As I now have a complete book manuscript to sell, it’s time for me to find a place to sell it. The most indispensable tool a professional writer can have, in my opinion, is the Writer’s Market, which is published annually by Writer’s Digest Magazine. Why do you need it? Quite simply, it provides an up-to-date listing of magazine outlets and their editorial points of contact (for articles); publishers (for books, fiction and nonfiction–my immediate need); literary agents; and tips for selling your work in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.
Isn’t All This Information Online?
The answer to this question is yes. In fact, you can pay for a subscription to Writer’s Market online and get access to all this information in electronic form. The paper copy I bought actually provides you with an activation code that gives you a one-year subscription to the online version.
“Why do I need the dead-tree version of the book?” I can hear someone ask. To which I would say: 1) Shame on you. 😉 2) Books are non-electronic resources that can be accessed any time without a power cord. 3) Shopping for writing outlets in paper form can be a bit like window shopping at a brick-and-mortar store: you might come across something interesting while you’re looking for a specific item. But yes, working with a paper-based reference will require you to learn how it is organized in order to use it effectively. If you only know how to search via a computer search engine, this is a great time to learn.
How the Writer’s Market is Organized
Before providing all that useful information about magazine outlets, publishers, and the like, the guide provides a series of helpful articles on Finding Work, which covers issues such as writing queries, how and when to coauthor a book, and earning a living from blogging; as well as Managing Work, which covers growing your writing audience, public relations and publicity, and book contracts.
The next section is devoted to literary agents. Do you need a literary agent? From what I’ve gathered, no, if you haven’t sold anything yet. The best time to get an agent is when someone–a publishing company, for example–offers you a contract for your work. My recollection is that agents earn their pay by deducting around 10% of a writer’s earnings off the top; in return for which, they handle the painful business of selling your work, collecting rejection slips, and negotiating with publishers when acceptances arrive. If you’re averse to negotiation and handling paperwork and are an established writer selling multiple books, short stories, or articles/essays, an agent is an excellent partner to have. For what it’s worth, I don’t have an agent…yet.
After the literary agents, the Writer’s Market provides an alphabetical list of publishers. Rather than slog through everything page by page, there is a subject index for publishers in the back of the book that will help you narrow down your search. For the purposes of my book, I focused on nonfiction, then the publishers listed under Business, Career Guidance, Communications, and Education. That reduced my search time considerably.
As you read through the Publishers section, you will find the following information about each outlet:
- Publishing company name
- Street address
- Email address
- Website URL
- Contact name(s)
- An overview of the publishing company and what they print
- Whether they allow simultaneous submissions or not; this is important because, while publishers realize that the process takes a long time, some of them are committed to being the only publisher considering your work for publication.
- How many titles/books they publish per year
- How many submissions they receive per year (useful for calculating your odds of making a sale)
- What percentage of the books they publish are from first-time authors
- What percentage of the authors they work with are unagented
- What they pay authors
- How long it takes for them to respond to queries
- How long it takes them to publish a book once they’ve accepted it
- What types of books they publish (can be nonfiction, fiction, or a mix)
- What their submission process is like: for example, some prefer that you send a query letter or email; some want you to send a letter and the first three chapters of your manuscript; some want you to send the whole book
- Additional tips regarding either the types of work they accept or how they prefer to work with authors
Consumer Magazines and Trade Journals
Following the Publishers section are the Consumer Magazines and Trade Journals sections, both of which are organized by topic. If I wanted to sell an article based on my book, I would cull through these sections; they provide similar information to the Publishers section, including things like pay rate per word, manuscript format, and maximum article length.
Contests & Awards
The last major reference section is Contests & Awards, which lists contests for things like plays, movie scripts, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and so on. These entries include a great deal of guidance on the types of works they are looking for so you can make certain the item you want judged is appropriate for their competition.
The Resources section includes a list of professional organizations relevant to writers and a glossary for the book as a whole. For example, one term you should get used to if you’re submitting unsolicited work to a publisher without an agent to assist you is the “slush pile.” This is the stack of unsolicited or misdirected manuscripts an editor or book publisher receives on a regular basis. One advantage of having a literary agent is that you avoid the slush pile because publishers and editors are used to working with agents, and agents–wishing to keep their reputations in good standing as well–prefer to represent writers with good material.
Useful stuff, right? You might wonder why publishers would share such information with Writer’s Digest. The simple answer is: to make their lives easier. Assuming you follow the process/directions correctly, you will go a long way toward making your business relationship with the editors or publishers function more smoothly. They want to work with good authors. They want to sell good content. But before they can get the good authors or their great content, they have to go through a business process of reviewing and accepting manuscripts, and they want to make certain that the authors they’re working with will follow the rules.
So if you plan to sell a literary product of your own creation, fiction or nonfiction, by all means pick up a copy of the Writer’s Market, find the right outlets for your work, take to heart some of the advice regarding queries in the front of the book, follow the publisher’s directions, and then wait patiently once you’ve sent off your queries or manuscripts. Yes, if you’re a first-time author, it will be obvious to an editor/publisher, and you are bound to make rookie mistakes. However, following a publisher’s or editor’s guidelines will at least ensure that your work will not immediately be thrown into the trash instead of the slush pile.
Narrowing Down the Search
Once I read through the list of publishers that were in my categories, I started reading the summaries of what the publishers sold. This was immensely helpful because that narrowed down my search considerably. I brought a list of 50-100 publishers down to 20 or so that might cover books like mine. The second read-through of those 20 prompted me to create a spreadsheet. And it was at this point I took advantage of the Writer’s Market website to copy and paste the publisher data into one place without retyping everything from the book.
Why create the spreadsheet? In case my final picks for publishers don’t work out, I can go back down the list and see which others I might try. I understand the Writer’s Market website has an application that allows you to track your submission activities, but I prefer to track my own data on my own computer. Call me picky.
My third and fourth read-throughs of the publisher summaries brought me down to ten likely candidates, then five, then three. These publishers were narrowed down by looking at their online catalogs to see what other books they had published that might be compatible with the work I want to sell. College catalog publishers? Probably not a good fit. Get-rich-quick texts? Also probably not me. While I have an entrepreneurial streak, I haven’t been so brash as to think I can tell you how to get rich on being a technical writer. After all, I’m not rich, but I am gainfully and happily employed.
My final three choices include a publisher that focuses on business books written by individuals with expertise in their particular fields; a publisher that both teaches writers how get their works published and publishes books on topics related to that effort; and a third candidate is a regional publisher whose collected offerings are sufficiently diverse that I might stand a chance of making the cut.
Selling Writing in the Rest of the World
My apologies to my international readers, but I have been unable to find a comparable publication like this for the rest of the world. Or maybe there is such a book or website, but it’s called something else. To not leave you out, I will share these references. If you are aware of an Indian or Chinese or European version of the Writer’s Market, I’d love to know about it!
Bahuguna, Urvashi. “20 Places to Submit Creative Writing in India.” HelterSkelter.in.
Now comes the real work: marketing my book in the best possible way to ensure that a publisher will find it interesting enough to buy and publish. More excitement to come!