On the Road to Publishing–Part II

On the Road to Publishing–Part II

By Christine Swanberg

By Christine Swanberg

Author and Poet

How do you prepare a manuscript for publication? Let’s start with short fiction and poetry, since preparing and marketing these is not the same as preparing a larger work such as a novel. Though you would think everyone would know this, everyone doesn’t: Your manuscript, even the shortest pieces, should be typed. It doesn’t matter what software you have unless a specific editor requests a disk in a certain format. However, that usually isn’t an issue until the work is actually accepted. Most editors want to read hard copy, on white paper, with simple print style, in 12-point fonts. Larger fonts tend to look childish, and smaller fonts are often hard to read. Remember: Your manuscript is in competition with hundreds of others, so making it easy to read is imperative. Most editors find it easier to read seraphed print styles rather than the supermodern nonseraphed print. Generally, calligraphic print isn’t appropriate for first readings.

Your name, address, and if you wish, e-mail, go in the upper left or right corner. It isn’t necessary to copyright the work. If you wrote it, you own it. No one can claim it, and it is highly unlikely that anyone will. Plagiarism is more likely to happen with historical fiction gleaned from nonfiction sources. By the way, it’s easier to “accidentally” steal a tune than a poem, since only the editorial staff is going to read your manuscript—if you have done your work. If indeed, a journal, magazine or publisher chooses your work, it will be copywritten by them. Let them do the work.

For short pieces, it’s most likely the publisher will want either first-time or one-time rights, which means the rights revert to the author after it is published. The author agrees to acknowledge the press or publisher should the piece be published again. And that is exactly what you want: to have a number of shorter pieces collected, then published as a book. If you look at a book of short fiction or poetry, you will usually find an acknowledgement page, which gives credit to all the journals where the pieces have been previously published. A good collection of acknowledgements often makes it easier to publish a larger work. This process may take several years, but it is worth it to “get the work out there.”

Most collections are organized by theme. Though it is difficult to do, a writer putting together a manuscript must be very discriminating. If a short story or poem really doesn’t fit thematically, it is usually best to save it for another manuscript. Bear in mind that a book isn’t a resumé and need not include every piece, published or unpublished, that a writer has written. It needs to be cohesive. Its explorations need to be delineated and expanded upon. Save those “renegade” pieces for a rainy day. Often they are start of a new set of explorations. Be bold in your selections, and don’t stray from tackling uncomfortable issues. It does no good to worry about whether you might offend someone. You might. A writer—or any artist, for that matter—has to live with that.

A larger collection that doesn’t lend itself to individual pieces involves a completely different process. If you have written a novel or memoir in which the individual chapters don’t work on their own, it is likely you will need an agent. A literary agent is like a travel agent or insurance agent. This person tries to find the best deal for you. Literary agents generally “know the ropes.” What publishers like historical romance? Which ones hate historical romance? Who is looking for quirky literary fiction? Which ones like kiss-and-tell memoirs? You get the drift.

Like other agents, literary agents make a living being advocates for writers. And like other agents, they get a cut. If an agent is interested in your work, go for it. You can find agents on the Internet, at writers’ conferences, and through writers’ support organizations. One of the best organizations for women writers seeking to find an agent is IWWG, International Women’s Writing Guild. Among other services, it provides members with lists of agents as well as sponsoring “The Big Apple Workshop” in New York each year. Agents from many publishing houses are present, and you can’t hawk your work there. However, a word of caution: If you are a poet, you’re on your own. Poetry simply doesn’t make enough money for big name publishers, and I don’t know of any poet who has ever lured an agent.

As I mentioned in Part I, you can find listings of agents, editors, and publishers in many publications. These publications should be included in a writers’ library: Poets And Writers magazine, Writers’ Digest magazine, Writers’ Market book and Grants and Awards to American Writers. You can find others on the shelves of serial bookstores. This is a good place to conclude on the journey of writing. Deciding which road to take is up to you, but the journey is indeed worth it. Happy writing.

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