Inquiring Minds Want To Know…

January 12, 2008 Posted by Cecelia Dowdy

I received the following question from Erica:

What steps should a first time writer take once they’ve completed their manuscript?

This is a very open-ended question. I can only speak from my experiences, plus, what I’ve heard other authors advise at writers’ conferences and on writers’ loops. The first thing you need to do is make sure your manuscript is the best that it can be before you submit it to an editor or agent. Do you have a critique group or partner who can look over a few chapters or the entire novel? Do you have a published author friend who can give his/her opinion? If so, take advantage of those resources to ensure your manuscript is grammatically correct and well-written.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, it would be to your benefit to join a writers organization. If this is a Christian fiction novel, the best organization out there for Christian fiction novelists is American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). ACFW also has some local chapters so you may be able to take advantage of meeting others in your area that share your writing interests. Also, by joining this organization, you may be able to find a critique group or partner who may help you polish your manuscript.

However, if you feel your manuscript is fully polished and ready to submit to publishers, then you need to determine where you’d like to submit your manuscript. The first thing you need to do is check out the submission guidelines for the major publishing houses. Does your manuscript fit the wordcount of any of the publishers? Also, would your story suit the publishers’ needs. For example, you wouldn’t submit a romance novel to a publisher that only publishes fantasy or mysteries. Before you submit to a publisher, be sure to read several books that that publisher has released so that you can get a feel for the tone and type of stories they may be looking for.

You can also glean lots of advice by attending writers conferences. There are several Christian writers conferences all over the US. However, the best one for fiction is ACFW’s annual conference.

Also, the Christian fiction market is getting extremely competitive. More and more publishing houses are not even looking at submissions unless you have a literary agent. So, depending on the house you want to target, you may want to search for a literary agent. I don’t have an agent right now. I’ve been searching for one off and on for about a year, and the process can be a long and daunting one, however, it may be a necessary step in order to pursue publication. The books that I’ve sold so far, I’ve done it on my own, without having an agent. However, I want to write bigger women’s fiction books. In order to submit to the houses that may want these bigger, more complex stories, I’ll need to have a literary agent.

Another option that some authors pursue is self-publication. I am not a self-published author, so this is not something I can give extensive advice about. However, if you want to pursue this route, the only basic advice I can give is to pursue self-publication after you’ve exhausted all other options. If you’ve had your manuscript professionally edited, and somebody reputable has already confirmed you have an excellently-written project, and you’ve been rejected by all publishers and agents who you thought may like your project, then you may pursue self-publication? (Again, remember, I have no experience with this.) Also, keep in mind that self-publication will require that you use your own funds for publishing your story, and that your marketing efforts will need to be more aggressive and intense since self-pubbed titles aren’t usually included in bookstores unless the author solicits to the bookstore to carry their title.

You might also start another project while you’re shopping your manuscript around. Don’t just stop with one story…write other stories! When you do submit your manuscript around, let the publisher/editor/agent know that you’re currently working on another manuscript. This way, they’ll know that you have more than one book inside of you.

I invite questions and comments about the advice I’ve given.

Cecelia Dowdy

4 Responses to Inquiring Minds Want To Know…

  1. Timothy Fish says:

    I believe that every author should self-publish at least once. I do not, however, think that self-publishing should be a last resort after a manuscript has been rejected by the traditional route, though it does make it a whole lot easier to walk out on a contract negotiation. If all other options are exhausted, the manuscript probably isn’t very good.

    The primary reasons why an author should self-publish are: 1) The author wants experience. 2) The author has marketing channels that publishers do not. 3) The subject matter falls within a niche market that the publishers cannot afford to target. 4) The subject is time critical. 5) The author is tired of replacing ink cartridges in her printer.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you, Timothy…to a degree. However, if an author is offered a contract of at least $2K-$5K (or more) and it’s for a novel, then that author should NOT self-publish. From a financial standpoint, it would not make sense. And if this author continues to get these types of contracts, he/she would be shooting him/herself in the foot by self-pubbing instead of accepting the contract, especially if they are trying to make a living. Also, traditionally published books are already placed in a certain percentage of bookstores. Self-pubbed books are not.

    Plus, I’ve read a lot of self pubbed books over the years, and they’re usually, on the average, not as well-written as traditionally published books.
    I’m not sure what you mean by the first reason(more experience). I’m not sure how self-pubbing would glean more experience for the author. However, I can see rules number 2 and 3 being useful for a self-pubbed book that’s non-fiction. I think that marketing tactics for novels and non-fiction books can overlap…to a degree. But I think the niche market and marketing channels that publishers can’t afford to get could be more targeted to non-fiction.

  3. Timothy Fish says:

    Financial sense is a difficult thing to measure. If the publisher is paying the author $1 per book and will be able to sell 5000 copies, but the author can get $4 by self-publishing and will be able to sell 2000 copies at the back of the room at speaking engagements, which makes more financial sense? It is a decision that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

    Concerning experience, self-publishing gives an author the perspective of a publisher. This puts an author is a better position to provide the publisher with what the publisher needs to be successful.

    Concerning 2 and 3, while novels are often sought for their entertainment value, the thing that sets novels apart from others is the non-fiction aspect. In my own experience, the novel Searching for Mom seems to have a connection with mothers and daughters an especially strong connection with people who had a parent die when they were young. That his something of a niche market and if an author writing for this market happen to be the president of a large association that supports people like that, then it is quite likely that the author would be able to sell more books through her own channels than a publisher could sell through Barnes and Noble.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I just stumbled upon this site using a google search. My brother’s book is well-written and it’s self-published.


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