Works of Richard Marsden

The Works of Richard Marsden. Writing and Historical European Martial Arts.

Writing Hints Blog

view:  full / summary

The Contract -The Novel 7

Posted by rmarsden on October 3, 2010 at 3:07 PM Comments comments (4)

The end of our journey is at hand.


Today's topic is the contract! In the realm of short-stories, most contracts are easy, temporary affairs and pay is likely to be low enough that even a poorly signed contract won't be the end of the world. That is not the case in terms of a novel.


What the Contract States

A novel contract is an agreement between the publisher and the author. The publisher promises to publish, edit, market and pay the author and the author in return promises to give the publisher sole (usually) rights to their work for an agreed upon amount of time.


The devil truly is in the details. Large publishing houses have law-firms dedicated to getting the best contract possible and openly prey upon new and inexperienced writers. Horror stories include...


1. An author signed a contract that said works instead of work giving the publisher (potentially) rights to ALL the works by the author.


2. An author signed a contract that did not have a gurantee as to when a work would be published. Without a time-frame the publisher can hold the work as long as they please and extend the life of the contract since it usually starts upon publication. (Happened to me!) On an upnote, what they don't sell doesn't help them!


3. The publisher promised pay in the form of 'net profit' royalties then claimed every dollar made on the book was needed for company expenses, therefore no matter how many books are sold the author will make very little money. This often happens in the music industry. The Dixie Chicks had a record go platinum and between them all made something like $100,000 as the studio claimed expenses ate up the millions earned. Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell 2 record was done to get out of debt imposed upon him by the studio's contract for Bat Out of Hell.


4. The publisher claims additional rights to film, audio and products without offering the author anything in return. Watch out for this! The author should get sole rights to film, audio and products. The contract is for a book and just that!


5. The author signs a non-compete clause that is so vague it denies them the ability to write or sell anything else without permission from the publisher. While some clause is to be expected, the scope of such should be limited.


6. The authors signs a clause that any hint of plagarism means the costs of defense will be on the author. Sounds fair enough except that if an author is sued for copywrite infringment they might not have the resources to defend themselves and the publisher won't help.


The list goes on and on.


What Should the Author be Paid?

In professional terms an author can expect two forms of payment.

The Advance - The advance is a sum of cash given to the author before the book is published (or even written in some cases!). The advance is an investment from the publisher and if the book doesn't sell well (enough to cover the advance) they can ask for the money back. However, I am told this rarely happens. The size of the advance depends on the size of the publisher. A small-time house won't have much of an advance while larger firms can drop anywhere from $1,000 to $6000 and beyond for the well established.


Royalties - Royalties are a cut of the profit. A contract that promises royalties off of net-profit will not be very advantageous because the publisher won't give the author a dime until all their costs are covered. Even an honest publisher will have to pay the cost of printing and marketing before the royalties kick in.


An advantageous contract will demand royalties based off the cover-price of the book. 10-15% is what professional authors are able to eek out. The smaller the publishing house the more tricky the negotiation for royalties will be.


With smaller presses the pay reduces drastically.


Avoiding a Bad Contract

If an author is using a small-publisher then little is ventured and little is lost. Still, the contract should be looked over and questions asked. If a publisher shows signs of wishing to cut negotiations because of questions and their busy time, then they should be avoided. They do not have an interest in a fair-deal.


If an author is using a large-publisher then they should get a literary lawyer to review the contract. The author can also work with their agency (if the author has one) to achieve the best contract. Agents want what is best for authors because that is what is best for them.


The large firms have acquisition lawyers who shamelessy and ruthlessly attempt to win contracts that are favorable to the publisher. This wouldn't be a bad thing except that they hide their intent in legal jargon hoping an inexperienced author isn't aware of what they are signing.


It's not pretty, but it is what it is and the best remedy for an unethical lawyer is one of the author's own. Let them fight to the death for amusement as the author sips wine.



1. Bad Contracts exist. Be on guard!

2. Technically an advance can be recalimed if a book doesn't sell well.

3. Have a good defenition of pay in terms of royalties and do not accept 'net pay' from larger publishing houses.

4. Ask questions to the publisher of smaller houses and ditch them if they balk at answering.

5. Hire a lawyer or trust in an agent with the larger publishing houses.


The End of the Road

Thanks for reading my advice on short stories and novels. I'm a newcomer to the field myself and my experiences are only part of a larger picture. Research on your own, provide your own advice to other writers as you learn from experience and remember. Knowledge is Power - Share it.

Richard Marsden

Where to Submit - The Novel 6

Posted by rmarsden on October 3, 2010 at 2:29 PM Comments comments (0)

Welcome back!


Submitting a manuscript is a fairly easy process. It usually starts with a cover letter, progresses to a synopis, sample-chapters and eventually a full manuscript. This can be done online or through traditional mail.



For all the big publishing houses look up their websites and they'll have information on how to submit without an agent. TOR books is a good one for the sci-fi crowd.

