31 Questions when Choosing an Agent

Agents, it seems, are the way to break into the traditional publishing field for authors. But how do you find an agent? More importantly, once you find an agent, how do you know they are a good one? This is not a decision for the faint of heart, as Susan Kearney points out at Plot Monkeys.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when looking for an agent, and once you get that agent, is that your agent is NOT your friend. You have a business relationship and it is their duty to do their best to sell your book.

Also remember that the agent is your voice to big name publishers. If you have a bad agent, this might damage your ability to break into the market. So don’t be afraid to terminate the contract if you and your agent can’t conduct business in a professional manner.

For more information on disreputable agents, add Writer Beware! to your RSS feeds, as well as look up your potential agents in their archives.

If you want an inside look to the life of an agent, agent blogs are the way to go. See BookEnds, Nathan Bransford, Jennifer Jackson from the Donald Maass Agency, Rachel Vater from Folio Literary Management, Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency, and the snarkives of Miss Snark. At least…these are the ones I read.

Here are Susan Kearney’s list of questions that should be answered to help determine whether your potential agent will make a good business partner for your writing goals.

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Self-Published Authors and Taxes

Tax ManIt turns out that if you’re self-published, you’re considered self-employed. If you’re self-employed, you need to report your income if you accept more than $400 a year for your services (as seen on the form, here).

Some of you may know this already. But let me tell you, back when I was a naive, trusting seventeen-year-old (as opposed to the naive, not-so-trusting twenty-two-year-old I am now), I was completely bummed out that if I became the author I wanted to be, I’d have to pay taxes on my hard-earned royalties. This includes selling your books online, through PayPal, etc.

So for you writers that are either self-published or vanity-published, here are some tax forms you might want to take a look at.

  • Publications and Forms for Self-Employed Individual: These are all the forms that apply to any sort of self-employed writer. Self-employed in this case would imply self- or vanity-published, because you are putting the money into having your work produced.

    That is the key distinction: you are producing your work. Otherwise, you are working with a small press or traditional, large press, who pays all of the production/marketing costs and eke out a small royalty your way.

  • Filing Requirements for Self-Employed Individual: This page lists the different forms you may have to fill out in order to be kosher with the Tax Man.
  • Business Use of Your Home: This page gives you some idea of what is considered a business in the home, and what benefits you can get by claiming your home office as such. Keep in mind, you need to keep separate receipts, as well as make sure that your office is specifically for your writing, etc. If you’re going to have a business office, keep it a business.

For more information, check out Taxes and the Writer, which goes into more detail (and in paragraph form) about allowable deductions, home offices, retirement plans, etc. And read Death, Taxes, and the Writer for an emphasis on the importance of filing your return, even if you only made $401 in income the previous fiscal year.

P.S. For those of you needing a bit of extra help with your writing, I’ve begun re-compiling my general writing notes on my website, along with all the quotes I’ve compiled over the past couple of years. Stay tuned for more goodies!

An Update

So. How is the WIP going? Fairly well, I would say. It’s a new month, which means I’ve printed out the previous month’s (incomplete) draft, kissed it, set it aside, and convinced my mind that I’m starting this month with a new inspired view of the WIP. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it seems to work for me. I’m 29% complete with this draft that I call The Rewrite of Novel # 2 ™.

It’s sort of a running joke between my friends, or, at least, those who are interested in my writing, to call my books by the order in which I started them. There is, of course, Number One, which is my self-published (subsidy) book from high school, Catching the Rose. Number Two is what I keep calling the WIP here, while Number Three is the sequel to Number Two, and the result of my participating in NaNoWriMo 2006. Number Three’s fun and quick tone convinced me to rewrite Number Two. (All of this is more information than you cared to know about, I’m sure, but I find the writing habits of other writers fascinating… so every once in a while, I indulge myslf.) I haven’t had a chance to write in the last four days or so, other than blogging, and I can feel the strain. This is funny, in a not-so-funny way, because last week I suffered from a mini-Block. This week, I’m struggling to hold the reins of my imagination until I have control of everything and know the exact route I want to take. Talking through the plot, or just talking about the WIP in general, does help, however, which is what happened this time around to kill the infamous WB.

I’d like to make an update, however, about a previous post in which I talked about Lulu’s Published By You package. According to POD Critic, while the package claims that the author (which would be you) is designated as the publisher (which essentially means you are the publisher and Lulu is merely the printer), the truth of the matter is that everywhere else you submit your book, Lulu will be listed as the publisher.

I began to think about this, and what the implications are. So, let’s walk through this. By registering your book with Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, etc, POD Critic claims that these websites still list Lulu as the publisher. Which means Lulu is still a subsidy press, rather than a community of self-run micropresses. It does make sense. After all, you can’t actually buy ISBNs separately, you have to buy them in groups of ten. So, Lulu is still being the middle-man by buying the blocks, and then allowing you, the author, to buy the ISBN separately, from them, Lulu. The U.S. ISBN Agency, however, will still list the ISBN as owned by Lulu. Anything that happens to the ISBN after selling it to Lulu is not really their problem.

