Now that I’ve finished my manuscript, I’ve found myself wondering, “What do you do with a finished manuscript?” This appears to be a natural progression in the writing experience, so I’ve crafted this blog post based on writing advice I’ve picked up from a few places recently.
So what do you do with a finished manuscript?
I know what you’re thinking. Oooh! Oooh! I know the answer! “Publish it!”
Not so fast, young grasshopper. There are plenty of other things you can do with your finished manuscript before trying to get it published.
- You can use your manuscript as a lap desk! Finished manuscripts are usually rather thick with many words and the typical 8.5 by 11 inch paper is suitable for smaller laptops. Why bother paying $40 for a pesky slab of wood with a leather bottom when you can make your own lovely little lap desk out of your manuscript?
- Your manuscript doubles as a booster seat! Got kids? Wave bye-bye to the days of propping your little darling up at the dinner table with phone books. It’s such a tragic faux pas. And since you’re probably going to be chronicling their every move (bowel and otherwise) on social media, at least give them a fashionable booster seat (and one that promotes literacy!).
- Your manuscript can also be used as a stepping stool! Just can’t reach the obscure contents in that cabinet over the fridge? Fret no more. Stand on your manuscript for an extra boost.
- You can even use your manuscript to level furniture! Just when you think that vintage leather chair you bought at the thrift store (the one that your girlfriend hates) has met its fate at her Pinterest-driven hands, your manuscript can help save the day. Simply place your manuscript under that janky chair leg to level out your favorite piece of bachelor pad furniture.
When you’ve exhausted all the practical uses of your manuscript, then you’re ready to try to get it published. Keep reading for advice I gathered from published authors Gin Phillips, Irene Latham, Kathryn C. Lang and TK Thorne. Between them, there are traditionally published, indie published, and self published authors.
I met the latter three writers at an event on publishing hosted by a local women’s writing group, See Jane Write (though I’d met TK Thorne at her day job in my journalism days with the former Magic City Post, though I’m not sure if she’d remember me). I met Gin at taco night with my senior seminar class (she’s married to the professor I had for senior seminar, who was also the generous benefactor of taco night).
At both events, I picked up some valuable writing advice for writers with finished manuscripts. In no particular order, here are some of the comments on finding a literary agent, traditional publishing, indie publishing, self publishing, and the current market for books in general. The collected comments below are the experiences of the four authors I mentioned (I was live tweeting the See Jane Write event, so I didn’t have time to include who said what, though they all seemed to agree on the comments I’ve included). This blog post is no substitute for the latest edition of Writer’s Market, and if you don’t have a copy, rush to your nearest independent bookseller and buy one! Make haste!
On finding a literary agent (and consequently dealing with editors):
“One way to find a literary agent is to go to writing conferences as genre specific as possible. You can meet and sign with agents there.”
“If there are books similar to yours, check the acknowledgments section to see if the author thanked the agent. If so, contact that agent, mentioning the book that led you to him or her.”
“Qualities of a good literary agent include excellent communication. Think of it like a marriage. Your agent should be someone you trust.”
“Be smart about picking an agent and be sure to check what all they do. If you want an agent that does revisions, check for that. Remember, you’re doing them a favor because they’re making money off how many copies of your book sell through the wider distribution they’re getting you. And because they’re making money off picking books that sell, don’t pay an agent up front unless you want to sell your own book.”
“Good literary agents can also mediate between you and an editor when you disagree.”
“With editors, you might send a few chapters initially so you can see how well you will work together.”
“Be mindful that there’s a huge difference between an editor and a copy editor. A copy editor proofreads for grammatical errors; an editor looks at the story arc as a whole.”
On publishing in general (and marketing…just embrace it already because publishing is marketing):
“You can utilize Goodreads for beta readers. They do giveaways and incentivize readers to review your work. And if you’re going to have beta readers, actually listen to what they have to say. Don’t get huffy with them.”
“With royalties, you typically get paid every six months. And you’re always six months behind since you’re not being paid during the first six months.”
“With e-books, because of the $0.99 and free books, it drives the price of other e-books down, too. That’s just the market nowadays.”
“The publisher has the ultimate say on your book cover, but if you hate it, don’t be afraid to request another.”
“If you’re a self published author, traditional publishers can still approach you for a book deal. It doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ situation.”
“One of the many aspects of being successful at this includes deciding what you want from publishing. Ask yourself: How many books do you want to sell? How much money do you want to make? To be successful at any type of publishing, you have to have your focus and know what you want.”
“Knowing what you want out of publishing allows you to choose a publisher that has the amount of control over the book you want.”
“Publishing is one of the few industries where investing in your own work is a bad thing. Don’t go for vanity press.”
“Do everything you can to improve your craft. Learn to edit. Design your own cover. Do things that add legitimacy to you.”
“A publisher is going to look at your platform. How many people do you reach a day? If that number is low, work on it. Be present on social media.”
“For book marketing, in addition to social media, have an email list and send out newsletters (this can be done using the various free newsletter sites outlined in this great blog post). Just be sure to say something important, so you don’t overwhelm people.”
“Be authentic. Form a relationship with people. Your core sales will be from people you have a relationship with. People (word of mouth) are your best advertisement.”
“With pen names, if you’re worried about people finding out who you are, you’re in the wrong industry. Be upfront about writing under a pen name. People will find out who you are and you need to be okay with that.”
“With pen names, consider that if you blog or are on social media as your character, then you will have to create a whole new platform for your next project. That’s double the marketing.”
“Own your own ISBN. It’s a small, but worthwhile investment.”
“When you get published, donate a copy of your book to the local library. They’re happy to get new books and it’s great PR for you.”
On indie and self publishing:
“A challenge of indie and self publishing is that it’s harder to get reviews.”
“Indie publishing ranges from publishing your own work and nothing else to having a publicist and an editorial team behind you.”
“A worry of indie publishing is distribution. Some publishers offer print-on-demand even if the book isn’t actually in a bookstore.”
“A local bookstore may let you sell your book on consignment. A bigger bookstore may allow you to sell your book with them if you offer returns on unsold copies. Offering returns on your book incentivizes larger bookstores to keep your book on the shelf because it’s less of a risk to them.”
“Make connections everywhere you can (editors, graphic designers, etc.), so when you’re ready to publish, you have resources.”
“When indie and self publishing, find a niche market for your book. Look at your content and identify your audience, then market your book specifically to them.”
On preparing to send off your manuscript:
“Research information on how to (and how NOT to) write a query letter. This is a long process, so prepare accordingly.”
“Be sure to follow the instructions for where you’re sending your query letter. If they say one page, then make the query letter one page and one page only. Not following instructions could land your query immediately in the trash, plus it sends the message that you’d be difficult to work with.”
And lastly, on the dreaded rejection letter:
“You can’t take rejection personally. You have to have tough skin to do this. And sometimes, you’ll get rejections that are so nice you’ll want to frame them.”
Have more burning questions? Think of any other uses for manuscripts before they’re published? Ask me in the comments below. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll see what I can do about ferreting an answer out of other people.