Archive for the 'The Publishing Industry' Category

Feb 05 2012

The Death and Return of Superman

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

This is pretty brilliant, albeit not safe for work.

3 responses so far

Sep 01 2011

“My Publisher Beats Me Because It Loves Me” and Other Fun Links

I don’t agree with everything in this article about the publishing industry, which compares the average professional publisher to an abusive husband, but it might be really interesting, particularly if you were considering self-publishing before.


PS: One of the things the author complains about is awful cover-art. If that’s a problem for you, I’d recommend offering to pay a feelance illustrator (like Emily or Laura Dollie or Aguaplano or anyone that strikes your fancy here) to quickly do another version of the cover. The publisher might not actually end up using it, but I feel like it’d give you a good chance to undo a potentially costly mistake. (The faster the publisher sees the art, the easier it will be to use). Who knows, maybe even the publisher will comp you the $300-500.

The New York Times has a piece on encouraging novel-reading among boys.  As a child, I was really down on fiction because it felt very juvenile to me.  Almost all of the novels I read after turning ~9 were exclusively about adults doing adult things (frequently with firearms and axes).  Admittedly, my sample size of one is extremely small and idiosyncratic, but I just loathed young characters.


Some thoughts for parents trying to encourage their sons to read:

  • When your son(s) pick out video games or movies, how often do they reach for ones starring characters around their age?
  • If they tend to prefer adult protagonists in other media, why wouldn’t they prefer adult protagonists in books as well?
  • If your son is very literate but isn’t enthusiastic about novels with young characters, I’d recommend leaving some adult novels lying around.
  • Nonfiction is totally fine, too!  Some readers (particularly guys, I’ve noticed) are not particularly interested in fiction. That’s not a problem at all.  Extremely few educational and career paths require an enthusiasm for fiction.

9 responses so far

Aug 26 2011

Publishing Cliches Decoded!

I found this Devil’s Dictionary of publishing terms dangerously amusing.  (Hat-tip: Kelley at Sterling Editing).   Here are some examples.

  • “brilliantly defies categorization” –>”not even the author has an idea what he’s written.”
  • “continues in the proud tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien” –>”this book has a dwarf in it.”
  • “edgy” –> “contains no adult voices of reason.”
  • “wildly imaginative” –> “author was high on mescaline.”
  • “ripped from the headlines” –> “no original plot content.”

8 responses so far

May 29 2011

A Literary Superagent’s Thoughts on Publishing

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie (of the Wylie Agency).  Here are some excerpts that I think would be interesting to prospective authors (and maybe some published ones).

  • “As a general rule, we find that while the strongest market is usually the writer’s home market, it’s roughly equivalent to the rest of the world. And increasingly, what’s important is getting the rest of the world right. Fifty percent of American writers’ sales should be outside the U.S. That’s vital.”  [Fun fact: Superhero Nation’s audience is ~40% international].
  • “We try to avoid people who can’t write. You can usually spot them from the first sentence, or from the cover letter. It’s a little like sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall and watching someone walk up to a piano. If you’re trained, you can tell the difference between someone who knows how to play and someone who doesn’t. Of course, sometimes you want to work with people who have a significant achievement, which is not writing, and so that usually requires closer editing, and ghostwriting. Heads of state are not always the best writers.”
  • “Things are generally tough and getting tougher across the industry. In the U.S., publishers are continuing to pay advances at pretty much the same level as five years ago, but they’ve reduced the number of high bets they’re making… Each house has a large number of titles to publish, and with a difficult economy, fewer people to handle the publications. But publishers need to become smaller, leaner, and they will have to learn new disciplines.”  [Note: Having fewer editors per title gives publishers less flexibility to publish manuscripts that will require a lot of editing, so your manuscript is pretty much dead on arrival if it’s not proofread carefully, unless you’re a head of state or something].

36 responses so far

Jun 27 2010

Today’s Recommended Articles

*An accountant and an alligator saving the world from a deranged cosmeticist… with a Heisman Trophy!  While playing Clue!  IN SPACE!

