The Four P’s of Getting Published

My uncle first came up with the concept of the P’s of getting published. He came up with three: patience, politeness, and professionalism. I added a fourth: persistence. One could call them principles, or perhaps even virtues (although that doesn’t begin with P). Each is important when corresponding with agents, editors, and publishers, and ultimately towards becoming published authors.

Patience

Everyone knows patience is a virtue. It’s also something I brought up when I discussed rejections and criticism. One writer is a fish in a deep ocean when it comes to editing and publishing. People in this industry have to judge every query and submission carefully, and with great thought. They have to decide whether or not it is an investment worth the risk, which like the publication process itself, takes time. Another saying people know is that good things come to those who wait. It’s especially true for writers. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way never to rush when it comes to writing or getting published. It’s important to respect publishers and editors for taking quality time to be thorough in their jobs so that a writer’s work reaches its full potential.

Persistence

I already discussed the importance of persistence over a year ago when I talked about facing rejection and criticism. Writers have heard it said before and I’ll say it again: don’t give up. Now, once a contract has been signed, it isn’t a good idea to press agents, editors, or publishers, or sound pushy. Rather writers should be persistent to a degree that shows they care about their work and accomplishing goals, but are patient and respectful of those with whom they’re working.

Politeness

A writer must never forget once they have a contract that he or she is not the only writer under contract. Agents, editors, and publishers alike have to work with and help many writers. So writers should always respect their position and what they’re doing for them. They should respect what they say in their critiques, even if they the writer disagree with it. Now, being a little rude is one thing. But I recall one editor’s story of how a client went beyond being merely rude to being outright vile and foulmouthed, calling the editor offensive names. That editor wouldn’t work with that client again. Now this case, as I said, goes beyond mere rudeness. If writers are a little rude such as when defending their vision of their work, publishers and editors can handle that. Sometimes, people can be rude without realizing it. Still, it’s important to remember editors and publishers are people and have feelings, as do writers. Being polite and respectful goes a long way.

Professionalism

A writer should be professional in his or her correspondence, something that’s apparent from the beginning when querying and submitting work. No doubt everyone recalls dressing professional when going for a job interview. One certainly wouldn’t think of dressing too casual then or when hired. It’s a similar situation when approaching and communicating with those who’s job is to edit, publish, and market writers’ creations. Only in this case it’ll usually take the form of words both written and spoken rather than clothing and hairstyle. Acting casually or even sarcastically can give the impression writers aren’t serious about their work being a success, that they don’t care. Publishing is a business. Writers must take it seriously as they would their work, so as to increase the likelihood of getting it and themselves out there.

Cover Art: Mystical Greenwood

I’m very happy to reveal the cover art for Mystical Greenwood! Many thanks to Jamie Johnson of Mockingbird Lane Press for her excellent design!

I’m also delighted to announce it will be available before long on Deviant Art, where items can then be purchased with the cover art on them!

Mystical Greenwood RGB

Formatting a Manuscript

Writers can certainly have visions of how they want their books’ interior to look when readers open them, with such things as drop caps and fancy-looking fonts for the title and chapters and body. For those who self-publish, it’s certainly up to them what design they want. However when submitting to agents and/or presses, they’ll rarely accept a manuscript that’s been elaborated as such. It needs to be easy for them to read and edit, similar to how play and film scripts must be easy for actors to read. Design for novels comes later. I’ve found it best to use a manuscript format while writing. It makes it a lot easier to focus on the story. A similar situation I think most people can relate to would be school papers; teachers and professors often give specific formatting guidelines to their students, based on their own preferences.

Agents and publishers will often have their own preferences that they specifically ask for or use later, but there are some commonalities I’ve found in advice and tips already out there, and from my own experience. What follows are some personal observations and recommendations based on some of these commonalities. Note: this discussion focuses specifically upon novels, as opposed to plays or screenplays (both of which I’ve learned have their own formatting guidelines), and using Microsoft Word.

