with the details from this point on.  This is where you take your writer’s hat off and dive into marketing.

In Search of…

Obviously, you have to find a good fit when it comes to a publisher.  Not just anyone will do.  One of the best ways I can suggest to start your research is to check out the publishers of favorite books and authors in your genre.  If you like how these books are presented; i.e. cover art, marketing, customer service, etc.; this is a worthy venue for you to check out.  If the authors themselves are accessible, talk to them about their experience with that publisher.

When I first heard of New Concepts Publishing, I sought out one of their authors, who happened to be a Facebook friend.  She’d published three books with them, and her recommendation was mostly favorable.  I’d also heard good things about Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, Loose ID, as well as others.  Everyone had a complaint or two about every house, but of course no publisher could be absolutely perfect.  It was a matter of finding the one whose strengths outweighed its weaknesses for my particular wants list.

Another option in the great publisher search includes the annual Writer’s Market book.  This is an excellent resource that you can pick up at most major book sellers and your local library.  It comes out every September/October.  You’ll find a listing of reputable publishers along with their guidelines, contacts, and tips to get their attention.  Not only that, but they usually list whether or not they’re closed to submissions, which will save you a few stamps. 

 Literary Marketplace is a huge tome to peruse as well.  Pack a lunch and hit the library for this one.

The various writing magazines are also important sources.  Check them out to discover what publishers are looking for submissions right now.  You’ll find contests you can enter as well.  My favorite has always been Writer’s Digest, but there are other great monthly publications to get timely leads from.

 As you search for the perfect home for your work, figure out what priorities are most important to you when it comes to seeing your book published.  Is it a house that will put your book out both electronically and in physical form?  One which has eye-catching covers?  Places your title on the most distribution channels?  Pays an advance?   Think about what matters to you and make that the criteria for would-be publishers to meet.

Obeying the Letter of the Law

Once you’ve decided which publishers meet your minimum requirements, make a list in order of preference of the ones you wish to submit your book to.   Then go to their websites and look over their submission guidelines.

Be sure you follow those guidelines!  I cannot stress this enough.  Acquisitions editors are strong in their likes and dislikes, and they don’t put those guidelines out for you to ignore.  If they want your submission to be double-spaced, then double space it.  If they want a synopsis of one page and ONLY one, do not send them three pages.  If they want you to dance the watusi in taffeta and spiked heels … well, you get the idea.   What I’m getting at here is if you send them something besides what they ask for, there is a high likelihood your submission will be automatically deleted (in the case of an electronic submission) or tossed in the trashcan (in the case of a snail mailed submission).

Most publishers want a version of the following:  a query letter, a synopsis of the book, and sample chapters.  That means you don’t send them your entire manuscript without their request.  They only want a taste to start with, to see if your work is worth the hours spent reading the entire book.  If you are sending your submission via snail mail, you will also need to send a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply. 

Don’t get fancy.  Submissions sent on eye-catching purple paper filled with glitter that gets all over the editor’s desk is only going to get you cursed up and down.  This is a business transaction.  Treat it with professionalism.  Send only what the publisher wants.

The Query Letter

There is a basic formula for the successful query letter, but that doesn’t mean be formulaic.  The query letter is the first introduction the publisher has to you and your work.  If you don’t impress, the rest of your submission will not be looked at.  Be professional but be yourself.  Gear your submission specifically to that publisher.

Above all, make sure you’re sending it to the right person.  There is a high turnover rate among editors; so high in fact that a name listed two months ago may be too old.  Double check the name of the person you are submitting to via the publisher’s website or email.

The query letter should be kept to one page.  Acquisitions editors are swamped with submissions every day, and they don’t have time to read your life’s story.  Here’s the layout:

Brief paragraph of introduction.   Include any previous publishing credits or contest wins.  Give the title of your book, telling what genre it is and what other published works it resembles.  For example, I wrote the following about one of my non-erotic books:   “My story combines science fiction and paranormal elements, similar to Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan and Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers.”