For smaller publishing houses I use Duotrope. However, be careful. Some of the publishers listed offer fairly bad contracts. While using a smaller publishing house means less pay, it doesn't mean no pay!


Self publishing needs nothing more than a printing press and you to follow their format guides.


The 'best' source is the Writer's Market book that comes out every year. The book has markets, editors, publishers, and all the information an author could want. The book costs around $30.00 as of 2010.


Quality Control

To ensure the publishing house won't cause an author serious issues, Editors and Preditors is a great website resource. Many publishing houses are listed as well as if they are on the up and up. Vanity presses, presses that don't pay their authors, presses that accept a manuscript then ask the author for money for copies, editing, and other services are noted.


The author should PAY NOTHING because they are providing the labor. Publishers who don't offer free editing, copying etc. are not playing by the industry standard rules.

Examples of Scam-like Behavior-


1. The publisher doesn't provide an editor but has a list of affordable editors they work with. This just means they are tricking the author into paying money to those they have a relationship with.


2. The publisher doesn't provide a cover-artist but has a list of affordable artists. Same as above.


3. The publisher needs X number of copies of a manuscript that the author has to provide or for a fee the publisher will do so. This should not be a cost of the author! It's the publisher's problem if the one copy isn't enough.


4. The publisher needs money for marketing. The author should not pay the publisher any money to market their work, nor should they pay marketing services recommended by the publisher.


Examples of Justified Fees

Smaller publishing houses don't have big budgets. They will offer editing, art, etc. but can't offer professional services. If an author wants 'top' quality they may have to cover the costs.


1. After the author has seen a final-proof of their work and approved it asks for any additional changes may result in a free. Once the publisher sends the work of to the formatter it can cost them quite a bit to make changes. In this case the author gets to see the final-proof and it is their fault if they OK it, then later change their minds.


2. The publishing house doesn't have resources to hire expensive artists. The smaller houses might only have $100 to offer an artist. They may have a list of artists they've worked for before within their budget. If the author wants a different artist they may share/pay for the costs that exceed the publisher's budget.


3. The publishing house doesn't have resources to hire expensive editors. One publisher I'm working with only has $100 to pay their editors for a full project. A professional editor would cost $25-40 and hour and the average novel would cost several thousand dollars to have edited.


4. The publishing house has limited means to market. They WILL market as best they can but encourage the author to help any way possible. Again, the publishing house isn't out to charge the author anything in this case, but the author may need to pay money to help advertise their work. If the publishing house wants money to help advertise it is wrong! Authors shouldn't pay a publisher to market their work, but it is ok to pay an outside service (unconnected to the publisher) to augment existing marketing.



1. Use the internet, Duotrope, Preditors and Editors, and the Writer's Market book to find places to submit to. Follow their instructions on what to submit. Be sure to look not just for publishers, but also agents!


2. Authors should pay the publisher and friends of the publisher NOTHING.


3. Authors can pay for 'extra' services (higher quality), but none of this money should be going to the publisher or their friends. With larger publishing houses this shouldn't be an issue, but smaller house don't have the budget to offer 'the best' work consistantly. Look at small-presses and their cover-art for examples of how good and bad it can get.


Good Hunting!

Marketing and Art - The Novel 5

Posted by rmarsden on September 12, 2010 at 9:06 PM Comments comments (0)

Welcome Back,


Today's discussion is on Marketing and Art.


Marketing (which art is a part of) are the tools used to drive sales. If no one knows about a book, then no one will read it!


A large publishing house will take care of marketing for an author.


For smaller presses much of the marketing is in the author's hands. Marketing can be very expensive and the payoff can be difficult to judge. The internet is loaded with sites that claim they can market a book, but most will try and bilk an author for money and use email mass-spam and consider their work done.


So what are some serious things that can be done to market a book?


1. Brick and Mortar Stores

If an author is going through a small press, or publishing on their own, getting stocked at a brick and mortar store is unlikely. Small time publishers will claim that their books are carried at every major retailer. What they mean to say is, 'a retailer can special-order their books if asked by a customer upon request'.


Why would anyone do that when they could just order directly online?


The reason books are often not sold in actual physical stores is that the entire process is expensive. Book stores do not buy books, stock them, and hope they sell. Instead they allow books to sit on their shelves with the caveat that if they don't sell the books are returned. Additionally, the book store keeps some of the profit from every sale.

A local bookstore in Arizona for instance will merrily stock a book under the following terms.


Notice there is a fee to stock and if an author wants their book brought to the front of the store there is another fee. Also, notice their first bit of advice.


Stocking a book at an actual store can be difficult and costly! It's up to an author to determine if the brick and mortar method is within their budget and worth the risk.


2. Mass email, twitter, facebook, blast

The use of spam to sell a book is probably not effective. "How many books have you bought from a stranger thanks to a random email?"


Using every means possible (email, twitter, facebook) to alert friends and family on the other hand is a great plan. Word of mouth is considered the 'best' form of advertisement and where better to start than those already likely to buy the book thanks to knowing the author on a personal level?


Case in point: Soon as either of my books hit the market I'll be pming people with my hat in hand!


