The Obstacle: Troublesome Terms and Concepts
Both for experienced and inexperienced submitters of writing, understanding the basic jargon of the publishing world will make the process all the more smooth.
Usually, you will only need an agent for book-length projects, and not even for all of those. Agents know the business of publication. They liaise between you and your publisher, getting the best royalties and advances they can for you (because they take a cut of those). When you submit for publication, consider submitting both to agents and to publishers.
This is the line of text (usually in a magazine) that says “By [Your Name].” Generally, when you get something published in a magazine, you’ll receive a byline if it’s a long enough article—and because most publications use their staff to write the shorter pieces, you should probably get a byline.
All reputable publishers and publications will send you a contract before publishing your piece. Your contract includes your payment terms (whether including royalties or a fixed payment or both) and a description of what rights are being purchased. Be sure that you understand your contract and that you keep a copy.
If a publisher wants to see your actual manuscript—whether in whole or in part—send a cover letter along. And it doesn’t matter whether the publisher wants to receive a hard copy or an email attachment; that just lets you know whether your cover letter gets printed out or pasted in the email text. Usually, fiction publishers want to see your manuscript and a cover letter.
Your cover letter sells you and your manuscript to the publisher, giving a quick glimpse into the piece and why you wrote it for them. To learn how to write an effective cover letter, consult the Writer’s Market or download a sample cover letter as part of the YPublish Introduction Packet .
Usually, this is the person who sees your manuscript first, whether at a large or small publication. Editors select and revise manuscripts. If time permits, they will work fairly extensively with the author to ensure that the appropriate revisions are made. Such revisions may include adjustments in organization, voice, characterization, tone, and even content, to make sure that the manuscript lines up with the purpose and audience of the publication.
Freelancer is likely a label that will apply to you. Unless you are part of the staff at a publication, you are freelancing—that is, working from your home to create writing worthy of publication.
Your piece of writing or composition as it stands, pre-publication. Often, a publisher will help you revise your manuscript before printing it.
The market, at large, is that great force of supply and demand that helps determine just how valuable your piece is in terms of money and its ability to be published. With that said, however, you don’t always have to sacrifice your art for the market.
A market is a specific segment of the greater market at large. Sometimes, a market could mean fishing magazines—note that the market is the specific place or places you could publish to a chosen audience (in the case of fishing magazines, the market, the audience would be people who go fishing or are otherwise involved in fishing). Sometimes, a market could be used to mean one specific target: the Ensign would be your market for personal, spiritual stories.
In general terms, publication is what happens when your words go out to the world. (Even your blog is a form of publication.) You aren’t always paid when you get published, but if somebody likes your work well enough to publish it, that’s a good first step. A publication also means a complete set of published material. Your magazine article would not be a publication, but the magazine containing it would be (and so would the book, and the journal, and the sheet music . . .). Often, publication is synonymous with periodical.
A publisher prints or e-creates publications and sends them out to readers. The publisher is the person or entity behind the publication, and either the publisher or the publisher’s editors are the ones deciding whether your piece matches their purpose and speaks to their audience. Often, whereas a publication is a magazine, a publisher is a selector and publisher of books.
This is not the same as a cover letter. A query letter does not accompany a manuscript; a query letter enters the market all on its own. It describes your idea, why a given publication needs to print that idea, and what qualifications you have to write that idea down with your name printed alongside.
More often than not, it will be nonfiction publications that want to see a query letter before having you invest your time in writing. (If you already have your research paper or other piece written, then, you would mention that in your query and say that since you intend to revise your piece anyway, you would love some guidance.) For more on writing effective query letters, consult Writer’s Market’s Query Letter Clinic or download a sample query letter as part of the YPublish Introduction Packet.
The rights to a work include the permissions and privileges to reproduce or use it in various ways. Copyright—the right to copy a work—is the biggest. Many magazines buy first-time serial rights (permission to print in a magazine for the first time), either for North America or worldwide, and some buy first-time reprint rights (the right to print your piece again, as in an anthology).
Be sure that you understand your rights so that you know how soon you can send your piece out again. Sometimes, once the rights to your manuscript revert to you, you can revise it from a different angle and send it to a different publication. Some authors can get paid for ten or more different versions of what was basically the same idea—as long as they are careful to observe not only their own but also their publishers’ rights.
Depending on the publication or publisher, you should know what rights you want to give up. Church magazines tend to buy all rights, so that the articles can be used in classroom settings without copyright infringement. That’s usually not a problem. If a book publisher, however, wants to buy all rights to this book and your next one, too, you might want to try negotiating a different arrangement.
Royalties are what authors get paid—book authors, that is—as a percentage of their piece’s sales volume. Usually, a magazine or journal does not pay out royalties. Royalty payments can range anywhere from five to twenty percent, usually hovering around the ten percent mark. Agents can help negotiate royalties.
Search engines are websites like Google, Yahoo! and Bing—and they are the best friends of a budding writer. Search for any of the terms on this page to learn more and you will invariably be able to walk away more confident in your understanding of the publishing industry. Also, search engines are a great tool for feeling out the competition.
Self-publishing means writing, editing, printing, and marketing your piece (usually a book) all by yourself. Of course, you can outsource any of the pieces of the process—say, to a freelance editor or to a marketing company—but you have to be willing to make the investment. If a self-published book performs well enough, it might get picked up by a mainstream publisher.
When you send your single manuscript to more than one publication at the same time, you are submitting simultaneously. Some publishers will not accept simultaneous submissions.
A term used most often among fiction publications, the slush pile is the stack of unsolicited submissions or unsolicited manuscripts that an editor or publisher must go through to find what he or she wants to publish. Because slush piles can be big, you sometimes won’t hear back about your manuscript until some time has passed.
Once your manuscript is off your desk and in the mail (or in cyberspace), it is a submission. To get published, you want to have more submissions than you have manuscripts! Also, it is crucial that you format your submissions the way the publisher wants.
Unsolicited Submissions or Unsolicited Manuscripts
When you are working as a freelancer, the majority of your submissions will be unsolicited—that is, you see a market you like, find a publication that fits, prepare your piece, and send it off, all without anybody asking you to. Some publications do not accept unsolicited submissions; if that is the case, publish somewhere else. If you make a big enough name for yourself, that publication might eventually come to solicit you for a submission.
A vanity press or print-on-demand publisher is the key element of self-publishing. Some vanity presses will help you with the layout of your book; others will expect you to do most of it (and in either case, if they do help, it usually costs more). Vanity presses charge a per-copy price to print your book (usually cheaper the more you print) and do nothing for marketing it; the marketing is up to you. Sometimes, for an extra fee, they may provide warehouse space. Also, some offer a discount on future print runs of the same material.
Writer’s Guidelines or Submission Guidelines
All publishers and publications should have writer’s guidelines or submission guidelines. These are the rules that prospective writers need to follow in preparing unsolicited manuscripts. Usually, a quick Internet search can help you find the writer’s guidelines for a specific publication. Writer’s Market also lists a summary of the writer’s guidelines for thousands of possible markets. Writer’s guidelines will tell you not only what kind of submissions a publication needs but also the appropriate formatting for your submission.