Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Should I pay a publisher any sort of upfront fee?

"I have completed my (memoir) manuscript and submitted it to Tate. I was offered a contract and had it revised by a lawyer. When I talked to someone in aquisitions about the revisions they were not willing to negotiate any changes including the $3990.00 for marketing because I am a new author and they don't know how my book will sell. When they said that to me it threw me through a loop because at first they said I had a great and powerful story. ( I grew up in childrens homes and foster homes for 14yrs never having a family of my own)I guess my question is "Where do I go from here?" I don't mind paying for services when I get paid but I don't have money to put up front to get the book going. This is my first book (I am starting my second book about what it was like for me once I was out of the system) and I'm not sure what the best avenue is for a first time author. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated."

As I have answered numerous times on this blog (please visit and download the free ebook, which has the entire blog and all the past questions answered) NEVER pay a publisher any sort of upfront fee to have your work published. It doesn't matter if they call it an "editorial fee" or a "reading fee" or a "marketing fee" or whatever they call it. A legitimate publisher should NEVER ask you to pay an upfront fee. On the contrary, they should offer you an advance against royalties.

So keep your money and instead look for a legitimate literary agent. That begins with writing a query letter, and a proposal, and the submission process. Again, my free ebook will help walk you through all the steps.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Can I revise after editors rejected by manuscript?

Hi Noah, I read your book but am still in a quandry: My agent sent my thriller to 26 editors last year. All were passes, with some very encouraging reject letters. Things went downhill at that point: I had to ask my agent 3 times to send me the reject letters. The last time he sent them with a curt comment, "Now I've sent you all the letters." I proposed a major rewrite based on some of the comments, he responded enthusastically, and I turned in the revised manuscript to him in November. He didn't respond, and didn't respond to the next 2 emails. On the fourth try, he gave a curt response..."I'm discussing with editors will let you know when there's feedback". I let him know I was attending the SF writer's conference 2 weeks ago, and he did respond to say I could pass out a "pitch" sheet with his info. 6 major editors expressed interest in the book!! I gave him the incredible news 2 weeks ago with the names of the response or acknowledgement of my email, which contained a ....

Your post got cut off, so I will respond just based on what I see here.

I answer very similar questions in depth in my free PDF, which contains 600 pages of information. Please visit and download it. I keep mentioning this because I keep finding people post questions that I have already answered. Please read the book.

That said, I will answer it again here:

If publishers reject your manuscript and do not specifically request (eagerly) to see a revision and do not offer comments for specific changes they would like to see, then they are most likely wasting your time to try to revise and please them. 99% of the time, if they pass and don't ask to see it again, then they don't want to see it again. If they do want to see it again, they will make a very clear point of it, and will make very clear suggestions. Thus your agent's resistance. I would let it go with that novel and write a new one. Sometimes publishers will buy your new novel, it will come out and do well, then they will buy the old one, years later.

Additionally, just because editors tell you at a conference that they want to see your manuscript, it doesn't necessarily mean they really do. They can often be put on the spot in such an environment, especially in one-on-one pitches. Plus, 26 editors is a good number, and if he is a good agent and did his job properly and covered 26 good publishers, then either these  6 editors work at houses that already rejected the ms., or they are not great publishers--either of which make you start off with less than a clean slate. Thus nothing is impossible, but I wouldn't put too much hope on the conference.

That said, this doesn't excuse the agent's lack of response. If you are unhappy with him then fire him and find someone else. But make sure you are unhappy for the right reasons.

Any advice on surroundings that can boost one's 'muse'?

I have been working on several projects for many years now. With several setbacks, including the loss of my computer, the death of my Mother and my own cancer diagnosis, I find myself easily distracted, even defeated. I've had to start from scratch on two major projects due to the loss of the computer they were saved on. I was wondering if you had any advice on surroundings or atmospheres that can boost one's 'muse'. I write fantasy/fiction. My brother, who is my biggest critic and supporter, tells me that I seriously need to submit the material I do have to see if a Publisher will bite. This all sounds well and good, unfortunately I've gotten myself into a rut of 'side stories', and I believe this is due to being so distracted. Any advice you may have regarding this would be most appreciated. Thank you in advance. 

I am so sorry to hear of your hardship.