3. Website Advertisement

Advertising on a website will cost a fee and in return put up a banner for the author's book. The effectiveness of this method is entirely dependent on the website in question. If the website receives thousands of hits a day it may be a good investment. If the website receives hundreds of hits a month, then maybe not.


Like a television commercial, the ad needs to be seen by as many people as possible because only a few will take the time to investigate!


4. You-tube or other visual-public forum

Creating a commercial can be costly, but it can be done and hosted on you-tube with a potential of endless customers. However, once a commercial is made the trick is getting people to see it. Because there is no mandatory viewership on you-tube (people seek things out not the other way around) then the commercial itself would need to be advertised. The good news is, if people are directed to a commercial and like it, they can easily send it to friends. Videos often get shared more than straight ads. Think about how many video-links you may have received from friends with charming titles like, "Watch This" or "Gotta See".


5. Author Interview and Book Review

Sending copies of a book to website editors and those who have blogs that review books is a great way to get advertisement. So long as they review the book favorably! A forum dedicated to book-reviews probably has a following already of potential buyers. Getting a book showcased won't hurt and the cost is probably minimal.

Some websites interview authors. Sonar for instance uses a pod-cast set up to do just that. The author interviews let the author sell the book while answering other questions along the way. Cost is also minimal if anything at all!


6. The Cover

Big publishers handle covers on their own, small-time affairs contract out and this can give the author a heavy hand in cover design. Usually, the publisher recommends an artist, but an author can go with their own so long as it is in the publisher's budget and/or the author pays for art on their own.


Cover art goes beyond 'the cover'. The publisher has labels they want on the cover as well as a place for an ISBN number on the back. Text is also needed. Title, name, sub-title and so on. Pick up any fiction book and it may be surprising to see how much 'stuff' is jammed on the front and back of the book beyond the art!


Pricing for art varies and time of completion can be a hurdle for many. However, once an artist is chosen, agreed to the project and accepted any money, it becomes a waiting game to see how long they'll take to finish. My personal advice is to ask for the occasional update and give a tentative deadline: something so the project is near the top of the list of things to do, not the bottom!


Quality on art can strongly vary. Looking at small-time press art I've been embarrassed and impressed. Take a heavy hand in choosing the artist if possible and research their work ahead of time!


7. Much, Much More!

Beyond the basics listed above, there are endless ways to advertise a book. For those blessed with a large publishing house, they won't have too much to worry about, but the smaller the press the more falls onto the author's shoulders to get the book sold.

The more avenues to the book the better. The more advertisement the better. The least amount of upfront money the better since it is quite easy to spend gobs of money and up with a net loss if too few books sell!

Good luck!

Sample Chapters - The Novel 4

Posted by rmarsden on September 8, 2010 at 7:11 PM Comments comments (0)



Time to discuss sample chapters.


When an agent/editor likes a proposal they may ask for sample chapters. Sample chapters are a snap-shot of the author's writing prowess. Where as the synopsis is mostly about the 'story' in a nut-shell, the sample chapters are about the writer's 'talents' in a nut-shell.


Editors usually ask for about 3-5 chapters as a writing sample. This is where the author needs to shine. Editors are not looking to edit, they want to do the least amount of work possible on a story before it gets to market.


This may sound cynical, but the truth is there are plenty of authors out there, so many that an editor is bound to find a good story. The trick is finding a ready-to-sell good story. The more time an editor has to work on a project, the less financially rewarding it is.


This means an author's sample chapters need to be as close to perfect as possible. Minor errors and major must be purged from the document and the prose must be a good representation of the author's style.


Additionally, the opening chapters of a book are like the opening scenes of a movie. Think how Saving Private Ryan started. Nazis, guns and Americans in boats! After that, the plot was quickly revealed.


That doesn't mean the novel needs to start off with D-Day, but it does have to be attention-getting to maintain the reader's interest. Editors read thousands of proposals, so the 'slow-burn' to a plot method will probably fail as they find more digestable, quick-paced, novels to take up.


As for formatting, standard manuscript format will usually work. Be sure to save in RTF if using the electronic method and to use clean, white, heavy bond paper if using the snail-mail method. Use courrier 12 or New Times Roman font and use internet searches on 'selling a novel' for finer details.



Sample chapters are an extended way to 'sell' the novel. So...

1. Make it error free

2. Make it engaging

3. Ensure 'style' can be detected


Good Hunting!

Synopsis - The Novel 3

Posted by rmarsden on August 29, 2010 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)



If an agent/publisher likes your work they will ask for a synopsis. A synopsis is a little tricky. It's purpose is to give the reader a shotgun blast of the plot from start to finish.

Like the cover letter, a lot of information has to be jammed into a small amount of space. A synopsis is generally around 6-10 pages and has a few rules to follow.


1. At the top of the document be sure to have your name, address, etc. just like you would in a cover letter. On the right you will place the genre, manuscript name, and the word synopsis.The title of your book needs to appear about midway down the first page and on the next page your synopsis begins.