Now, writers can go in manually and adjust, or modify text formats and headings so they can just be chosen. When it comes to the text, Left is preferred rather than Justified, and no hyphenating (both will come later, with the final layout). Tabs aren’t recommended; instead, format paragraphs so the first line is always indented. The only paragraphs which don’t have to be indented are the first in each chapter. With titles and chapter headings, I’ve learned it’s best to Center and Bold them so they stand out. Italics are used only when there’s a specific need for them, such as for internal thoughts.

When it comes to font, a small handful are generally preferred: Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, and probably Calibri and Cambria now. Make it all size 12 (except the book title if you wish). I also turn off the Widow/Orphan Control when setting the paragraph format. Why? Say there are one or two lines left on a page for a brand new paragraph. It’ll automatically instead go over to the next page and you have an empty line. Turning off the Widow/Orphan Control prevents that, so a page’s entire space is used. 1″ margins and regular paper size (8.5″ x 11″) are also preferred. Old school would have two spaces after every sentence, but nowadays it’s just one. Some would have the book title on the same page as the first chapter. In other cases there’s a separate title page, which I personally prefer. I also make it a separate section from the chapters, so it doesn’t have page numbers like they do (which are typically centered in the footer).

In the end, I now think of manuscript formatting this way: it’s a book ready to receive edits as well as an elegant design, just as a play or script is ready to be read by actors. It’s beautiful in its own way, designed to be presented to the publishing world. If you have experiences and/or opinions of your own on formatting a manuscript, please feel free to share them.

Further Reading
  1. SMF – Standard Manuscript Formatting.
  2. Dacus, Kaye. Manuscript 101–Introduction & Basic Manuscript Format.
  3. Fogarty, Mignon. Two Spaces After a Period.
  4. Hill, Beth. Format Your Novel for Submission.
  5. Kewin, Simon. 16 Manuscript Format Guidelines.
  6. Klems, Brian A. What Are the Guidelines for Formatting a Manuscript?
  7. Williamson, Jill. How to Format a Fiction Manuscript.

A Contract has been Signed!

Yes! I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Mockingbird Lane Press to publish my fantasy novel.

I’m very grateful to all my family and friends for believing in me. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without your support.

Now it’s only a matter of time. Updates will be posted to this blog. Be sure to visit my Facebook page and YouTube channel if you haven’t yet!

Prologues

The novel I’m trying to publish includes a prologue, which I recently read at an open mic. Prologues I’ve discovered are tricky. It would seem they are generally discouraged in publishing. However, I’ve seen books, including bestsellers, which have them. Even in movies you’ll find them. There are different kinds of prologues too. Lital Talmor and Louise Lilley have created lists of different categories, good and bad (see Further Reading below) .

This particular prologue I have furiously tried to keep as many beta readers and fellow writers in critique groups (all of whom shall remain anonymous) gave their opinion of it and the rest of the manuscript. Why you might ask did I want to keep it so much? Was it even worth it?

I’ve learned if a prologue is going to be written, it must have a specific purpose. In order to draw readers in, the first few pages, with or without one, must hook them. If the prologue doesn’t do that, it ought to be discarded. At the beginning, what I wanted mine to do was show what is at the heart of the story, which is the beauty and importance of Nature. Throughout the manuscript and especially the prologue, when it came to Nature imagery I got a bit poetic, which at the time was what I wanted.

One of my first beta readers liked it for the juxtaposition of Nature’s beauty with its destruction, which shows what is at stake. However, as I would later learn from other readers, that was not enough. In the earliest drafts of my novel, the entire prologue was a dream sequence. However I soon learned that was a big no-no. Furthermore, it was, as Maeve Maddox (see Further Reading below) would point out, largely atmosphere. Lilley herself advises against such a prologue. Maddox says if your prologue feels “boring” then readers will want to go straight to Chapter 1. Those who read my earliest version felt it was too “detached” from the plot, and the style “wordy”. Clearly then if changes were not made it would have to go, or at least be broken up within the main plot somehow. Maddox herself offers that solution in the case of backstory.

