commercial publishing

Pitching to Publishers: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Perhaps the most intimidating part of the publishing process for many authors is pitching to publishers, or more often, the agent/publisher quest—and rightfully so. Finding a suitable partner for your work who believes in you and your work and is willing to invest in it isn’t easy. Knowing where these potential partners even exist—or how to contact them—adds an entirely new layer of complexity. I regularly lead workshops on traditional book publishing vs. self-publishing, and there are several questions that come up again and again: how do I find an agent, how do I find a publisher, how do I put together my proposal? While there is no step-by-step list of advised actions—and fate, luck, and coincidence play frustratingly large roles in the process—I do have a few notes of advice for those pursuing a traditional publishing route.

1) Start by looking for an agent. If you are serious about being published by a larger house (most of which are located in New York), you will need to do the hard work of finding an appropriate agent first. Unsolicited manuscripts (unagented manuscripts) are often read by editorial assistants and interns at large houses, if they are read at all, and you are unlikely to make your way to the top of the slush pile without a seasoned and in-the-loop advocate. If you are hoping to work with a smaller, independent publisher, you may be able to forgo the agent (Orange Frazer Press, for example, seldom works with agents).

2) Proofread your email pitches, proofread your proposals, proofread your manuscript—proofread. I can’t describe how off-putting it is to receive an email pitch from an author (or even a follow-up question on a proposal) riddled with typos. Misspelling the name of our press is hardly the way to make an impression. Make people want to advocate for your work. Be kind, concise, and perfect in your communications with anyone in the industry.

3) Think about marketing. Publishing is a business, and you, as an author, are a potential investment. Your agent, and hopefully your publisher, will want to be confident in your ability to assist with marketing and promoting your book. Do you have a well-read blog, or a significant number of engaged Facebook followers, or a speaking tour in your region, or a reputation as a writer for reputable journals, magazines, and newspapers? Your “platform,” or your marketability, is important to an agent (because they want to make sure they can sell you to a publisher) and your potential publisher (because they want to make sure they will sell the books they produce). Make sure your proposal—if and when appropriate—reflects your marketing savvy and platform.

4) Become an industry insider. The biggest part of finding an agent is knowing who they are, what they represent, who they frequently sell manuscripts to, etc. Online resources like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, and others will publicize deals as they happen, so that you can research potential partners for your own project (and have a realistic idea of how similar manuscripts are received and what level of investment they’re receiving in advance/print run).

5) Do your research. I often start my publishing workshops by clearly stating what we do and do not publish (because although it’s truly a 101 workshop dedicated to educating authors about the industry, it often draws writers with manuscripts that are currently looking for publishing partners). If I clearly state that we only publish Ohio non-fiction commercially, sending me your fiction manuscript several weeks later and referencing my workshop and your desire to be traditionally published makes me feel like I either didn’t reach you or you weren’t listening.

6) Proofread. Wait, did I already mention that one? It’s worth saying again. Do not take a casual approach to your manuscript, proposal, emails, letters, cover letters, etc. These make up the first impression of you, your work, and your potential. And, we make a living out of finding typos, so we will notice yours.

Do you have other questions about a traditional publishing path? We would be happy to answer them!

Understanding Contracts When Self-Publishing Your Book: Traditional Publishing vs. Custom or Self-Publishing

SONY DSC Understanding how contracts work when  you are considering self-publishing your book is crucial. It is key to understanding the difference between traditional and custom or self-publishing, and it can be a useful tool for determining which route is best suited for your project.

At Orange Frazer, we recognize the value of the traditional publishing model. We do it on a slightly smaller scale these days, but we still do it because we love it, because there are some books that require the investment to become a reality, because some books were always meant to be sold to larger audiences. But in other cases, traditional publishing just doesn’t make sense. One of our custom authors, Bob Lanphier, published his collection of stories, The Grey Gables Tribal Council: Campfire Stories. It was illustrated by Brooke Albrecht, and we printed copies for Bob’s close friends and family members. It is a truly beautiful book: the illustrations and anecdotes bring to life an ancestry and a heritage that is crucial to preserve. Would this book be traditionally published at a big house, with a multi-thousand-dollar advance, a multi-thousand copy print run, and a pitch to chain bookstores across the country? No, that was never what the author wanted. It certainly shouldn’t determine whether or not that book is published, though. This is where custom publishing comes in. Custom publishing finds itself among an incredibly interesting, vivacious, compelling crowd of authors, filling in when and where the traditional publishing model falls short.

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A Note On Comparing Traditional vs. Custom Publishing

It is important to note when comparing these two routes that traditional publishing is a course that can be pursued, but not necessarily a course that can be chosen. In the end, traditional publishing must choose you. Pitching your idea or your manuscript to a traditional house means you are making a sale, and they can certainly choose not to buy. Many authors go this route and struggle to find a traditional publishing house that is interested in their title; perhaps the title doesn’t fit with its backlist or niche market, perhaps the particular topic isn’t selling well in comparative titles, perhaps the editor just knows his/her house isn’t the right publisher for the book. Whatever the reason, traditional publishers may not choose your book. And that’s okay, because these days there are a myriad of other options out there for you, and that’s where the custom publishing route can be beneficial.

But if you have written a manuscript and you are choosing which course to pursue, or perhaps you’ve tried traditional publishing and you are interested in other options, understanding your contractual obligations and rights is incredibly important.

Advances, Royalties, Return on Investment

Contracts determine whether you are paid an advance plus royalties (an initial sum plus timed checks after the book’s release for a specified percentage of book sales), or whether you sell your book yourself and keep the profits on book sales. For certain projects, you may know right away that in order to write the book, research the book, and sell the book, you are going to need an outside investment from a traditional publishing house. If you are aware that your royalty check may be pennies on the book (it could always be more, but retailer discounts do mean a lot these days), but feel that the initial advance will recoup most of your time, then pursuing the traditional publishing model might make sense for you. In other cases, you’ve perhaps allocated this as a business expense (corporate anniversary books, cookbooks, business books, etc.), or you’ve saved up your financial resources (personal memoirs, children’s books, etc.). In this case, you are a prime candidate for custom publishing, and you stand to make a higher return on investment when that book is sold.

Rights, Rights, Rights

Contracts determine whether a publisher retains the rights to publish your book digitally, translate it into other languages, sell it to other countries, make it into a movie or TV show, circulate portions of it before the release date, or whether you retain these rights. If you want to give this control to another entity, someone experienced in these transactions, but also someone who may or may not pursue these courses, then traditional publishing is your route. If you want to retain these rights for your own potential use, then custom publishing may be your route.

Print Run

Contracts determine the investment in the print run. Do you want to pitch the book to retail outlets, or do you envision having copies for circulation among your close friends, family, and coworkers? Do you see this as a general interest book accessible to a wide range of readers and audiences, or do you see this as a more personal book, one that a particular region, business, family, or organization will primarily have interest in?

The scope of the contract, and the nature of the acquisition, differentiates traditional trade publishing from custom publishing. Both are advantageous in their own ways, and both are sustainable and effective business models. Here at Orange Frazer, we excel at both, because we know that publishing is an ever-evolving industry, and we like to make sure we are one step ahead so that we can continue to create beautiful, long-lasting books for our authors and readers.