2. When using a character's name in the synopsis type it in CAPITAL letters the first time the name is used. Use the same name throughout the synopsis. So, if your character has the name Mogor Bolopolese, then you would use the name MOGOR the first time and Mogor from then on out.


3. It will help to condense chapters and in them alert the reader as to who point of view a section is from using (POV) as a que.



MOGOR (POV) is a warrior in the land of Stawberricus where he faces a horde of sentient fruit in his quest to rescue PRINCESS MEATLOAF. Mogor arrives at a camp of his fellow warriors and gives a speech to inspire them.


4. The synopsis doesn't require dialogue at all except in rare instances to help 'sell' your manuscript. A particularly funny, or meaningful line, can be added into the synopsis for effect, but shouldn't be overdone. There simply isn't enough page space to do it!




MOGOR (POV) is a warrior in the land of Stawberricus where he faces a horde of sentient fruit in his quest to rescue PRINCESS MEATLOAF. Mogor arrives at a camp of his fellow warriors and gives a speech to inspire them.


"Meatopians! Today is the day we take back our lands!"


Mogor's men cheer and they prepare for an assault on their vegitable and fruit overlords.


5. You do not need chapter breaks in a synopsis. The purpose of the synopsis is to create a single piece of information that rapidly breaks the story down into its key components from start to finish.



NAME                                                                                                             GENRE

ADDRESS                                                                                                       TITLE

PHONE NUMBER                                                                                         SYNOPSIS




                                                    EAT YOUR VEGITABLES


                                (Don't put by your name here. Leave it blank)







MOGOR (POV) is a warrior in the land of Stawberricus where he faces a horde of sentient fruit in his quest to rescue PRINCESS MEATLOAF. Mogor arrives at a camp of his fellow warriors and gives a speech to inspire them.


"Meatopians! Today is the day we take back our lands!"


Mogor's men cheer and they prepare for an assault on their vegitable and fruit overlords. Mogor reminices about the days before the fruits and vegitables claimed his lands as their own.


Princesss Meatloaf (POV) languishes in a prison of leaves, vines, and bright colors. She overhears GENERAL PUMPKIN talking to his minions about an impending attack from Mogor. He reveals that there is a spy amongst Mogor's ranks. Princess Meatloaf starts to covertly chew at the vines to try and break free of her prison to warn Mogor that he's about to enter a trap and she's the bait! It will take time to bite through the vines though.


And so on.


The key is to make the manuscript fit in about 6-10 pages and that all the relevant plot information is expressed. The reader in this case isn't looking for prose, but story. However, writing style can't be ditched. Maintain a vocabulary similar to what is used in the manuscript. Work in quick, but effective descriptions, short, but meaningful dialogue. The synopsis is selling mostly 'the story', but that doesn't mean an editor or agent isn't also considering the synopsis as a writing sample as well.


I hope this helps! The synopsis can be tough to write! Even moreso than the novel. However, at least an author gets more space to pitch their story than they do in the cover letter!

Cover Letter - The Novel 2

Posted by rmarsden on August 23, 2010 at 1:53 AM Comments comments (0)

Welcome back!


Today's topic is the cover letter for a novel submission. Unlike short stories, in which the cover letter is mostly just a 'hello', 'title' and personal info, the cover letter for a novel is different.


What the Novel Cover Letter Does

The cover letter in a novel is what gets an author in the door or not. An editor will look at this short bit of information and decide then and there if to consider the book or to move on to the next letter. It's an entirely unfair process. Can you imagine summarizing your 80-100k word novel in a measly page?! It's hard work and the internet is full of advice on how to deliver a proper cover letter. I'll cover just the basics.

An author has three paragraphs to catch an editor's eye! Let's try an make it count.



Your Name

Your Address

Phone Number




Introduction Paragraph (Who are you, Who are you writing to, What genre is your book, who will it be marketed to?)


Book Blurb Paragraph (Imagine what would be written on the back cover of your book)

Credentials Paragraph (Professional sales or writer's organizations)


Thank you for your time and consideration,


Your Name




The letter must fit on one page and the format above is industry standard. What you write will determine if your proposal will be considered or not. So, to cover some basic rules. Ensure spelling and grammar are without fault in the cover letter! Be professional given your audience is an agent/publisher who is in the writing business for money.


Introduction - Use the editor's name if possible. Mention specifically the agency/publishing house. Indicate the genre of the book and who the target audience is.


Blurb - The blurb is the selling point. If the agent/publisher is in need of a book for the genre and target audience mentioned in the introduction then he/she will read the blurb and make a decision. The blurb must encapsulate the essence of the novel and encourage the editor to want to read more. All an author's prose and magic needs to be distilled in this all-important paragraph.


Credentials - If you are a new author, this section will be brief. Don't worry! New authors are not avoided by publishers, quite the contrary. If you do have a writing history then the only thing a publisher/agent cares about is how well your past books sold. A sign of an unprofessional is citing credentials the editor doesn't care about. These include local awards, college experience, personal experiences, non-professional (pay wise) publications and so on.