Tricky, no? I think it’s a tricky move, and kind of mean, actually, but then, I suppose it is the author’s responsibility to look up and understand all the details of such a transaction. And really, if you’re going through all the trouble of buying the ISBN from Lulu, you might as well just set up your own micropress, like how POD Critic advocates. If you’re that serious about self-publishing, you might as well go all the way and just do it yourself.

Happy New Year, Get Studying

Happy New Year everyone! May your muse shine brightly this year.

Now to some business: for those of you who are interested in taking graduate-level courses, check out the following programs. Some of them are only a week long, but cram enough information to cover a year-long publishing internship/entry-level job. I suggest looking these over, especially if you’re thinking of self-publishing and doing it properly and well. Also, it looks great on your resume, and, I think, looks even better than saying you have a graduate degree in Creative Writing. The thing is, a creative writing degree is hard to sell unless you came from a prestigious school or had a well-known writer as your lecturer. Even so, having the degree only means you know the tricks–it says nothing about whether you can apply them or not. With a publishing degree, it shows you take the process of writing a book seriously. Your publishing house/agent/whomever knows that you understand the process and therefore know that even though they’re publishing the book, your marketing skills are absolutely key.

NYU Summer Publishing Institute: Provides lectures, workshops, simulations, site visits, special events, and career planning sessions to those interested in developing a publishing career. Explore key principles and practices in this thorough introduction to publishing, as well as the role of editing, marketing, design, new media, production, budgeting, advertising, circulation, publicity, and much more.

Columbia Publishing Course: Shortest graduate school in the country; would take you a year in an entry-level position in publishing to learn what you will learn in six-weeks here, and ten years to meet all the people you will meet. For almost sixty years, the course has been training young men and women for careers as editors, literary agents, publishers, designers, publicists, and more. Graduates can be found in every kind of job, at major magazines and publishing houses across the nation.

University of Denver Publishing Institute: An intensive, full-time, four-week, graduate-level course that devotes itself to all aspects of book publishing: editing, marketing, and production. During the final week, the Institute provides career counseling sessions to assist students in finding positions in publishing.

Emerson College MA in Publishing and Writing: Offers courses in book, magazine, and electronic publishing; in fiction and nonfiction writing; and in literature and criticism. Internship and apprenticeship opportunities are available, for credit, in Boston publishing and production firms and literary agencies.

Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing: Canada’s premier training ground for professional publishing, Simon Fraser University’s Master of Publishing (MPub) is a rigorous 16-month program of seminars, guest lectures, technology workshops and an internship.

Publishing Training: Learn publishing skills from the industry’s training provider. Classroom-based open courses cover everything from editorial skills to marketing and publicity. Can also study proofreading, editing, copywriting or picture research by distance learning.

Exciting New Links!

Bloomsbury, an independent publisher whose home is the UK, has a wonderful Writer’s Area with articles about how to submit materials, approach a publisher, what you can expect an agent to do for you, and even lists agents from the US and UK/Ireland. I spent quite a bit of time here. They also have a Research Center, which I haven’t played around with yet, but they claim to have over 17,000 cross-referenced, free entries that you can utilize for your writing. I’m just itching to try it out! (And yes, this is the publisher that found J.K.Rowling.)

Book Connector is a website helping to connect authors, reviews and small press publishers together.

Small Press Center is a delightful little collection of small press publishers grouped alphabetically and by genre. Take a chance with a small press, especially if after reading their website you think you two would make a good fit. A small press publisher takes a larger chance on you because they have small print runs, but that also means they spend much more time with you, and you have a smaller risk of having to mold your work to fit what they think the industry wants (as is sometimes the case with larger publishers).

Preditors and Editors is an amazing resource of vanity, self-, and small press publishers. The great thing about this website is that many people in the industry use it and report back when links are broken or when an author had a bad experience. I can easily spend hours browsing through, trying to decide where I think my book will fit. Of course, it might help if I finish it first haha.

We Have the Power!

Another of the many reasons to read POD-dy Mouth‘s blog: you get to hear about some pretty big and great news for self-publishing authors. So what is the good news? Let me give you a little bit of background first.

Any publisher, whether they are a self-publisher, vanity publisher, or traditional publisher, have to buy ISBNs (International Standard Book Number) in blocks of ten. I don’t know why, that’s just how the industry set it up. I believe it’s to make the ISBN cheaper since you’re buying in bulk, but in the long run it makes much more expensive to self-publish one book because you have to buy that block of ten. Anyway, this ISBN is one major key to getting your book published. If you don’t have an ISBN, it won’t matter how great or cheap your book is, no bookstore will ever carry it. Nor will any online store (such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Borders, etc) carry it.

What’s the point to all this? Well, Lulu.com has made publishing your book through them even easier. They are one of the largest self-publishing companies, and they fulfill my definition of self-publishing because they don’t format or edit anything. They aren’t vanity publishers because they don’t make you pay for anything, they simply take a commission from each print-on-demand order. They are, in other words, one huge and efficient printer of your work, and that’s it. You are responsible for editing and formatting your book, from the interior layout and copyright page to the cover. I remember checking them out back when I was looking for publishers for my first book, and at the time, I wasn’t too impressed because their book sizes were limited and I didn’t know enough about book layout design to do it. Lulu.com today is much better. You have the option of printing a mass market paperback sized book! What does that even mean? All those paperbacks you see in the grocery store? Mass market paperback. Most fantasy, science fiction, and romance? Mass market paperback. I don’t know why but I’ve always wanted to have my own MMP book, and the fact that Lulu.com now offers this is a big selling point for me.

