Category: On publishing

Ask the Editor: Writing for publication

By Midge Raymond,

Q: Is it better to write something, then seek out appropriate publications, or seek out publications and then try to write what they’re looking for?  Or both? — Sean P. Farley, Escondido, California

A: When it comes to poetry, essays, stories, and any sort of creative writing, I always say: Write what you want to write, first and foremost. (If you’re a freelancer and looking to write for hire, of course, you don’t always get to choose.) But when it comes to creative writing, you must tell the stories you want to tell. For one, being passionate about what you write is the only thing that’s going to interest you enough to 1) stick with it and 2) make it great. And even if you target a specific publication or publisher, unless you get a contract first, there’s no guarantee they’ll publish you anyway — and then you’ve written something that you may not care about as much or that you may not be able to publish elsewhere. So write what you want, always, and then start the publication search.

That said, it’s always good to get an idea of the publications and options that are out there, and this is where the “both” comes in. If you’re planning to submit a novel to an agent or press, do as much research as you can to make sure you’re a good fit. If you’re planning to submit to literary magazines, read and study them; learn what type of work they publish, and this will tell you whether your submission will be competitive. As this LA Times blog post reveals, the big secret to getting published in literary magazines is quite simply to read the magazines.


I wouldn’t recommend tailoring what you write toward any one publication — unless it’s something you’d write anyway — but if you read a lot and are always doing a little industry research, you’ll be in a great position to get your work published. An example: Years ago, I was working on a short story that just wasn’t going anywhere … I had this idea that I really liked but just couldn’t get it done (and believe me, I tried). So finally I set the story aside to give it some breathing room. Then one day, I was reading Poets & Writers and noticed a call for submissions for a short-short contest run by the literary magazine Witness. All of a sudden it hit me: That stubborn story of mine was meant to be a short-short. So I sat down, rewrote it, sent it off, and won the contest. This is not the sort of thing that happens every day (not even every year or two, actually) — but it’s the sort of thing that can happen if you write what you want to write and, at the same time, keep an eye on the opportunities out there.


Good luck & happy writing!


Ask the Editor: Should I pay a reading fee?

By Midge Raymond,

Q: I’ve noticed that some publications now charge reading fees, and I’ve heard a lot of writers say this isn’t ethical. When, if at all, is it okay to pay a reading fee? — M.K., Los Angeles

A: The short answer is: Almost never. The vast majority of reputable literary magazines do not (and should not) charge reading fees.

However, there are a few exceptions. One is if you enter a contest — most contests run by literary magazines charge reading fees, and this is perfectly reasonable because they offer cash awards to winners and often finalists as well (they may also offer a stipend to the contest judge). Many independent and university presses charge reading fees for their contests, for the same reasons.

A normal fee for a short story, poetry, or essay contest is $10-15. Some lit mags are charging $20 or more — for example, Gulf Coast charges $23 per entry for its annual prizes, which includes a subscription; The Iowa Review charges $20, and $30 will get you a subscription as well. These are both great magazines (and it’s always worth supporting them by subscribing), but these fees are quite a lot for most writers, unfortunately, and they’ll add up very quickly if you hope to enter a lot of contests. Small presses will usually ask for a fee of $25 per manuscript for a contest — I’ve seen higher, but this still seems to be the norm. You shouldn’t pay a fee for a regular submission, whether you’re sending an essay to a magazine or a novel to a small press.

Another exception is the “administration fee” that many magazines (among them The Missouri Review and Ploughshares) charge for using their online submissions systems — it’s usually around $3, which is roughly what it would cost you in printing and postage to mail in a hard copy anyway, and it’ll save you some time and maybe even few trees. While the majority of magazines still accept online submissions without charging this fee, it’s not an unreasonable one — and these magazines do not charge for regular mail submissions.

So the general rule is — fees are expected for contests; fees should not be paid for regular submissions, even if the magazines pay their authors (legitimate magazines that pay authors do not charge regular reading fees). If you encounter a publication that charges fees for regular submissions, do a quick Google search on that publication, and what you find will probably help you decide that it’s just not worth it.


The new publishing paradigm

By John Yunker,

If you’re looking for an agent, a publisher, or just trying to make sense of the publishing business, I recommend following Jane Friedman’s blog.

She posted a guest article by the writer John Rember, who recently published with the upstart press Dream of Things. He provides great insights into the publishing model today and why it makes good sense for new writers to consider new publishers.

He writes:

And self-publishing is easier and cheaper than ever. The trouble is, you have to be your own marketing department and quality control. Traditional media won’t normally review self-published books unless you’ve become notorious or you somehow manage to sell a hundred thousand copies. Publishers Weekly does not look favorably upon books that haven’t come from their mainstream clients.

