Monday, 22 August 2011


Hi everyone - I hope you all had a great weekend! I've been having a wonderful reading binge and actually managed to make a dent in one of my TBR piles, so I'm happy about that, even if the pile will probably magically double in size now just to spite me. Or maybe grow teeth or something...

Today I'm going to tackle a couple of reader questions on the theme of publishing. The first question comes from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous and says:
"i searched the internet and looked at thing all over the place that claimed the would send work to a publisher and all that but asked for money. And then my mom said how if i sent my stories over the web that they could be claimed as anyone's work and so i got worried how do you find a publisher? And once you do that do you need an entire story ready to be printed or can you have just a chapter or even just an outline?"
Whoo! You're starting right at the ground floor here - back where I was when I first decided I wanted to be a writer those many long years ago. That means my answer needs to cover a lot of ground, and it won't be possible for me to go into as much depth on various issues as I'd like. So first of all I recommend that you get hold of a copy of the most recent Writer's and Artist's Yearbook. This book is updated every year and it is filled with detailed and informative articles which tell you how to go about making a submission to a publisher and how the process works. Any questions that you have left after reading my answer can be found in the W&AY.

I'm going to tackle the last part of your question first, because that's the bit which shows a basic and all-too-common mistake about the way in which publishing works. You're asking how to find a publisher BEFORE you've got a manuscript to offer them, as if they were a plumber or something, that you can look up and have on standby for when you need them.

That's not how it works. You've gotten confused here between PRINTING and PUBLISHING. A printer will take any old stack of pages that you offer them, charge you some money, and turn it into a bound booklet or even something that looks like a book you might find in your local bookshop. And then you'll have a box in your living room filled with five or ten or one hundred copies of something that looks like a book. That is not being published. That is getting something you have written bound up.

This is how getting published works, Anon. You write a book. It needs to be a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Then you need to revise and rewrite it and make it as good as it can be. Then, and only then, you go looking for a publisher - because before that point you literally have nothing to offer a publisher. And then, if you have written something that's really good, the publisher will pay YOU to publish your book - and that process will involve helping you to revise and rewrite it even more, then designing a cover, then printing up thousands of copies of the book and making sure they arrive in bookshops all over the country or even the world. And they will NEVER NEVER NEVER charge you a penny for this. In fact, they will pay YOU for the privilege. 

You and the publisher will split the profits on every copy of the book that is sold. The publisher gets a much higher cut of the profits than you, because printing and distributing copies of the book costs thousands of pounds. But - repeat after me! - they will NEVER NEVER NEVER ask you to pay them any money.

However, these days most writers do not approach a publisher directly. That's because, before the publisher will take your book and do all those things I mentioned, they will negotiate a legally binding contract with you, which sets all the details in stone. And, like all businesses, they will try to get the best terms for themselves they can, which means that (at a very basic level) they will try to get you to accept the lowest percentage of profits possible. Also, as you've pointed out, you don't really know anything about publishing, or which editors might like your book. And if you send a manuscript straight to a publisher, they will put it right to the bottom of their pile of books to be read because it comes from someone they've never heard of before.

This is why most writers, rather than looking for a publisher themselves, will attempt to find a literary agent. A literary agent is someone who makes their living by spotting talented writers and signing them up. They will sometimes help you to edit your manuscript to make it as good as it can be. They will then use their extremely detailed knowledge of publishing houses and editors to decide who out of the entire publishing industry might love your book and want to publish it. And when they send your story out, the publisher will see that it comes from a professional agent and put it much closer to the top of their pile of books to read. Then, if a publisher does decide they want to publish your book, the agent will negotiate the best contract for you that is possible, trying to get you the best terms and the highest percentage of profits. For doing this, they will take between ten and fifteen percent of the money you earn on any contracts that they negotiate on your behalf.

Other than that ten to fifteen percent, which the agent will deduct from your earnings before sending the rest of the money to you? Good agents will NEVER NEVER NEVER ask you for any money. And you can find the addresses of pretty much all the agents in your country in The Writer's & Artist's Yearbook.

And finally, no one is going to want to steal your work or claim it for their own. For more information on why you don't need to worry about that, check out my Tips page here.

Let's review.
  1. Write a book. Rewrite and revise it until it's as good as it can be
  2. Get The Writer's & Artist's Yearbook. Read from cover to cover.
  3. Try to find an agent, using the address and following the rules in the W&AY.
Okay? Okay. Good luck!

Next question! This comes from Aimen, and asks:
"Is it possible to send a manuscript to a publishing house based in a different country? If so, does this actually hinder the publishing/editing/revising process in any way or make it harder to communicate with your editor/agent? Or do agents only ever take up authors in the country which they themselves live? I know that its probably not that hard considering that, well, I'm sitting in a really tiny island in the middle of nowhere and writing an email to a writer in England xD, but what is the general view? Or does that depend on the publisher? If there is no difficulty and it is possible to send it elsewhere, like the US - is it advisable or does that merely complicate the publishing process further?"
Excellent question. I'm not an expert on this because, as you've already pointed out, I do live in a country which is a major publishing hub. But authors from different countries get published in the UK all the time, and the same is true of the US. One of the biggest sources of income for most writers/publishers is the sale of 'foreign rights' - that is, licensing publishers in other countries to produce translated editions of books. And, as you've also already pointed out, it's laughably easy to communicate with people in other countries now.

My advice to you is to approach agents first, rather than publishers. Agents mostly now accept email submissions (publishers often still insist on a hard copy, where they will accept unsolicited manuscripts at all) which not only cuts down on your postage costs, but hopefully reduces the waiting time for an answer. When an agent looks at a manuscript they will assess how good it is, what work might be needed on it, where it could fit into the market, how professional you seem and if they think they could work with you. The fact that you live in another country may or may not affect their feelings, but that's going to be personal preference - and for every agent who wants to work with people in their own country, I'm sure there are five more who don't care if the book is great.

I'll let you in on a secret. I've never met my agent. She lives and works in Wales, and I live and work in the far North of the UK. But that's never stopped us from having a fantastic working relationship, or stopped my agent from doing a brilliant job of looking after my interests. And my agent also has a great relationship with my publisher, even though THEY'RE located in London. The truth is that it's all going to come down to the quality of the story you've written, and how you present yourself.

Good luck to you as well, Aimen.

I hope that's been helpful to everyone! If there are any more questions about writing or publishing, pop them in the comments or email me through my website, and I'll do my best to answer next week.

See you on Wednesday!


Alex Mullarky said...

Good answers :) I'm trying some US agents this time round, and I'm glad to know never having met your agent in person isn't necessarily a hindrance.

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: Good luck! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

Isabel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isabel said...

My mom is looking for a new agent right now, and has been talking to me about that exact question lately. SO glad you posted about this today! It's kind of funny because she is actually about to send her work to the Miles Stott Agency, and was wondering whether that was okay since they're not in the US. :) Thank you so much for this blog post! And Alex, best of luck!

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: Lots of people looking for new agents! Good luck to your mum, as well :)

Cam said...

I do have a question about writing: World building. I'm working on a fantasy, and while I'm pretty happy with the plot,I'm looking for ways to flesh out my characters' homes and cultures. I would like them to feel unique, not just mildly European. What are some good ways to do this? Is it something I should worry about later, when working on rewrites?

Zoë Marriott said...

Cam: Excellent question! I'll add it to the list for next week.

Isabel said...

Zoë: I pre-ordered The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Gray Wolf Throne today!! :-)

Isabel said...

I'm leaving for Florida tomorrow morning. I'll be back on Sunday night, and I might be able to get on here while I'm there, but maybe not. :) See you all soon!

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