Sunday, April 21, 2013

How to submit for publication (or do it yourself, thanks very much)

How to submit for publication (or do it yourself, thanks very much)

[note: this article first appeared as part of the How to be a Good Writer series on the C.P. White Media Blog.]

How to submit for publication: it’s the question you probably wonder about when you turn out the lights and you’re trying to get to sleep. But it’s not one very many authors are asking out loud these days, and for good reason. It’s because of self-publishing. It’s because of technology. We might assume the world has changed for good. But publishers aren’t going anywhere. After all, Sony Music weathered the rise of Napster and iTunes; Harper Collins and Penguin aren’t just going to roll over and die. So then… you might want to know, after all, “How do I submit for publication?”

My best answer to the question? Don’t. You’re going to work your keester off whether you’re independent or traditionally published. The rate of pay, though, is wildly different. I’ve said it before: You don’t need a publisher. Not these days. And not, certainly, for what you’ll get out of making a deal with the Devil, which amounts to about 15% on the high end, and that’s if Beelzebub likes you. Or if you drive a harder bargain than Faust. See, publishers used to be able to justify their gargantuan takes. After all, there was the cost of print, the risk they were taking, the rent on their palatial Manhattan offices; the whole enterprise of publishing to begin with. Plus they were the gatekeepers of the industry. Without a competitive alternative, monopolies tend to do as they see fit, and to hell not only with the consequences but with everyone else as well.

These days though, a publisher has pretty much only one purpose: to lend legitimacy to the work. The way they do that is through a heavy dose of self-interest: They want to hold the works bearing their imprimatur to a higher standard. But if you’re enough of a self-starter, legitimacy can be lent to the work by its success, and you’ll hold yourself to a high standard all by your lonesome. In other words, you’ll have a more urgent need for a great editor than you’ll have for any kind of publisher. And, considering the minuscule amount of practical good it’ll do you to sign with a publisher, you just might be better off establishing your own team that includes a literary agent, a social media expert, a publicist, an editor, a graphic artist, and a marketing genius, because guess what: even if you’re signed, you still have to learn how to do all that stuff anyway. And, signed or not, you’ll be doing it yourself, and on your own dime.

So, if you’ve heard all this and you’re still keen on giving away 85% of your royalties to a big New York company just so they can put their name on the flyleaf, read on.

The truth is, even Yours Truly has submitted work to be published, and received  the letter of rejection to prove it. It’s a rite of passage. Though I’ve made a great case for staying independent here, there are indeed some times when a publisher can be useful, especially if you can negotiate a workable deal. After all, not all of them take 85% of your gross receipts.  They might even help get your career going, I suppose. I can only speculate about that, because I’m quite fiercely independent.

So what’s the best way to submit your work to a publisher? You don’t want to waste your own time, and if you want the publisher to honestly consider your work on its merits, you sure as hell don’t want to waste his time. So: As the former acquisitions editor for a small local innovative publisher, I can tell you I never looked forward to sitting down and attempting to chew my way through a submission (elementary grammar and spelling completely aside) that had been written by someone who hadn’t yet made profound discoveries about himself personally, and applied it to his writing. But on with the Obvious Rules.

Obvious Rule #1: Submit according to guidelines. If you can’t be bothered to read half a Web page on how the publisher wants to receive your work for consideration, then why should a publisher be bothered to do anything with your submission but pitch it into the circular file? Usually, publishers ask for Times New Roman 12pt font, double line spacing, and that the work be sent as .doc or .docx files—you know, impossible draconian stuff—but not always. Look at it like a job interview: if you’re incapable of meeting the minimum stated requirements, why even try? Move on to something for which you’re qualified.

Obvious Rule #2: Submit edited work, not a rough draft. Okay. Submissions can also be like a first date. You want to show up finely groomed, with a high polish and a pleasant aroma. It boggles the mind that so many authors submit work that lives in a cardboard box and smells like pee. Crude, but the comparison is apt. If you have a good story idea and you know it, but you’re having trouble with spelling and sentence structure because of public school, don’t submit your work until it’s showered and properly dressed, having been dragged through a course by Edgerton and Bickhamand Klinkenborg.

Obvious Rule #3: If you find Obvious Rules #’s 1 and 2 too difficult, you’re not a writer and you should make yourself useful in some other industry. If, however, you’re a little hurt but mostly challenged to prove me wrong by fulfilling to the best of your ability Obvious Rules #’s 1 and 2, then congrats. You’re most likely both called and gifted.

Perspective is like a good hard punch in the face. I’ll tell it like this: When I submitted my work I was told that it wasn’t ready. I had been working on it for three years at that point. How did I respond? Well, I got back to work. I used that criticism to grow. And I put another year into it. And now it’s far better than it was. I hope you, too can experience this…when the time is right for you.

There’s a fine line between faith and presumption, and we cross it at our peril. If we’re gifted for a certain thing in life—and we know it—we must tread carefully away from the sense of entitlement. We’re not owed anything. So go forth boldly into the world and write. If you’re indeed made for it, you will break through eventually. Signed with a publisher or no.

About Chris White:
You know what they say—that behind every great man is an unstoppable rebel force—and it’s true. Like Moriarty was to Holmes, C.P. White is the reversed polarity doppelganger behind it all. Author C.P. White blogs about weirdness on the C.P. White Media Blog and spins dark tales, psychological thrillers that you’ll want to read with the lights on. Author Chris White works in the front office writing romantic YA paranormal fiction with Aaron Patterson, collaborates with illustrator Joey Zavaleta on the Great Jammy Adventure children’s books, and even serves as editor to award-winning authors. Learn more at

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