… I went looking for a university press, but then Dream of Things Publishing appeared on the scene, with a business model that is taking advantage of the opportunities left by the ongoing collapse of the old system.

Obviously, I’m biased in favor of us upstart publishers.

And, just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that a writer turn down a six-figure advance with a mainstream publisher in favor of an upstart. I certainly would have taken such a deal if it had been offered to me when my agent was shopping around The Tourist Trail.

But what I am suggesting is that authors who have had difficulty finding an agent or finding a mainstream publisher would be wise to consider submitting to a small press before self-publishing.  Self-publishing isn’t easy, and it can be expensive. You need an editor, designer, and marketer to help you craft and promote a book that would not look out of place in a Barnes & Noble. You also need readers and a way to reach them. If you have a few million Twitter followers, then by all means self-publish. But if you’re like most of us, more focused on writing than building a “platform,” self-publishing may not be the best approach.

A new publishing paradigm is emerging, one in which authors have more opportunities than ever before, which in turn means more decisions to make than ever before. In the old days, you got an agent and you got a publisher and that was pretty much it. Today, it can be more challenging to find an agent and even more challenging to get an offer from a major publisher. But the good news is that there are more options — and these may be better in the long run. If you find a small publisher with a niche focus, you probably won’t get an advance, but you will get a bigger chunk of royalties. Or, if you’ve got money, and/or the ability to write, design, edit, and market your book, you can go straight to Amazon and self-publish the book yourself.

I knew, when I didn’t find a mainstream home for The Tourist Trail, that I wanted to get it out into the world, even if I had to do it myself. And it turned out for the best — in researching the best possible homes for the book, I realized there was a need out there for a press devoted to books about animal protection, wildlife, the environment, and good stories about the people who are out there working hard to save endangered species and the natural world. And so not only did I publish my book but Ashland Creek Press was born.

And we are now taking submissions. If you’ve got a book that fits our mission, we’d love to see it. And if you’re just getting started on your eco-lit novel, memoir, travel guide, keep us in mind when you finish.

  Category: On publishing
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How to add a book excerpt to your web site using Amazon Kindle for the Web

By John Yunker,

Late last year, Amazon unveiled Kindle for the Web, a feature that allows authors and publishers to easily post book excerpts on their web sites.

Here’s what it looks like on my web site (you can click here to see it live):

By pasting a text string supplied by Amazon, I can give visitors a free sample of my book without them having to download anything.

Here’s a brief overview of how I did it:

First of all, you need to have BOTH a physical copy of your book on Amazon as well as a Kindle edition.

Next, look at the Amazon page of your physical book. You should see the following button on the right side of the page:

Click the “Read first chapter FREE” button and you’ll see your Kindle edition of your book. I’ve included an excerpt of my book below:

On the right side of this page is an “Embed” button. Select it and you’ll see this:

All you need to do to is copy and past the text string into a web page.

I had created a “Chapter One” web page that included only a header; below this I pasted the text string. I also adjusted the size so that the book would fit within my established page layout. You can add your Amazon Associate’s tag if you want to get a referral fee for everyone who purchases a book.


On Google, writing time, and short stories

By Midge Raymond,

This post on Alan Rinzler’s blog is a great reminder that even if you haven’t started shopping your book around, you may already be giving publishers good reasons to take a chance on you as a writer — or not. He offers a cautionary anecdote along with a few tips for writers (among them: be accurate about sales numbers and reviews), the most important of which is to realize that you will probably be Googled, and to make sure what’s out there portrays you in a good light. In other words, be honest and try to be good. (And if you’re not, you can always hire someone to delete your web indiscretions; see these articles from Wired and the NY Times.)

As an editor at Ashland Creek Press, I have to say that Rinzler’s right; we do want to know what our prospective authors are up to — but if you’re thinking about submitting, don’t worry; we’re not looking to find dirt on writers. Instead, we’re curious as to how you might help us market your book — we’re hoping, for example, that you write a blog and that you have a good social media presence.

Now, getting back to writing … All writing projects seem to take longer than we think they will — and this piece in Slate covers “the quiet hell of 10 years of novel writing.” It’s partly depressing, but also a great reminder that great writing takes great amounts of time — as just one example, Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao took more than ten years to write.

If you’re a writer who’s been working for many years on a seemingly endless project, you may wonder, Why do I write, anyway? Check out this NPR story featuring writers talking about why they write.

And for all of you short fiction fans out there, there’s a great way to promote short stories in general as well as your favorites specifically: Post a link on Twitter every Sunday to someone else’s story you’ve enjoyed over the week. Then search for #StorySunday to read stories other readers have linked to. Check out The Short Review for its usual fantastic short story reviews, interviews, and news, as well as its handy widget to see Sunday Story picks at a glance.