The following information is aimed at everyone from the beginning writer--who might need to find a place where she can receive some critical feedback--to the writer who has begun to submit stories and novels.

 

I can't stress enough how valuable I think it is to:

Get objective feedback on your work.

Do your homework about where to submit.

Don't waste your time and harm your chances by submitting the wrong material.

Check out your potential markets before you commit yourself to anything.
 

If the information below helps one person improve her writing, put together a better submission package, or avoid getting screwed by a scammer, then it was worth compiling.

 

Critique Groups

 

Workshop your stories. Feedback from friends and family can be helpful, but it's rarely unbiased. Get critiques from people who have no vested interest in being nice to you, in a F2F or online workshop. If you want feedback on lesbian fiction, or feedback from lesbian readers, we match critiquers with submissions in the Private Workshop on the lesfic forum.

 

For more general crit groups: Writer's Groups & Workshops

 

In critique groups, thank your critiquers politely for taking the time to read and comment on your stories. Follow their advice--or not--as you choose, but never argue with a critiquer. Let's face it, if your book does get published, you can hardly go around to every person who buys a copy and tell them that they're a pinhead who doesn't understand your genius. Unless, perhaps, you're Anne Rice. (She not only reviewed her own book on Amazon--giving herself five stars--but she also reviewed her reviewers! The link is to her infamous outburst about "Blood Canticle": at the bottom of the page.)

 

If you want to sell your stories and novels, you must submit them. (This is an example of: do as I say, not do as I did.)

 

Submissions

 

When submitting stories to markets, find their guidelines and follow them exactly. Give editors and agents what they ask for: nothing more, nothing less. They don't make up their submission guidelines for the fun of it, or to be bloody-minded, arbitrary, and to make your life miserable. Many have a list of most frequent reasons for rejection: one of them will be that the author did not follow the submission guidelines. Remember: they don't ask you to submit, you choose to do so. Ergo, you play by their rules. Whatever they ask for, send them.

 

Many markets take electronic submissions now, some only take e-subs, but others require a hardcopy. (Those of us who have to fork out around $15 in postage to send a partial halfway around the world and $80 for a full novel MS love e-subs.) Whatever they ask for, send them.

 

What to send.

 

Short story markets usually want the whole text, generally in the body of the email, not as an attachment. Whatever they ask for, send them.

 

Novels, it depends. Some want queries, some want partials (first three chapters and synopsis), some want the full MS. Whatever they ask for, send them.

 

Make sure you do have the full MS complete, polished, and fit to be shown to a publisher/editor before you start trying to sell it, even if the market initially only asks for a query or partial. If they come back with a request  to see the complete MS, you do not want to ask them to wait the months or years it would take you to finish the wretched thing!

 

Commonly required material:

 

A cover letter  For examples, try here and here.

A query letter For examples, try here and here.

 

Always check that you are addressing the letters and/or email to the correct person (name spelled correctly). Sometimes a name is provided in the form of: send submissions to Ms Bored A. Slush reader. If not, scour the website for the name of the chief editor or acquisitions editor or similar. As a last resort, use Dear Editor.

 

A synopsis. Length varies. Individual markets and agents may have specific requirements, such as maximum number of words (e.g. 300) or as much as will fit into a window on an online submission form. This is why it's handy to have several different lengths ready to go.

 

When you've finished your novel, and perhaps instead of nibbling your nails to nothing while you wait to hear back from your beta readers, you might think about preparing several versions of your synopsis.

1) A single sentence description -- to go into the cover letter. 

2) A one paragraph summary -- to go into a query letter.

3) A one to two page synopsis for general submission.

For hints and examples, try here and here and here and here.

 

A partial -- i.e. part of your manuscript. Often the first three chapters or, say, the first 30 to 50 pages.

Whatever they ask for, send them.

 

Make sure you've spell-checked every word of every page before you send them.

 

If you don't know standard  manuscript preparation  check this out from Vonda McIntyre.

 

If you want some insight into what the professionals look for in synopses and novel openings, check out Miss Snark. (Look for Crapometer) She's an agent who offers no-holds-barred blunt comments.

Be persistent. A rejection letter merely means that particular story was not right for that particular editor on that particular day. Submit it elsewhere, and meanwhile, write another story. There are lots of reasons stories get rejected. Resist the urge to indulge in rejectomancy.

Avoid: 

 

Agents, editors, or publishers who try to direct you to a particular, fee-charging editorial service or book doctor. They are almost certainly scammers who get direct kickbacks from the service they're recommending.

 

Agents who charge a reading fee. They are almost certainly scammers, especially if they're not members of AAR.

 

Publishers who charge any fee for publishing your work. They are vanity presses, whether they label themselves as such or not (PublishAmerica is the most notorious example). Self publishing (i.e. Lulu) can be a viable option for niche non-fiction for which the author has a well-defined, accessible audience s/he can directly market the book to. Self publishing is rarely successful for genre fiction, and the 'famous success stories' you hear about are almost always urban legends. Self-published and vanity-published novels sell an average of 100 copies.

 

Publishers whose websites are devoted to attracting authors rather than selling books to readers. They are probably making their money off those authors rather than by selling books to readers. In general, the harder it is to find a publisher's submission guidelines, the more solidly commercial is the publishing house.

 

When in doubt, check out the validity of an agent or publisher before you sign any contract by:

 

checking Preditors and Editors

 

asking Victoria Strauss, Anne Crispin, and James MacDonald at AbsoluteWrite

 

 

emailing the agent and asking for a (verifiable) list of clients/recent sales. An agent who won't brag about his sales probably doesn't have any.

emailing authors whose books are put out by the publisher and asking if they'd be willing to comment on things like reliability, editing, distribution, returns policy, contracts, etc. A publisher who doesn't want you talking to their authors probably is afraid to let you hear the truth about their shoddy dealings.

 

Standard pay rates:

 

Short fiction - Anything from exposure only, to contributor's copies, to a flat fee, to cents-per-word. SFWA defines a professional market as one that pays at least 5 cents per word. Most markets want first-time e- or print rights with a limited time period of exclusivity.

 

Novels - Advances for novels range from nil to millions. The average advance for first novels in the F/SF genre for large, commercial presses is five thousand dollars. The average for small presses is a few hundred dollars. Royalties range from 6 - 12% of net (i.e. cover price) for mass market, trade paperback, and hardback. Agents usually negotiate for the author to keep subsidiary rights, including audio, movie, foreign language, and e-book rights. All rights should revert back to the author after a set time period or when the book goes out of print. A reputable publisher will not charge any fees, keep rights they can't exploit, require an options clause on more than one future book, or require a 'gag order' for contract termination.

E-books:  Usually no advance. Standard royalty rate is 30 to 40% of net.

 

Do You Make More Than Your Publisher? Essay on publishing costs and contracts. Quotes some target numbers to shoot for when negotiating subsidiary rights.

Author earnings survey  Self-reported from authors in all genres and of varied experience.

Essay on subsidiary rights  Very informative article, plus some discussion about subsidiary rights involving authors and publishers.

More about contract negotiation  Top Ten Things to Negotiate and What's Not Worth Your Time by Laura Resnick

Improving Your Book Contract: Negotiation Tips for Nine Typical Clauses  An article from the Author's Guild website.

 

Examples of model contracts  Bear in mind that the ordinary first-time author has no leverage. So, the chances are that you're going to get a pretty shitty contract and there's not much you can do apart from take it and hope to negotiate something more favourable with later books or leave it. There are going to be pros and cons to every situation. If you're really unlucky, your publisher will stiff you with extra conditions after you've signed that she was not forthcoming about before you commit yourself. Then you're screwed.