So in an attempt to keep my prologue, I made only the second half a dream sequence, with the protagonist describing it as he was looking back on past events. So I sort of made it a cross between what Talmor calls “background” prologue and a “future protagonist” one (the idea had come around because I have considered an epilogue at the end of the trilogy where he is a young man reflecting on the story’s events). I chose to withhold his name, hoping to make readers wonder who he was and want to read more to find out. Even then, critique group members still felt it was too detached from the story.

I found inspiration from the first Iron Man film. It has a “prologue” showing Tony Stark attacked and wounded, then after the movie title shifts back to 36 hours prior. So instead of having my protagonist years later, I had it set in the main plot, with Chapter 1 beginning some days before the prologue’s events and the early pages build up to that moment, which occurs before the first quarter mark. I added dialogue between the protagonist and another character, so it would not be mere atmosphere anymore, but still there are no names included. One beta reader who read this version liked it and described it as “intriguing”. While even acknowledging publishers do not always like prologues, she felt mine “worked”. So perhaps I am on the right track. I also believe that beginning with Chapter 1 as it is now, it would feel too sudden a start.

Some still thought it too wordy, and I have continued to try to find a balance. Recently, listening to myself reading it out loud helped me simplify it even more. In the end, I am reminded of my father’s advice: the important thing is to tell a story and tell it well. He has also told me less is more, especially with writing. In the end I have come to finally accept that I maybe I did get carried away with the “poetic” feel, and it certainly could get in the way of delivering the message and drawing in readers. So perhaps a poetic style was not the right fit for a young adult audience after all.

Will this prologue be discarded before publication? Will it become something different than it is now? I cannot say. I can say not every book I write will have a prologue, nor need one, but I’d like to try it a few more times, perhaps using Talmor’s categories. If the day comes that I try screenwriting, it will be the same. But I will make sure I want it in a story, and that it will serve a purpose, or I won’t have one at all.

Here’s my reading of my prologue:

Further Reading
  1. Lilley, Louise. 6 Prologues I’m Tired of Reading.
  2. Maddox, Maeve. 3 Reasons to Ditch Your Novel’s Prologue at Daily Writing Tips.
  3. Talmor, Lital. Where to Begin? When, Where and How to Write a Prologue at Writing-World.com.

The Tide of Technology

In the fall, I’ll begin studying for my master’s degree in library science at the University of Maryland. When I applied, I wrote about libraries connecting the past with the present and future. They preserve our written past, as well as offer the latest technologies. I have worked for the Anne Arundel County Public Library for over two years, where I bore witness to an evolution in technology available for patrons. The tide of technology making services more efficient is reflected in my thoughts when I think about publication and marketing, as is the relationship of the past, present, and future.

I grew up after the age of the typewriter, so I never used one. For that I’m glad. I am thankful for the computer. A typewriter to me would be a novelty, something to try out for the fun of it. However I could not imagine writing and editing an entire novel on a typewriter. Nevertheless there were those who did so once. There were once those who didn’t have the internet, and had only physical books to conduct research. When I was at St. Mary’s College and had to write papers, I was able to find sources digitally thanks to that library website and its resources, as well as books. It made life much easier.

It is clear to me that the internet is now becoming the main market for selling and buying books. Nowadays Amazon and other vendors offer greater convenience. You no longer need to go out to a bookstore to search for what you want. You can find it and order it and it comes to you. Even at the library you can find what you want to check out online, place an order, and pick it up at whichever branch you choose rather than browse the shelves. I see many patrons do this all the time. Bookstores it would seem are becoming a thing of the past. I’ve watched several close their doors. While you can still preview books online, for me it isn’t always quite the same as holding it in my hands. Still, I find it very convenient. The internet is essential now to marketing books to as wide an audience as possible. I had to start early and build a following with this blog and website, and other forms of social media.

