Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where to Sell Your Story

You've just spent the last year or so reading everything you can on writing. You've attended a workshop or two. You've burned the midnight oil stealing spare hours of time to knock out a half dozen stories.

Now you think you're ready to start submitting.

You don't THINK you are. You KNOW you are. Even if you only THINK you are, it's something you just need to DO.

But how, exactly, does one go about it?

Most writers at some point become familiar with The Writer's Market. It is the whole-industry standard that offers several options for access. One option is to go to the bookstore and buy a copy. It's huge--3 or 4 inches thick--and packed with not only listings of writing markets but listings of editors and agents, as well as articles on the business and craft of writing. A 2010 copy should be useful for a couple of years. Beyond that, because markets come and go so fast and editorial boards change so much, the information will be outdated.

A second option with The Writer's Market is to check out a copy at the library. Most libraries stock the current copy of The Writer's Market. It may be a non-circulating reference volume, but you can stand to spend an hour or so looking through it and taking notes.

Your third option with The Writer's Market is to subscribe online, for which they offer several options. You can purchase yearly subscriptions, monthly subscriptions, or 'niche' subscriptions that allow you access to market information specific to Children's Poetry or Short Story & Novel markets. I know of many writers who buy a one-month, full access subscription, spend that month searching markets, then cancel their subscription once they have the information they want. Later (six months to a year) they may do the same thing to update their database.

I really think The Writer's Market is the only market search tool I can safely recommend for purchase. With this one exception, keep in mind that money should flow TOWARD the author. You should avoid paying to be published, or to procur an agent or editor. The only reason TO pay to be published is if you're interested in printing a few dozen copies of your book to give as gifts to your friends and family--a 'for the love' publication. Too many of the what are termed 'vanity' publishers are in it to take your money without helping you make a name for yourself as a viable author.

Outside of that, there are many free online market searches available, usually specific to genre.

The best general market search site is Duotrope's Digest. Duotrope's uses numerous fields in which to narrow your search and allows you to order your results by a number of different parameters, like pay scale, title, or acceptance rate. Duotrope's also updates market information frequently and takes user-submitted statistics on market behavior--like acceptance rate and speed of response. I use Duotrope's frequently.

Fiction Factor sports a tidy little listing of markets in several genres and categories, including contests.

BellaOnline give a listing of markets and market search sites mainly for non-fiction. Some of those are probably paid market search sites, so proceed with caution.

The Market List has tons of markets listed, but it's not searchable by any other parameters but genre, and leaves it up to you to check whether the market is even still viable.

The WriteMarket.com has a listing that's not huge, but it has a lot of variety, and lists markets specific to certain kinds of writing--like greeting card freelance writing, young writers, business writing, as well as general fiction and nonfiction. I might have to check out that greeting card listing. Might be worth a try to bring in a few extra bucks!

A couple of market searches specific to sci-fi and fantasy are Ralan's Webstravaganza and Storypilot. I frequent both. Ralan's is especially good at keeping their listings updated as to market status, and lists can be sorted by payscale. Storypilot, though less active (as of today they haven't been updated since January 8th, 2010), has a number of search parameters to narrow down your listings for you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blog: 5 Ways to Turn off a Slush Reader

..or in this case a Hollywood script reader. In essence, the principles are identical, whether submitting a story, article, or script.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Selling Your Story = Selling Yourself: The Benefits of Professionalism

Professionalism is a variable defined by the profession.

If I'm a professional wrestler, for instance, professionalism includes never going out in public without the "PERSONA."

If I'm a professional juggler it means I generally don't show up for a performance in a business suit.

If I'm a professional golfer I don't do a happy dance after making a birdie.

Professionalism is a certain set of expectations as defined by the field of study or business.

If you want to be taken seriously in that profession you follow that profession's rules of professionalism. And these rules apply to much more than just professionals. It applies also to all those who wish to be encompassed by that field. For example, bank tellers don't wear ripped jeans and KISS t-shirts to work. Construction workers don't wear Speedos on the job site--as much as, perhaps, we might want them to.

In the writing business there are the pros and the wannabes. And both should present themselves professionally when seeking publication.

As I'm sure you know, writers tend to be somewhat eccentric. That's fine. There is no strict dress standard for writers. If you show up to a contract negotiation table in a tie-dyed sundress in January, nobody's likely to bat an eye. You ARE an artist, after all. They're used to artists. That said, I'd consider carefully your purposes if you decide to push that envelope TOO far. You still want to present yourself as relatively sane, reliable, productive. It IS still a business, after all. And those involved have business interests to protect, such as, Is This Writer Sane Enough to Actually Finish a Manuscript?

In reality, most writers aren't actually seen by the production end of industry professionals anyway. You can be an 800 lb professional couch potato and still write novels. BUT, a successful writer WILL be seen and judged by his/her public. So there's also a level of professional conduct and personal presentation that goes along with that. What does your audience expect of you? That may be determined by what you write.

