Archive for May, 2015


May 29, 2015

In case someone out there thinks I sailed my way into publication with out a fight at the port, you can relax. I’ve been at this for over thirty years, but I was never on a luxury cruise. (Okay, enough of the nautical references.)

I’ve met a few folks who enjoyed the miracle of having their first writing piece published, but they are a rare few. Most writers work hard to get to that nirvana of regular publishing success. I’m hoping here that my experience will make you feel better, if not give you a few ideas you can use.

I didn’t set out to be a writer. I taught school for six years after graduating from college. Post child number one, I discovered I needed to converse with adults for a portion of my day, so found a part-time job at the local library. Part of my library job required writing a column about library happenings. Despite my initial complaints, I learned I really liked writing that column.

I segued the library column into a stringer job for a large Denver newspaper and two other local human-interest writing jobs that later became a regular history column for a local paper. At the same time, I wrote some articles and short stories, which were published in regional and national publications. All this success was predicated on that lowly library column.

One day I was lamenting my lack of success to the editor of the local newspaper who published the library column. A writing friend had just been published in a national religious publication and I (in my eyes) did nothing. The editor (everyone’s idea of the grizzled newspaper editor complete with cigar in his teeth and probably bottle in bottom drawer) looked at me and said, “Young lady, she’s been published once. You get published every week.” I never complained again. He was right. Publication is publication and you need to stop complaining and get back to the keyboard.



May 22, 2015

If you are a new writer, you know that putting together a career can be more difficult than locating a white whale. While you are writing that first piece, not later, begin to look around for publishers or magazines that take similar articles, short stories, or books. If you are writing a book and have a contract, the contract probably has a right of first refusal clause which means a similar next book has to go to that publisher, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look around. What if they don’t like the second book? So keep your options open.

I have a friend who sells regularly to an inspirational market. She occasional complains that she is selling to them and no one else. I’ve told her I don’t think that’s a problem. I always think that some folks would give anything to sell regularly to any market. Regular sales mean building a resume and a portfolio of your work.

Here are a few tips if you are just getting involved in this writing business.
1. Don’t be reluctant to give a piece of writing away. If you can’t find a paying market and you don’t have hours of research invested, it is better to get the piece out there than to leave it in the drawer.
2. Be sure to ask for tear sheets. Four or five copies of your article to include with other submissions indicate that you’re not a newbie and you can be trusted to produce a piece. In the case of a book, a copy of the title page is usually sufficient.
3. BE PROFESSIONAL (There’s a reason I underlined and capped that statement.) Don’t call the editor all the time. I’d say never call the editor, but there be a rare time when you actually need to clarify a point with the editor.
4. Remember you aren’t “calling the shots here” so don’t dictate what photos go with the piece unless they are your photos and you are a photographer. If the editor or proofreader puts in a comma, don’t argue about it unless it changes the meaning of the sentence. (See tip 3.)
5. BE GRACIOUS: Say, “Thank you” and “what can I help you with?” Treating editors with respect and courtesy will earn those reactions from the publishing professionals. They are not the enemy. Sometimes they have bad days, too. So unless they snarl at you continuously–give them a break.

These few tips will give you a better chance at a return engagement with particular publisher and a better relationship with those in the business.


May 14, 2015

Apologies to my loyal followers.  Last week was the annual National Writers Association Foundation Victorian Tea and my usual blogging day became a bake two more batches of cookies, buy fruits and vegetables day.  I promise I’m back on track now and will send my thoughts out on writing weekly.

This time I’d like to share a few words on deadlines.  Whether you are writing a short story, article, or book, you’ll probably have a deadline if you have a contract.  A word of advice—Keep it.  Yes, I know that’s two words.

Deadlines are not to be broken.  As a rule, there are whole bunches of people down-line waiting for your product.  Graphic artists, editors, layout people, and proofreaders depend on getting your work on time. If you are late, they are put in a time crush and can’t provide the quality of work your piece deserves.  If you are late, everyone suffers and so does your published piece.

Yes, sometimes there are circumstances which can’t be avoided.  There are times when you can’t meet your deadline.  Most editors will understand and make necessary adjustments, but don’t make missing deadlines a habit.  Just so you know I’m not perfect either.  I rant about deadlines because they are important.  Last year, I missed a deadline for the first time in my thirty year writing career.  I signed a book contract in June with an October deadline for all materials to be submitted.  Yes, that’s a pretty close deadline; I figured I could make it if I really kept on schedule.  My body had a differing opinion.  In June, I began wearing an EKG machine to figure out why I was blacking out and in July I had a Pacemaker implanted.  I missed my October deadline by a week.  My editor wasn’t amused. I thought I had a pretty good excuse.

The point is that as far as most publishers are concerned there is no good excuse.  When you begin a project if the deadline looks too close or unrealistic, let the editor or contract person know that it isn’t possible to meet the deadline.  You might lose the assignment, but at least you won’t get a reputation with editors and publishers as a lazy flake.  These people talk to each other.  Losing one job will be better than a brand of unreliable.


May 1, 2015

A lot of misinformation flies around about the money side of publishing. So let’s take a look at the realistic world of getting published. Despite rumors to the contrary, it isn’t likely that you will get a Million-Dollar Advance for your book. If you do, you owe me lunch. Million Dollar Advances are reserved for writers with huge “sell-through”, think Stephen King. Most new authors, if they get an advance at all, may receive several thousand dollars, think $5,000 and be happy if it is more than that.

It’s called an “advance” for a reason; it is an advance against your royalties. If you don’t make that advance back, you may have to pay the money back. So a sound business practice is to put the money in the bank and NOT take a cruise to the Bahamas. Otherwise you maybe swiping money out of your child’s college fund to pay the publisher back.

Most small or medium-sized publishers will not pay an advance and in many ways that’s great because the money you earn is the amount calculated for your royalty check.


Book royalty rates are all over the place. Where once the royalty for a book might be around 15%, the decline in hardcopy books has forced most of the rates into the 10% realm with some royalty rates going as low as 5 to 7%. Too bad for writers because this is where you are going to make your money.

You need to read the portion of your contract regarding royalties carefully. Most royalties are calculated on the retail price of the book, but some are not, so pay close attention to this section and if you can’t understand it, ask someone.

Your contract will probably say that royalties are calculated once or twice a year and that you will receive payment on June 30 and/or December 31. Remember that’s when they send out the check not when you will get it.

There’s probably another clause in the contract you should give some attention. It is usually titled Reserve Against Returns. The bottom line is that the publisher can hold a certain amount of the money due to you back, because there may be returns of your books from booksellers. The language in the contract may be a bit vague, so you might not know how much money due to you will be withheld. Most of the reserved money minus return payments should show up in your next check.

As I stated previously the royalty and payments on your book can be confusing and frustrating. If you don’t understand a section, ask you publisher’s representative for clarification or contact a reliable literary attorney. Keep in mind that you may have a wonderful family attorney, but that attorney may not have any experience with publishing contracts.