But back to the ISBNs. How has Lulu.com made self-publishing even more powerful? Lulu.com is working in conjunction with the U.S. ISBN Agency to allow authors to generate ISBNs on a one-at-a-time rate. This means the ISBN is owned by the self-publisher, saving cost on buying more than is needed. This also means the work is not limited to only being sold on Lulu.com, you can migrate to other websites and submit it for sale. This is big. This is huge. This is splendid and wonderful and brought such a smile to my face. The service is called “Published by You”, and while I’ve been searching the site and haven’t found the exact description of the service yet, their press release assures me they are serious about it.

So. Go out there. Do the good thing. Be a self-published author!

Self-Publishing Experiences

When people ask me about my book, I tell them I self-published it. This is true and untrue. I paid to have the book printed, I bought a set of the book and sold it to my family and friends, and was interviewed by my local television station about it. Mainly because I was a senior in high school and it was my senior thesis. But if I had gone the actual self-publication route, I would have found a printer, custom designed my cover and interior, and kept all the profits for myself. What I did in reality was go through a print-on-demand company, Aventine Press. This route means I used an interior template, a cover template; in other words, the company limited my choices to what they had available.

For my first time in the publishing realm, I really have to say that Aventine Press kept my concerns in mind. Because of production delays due to the cover designer needing a root canal, they custom designed my cover. My book was placed online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many more. My dad helped me with local marketing by sending the press release to the news stations. I can’t even tell you what it felt like to hold my book that first time after opening the package. But looking back, I should have waited. They require that you pay extra for editing services, and let’s face it, my first book could have used some last-minute editing.

Other things to keep in mind: yes, if you put forth a good quality product and perfect your marketing plan, there is a larger change of a traditional (aka commercial) publisher of picking up your writing, as long as you follow the rules (querying, sending partials when asked, etc). But out of the thousands of people who went the self-publishing route (we’re talking POD, Vanity, and Self Publishing), only 20 were picked by commercial publishers.

So, I guess my point is that if you have the money and patience, research the “actual” self-publishing route. It’s more impressive, and you complete control. But most of all, be careful with the Vanity, Subsidy and POD publishers. Seeing the market now, I realize I was lucky.

The following definitions were found here.

  • A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish a manuscript (often along with other rights, known as subsidiary rights), and pays the author a royalty on sales (most also pay an advance on royalties). Commercial publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of manuscripts submitted, and handle every aspect of editing, publication, distribution, and marketing. There are no costs to the author.
  • A vanity publisher prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal more expensive than self-publishing. The completed books are the property of the author, and the author retains all proceeds from sales. Vanity publishers do not screen for quality–they publish anyone who can pay. For an extra fee, some may provide editing, marketing, warehousing, and/or promotional services (often of dubious quality), or they may provide variously-priced service packages that include differing menus of extras.
  • A subsidy publisher also takes payment from the author to print and bind a book, but contributes a portion of the cost and/or adjunct services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing. Theoretically, subsidy publishers are selective. The completed books are the property of the publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. Income to the writer comes in the form of a royalty.
  • Self-publishing requires the author to bear the entire cost of publication, and also to handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. However, rather than paying for a pre-set package of services, the author puts those services together himself. Because he can put every aspect of the process out to bid, he may pay a good deal less than what’s charged by vanity publishers; self-publishing can also result in a higher-quality product. Completed books are owned by the writer, and the writer keeps all proceeds from sales.

Self-Publishing

Ah, the woes of being a writer in today’s world. It is hard to break into publishing, especially with the big names. Even small press publishers are closing their doors to unsolicited manuscripts, meaning if you don’t have an agent who is willing to back your work (which is sometimes a trial in and of itself, finding an agent that you get along with and is willing to work for you), you’re a little out of luck. And that’s why I turned to self-publishing for my first novel.

Well, that’s one of many reasons why I self-published my first novel. There is the fact that, if you pick a reputable and cost-effective publisher, you will get higher royalty checks than a traditional publisher. Also take into consideration that there is something amazing about doing something for yourself, by yourself. And having total control of your work (be careful who you publish with!). For instance, did you know that when a major publisher picks up your book, you can suggest what you would like for the title and cover, but keep in mind that they have the final say, and consider it a compliment if their editor tries to persuade you to like it. Now, if your working title of your manuscript is in the take-it-or-leave-it section of your heart, you’re golden. If not, and your dream is to be traditionally published, you better start preparing for disappointment. Though, they might think your title is good enough; the key is marketing.

Now. On to the trials of self-publishing. It is dangerous. If you don’t do your research correctly, you will end up with no rights to your work. Or, you could be sucked dry, financially. Ron from PublishingBasics.com has this to say:

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