Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Writer's Toolbox: Your Writer Questions Answered

This week marks the return of First Person Plural at this blogspot location. Unfortunately, I was never satisfied with the current functionality of our Web site (when it comes to the blog). From here out, we'll stick to posting pieces solely at this address. So subscribe! And you'll get a daily post sent directly to your e-mail inbox.

Today we begin a new feature: We're encouraging anyone and everyone to post questions throughout The Writer’s Center’s various social media outlets (First Person Plural, Facebook, Twitter,, and on a weekly basis we will choose a question to send to those we believe may insight into the answers (and today they are all workshop leaders). We will then post the responses every Thursday on First Person Plural. 

Today's question comes from a fan of ours on Facebook.

I had a disastrous experience with a book publisher. What can I do to ensure that such a thing never happens to me again, short of never again trying to publish a book?

Barbara Esstman (co-editor of the anthology A More Perfect Union: Poems and Stories About the Modern Wedding, and has taught extensively in universities) says:
The Writer’s Center is a great resource center for discovering the good, sane agents/publishers and avoiding the scams and whackos.  Just ask around at a reading or in a workshop, or read First Person Plural. 

Research on your own, too.  Everybody in the world seems to have a Web site or blog; check agents’ or publishers’ track records on their own sites, or see if anyone is posting complaints against them.  See what books are out, like the one that ranks the self-publishing houses and warns you away from the bad ones.  Identify books similar to yours and send your manuscript to those agents and publishers.
Above all, don’t be so desperate to publish that you grovel. The worst experiences I’ve heard of from my students and editing clients involved writers who were so happy to have someone interested in their books that they sacrificed their creative control and common sense.  They re-wrote to please a prospective agent or editor in ways that were counter to their own vision of the book.  Or they were too patient in waiting for the Powers That Be to do what they’d promised.  Or they put up with typos and low standards.  The list goes on, but the source of all these abuses was reluctance on the part of the writers to disturb or delay the process that might result in publication. 

Diana M. Martin (extensive background in association, nonprofit, and corporation marketing, and has contributed to national and international publications) recommends:
Research each publisher very carefully beforehand so you know, through others' experiences, what to expect.  Get everything in writing and have your agent review the contract to make sure that there are no loose ends. Follow-up conversations with e-mails. Ask lots of questions so you can modify your expectations.
Nancy Naomi Carlson (associate editor for Tupelo Press) gives the following advice to poets:
Publishing, like dating, involves risk of disastrous experiences, but in my opinion is well worth the effort...especially when the outcome (eventually) exceeds your expectations.

There's no guarantee that you won't have a similar experience the next go-around, but here are a few "tips" that may make a successful outcome more likely:
1. Make sure there is a contract that spells out all particulars.
2. "Research" the publisher ---check out their books, talk to their authors, determine if they have a good track record on following through with commitments.
3. Be patient in these difficult economic times for publishers of books. Many are "hurting."
4. Have a back-up plan just "in case."

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