Personally, I've enjoyed seeing the authors who let a bit of their eccentricity come out: the high-fantasy writer who sports a chest-length beard and a gold hoop earring while wearing a business suit, for example; the sci-fi writer who wears Star Trek t-shirts; the gardening book writer who comes in a huge floppy sunhat, huarachi sandalls, and dirt under her fingernails. But what if that last author wrote high-tech crime drama? I'm not sure I'd believe her capable of doing so. The persona she presents to me doesn't say "nerdy technical novels." Author number one might. Author two possibly.

So there's something to be said for presenting yourself in accordance with potential expectations. But is that professionalism? I think so. If you want to make an impact in the business you'll tweak some things about yourself to make yourself saleable, while still being true to who and what you are.

But what I really wanted to write about is selling your story.

Stories sell themselves.

Sure. You can wish.

Authors first sell themselves, and THEN the story sells itself.

The first part--the author selling himself--is easy-peasy-rice-and-cheesy.

It's all about professionalism and presenting a manuscript professionally.

This is done in two ways:

1. The Query/Cover Letter

When submitting a story, your cover letter is a first impression. Make a good one.

Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. The cover letter should NEVER be longer than one page, complete, WITH addressing and signature. It should contain the title of your story and any publication credits you have. That's all. It's purpose is ONLY to be informative. Most editors don't carefully read cover letters anyway. They usually scan them looking for clues that you know what you're doing, that you know how to present yourself professionally. Begin your cover letter with respect. "Dear Mr. Editor, I respectfully submit my story (or novel, or article), "Title," for your consideration."

A Query letter is something quite different. The purpose of it it is to sell INTEREST in your story. In this case, the letter should ALSO be short, sweet, and to the point, similar to the Cover letter, but you may include ONE extra paragraph (generally no longer than 25 words long--YES, you read that right) summarizing your plot. You will want to BEGIN your letter with this paragraph to immediately draw the editor in.

For both:

*Use the editor's name in the letter's address if possible: "Dear Mr. Johnson" or "Dear Ms. Baker."
*Include professional background relating to your hopeful publication. Include publishing credits (especially those relevant to your market, ie. literary publications when submitting to literary markets--and on that note, most literary markets will be completely unimpressed if you include sci-fi/fantasy/romance publication credits); degrees relating directly to writing or the submission's content (ie. a Master's Degree in history if you're writing a nonfiction historical); workshops you have attended that the market may be impressed by; other experiences--either professional or volunteer (Do you run a writer's workshop for elementary school children? Do you work as an writer and/or editor for a magazine or newspaper?)
*Use proper letter format, with your full name, address, phone number, email address, story/book title and word count in the top left-hand corner of the page. Most word processing programs come equipped with business letter templates. This IS a business letter. You are hoping the publisher will want to do business with you.
*For that extra special touch, close your letter by thanking the editor for his/her time.
*DO NOT print ANYTHING on ANYTHING but bright white paper.
*DO NOT print ANYTHING in ANYTHING other than standard manuscript fonts--like Times New Roman, Courier, or Courier New.
*DO NOT include pictures or symbols or designs. Just a plain white piece of paper with plain black lettering on it. This is especially pertinent to electronic submissions. A dolled-up electronic submission can take 100 times the memory space that a plain submission can. Even in this day and age of 500 gig computer hard drives, memory can get used up fast if everyone submits that way.

Below are some links to some articles and/or sample query letters:

Sample Cover/Query Letter 1
Sample Cover/Query Letter 2--Gives an example of a bad letter and a good one.
Sample Cover/Query Letter 3--from Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency.

2. Manuscript Preparation

Three words: Standard Manuscript Format.

Two links:

Standard Manuscript Format--I disagree with the rigidity on font from this particular source. Courier is going the way of the dinosaur and not all word processors support it anymore. Hence, Courier New. Times New Roman is also an industry standard font--the one that as a writer and editor I prefer, actually. At any rate, this site addresses both short story and novel format.

Manuscript Format--a guide for hard-copy and electronic submissions. Yes, there are differences.

One more word of advice on Manuscript Format: It all depends on your market. If they specify formatting, follow their specifications to the letter. If they don't specify formatting, I guarantee they won't be disappointed to see you making yourself LOOK like a pro by using Standard Manuscript Format.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Better World Books

Over the course of the past year or so, I've purchased a number of books online--mostly used. I'm cheap that way. In so doing, I discovered Better World Books.

Better World has their own website, but also sells on all the major books sources--Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris...

I go out of my way to look for books distributed by Better World. Why? Two reasons:

1) GREAT service. I like a company that puts a personal touch on the process, one that keeps me informed, one that works fast to get my product to me. I've always gotten exactly what I expect in both quality and content.

2) I'm doing some good in the world while filling my shelves with the books I want. From their website:

"Better World Books is a for-profit social enterprise that collects used books and sells them online to raise money for literacy initiatives worldwide. We offer great bargains on used books - over 6 million used and new titles, with free shipping anywhere in the U.S. and just $3.97 worldwide. What’s more, you love cheap used books and so does the environment – when you buy used, you save books from landfill and conserve resources."

What more could you ask for?