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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Publishing Myths, Part 9: Everyone Has to Start Somewhere

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

(Update at the bottom.)

Yesterday I saw the phrase, "but we everyone has to start somewhere!" on a forum post. I see that phrase used often in defense of bad or clueless publishers. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

(Remember, this series is aimed at fiction authors. Nonfiction authors face a different set of rules and challenges.)

Yep, everyone has to start somewhere. Generally, it's when you first turn on the laptop, dust off the typewriter, or put pen to paper. Read Stephen King's On Writing. The biographical portion of the book is essential reading for aspiring fiction authors. You'll discover that King didn't just leap onto the fiction scene overnight. J.K. Rowling's story of living on the dole and writing in coffee shops is familiar to most of us. She suffered her share of rejections, too.

There's nothing wrong with being anxious for an acceptance. On the other hand, it pays to do your homework and make sure you get started right.

So how do you start? Opinions vary, and your approach may depend on your genre. Your first step is to research paying markets in your genre. Many writers suggest starting at the top, and I don't disagree with that advice at all. Why not go for it? The only caveat I have is that you do your homework and submit to the right markets. Read the guidelines carefully. You are not the exception to the rule.

Some works may be better suited for smaller publishers. However, they may require a little extra scrutiny. Micro publishers come and go at an alarming rate - and this is where you have take care. Check their track record. Are they brand new? Have they been around for a while? Do they get books in stores? Do they send out review copies? How much promotion are you required to do? How is their editing and cover design? Check their contract. What happens to the rights you signed away if they go under? What rights to you sign away and for how long? What are you getting in return for those rights?

You need to ask similar questions if you decide to go the epublishing route. Instead of book stores, though, you have to ask how they get books into the hands of readers.

Whether you go the printed or ebook approach depends on your genre and your preference, but one of the first things you must check is how they get books into the hands of readers. This, ultimately, is how you get paid.

How about a few resources? Writer Beware is an excellent start. Also check out their blog. This group has worked for a very long time under the auspices of the SFWA, and recently the MWA has come on board with their support. They've been instrumental in bringing some scammers to justice. You don't have to be a member of either organization to get assistance, which is one of the things I love about them. It's truly a selfless endeavor for the writing and publishing community at large.

Preditors and Editors is another good resource. You'll find all sorts of useful information here. Be sure to read the rating criteria carefully.

Absolute Write's Bewares and Background Check forum. Be sure to check out the index at the top. Again, read the explanatory notes so you'll understand what the various colored links mean. Of course, you'll see a lot of heated discussions about small publishers and agent firms, but look beyond that. You'll also see some very good information such as which publishers agents are accepting what type of manuscripts (and who are open or closed to submissions) and reports on turnaround times. A thread in that area isn't an instant red flag, in other words.

Most of the above advice is more specific to novels. What about short stories? The SFWA has a good list of qualifying venues.* Here's a list from the MWA (their requirements for active membership may also be helpful). The SFWA seems to be a little more friendly about web publication. Obviously, there are plenty of non-qualifying venues that are legitimate, but the lists are a good starting point. If you are just getting started with shorts, you may want to get your feet wet with some smaller publications and online magazines. Be sure to check them out thoroughly and make sure they pay up. Hey, even if it's five bucks, you don't want to get stiffed. The smaller venues may not count as pro credits, but some have a very good reputation. Just be cautious and know what you're signing away in return for that five bucks or so.

So yes, we all have to start somewhere, but we all need to take care that we at least start off on the right foot.

*(Update 3/12/2015: SFWA has updated its membership requirements to include self-published authors who meet certain criteria.)

Thanks for reading. Check out the previous installments:

Part 1: Background and Ground Rules
Part 2: Definitions
Part 3: Self-Publishing is Great! (Except When it Isn't)
Part 4: My Book Deserves Publication
Part 5: The Publishing Industry is Broken
Part 6: If I Could Just Get My Name Out There...
Part 7: My Publisher Has Distribution!
Part 8: You Can't Tell A Book by its Cover

Tags: Publishing Myths

Filed under: Publishing Myths            
10/29/2009 1:59:32 PM
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