Which Cover Letters Work?

While most successful cover letters follo the three paragraph format, what's in them varies greatly. I saw one sucessful letter that was entirely campy and conversational in its tone. The author's mystery set in the swamps of Louisianna was picked up! Meanwhile other authors are concise and proper in the writing of their letter. What does this mean? Although an author should follow the three paragraph format, the rest is more open to an author's creativity, especially the blurb-paragraph.


I can't stress enough that THIS letter is the most important thing an author will write. Without a winning cover letter the best novel may remain undiscovered! Research! Research! Research! Investigate successful letters (wuth the magic of google) in genres you are interested in. See what looks right and model it!


The good news about the Novel Cover Letter is that everyone knows how important it is. The internet is loaded with helpful hints on how to make that successful letter!


Good luck!

Next time we'll cover the synopsis!

Publishing Types - The Novel 1

Posted by rmarsden on August 23, 2010 at 1:51 AM Comments comments (1)

Over the past few weeks I wrote several posts on how to get short stories published. I have had enough success in that venue to be fairly confident on the topic.

Now we will move into the topic of how to get one's novel published. I'm not as firm here. I have two 'novels' to be released within a year, but since they aren't out yet I'll be exceedingly brief on topics I don't know much about.


Let me quickly cover how I sold my two works.


The first, a collection of historical action-pulp stories was quite unintentional. Abandoned Towers purchased three of my short stories in a row and the editor asked me to compile a book of them in exchange for money and royalties. Thus I was literally asked to write a novel, or at least a novel-sized work. I would rank this as a little unusual.


The second, a science-fiction dark humor action piece I peddled around with absolutely no success with the agencies. After about four tries I decided to submit my novel to a small-time publisher who had accepted several of my short stories. After a long wait, I was given a contract.


So for me, both cases were a matter of small-time editors liking my short stories and willing to do something more. Neither will make me rich, and may end up costing me money (we'll cover marketing later), but it's a start! This also sumarizes my experience in the field. A lot less than in the short story category, so bear with.


What we'll cover!

1. Agents-Publishing Houses Big and Small-Self Publishing and Vanity Press.

2. Cover Letter (One page to success)

3. Synopsis

4. Sample Chapters

5. Marketing and Art

6. Where do I submit?

7. Pay -The Contract-


So, let's leap into the realm of Agents vs Publishing Houses.



An agent (or agency) is a person (or company) who has connections to the major (and minor) Publishing Houses. An Agent can get an author onto a Publisher's desk and in exchange want some of the profit from a book contract.

Agents generally ask for 10%-20% of an author's profit, usually less from domestic sales and more from overseas.

Most agents are based in New York where, surprise, the big Publishing Houses are. It's an incesteous affair in New York and the agents can navigate it better than most authors can.


When it comes time to making a sale, the agent wants the author to get the best contract possible. Becuase agents are familiar with the literary process they are more likely to quickly get an author a fair deal than an author working on their own would.

Agents need to be approached almost in the same way as a publisher and they have a slush-pile they read through looking for book proposals (cover letters) they think will sell. More on all that another day.


Publishing Houses

Publishing Houses are either big-time companies in New York, or small-time companies/individuals that can be found anywhere.



Large Publishing Houses have a team of lawyers to acquire marketable books at the best rates. They have deals with distributers to place books on shelves. They have investment money for the author and the first printing of a book. They have editors who clean up and format, though in truth the less work they have to do the better.

Usually only an agent can get you in the door with a large Publishing House, but this isn't always the case. TOR books for example accepts snail-mail proposals and I know an author who, without an agent, was picked up by TOR. One agent even said all 'good' book proposals will be picked up with or without an agent, but the agent will land the better contract while an inexperienced author can get a truly horrid contract!



Small-Time Publishing Houses are probably not based out of New York and they are small companies or even individuals who lack what the big boys have. They usually don't have a team of literary lawyers, their books aren't automatically stocked in brick and mortar stores and they don' have a lot of investement money to pay authors up front or buy huge runs of their book to try and peddle.


On the other hand, they'll take risks and if an author can't get the attention of an agent, then there's nothing wrong with going directly to small-time Publishing Houses.

The biggest concern with a small-time place is that they are more likely to fold than a big one. Nothing is probably as frustrating as working on a book for a publisher, who suddenly decides to can all of his/her projects and return to their day-job as a stock-broker.


Personally, I'm comfortable at this level. The two publishing houses I work with are small, so I can speak directly to the 'head' of operations and get my concerns dealt with and since I'm just starting out, I'm OK with going small.


I saw a good advertisement for a small-time press that explained that the Big Houses are much like a lottery. Even with all their market-share and power, most of their authors get one shot to make it big. If their book doesn't sell enough in a short amount of time, that's it, they are done! Why a book doesn't sell well can be entirely the publisher's fault. Mis-marketed books are a common complaint. According to this small-time press, large publishing houses also can be a bit dodgey on paying their authors regularly and on time. An interesting perspective!