Even books themselves are embracing technology in new forms. eBooks are now available. They weren’t years ago. I’ve seen them at the library, along with audio books. Once again, to market and sell books as much as possible, I must accept that people prefer different forms of book reading even if I may never use them personally. As a writer, for me nothing will beat the feel  of a printed book, to flip through its pages and know I wrote those words. In addition, I find it easier to concentrate with printed page. But yes, others have different tastes. I’ll have to understand these new forms regardless, especially if I continue to work in a library. Some people drive a lot and love listening to audio books. When I was little, before bed I listened to a few children’s books on audio cassette (another technology now a relic of the past), including The Polar Express and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So perhaps there is a chance I may try other forms of books in my personal life.

Who knows now what the future will bring? Who knows how my future novels will be received? Who knows where this library science master’s degree will take me during and after my studies. I’ll do my best to be ready in the present, but always remember the past. Libraries to me are a community center where people can have access to technology but also walk through a museum preserving our written past. Having studied history, I treasure the past, for it shows how we came to be where we are now. So while embracing the tide of technology, I mustn’t let it wash away the past altogether.

Rejection, Criticism, & A Writer’s Virtues

I didn’t think I would get the latest draft of my novel fully assembled before the new year. But to my surprise, I did. So my writing resolutions for 2016 are to secure a publisher for it and to start serious work on at least one new manuscript. However neither I know will be easy. It’ll be hard to move on after working on this manuscript for so long, and getting on the road to publication for it will undoubtedly bring something writers, especially beginners, don’t like to face, but all writers have to endure: rejection.

Rejection hits hard. Like criticism it tears you apart, makes you feel as if what you poured your heart into is worthless. I have taken both hard, and in some cases I reacted badly. But they are learning experiences, not the end. I’ve learned as much, and am continuing to learn. Change your perspective when receiving criticism and rejections, and you’ll realize it’s a moment for personal growth. You made a good effort, you can now do better. After all, with the effort made, you cannot give up now. I know I cannot, not after all these years.

Patience, diligence, temperance, and humility are the chief virtues of any writer who must succeed, I believe. Writing and publication take time. I’ve learned a desire to rush to being in print will not bear the sweetest, ripest fruit. Diligence enables a writer to endure rejection and criticism, and to keep trying. Pick up any bestselling or classic novel, and you can be guaranteed virtually every time what you’ve read not only is not the first draft, but the author had to endure rejections and criticisms the same as you. With patience and diligence they endured, and became the role models for us who follow.

I must keep trying with this novel in querying agents and hopefully publishers too. While I certainly want it to be a success enjoyed by many, I must also accept the possibility that this book may not be the first published. For many writers it is a fact, their first published novel is not the first they wrote.

A classic example is Charlotte Brontë. We all know her for Jane Eyre, her first published novel, but not the first she wrote. Her first was rejected by every publisher she sent it to. But she persisted and wrote Jane Eyre. The publisher to whom she would send it had rejected her first book, but encouraged her to submit other works. Her success shows a thoughtful rejection is always preferable to a hasty acceptance. There are always vanity publishers who will take what you write right away.

Temperance and humility come into play when dealing with those who reject and criticize. Humility is a double-edged sword, in that while you must continue to break new ground and not be beat down, at the same time you must accept that you can make mistakes, otherwise you will never grow or make your writing better.

Be courteous and kind when receiving rejections and criticism. It’s hard, and has been hard for me. If you take it hard, even if you don’t agree with their opinions, don’t let it hurt those who are trying to help you. If they treat you harshly in response, you are probably better off then not working with them. Even so, if you ever react badly, you must always apologize no matter how they treat you back. Remember the next time to work together. Explain why you are hurt, but do not take it out on them.

Writing is hard, but if it weren’t, I doubt I’d be as passionate about it as I have become. For all you aspiring authors out there, take it from one who has endured hardship, self-doubt, and emotional turmoil. I still face it, and likely always will. But I cannot let it control me. I tell myself as well as you: endure, learn, be constructive, kind, and you will succeed.