I cannot tell you exactly where to go to find inspiration--it will be different for every writer. Some find inspiration by retreating into nature, or by attending writers' colonies, where they can have isolation to work. Some find it in a quiet room at the local library. Other needs to travel to other countries; others find it by reading other books or watching films or listening to music; others still find inspiration right smack in the center of a loud and crowded and busy house!

While I cannot tell you where to go, one thing I can say, in my personal opinion, is that the best way to draw inspiration is to write every day, no matter what. I find that often by the sheer act of writing, one thing leads to the next. The best advice I can give you is to force yourself to sit down every day, for a certain amount of time, and meet a quota of a certain amount of pages, no matter what. Writing is a muscle, and the more you use it, the easier it will be. It is possible your finished draft might not end up being great, or even good. But then you can embark on revising it--and for some writers, inspiration comes even more so during the revision than during the first draft, since the pressure is off of facing the blank page. Some writers may even need to write an entire book and throw it out in order to get the momentum and inspiration that the process gives them to leap into the next book, which is the one they really want to write.

So just write. Write every day, no matter what, and write more than you ever thought was possible. Sometimes increasing your quota helps unlock something. Sometimes writers believe they can only write 2 pages a day--and by forcing yourself to write 20, you tap some part of yourself you didn't know was there and find a new source of inspiration. You can also experiment with writing in different rooms of your house, in different chairs, at different desks, and by computer, by typewriter, by hand--and even by dictation. Experiment and have fun. But don't stop writing.

How long does it take for publishers to respond?

My agent, a very good one from one of the best NYC agencies, has submitted my memoir proposal to 14 publishers last week. Though I've asked him, he can't really tell me how long it will take for each to respond one way or another, whether wanting to read the entire manuscript or not. So, my question is this: in general, how long does it take for a publisher to READ and then RESPOND to a proposal?

I've answered this question in past posts, so please visit and download the free PDF with 600 pages of information, including the answer to this question.

But I will answer again here: there are many variables. A lot will depend on how long your memoir "proposal" is--i.e., is it 10 pages or 200? In general, a typical non fiction proposal runs around 30-40 pages, and typically publishers will respond at varying times, ranging from a few days up to around 8 weeks. If it were a finished manuscript, then it could take 12 weeks. 

A lot will depend on the agent's style, too--i.e., is he aggressively keeping the pressure on editors, doing his best to build a buzz, setting an auction and naming a closing date? Some agents will set an immediate closing date to try to build a sense of excitement, and might close within 1 or 2 weeks. That can backfire, though, since sometimes editors won't have a chance to read in time. Other agents are more laid back and will just wait to hear. An agent's approach may also differ if he feels your proposal will garner a 10k advance or a 1 mil advance. A good agent will know how to handle it, and no one way is necessarily better. As I said, there are a lot of variables.

But all things considered, for a typical non fiction proposal, if you haven't heard in 8 weeks it likely won't sell in that round of submissions. And if you are going to sell it for a large advance, often that happens quickly, sometimes even within a few days.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Free e-book

I am receiving many repeat questions on this blog, and I realize that some of you are not scrolling through all the answers going back several years. Thus, to make it easy for you, I have compiled all of the questions and answers into a PDF, which you can download here:

I have also included in this PDF for free my two books HOW TO LAND (AND KEEP) A LITERARY AGENT and HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER. This file has over 400 pages of invaluable information. Please read it before posting questions here.

Below is the table of contents of questions asked. All are answered in this file.