One to two brief paragraphs telling what your book is about.  I tend to make this part read like a back cover blurb. 

Wrap up detailing the additional materials you are sending and your contact information.  Thank the editor for taking the time to look at your work.

Here is an example of a query letter I sent regarding Alien Rule.  It is a little longer than the above guideline, but having already published Alien Embrace, the publisher was now familiar with my work.  

Dear Ms. DePasture,

I would like to submit my novel Alien Rule for your consideration.  It is the follow-up to Alien Embrace which New Concepts published September 8, 2010.   As I’m sure you’re aware, Alien Embrace is currently the number one bestseller on Fictionwise eBooks’ Erotica list.  

In Alien Rule, we return to the planet Plasius seven months after the events of the previous book.   The story centers around Nurse Jessica McInness, who made a brief appearance at the end of Alien Embrace, and her adventures with the crown princes of Kalquor.

Jessica doesn’t like the royal clan but can’t deny her sexual attraction to them.  The three men are determined to seduce the temperamental woman who inflames their lusts.  As Earth and Kalquor edge ever closer to war, the royal clan finds itself fighting not just to win Jessica, but battling an insurrection on their home planet as well…with Jessica’s life and Kalquor’s survival at stake.

I wrote this book in such a way as to make it accessible to those who never read Alien Embrace.  While it ties in nicely with its predecessor, Alien Rule stands on its own.   The synopsis and three sample chapters are attached.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and all at New Concepts Publishing who had a hand in the success of Alien Embrace.  I have been thrilled with the response from readers.   It has been a fun ride thus far, and I look forward to what the future holds for my writing.

Thank you for your time.

* * * *
Please note that though this company had already worked with me, I followed their submission guidelines to the letter once again.  I did not presume on their familiarity until after my fourth book Unholy Union was contracted and the publisher gave me the green light to send future complete manuscripts with a cover letter rather than the usual query package.

The Synopsis

This is a snapshot of your entire book, the length of which is determined by the individual publisher.  I have seen guidelines limit a synopsis to as little as one page.  Some allow up to five, which is always much nicer for a writer.  It’s hard to boil down an entire novel to one page, especially if it has to be double spaced!

Here you only have room to introduce your main characters, the conflict they find themselves in, and a few main plot points.  And the ending.  Yes, you have to let the publisher know how it ends.  If you think an acquisitions editor is going to ask for the full manuscript of your book simply because she’s breathless to discover if your werewolf hero and vampire heroine defeat all enemies and live happily ever after, you’re wrong.  What she’s going to do is write you off as someone who isn’t confident enough in the big climax to share it and – poof! – reject your book, sight unseen.  So spill all the beans. 

Here’s how I handled Alien Rule’s synopsis, which totaled about a page and a half.  I’ve italicized the paragraphs that wouldn’t have been included if I’d been held to only a one-page long synopsis.  Note:  if you haven’t read Alien Rule, please be aware the ending is given away here:

Jessica McInness is a nurse from Earth hiding on the planet Plasius.  Until seven months ago, she belonged to a military crew.  Events unfolded that allowed her to slip from the clutches of Earth’s religious tyranny.   Reveling in her newfound freedom, she now hopes to escape to the planet Kalquor, which is Earth’s greatest enemy.  Jessica’s only hope of safety lies in joining one of Kalquor’s three-man clans.  The Kalquorians are an advanced but nearly extinct race in desperate need of mates, and Earth women represent the alien species’ only hope of survival.

The Kalquorians are so similar to Earthers that it is believed they have common ancestry.  There are some differences in that Kalquorians are much larger with muscular physiques.  They possess fangs used to inject victims … or lovers … with an intoxicating substance.  They have also evolved two sexual organs for added pleasure for their women.