7 responses so far

Mar 01 2010

Illustrating the Economics of E-Books

Two things jump out at me here.  First, the author’s royalty is proportionally much larger with e-books than hardcovers (20-25% compared to 15%, and even lower for paperbacks).  Second, since distributing an e-book is cheaper, the cost to consumers should drop considerably.

Picture taken from the New York Times.  Full article here.  This statistic caught my eye: “The industry is based on the understanding that as much as 70 percent of the books published will make little or no money at all for the publisher once costs are paid.”

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Feb 15 2010

Amateurism is Not a Personal Failing; Stupidity Is

Prospective authors, myself included, sometimes worry about looking like idiots.

The good news is that agents and editors are very understanding of amateurishness.  After all, everybody starts out as an amateur through no fault of their own.  You’re safe as long as you’re remotely friendly and professional.  If your submission is poorly formatted, the agent or editor may even direct you to a submission guide and ask you to resubmit.

If you’re trying to get a novel or graphic novel published, follow these two steps and you won’t look like an idiot.

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Feb 06 2010

Looking for a Publishing Job?

If you’re looking for a job with a novel publisher or nonfiction publisher, I’d highly recommend checking out BookJobs.  Right now, ~200 jobs and internships are available across the US, including a few telecommuting positions.

Unfortunately, it’s not that useful for jobs with comics publishers.  I’ll have more thoughts about how to get comic book jobs in the weeks to come, but until then I would recommend checking the job pages for Marvel, ImageDark Horse and DC regularly.  Also, if you’re interested in unpaid internships in New York City, Marvel has more than a few of them.

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Jan 05 2010

Another Eight Facts About Writing That Surprise Prospective Novelists

This is the second article in a series. Please see part one here.

9.  Getting published is really, really hard. Publisher’s assistants at major publishers go through hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts a week. Out of every thousand or so manuscripts, they’ll probably send on around five to an editor for further consideration. That means PAs reject about 99.5% of manuscripts. Of the five surviving manuscripts, usually one or two will eventually be offered contracts.


10. Publisher’s assistants do not have the time to pore through each manuscript. They are not on your side. They have to get through hundreds of manuscripts each week and the only way to do that is to throw out manuscripts as fast as possible. Most manuscripts do not survive to page two. If something does not make sense on page one, they will throw away the manuscript long before you’ve explained what is going on. The story absolutely needs to be clear and engaging from page one.


11. SPELLING, PUNCTUATION AND GRAMMAR ARE EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.  They are the difference between conveying that “I am a polished writer that will be easy to publish” and “I am not familiar with basic writing craft.” If your writing has more than a few typos, you are dead on arrival. Even one typo per page would raise eyebrows. Remember, around 99.9% of unsolicited manuscripts get rejected. Don’t give the publisher any reason to drop the guillotine.

Continue Reading »

38 responses so far

Dec 06 2009

Escaping the Slush Pile

The Rejectionist talks some more about reviewing the slush pile, a vast collection of unsolicited query letters explaining why the company should publish the author’s novel.

“After years as a slush reader in various aspects of the industry, I am quick to recognize and dispatch; I can often tell within the first sentence if a query will be any good, and I am now so ruthlessly efficient that I can blow through an inbox of 50 e-mails in half an hour, sometimes rejecting submissions within moments of their arrival…

Rendered in a labyrinthine and frequently unintelligible grammar, the truly awful query is often notable for its length, its torrid verbosity, and the mechanical specificity of its sex scenes, which tend to read like appliance-repair manuals in their exhaustive and emotionless depictions of moving parts. The bad query’s sentence sometimes resembles a battlefield wherein subjects hack it out desperately with adjectives, perennially besieged by legions of unwieldy adverbs. Apostrophes go on suicide missions and commas appear at random. Formatting tends to be interpretive; it is not uncommon to find e-mails that are 50 pages long, are bright pink, contain pictures of the author on vacation, or are written in Papyrus.”

I think that every prospective author should know about the process through which his work will be evaluated, whether he’s writing about superheroes or space slugs.  However, please don’t let exotic failure stories and the generally unforgiving nature of the business scare you away.  Here are a few brief rules of thumb to keep your query letter on track.