If an author can't find an agent, get the interest of a BIG publisher or a small one, then self-publishing may be the route to go. In literary circles, self-published works aren't as valued as those that were published by a company. The reason is that 'anyone' can self-publish. However, if you look up some small-time publishers and then read reviews of their books on you'll find that plenty of badly written and badly formatted books are out there in which authors were PAID to write!


Self-publishing also means an author has to not only write their work, they have to design the cover, pay for the book to be printed, advertise, market and sometimes even package and ship! The venture can be incredibly expensive and yeild little reward. Just on a time-investment level I'd not reccomend it.


Why do it? Some small-time publishers are just a step above self-publishing and it may be better to self-publish rather than share profits with a publisher that doesn't offer much in the way of support. Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' was originally self-published. Most of his books had a run of less than 10,000 copies. (I'll be excitied if I sell 100 by the way) and he and his wife did all the work to promote the book. His 'Da Vinci Code' sold 81 million copies and he quickly found a publisher whereas before they didn't have an interest in him. He's the 'lottery winner' self-published writers want to be and a reason to go 'outside' the box.


Vanity Press

A Vanity Press is a company that an author pays to have their book published. These need to be avoided by fiction writers and are often marketed to would-be poets.


"For $500 you can get your book of poems professionaly bound and ready for sale!" The Vanity Press doesn't do anything to help promote the book and since they are paid and not the author, you can imagine how quality control looks.


Why use a Vanity Press? I was curious and found out they do have plenty of legitimate purposes. An artist might want to showcase their work in a single book they can show to clients. Some professional fields award browny points to those who have been published and a vanity press is an easy way to do this. I even saw a Ghost Writer advertisement directed specifically at CPAs. They wrote and printed books attributed to the CPA so he/she could share them at conventions or decorate their office with it!

If you're in the fantasy and science-fiction realm then a Vanity Press is not for you.

Spotting them is easy. If ANYONE asks for money from you the author then they aren't a legitimate publisher. Publishers pay authors not the other way around. Don't worry, you can screw yourself monetarily in other areas!



Agent - Find you publishers, have connections, get the best contracts.

Big Publishing Houses - Mostly based in New York, hard to break into, can offer money and support.


Small Publishing Houses - Easier to break into, smaller to work with, usually offer little upfront pay. Run the gambit in all other areas.


Self-Publishing - Requires the author to do a lot of work beyond writing the book, from marketing to even distribution!


Vanity Press - A place that is paid to print a book. Not good for fiction writers.

Submitting - Short Stories 6

Posted by rmarsden on August 18, 2010 at 7:01 PM Comments comments (1)

Short Stories Conclusion


All roads must end, and our journey on this comet to the sun will end off on where and how to submit your work.  is by far the best thing I've come across. The search-engine feature makes it easy to tailor a publisher to you! You can determine story-length, reprints, sim-subs, print, electronic and so on to find out what markets are out there!  is another popular one.  Preditors and Editors is a website that lists book, magazine, game and other publishers. Venues out to screw you are identified as such.


There are many more, but the ones above will get you started.




For Electronic Submissions

Save your work in RTF format. If you're not sure how to do that. In word, Save As, followed by Other Formats, then find RTF. RTF keeps editors safe from viruses and what not. If a publisher doesn't ask for your story in RTF format then they will probably ask for the story in the body of your email or in their own submission form.

Since you need to write the story somewhere you might as well get used to saving things in RTF format.


For Snail Mail

I never use Snail Mail, and am happy with the venues available that accept electronic submissions. However, some of the pro-markets use snail-mail to cut down on their slush piles I think.

Snail mail means you need to print your manuscript in the right format (see prior topic) and print it on nice quality bond paper. Then you print up your cover letter and place it upon your manuscript. You do not staple it. Take your cover letter and manuscript and place it in an envelope that comfortably holds 8x11 paper and send the story in. Include a self-addressed and stamped enevelope for the editor to send back their reply. Let them keep the manuscript!



Using Duotrope you can classify publishers by what they pay you. Here's a break down.

For Science Fiction and Fantasy professional rates are 5 cents a word. The Science Fiction Writers of America are even more discerning and you can't join them unless you are published at professional rates by magazines they list!

The Horror Writers Association puts professional rates at 5 cents a word and have a broader list of acceptable venues.


Joining either organization requires multiple sales not only at pro-rates, but of their approved list.


In my case, I have one pending pro-sale, but it's not on the SFWA list, so I'm not elligible for membership. Aww!


Beneath the pro-rates are semi pro rates, 1-4.9 cents a word. Most of these are in the realm of 'you get something' and it is here I try to operate the most. I'd love to get more pro-work, but it's a tough racket!


Beneath that are semi-pro rates. The semi-pro rates are usually places that pay a set fee for a story. Reflection's Edge for instance pays $15 for articles and so no matter how much or little I write for them, I'll get no more than $15.


And at the bottom are non-paying markets. If I can't get the above to accept one of my stories I move to these markets. In the realm of horror, Absent Willow Review and SMH Horror are good places to submit to. They publish online on a regular basis giving you a great opportunity to get some success and showcase your work.