Dramok Crown Prince Clajak and his clan dare Earth’s blockade of Plasius to meet Jessica.  Clajak is a known playboy with a tendency to avoid his responsibilities.  His clan is already promised as mates to one of the rare female Kalquorians in existence.  However, Clajak is determined to add an Earther to his list of conquests before succumbing to an unwanted arranged clanning to Matara Narpok. 

Nobek Prince Bevau is willing to go along for the fun.  He is an anomaly among Kalquorians in that he fits both classifications of a Nobek and an Imdiko … a born warrior but also a caregiver.  If threatened, he can be as dangerous as any Nobek, but he tends to be more nurturing than his ferocious brethren.

 Imdiko Prince Egilka reluctantly goes along with Clajak’s scheme to seduce an Earther.  Egilka has struggled for years to save his species through his medical research.  Adamantly opposed to breeding with Earthers, he initially rejects Jessica until desire overcomes his objections.

Jessica dislikes the clan almost immediately.  She thinks Clajak is spoiled and self-indulgent.  She considers Egilka an arrogant racist.  Only Bevau makes a good impression on her, but it’s not enough to make his clan worthy of her consideration, especially since they’re not in the market for a childbearer.  Unfortunately, the physical attraction they spark leaves her vulnerable to their domination and seduction, which she succumbs to over and over.

The three Kalquorians discover the fiery-tempered Earther to be a temptation they cannot resist.  Even Egilka cannot deny his desire for Jessica, her sensual surrender to him banishing fears of mixed breeding.  The clan pursues her incessantly, even making love to her on a stone altar in front of cheering Plasian crowds.

Clajak, Bevau and Egilka discover in their pursuit of pleasure that the unthinkable has happened:  they are in love with Jessica.  But to clan the Earther means facing the ire of Kalquor’s head councilman Pwaldur, father of their fiancée Narpok.  It could also incite civil war on their planet at a time when open battle with Earth seems inevitable.

Fanatical Earth loyalists capture Jessica, determined to bring her to justice for her liaisons with the Kalquorians.  Only the timely intervention of Clajak, Bevau and Egilka save her from the murderous intent of her attackers.  Faced with the near loss of their beloved and the discovery she carries their child, the clan rejects Narpok to make Jessica their permanent mate.

After a harrowing escape through the blockade surrounding Plasius, Jessica and the clan journey to Kalquor.  Jessica is accepted by Clajak’s fathers, the emperors of Kalquor, but Pwaldur and Narpok challenge her right to clan with the princes.   With ambitions to rule Kalquor himself, Pwaldur’s treachery threatens the lives of the Imperial family and Jessica, along with the future of the entire planet.   With bloodthirsty allies determined to bring the rulership of Kalquor to its knees, Pwaldur takes Jessica hostage.

Faced with the long-rejected responsibilities of rulership, Clajak must take his place as Emperor of Kalquor to save his beloved.  With Bevau and Egilka, he faces his enemies in a bloody battle for Jessica and Kalquor.  Scarred but victorious, the clan defeats Pwaldur and his allies. 

At last Jessica takes her place in Clajak’s clan as the new empress of Kalquor.  Even Earth’s declaration of war against her adopted planet cannot negate her joy to be with the three men she loves.

Sample Chapters

This is probably the easiest part of the submission.  Having finished the book, the sample chapters are ready to go.  Do yourself a favor though, and re-read what you’re sending out.  Remember, one little mistake goes a long way to hurting your chances in getting the publisher to ask for the full manuscript.  Make sure it’s formatted as the publisher wants, with the margins, headers, and spacing done exactly as they require.  If they don’t have specific guidelines for formatting, Courier New, font size 12, double-spaced with one-inch margins all around is usually a safe bet.   Headers should be title/your last name (left margin) and page number (near right margin).  

Okay, so there you have it.  This was a particularly long tutorial, and I hope I didn’t wear your eyes out with it.  Once you have your submission package ready, have a trusted friend look it over for professionalism, clarity, and spelling.  This is your big chance to make your dream happen.  Good luck!

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