Table of Contents

*  Should my agent let me know which publishers/editors have read my work, and provide me with copies of the rejection letters?
*  I am just starting out and have never been published. What should I put in my bio?
*  My agent is unwilling to sell world rights to my book. What should I do?
*  How does one land a job as a literary agent?
*  Should I revise my work for a prospective agent?
*  Can I fire my agent mid-submission?
*  Should I query an agent with several books at once?
*  Once I land an agent, how long does it take to land a book deal?
*  What is the ideal page count for a first novel?
*  How many agents should I approach?
*  If my agent doesn’t like my next book, should I fire him?
*  Why won’t publishers respond?
*  How long should I wait to hear back about my manuscript?
*  How many copies must a book sell to be considered a success?
*  Will being published by a small press help my career?
*  Can self-publishing damage your career?
*  Is there a market for literary fiction set in a country outside of the United States?
*  Can I be represented by two literary agents?
*  Should I finish the manuscript of my novel before submitting to agents?
*  Do agents really read the first five pages? Or just the first five sentences?
*  What do you look for in a logline?
*  How do I find out what agent represents a novel in my genre?
*  Is my agent (even if fired) entitled to commission my option book?
*  Do some agents give up if a manuscript doesn't sell in the first round of submissions?
*  Is it normal to have different agents for U.S. and international publication?
*  Is it detrimental to have your book published as a trade paperback original?
*  Is editor turnaround so high that you can re-submit in just a few years?
*  Should I pay a fee to have my work published?
*  Should I pay to have my work published?
*  Can I self-publish my ebook while pursuing a print deal?
*  My agent is not responding. What should I do?
*  Is my age a problem?
*  Does my novel have to be set in America?
*  Should I use a pseudonym?
*  Should I serialize my entire novel on my blog?
*  How many revisions?
*  How long should I wait for my agent?
*  Was I correct to accept a deal directly from a publisher?
*  How should I handle my sales history?
*  Will an agent represent me just for one genre of fiction?
*  How do I switch agents?
*  Can I post excerpts of my work online?
*  Can I re-submit after revision?
*  Will my location affect my ability to land a deal?
*  Should I submit to magazines first?
*  Do I need photographs?
*  Which publishers should I submit to?
*  Can I submit requested material via email?
*  Can I submit to multiple agents simultaneously?
*  How to phrase my query letter?
*  Should memoir be treated as fiction?
*  Should I add anything extra in my query letter?
*  Is it more important for the story to be well done or marketable?
*  If I self-publish first, will it hurt my chances?

Should I pay a fee to have my work published?

In reviewing the stats for this blog, I was surprised to see there were a huge number of hits on this topic--more so than most. Which makes me realize that this may be a matter of pressing concern for many authors. Are any of you grappling with this issue? If so, feel free to ask any specific questions you like here and I will answer them.

If I self-publish first, will it hurt my chances?

"Hi Mr. Lukeman, thanks for fielding these questions. My question is related to this post, but perhaps a little more specific: does it reflect positively or poorly to self-publish first, then seek an agent later? The reason I ask is because I tried getting my memoir published, but despite pieces of my story appearing in the New York Times and the Chicken Soup series, I got no bites for a year. So, I tried my hand at self-publishing and sold about 2,500 hard copies of my book in its first year. I didn't pay for any book marketing, it was merely word-of-mouth that got any of the books sold. I'm hoping to start looking for literary agents again, but am not sure if mentioning that I self-published already would ultimately hurt or help my book. Thank you!"

I am pretty sure I answered a similar question in depth a year or so ago on this blog. Please check the archives for that response, too. But I will answer it again here:

First, we must distinguish between print and ebook self-publishing. To start with the former: if you self-publish and sell a huge number of copies, then it is a huge benefit to landing a deal, and may even make the difference. If you sell only a few copies, it won't impress agents or make a difference. There is a gray area in between. 2,500 hardcovers on your own is respectable. But it won't tip the scales. 25,000 would. 15,000 would raise eyebrows but not close the deal. Depends, too, on whether it's fiction or non-fiction and the genre and on your platform and how and where you sold them and the price point. Hardcover sales are much more impressive than trade paperback, and trade paperback much more so than mass market. In most cases, sales are nominal and there is no real distribution--in those cases, it shouldn't really make a difference. However, if you sell around 10,000 or so copies and get real distribution and your name is in the system everywhere, and especially if you already received a lot of publicity, then hypothetically that could be an issue for an editor, who might feel that their chance to launch the book in a clean way is gone. So it is a calculated risk. I would not recommend it, since in most cases it is very costly and time consuming and won't work.

Self-publishing in ebook format is a different story. It affords you much more flexibility, since it costs you nothing, and since you can use a pen name and thus allow for a clean slate in the system--and if it takes off, it can make the difference. So you have a lot less to lose and more to gain by going that route.

Is it more important for the story to be well done or marketable?

