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publishing 101

The most frequently asked questions the Publishing Triangle receives from first-time authors involve how to get published and how to find an agent. This brief outline offers some practical advice from people in the know.

1. RESEARCH

Know the marketplace. Make sure that you're submitting your material to an appropriate literary agent, magazine or publishing house.

2. REVISE, REVISE, REVISE

Never submit a first draft. Your work should be complete.

3. R.I.P., SLUSH PILE

In the old days, a writer could send a manuscript to a publishing house. There are plenty of stories about the brilliant manuscript plucked from the pile of unsolicited submissions. Now, many large publishing houses no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. So your best chance of getting an editor at a major house to look at your manuscript is to get an agent first.

4. FINDING AN AGENT

The Literary Market Place (LMP) lists publishers, literary agents, literary publicists and their specialties. Many libraries have a copy of the LMP in the reference section.

As part of your research, look at books that are similar to the one you're working on in terms of content and style. Check the acknowledgements section. Often (unless the author is very ungrateful) the agent and the editor will be mentioned there.

Agents differ in terms of what they want to see. Some agents want to see the entire manuscript; others want to see the first chapter; others may only want a query letter. The best way to find out what a particular agent requires is to call the office and ask.

The agent who represents you should be a member of the Association of Authors Representatives.

5. DON'T:

E-mail your manuscript*
Fax your manuscript
Print your manuscript on anything but plain white paper
Print your manuscript on both sides of the page
Single space your manuscript
Send out the only copy of your work

* Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and to every generality. Some magazines and journals may accept e-mail submissions of poetry and short stories or articles; some publishers may accept proposals via e-mail. But never submit work by e-mail unless you have confirmed that the particular publisher will accept it in that format.

6. SIZE DOES MATTER

If an agent wants to submit your manuscript to editors for their consideration, it will need to be photocopied. In turn, if editors want to share your manuscript with their publishers, colleagues or editorial boards, they will need to make more photocopies. Submitting a manuscript on clean, standard-sized (8 by 11) paper, with no special covers or special effects will make it easier for agents and editors to do their jobs-and when selling a manuscript (or anything else) it always helps to make the art of deciding to buy as effortless as possible. A4 or legal-size proposals, which have to be manipulated at the photocopier and do not fit easily into a standard-size mailer or briefcase, will require extra effort on the part of the agent or editor.

7. WHAT'S YOUR TYPE?

The temptations are many. Those typefaces look so enticing on the pull-down menu. Style is just a mouse-click away. Is your novel--

historical?
A romance?
A mystery?

Be creative where it counts-with your words, not your typeface.

In general, it's easier to read a serif typeface, like Times New Roman, than a sans serif typeface, like Microsoft Sans Serif. Times New Roman is one default typeface, but Courier New, which resembles an old-fashioned typewriter typeface, is easier to read, and you want your manuscript to be reader-friendly. In general, set your point size for 12 points.

8. READ AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS

Some publishers have submission guidelines on their websites. If a publisher has gone to the trouble of putting submission guidelines up on their website, pay attention to them. If Publisher No. 1 specifies 1 " margins and Publisher No. 2 specifies 1" margins, you're going to have to re-format your manuscript to fit the specifications. You don't want to have your manuscript eliminated before anyone has read the first page.

9. WRITE YOUR OWN BLURB

The editor you submit your work to does not make the decision to publish alone. Other people at the publishing house need to review and approve the project too. Therefore, you have to help your editor pitch your book. An editor may only have a couple of minutes to describe your book and get the publisher and editorial board excited about it. If your answer to the question, "What's your book about?" is "Well, it's hard to describe," you're in trouble. Since you know your book best, try writing a brief description that could be used on the inside flap of the book jacket or on the back of the book to attract potential readers.