Never Pay

You never pay anyone for your work. You did the work not them! You don't pay for editing, you don't pay for 'prime space' you don't pay a thing! Publishers pay you!


And so our ride ends! Hopefully my articles on publishing short stories will make those of you wishing to take the leap from fan-ficition to the little league and big leagues of professional publishing a little easier!


I'll get into how to market a novel next, though I''ll have to curb my advice in that realm to the basics since I've two book contract signed but haven't made it to the end process of sales to see if it was all worth it!


Good Hunting all!

Format - Short Stories 5

Posted by rmarsden on August 18, 2010 at 6:58 PM Comments comments (1)



Today's topic is format.

Format is how you lay your manuscript out (not the cover letter, it is seperate!) and I have good news and bad news. The good news is there are essentially only two ways to do this. The bad news, is there are exceptions!


The Good News

The first way! For most magazines they will want you to present your story in what is called 'Standard Manuscript Format' and they will link you to this site.


Depending on what program you are using to write your story you will need to do a bit of work to make things look 'right'. Some of the common mistakes are having the header on the first page, when it should only appear on the second and subsequent pages.


Other errors are forgetting to put in contact information on the left hand side and the word count on the right. Other common errors are forgetting to end the manuscript with *** END *** (The above wesbsite doesn't show that in the example). William Shunn also says words in itallics should be underlined, but doesn't mention 'bold' text. (I'll get to that later).


The second way! For e-zines they have a different format. They often ask for the story to be in the body of the email, though not always, and their format is easy.


USE Contact Information as in standard manuscript format.

NO Headers.

NO indentations.

NO use of underlining or _this_ to show bold and italics. Present the story as it would look in print.

USE a blank line between paragraphs.

USE * or # to show 'breaks' and ***END*** or ###END### at the end of your story.

Ezine format is designed so the editor can copy-paste your story into their website easily.


The Bad News

The bad news is that many editors will ask for Standard Manuscript Format or Ezine Format and throw in their own changes.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazines, for example, asks for Standard Manuscript Format but explicitly does not want headers with the author's name in it. Failure to do this will result in rejection with the mysterious, "please read our submission guidelines".


The Library of the Living Dead has many anthologies and many editors. Most ask for Standard Manuscript Format but might say, "No page numbers" or "use bold and Itallics, do not use underlining or underscore".


Sometimes these minor changes are designed to make the life of the editor easier. Othertimes these changes are used to weed stories out of the slush pile. Remember, good stories are plentiful, so editors have all manner of ways to thin their herd of manuscripts and one easy way is to toss out every story that did not follow their specific directions.


Personally, I've been forgiven manuscript formatting errors and I've been rejected because of them. The lesson I take is to carefully read the submission guidelines and do my best to follow them. If you submit a lot, as I do, it can get confusing remembering who likes what without checking over and over!


Another change that most editors perfer is to use underlining to show bold text and underscore to show _italliics_.


Yet another change is that if you are submitting online I find that editors do NOT want two spaces after punctuation and semi-colons, and some specifically mention this. William Shunn is adamant to usually do it, and when submitting a physical copy I think he's right, but when submitting electronically you can go without. When all else fails, just look at the Submission Guidlines and do exactly what it says. I've not had a story rejected for not using two spaces between punctuation, but I exclusivlely submit electronically at this time. (I keep getting accepted so I have no need to play the send mail and wait game).


British vs American

Know your editor! If you are writing a story for Black Library, do what they do and use British punctutation and spelling. While you may say, "They'll change it for me!", remember that they get many submissions and may start weeding out stories that don't follow a format they are familiar with. Currently, when Black Library hosts writing contests they don't say much about format and they do things differently than most publishers, but that doesn't mean they won't like the familiar. If your editor is British, assume he or she will like to see things 'their' way. I'll put a disclaimer here. A few writers are adamant not to attempt to write in 'foreign' tounge so to speak because they'll get more wrong than they will right. Also, some places, like Black Library, are ok with English or 'Merikan English. So that trumps my earlier advice!


So, to recap!

1. There are two primary formats you will use. Standard Manuscript Format (use the William Shunn link) and Ezine Format.

2. Many editors will tweak the format to meet their tastes or weed out stories. Read the Submission Guidelines carefully.

3. Use spelling and punctuation in the style of the market you are submitting to.


Where to submit is next!

Cover Letters - Short Stories 4

Posted by rmarsden on August 18, 2010 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Today I'll discuss something that is fairly easy for the short story market, and that's the cover letter. We'll talk about novel cover letters later. On a side note, I already had a book-deal for my short stories and today I was just offered a contract for my sci-fi novel by a small-time press. I'll let you all know if I accept or not when we discuss getting novels to market.


Back to cover letters.


The cover letter is either a physical letter you send with your manuscript to a magazine editor, or it is your email to an editor if their magazine accepts electronic submissions. Magazines and venues that accept short stories will have on their website information on how to submit work. Submissions or Submission Guidelines or Writers' Guidlines are the headings I usually see. There will be instructions that usually ask for a standard cover letter. There are exceptions: keep reading!


