List of things you’ll need:
The patience of Job
What to do:
Prepare a manuscript
Write your jacket copy
Write your cover letter
Wait, wait, and wait some more
“I’ve written this book, and I want people to read it. How can I publish it?”
First, let me just say that ebook self-publishing is not a sin.
My mother has published two ebooks and is working on more. That’s awesome. If you’d like to see her developing children’s series, click here: The Adventures of Whippy the Whale. You’ll also get to see some of my art … I’m her illustrator. *grin*
But, if you’re following and reading a blog by Cathy Day, I’m assuming you’re more interested in having a lovely clean, neat, perfectly typeset printed book in a pretty, shiny dust jacket, published by Random House or Penguin or some other big-name publisher. The kind of book that flies off the bookshelves on release day, when your fans line up three times around the block to have you sign, “To Suzie, Love *insert your name here*” That is a lovely end goal to have. It really is.
However … no matter what route you take, it’s sort of like the trip to the Emerald City. You have your destination in mind, but the road ahead is much longer (and more difficult?) than you might expect. I wish I could say, “Just click the heels of your ruby house slippers together three times and you’re there!” But, from what I’ve learned this week in Cathy Day’s class on “selling” your manuscript, it isn’t that simple. Not that simple at all. Each scenario (self-publishing and agent publishing) has its challenges, benefits, pitfalls, and excitement.
As for any trip, you’ll want a toolbox. Only instead of a feisty Scottish Terrier and a pair of magic heels, you’ll need the things on the list I gave you at the top of the post.
Prepare your manuscript.
When pitching to an agent, the first thing you need to do is to read his information and find out how much of your book he wants from you. Different agents want different amounts of your manuscript. Some agents want the first ten pages. Some want twenty, some fifty. Some want the whole manuscript (but according to our instructor, that’s pretty rare). Usually it’s between three and twenty-five pages. Not a lot!
Prepare this manuscript in the proper format, which usually means double-spaced with your name, book title, and page numbers somewhere in a header or footer. I have learned this week that agents will get very mad at you if you don’t name and number your pages. An open window on a windy day does not agree well with a stack of fifty unnamed pages on a desk.
This manuscript should be polished, edited, and ready for printing the moment you put it into the envelope. It should not only be your best composition, but also (and more importantly) your best “fictioneering.”
(Yes, I just made up that word. We’re creative writers. We can make up words if we want. Fictioneering is what I call the entire process we’ve been doing this semester. Engineering a novel.)
The manuscript partial you send out should be able to grab the reader’s attention and invest his interest in your work within the first few pages. Characterization, plot, conflict, all of the above. Professor Day says that your manuscript should take the reader up to and past the first point of no return. Sort of like the first giant hill on the roller coaster. Once you pass that topmost point of interest, your reader should want–no, should physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally need to continue the ride!
Write the jacket copy.
All right, don’t hate me. But I need you to put on the campiest, cheeziest thinking cap you own. Your next item/to-do is to write your jacket copy of your novel. From what I’ve picked up, your jacket copy should be a Campbell’s Condensed version of your novel, somewhere between 250-500 words. Answer three questions in narrative prose:
- Who is your character?
- What has happened to create a conflict for him?
- What is the goal the character must accomplish or choice he will have to make?
For me, I have to be able to read my jacket copy in the “movie announcer guy’s voice.” You know how, in movie trailers, there’s always a voice-over that basically summarizes the movie without giving any of the plot or resolution away? Do that. Give your prospective agent a written book trailer that gives him an idea of where the story will go, but don’t spoil anything.
Hop on over to Cathy Day’s blog and read Week 11 post “Write Write Write” for a more detailed how-to on writing the jacket copy. To be honest, it’s more than likely not going to get printed on your shiny dust jacket, but it does help the prospective agent get a good idea of what your book is like. And once in a while, it’s fun to be cheezy.
Write a cover letter.
Your cover letter should be a very professional, very polished, dignified letter … begging the agent to read and consider your work for agency or publishing.
Introduce yourself, introduce your book with your jacket copy, indicate the enclosed manuscript, and thank him for his time.
Something I learned from another writing class last semester was that form letters are bad. I mean that while it’s temptingly easy to write a form letter and print ten copies, it won’t tug the reader’s heartstrings enough to get him to read your work (most likely). You will probably best serve yourself and your book by writing each individual agent. Be careful to send the packet with the letter to Agent Joe Johnson to Agent Joe Johnson, and not to Editor-in-Chief Suzie Q. Ball of Random House Publishing Company.
Send it out!
Once you have each packet prepared and each envelope properly addressed, send them out. Such a simple, easy step … but you must realize that at this moment, this very point on the linear arc of the Space-Time Continuum, your book is now out of your hands. Let it go. You’ve raised it, you’ve nurtured it, you’ve prepared it to go out into the real world. Now you have to let it go. This is your baby’s graduation ceremony. Cry if you must, but then let it go.
Tick Tock Goes the Clock
The hardest part about anything is waiting. The last item in your toolbox, the patience of Job, becomes especially useful now. Truth be told, I sent a piece out for publication at the end of this past spring, and completely forgot about it until I received a response letter that it wasn’t what they were looking for in that exact moment but I should submit something again later. (Yes, that’s called a rejection, but it’s the kindest rejection there is. “Not no, just not now.”) I was very fortunate to be able to forget about it until they responded to me. That may or may not happen to you. But if anything, I’ve learned this week that agents are extremely busy, and the last thing they want is to be bothered.
So, no, pestering them will not work.
I’m sorry, I really wish there were a magic formula I could give you to make this part of the process go away, but there isn’t. Not if you want the potential of having people flock to your book signing in New York with shiny new hardback copies in their hands. I’m never one to discount the possibility of a miracle, don’t get me wrong! But just know that without a miracle (and God bless you if you get one!!!), you must play the waiting game with the rest of us.
I hate to tell you this, but …
Since I’m a member of the Fishbowl, I have a really nice bound copy of Professor Day’s publishing packet with formatting tips, first chapters as examples of partials, and other last-minute fictioneering advice. I can’t really give that to you. But … if you want to prepare your publishing packet as I’ve described above, please know that I’m not setting you up to fail just because I have insider tips and you don’t. I know, I’m mean. But of this I am certain …
You can do it!
Just start walking.
This is the girl who wrote what you just read.
Chelsea Jackman, Ball State University Senior
Visit my website to learn what I do when I’m not being a sexy novelist.