"Dear Mr. Lukeman, I've noticed a trend in YA books, that many follow the exact same popular formulas and are inhabiting an increasingly narrow scope. I keep hearing literary agents say they're "looking for something different", but I'm starting to doubt the validity of that. Why would you take a risk on something that might not make money in an industry that's becoming increasingly difficult to make money in, when you can just follow a formula that is guaranteed to make you money? I can't for one second believe that something like Watership Down would be published in this day and age, (and it definitely wouldn't be published by an American publisher), despite it never being out of print. My question is, when the average attention span of a literary agent is ten times less than that of the average reader, and query letters at best show the competence of a writer, is it more important in this day and age for the story to be well done or for the story to be marketable? "

This is an age old question, and not an easy one to answer. In the ideal world, a story will be both well done--and unique--and marketable. I don't necessarily view the two as mutually exclusive. If your desire is to write commercial YA, then there is no reason why you can not come up with a unique concept within that genre and to strive for the execution of the writing, word by word, to be as strong as possible.

If you are dealing with literary fiction and the writing is superb but the overall genre is not as commercial as certain genres of YA, then you may indeed have a harder time. Then again, if you are writing in commercial YA and your writing is not up to par, you may have a hard time as well. It is also possible that your writing is superb but you are not good at marketing and at summary, and your query letter doesn't get the attention of an agent. It depends on why you are writing--if you are writing to cash in, and chasing the most commercial genre of the moment, then your approach will likely be more marketing-focused. If you are writing literary fiction because that is your passion, then your approach will be different. You must follow your heart.

I would say that, as a rule, if an agent is looking to represent commercial fiction then he or she will scan a query letter with a different set of criteria--with an eye for marketability of the genre and concept. If an agent is looking for literary fiction he will be more drawn to your bio, credentials and the quality of your style. He might be more forgiving when it comes to plot. From an agent's point of view, if one is looking for commercial fiction it is always a nice surprise if the writing is particularly well done; and if one is looking for literary fiction, it is a nice surprise if there is also a strong plot. In this day and age I feel the gap has been widening between literary and commercial--but that needn't be the case. Those are arbitrary distinctions. A literary novel can be commercial and a commercial novel can be literary. Moby Dick is beautifully written, but also has a plot. So does Heart of Darkness. A hundred years ago literary authors knew they had to have a plot, not just pretty prose. For them, literary and commercial fiction were one.

Should I add anything extra in my query letter?

"Mr. Lukeman, If I can describe my plot in two sentences, is it okay to use the third sentence in that paragraph to describe the voice in my writing or is that amateurish? Thanks a lot," Donna Voss

I would really suggest sticking to the basics of what is necessary in a query letter, and keeping it as brief as possible. If you can summarize your plot in two sentences--great. That does not mean you should add a third sentence just for the sake of it. And in this case I would not attempt to describe the voice of your writing--that is the sort of thing that agents must judge for themselves, and which will come out in the writing as they read it. Voice is also subjective, and they must be left to come to their own conclusions.

Should memoir be treated as fiction?

"You say to treat memoir as fiction when querying, and that makes sense to me. My concern is, will I irritate agents if I don't follow their specific guidelines for submitting non-fiction?"

When querying, memoir needs to be treated as fiction in certain respects: as with fiction, the entire manuscript should be finished before you query; as with fiction, your concept won't matter as much as the execution of the writing; and, unless you are a celebrity or have a major, national platform, your background and platform won't matter as much. It is more about the writing itself, whereas with most types of commercial non-fiction, greater weight is given to your expertise, the competition, the market and other issues.

Most agents should specify guidelines for submission of fiction, non-fiction and memoir. If they don't specify, then at first you can treat memoir as non-fiction for the sake of initiating a submission. For example, most agents want you to begin with a one page query letter--and in that case, just send in a letter, and if they want more, they should tell you how much they want. If they ask for a proposal, the typical non-fiction proposal contains an overview, an outline and 1 or 2 chapters, and you can send that. Don't worry--these distinctions are not so important, because if they want more, they will tell  you exactly what they want. The important thing to remember is that, unlike other types of non-fiction, with a memoir you should not query until your entire manuscript is complete. You don't want to have an agent like the first two chapters and then not have the manuscript ready to show for two more years.