The letter is one page and looks like the following...


Richard Marsden

5214 N. Blah Blah Avenue

Phoenix, Arizona 85013

Phone Number

[email protected]



Recent Prior Publications:

Short Story, “A Taste of Valhalla” by Hungur Magazine, May 1st 2010.

Short Story “Spirit of Nationalism” by Pseudopod, February 12, 2010.

Short Story “Beneath the Veneer” published by Zombonauts, Dec 15 2009.

Short Story, “Man of Moldania”, published by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, July 1st 2009.


Brief Bio: Richard Marsden was born in Canada and currently is a resident of Arizona. He has been fencing with the rapier for fifteen years, dabbles in economics and holds a Masters Degree in Land Warfare courtesy of AMU.


Dear John Johnson,

Please consider my 5,200-word, previously unpublished manuscript, “Ninja vs Bear,” for publication at Adventure Times.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Richard Marsden


Now here are some tips.


1. List of prior publications - Only put in what you are proud of! If it made a lot of money that usually means the market was tough to crack into, so put it up. If you are writing to a fantasy magazine be sure to have prior fantasy stories. If you are writing to a horror magazine be sure to have prior horror stories.


Do not list more than 4 prior publications on the cover letter.

Some editors specifically ask that you do NOT list prior publications. Do as they say. Part of the slush process is throwing out stories because the author didn't follow the cover letter instructions.


Do not list works from a forum, fan-ficition, etc. If you don't see the publisher listed in or on, then don't list the work as a prior publication.


Don't feel you have to list anything at all! If you are just getting started as a writer don't list anything.


If you ARE a member of a professional 'guild' like SFWA (Science Ficition Writers of America) or HWA (Horror Writers of America) go ahead and list that under your publications. If you are a member then you already know all this!


2. Brief Bio - Editors sometimes specifically ask for a brief bio. Use mine as a template. A bio needs to be short and contain what you want to share with the world. Notice I slipped my wesbite in there? Some editors specifically ask you do NOT post a bio. Obey their rules. Other editors as the bio be placed at the end of your submission, or at the bottom of the cover letter. Again, follow their rules. While it isn't fair that an editor may not read your story because you posted a bio and were told not to, it's part of the system they have to work through the slush pile.


3. Dear EDITOR - You should try and use the editor's name if you know it. Digging around a magazine's website can help you there. Standing out in the tough markets means going the extra mile, so research and find out an editor's name. can help you there. If all else fails, "Dear Editor," will do.


4. WORD - You can round if you like, but I just highlight my manuscript from the title to the last word of the story and use that as my word-count.


5.TITLE - Note the title has " ". So "Awesome Story" would be the correct format.


6. MAGAZINE - Be sure to use the publication's full title and check for spelling. Some publshers have fancy, and/or cute titles.


7. I don't describe my story? - Not unless asked to provide some information. I've had a few times where the editor asked that I give some details about my submission.


8. Simultaneous Submission - If you are submitting your work to multiple editors, first be sure they allow Sim-subs. If they do, and you are submitting to multiple editos mention it in your cover letter with the added line:

"This is a simultaneous submission and I will alert you if the manuscript needs to be withdrawn."

Be sure to honor this. The moment you story is picked up, email all the other editors to let them know your story is withdrawn. Do not tell them why, simply write,

"Please withdraw "TITLE" from considertaion"

Thanks for your time,

Your Name


9. Snail Mail - If you are mailing your cover letter with your manuscript, then you need to include a self addressed sealed envelope (SASE) and the following:

"I have enclosed a SASE for reply and do not need my manuscript returned, as it is not the original copy."


10. Previously Published - Some publications don't mind if you send them a previously published piece (check submission guidelines), so long as the contract has expired. (They last one month to two years usually). When sending a previously published piece, mention where and when it was published.

So let's see a cover letter with everything.


Your Name

Your Address

Your Phone Number

Your Email



Recent Prior Publications: List no more than 4, include professional guilds.

Brief Bio: Make sure it is short and that you include your website or however else you like to get attention as an author!



Please consider my WORD-word, previously published manuscript, “TITLE,” for publication at MAGAZINE. The manuscript first appeared in MAGAZINE on DATE. This is a simultaneous submission and I will alert you if the manuscript needs to be withdrawn. I have enclosed a SASE for reply and do not need my manuscript returned, as it is not the original copy.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


Your Name




Most likley your cover letter will be much shorter and some editors want it that way, so don't worry!


Good luck!



Next we will discuss formatting the actual manuscript, how to submit it and tips. Just as the cover letter may have pitfalls to help clear out the slush pile, the same goes for the manuscript itself!

More Exceptions:

Some places have automated submission forms and don't want a cover letter. Such places are rare, MOST still ask for a cover letter.

Some publishers just do things 'different'. Black Library for instance has its own set of rules when it comes to submissions for both short stories and novels.