1. You are writing a business letter to a skeptical, time-strapped professional.  For more thoughts about communicating with them, see this.

2. Your goal is to convince him or her that your book is awesome enough to sell thousands of copies.

3. They’ve heard every possible variation of “I’ve just written an awesome book” and rejected at least 99% of them. Telling them your book is awesome is not good enough.  You need THEM to decide the book sounds awesome.  Show, don’t tell.  Lay out your plot in a way that they want to keep reading.  “John Lee is a detective investigating a murder” sounds cliche and boring. “John Lee is a poisoned detective that has two days to solve his own murder” sounds a lot more interesting.  Give enough information to intrigue them.

4. Different publishers have different tastes.  Make sure you submit to publishers that are well-suited to your manuscript.

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Nov 27 2009

Marvel and DC don’t read unsolicited scripts– who does?

Optimum Wound has a very useful list of comic book publishers that are accepting unsolicited submissionsMarvel and DC do not accept unsolicited scripts.  (If you’re dead-set on starting out with them anyway, I’d recommend getting a job with them in some other capacity, like editing or sales, and then moving laterally).

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Nov 15 2009

How to Communicate with Agents and Editors

When you’re ready to submit your novel or comic book to an agent or publisher, these tips will help you make the sell.

1.  The only goal of your submission is to convince a publishing professional that your novel or comic book is likely to sell thousands of copies. Nothing else matters.

2.  Follow the instructions on their website. Most agents and publishers will have submissions pages that lay out what they want to see.  In most cases, it’s best to provide just what’s on the list and nothing else.  (Exception: if you’re submitting a comic book script, consider submitting some inked or colored pages even if they aren’t required– these pages will help the editor decide very quickly whether your proposal is serious).

3.  Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Trying to impress a publishing professional without clean writing is like trying to run a filthy restaurant.  It really doesn’t matter how good the cooking is–customers will run out screaming anyway.  Proofread or perish.  Not many publishing professionals would bet tens of thousands of dollars on an unpolished writer.

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13 responses so far

Oct 02 2009

Don’t Quit Your Day Job– Part 302

If you’re up for a starkly depressing perspective on how hard it is to start out as a writer, Writing Full Time– A User’s Guide is an excellent resource.  (Also, Robert Weinberg gets major kudos for being a dual novelist/comic book writer– hooah!)  It is depressing, but I think that it’s important to have realistic expectations.  Even if your manuscript survives the 99% rejection rate gauntlet and somehow gets published, you’re only looking at maybe $5000 for a typical first-time novel.  (He focuses on horror, but Tobias Buckell finds that the median advance is about $6000 for an agented first novel and $3500 for a first novel without an agent). 

Now, if you’re one of our readers in the 13-18 range, you’re probably thinking “whoa, that’s way more money than I’ve ever made before!”  Probably true, but when you have to cover your own rent and food and transportation and school loans, you will discover that $5000 is wholly inadequate for at least half a year worth of work.  By comparison, a 22-year-old college graduate  working for the US government starts at a GS-5 (~$35,000 a year and benefits) and moves up to GS-7 after two years.   Also, the government guy doesn’t have to pay an agent 10-15%.  (Indeed, if a government employee started giving agents money, it would probably prompt a federal investigation). 😉   

I don’t have any magic bullets to the problem that authors get paid so little starting out.  However, here are some suggestions. 

Continue Reading »

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Aug 05 2009

Teen literature is selling quite well…

The Motley Fool reports

But what began with Harry and Hogwarts has grown into something more. Teen literature is hot. Estimates suggest the category will generate $744.3 million in revenues for U.S. publishers this year, up 13% from $659.1 million in 2008. In comparison, book retailing in general is slumping, with revenue expected to fall nearly 5% from a year ago.

Instead of trying to grab kids’ eyes as they rush past the book stacks toward the movies and music, Borders is creating an in-store boutique called Borders Ink, featuring graphic novels, manga (Japan’s homegrown style of comics), vampires, and, of course, wizards. It hopes to have as many as 90% of its superstores featuring the teen reading section by the end of the month.

This is encouraging. First, more readers generally means that publishers will have more room to take on more authors in this field. Second, diversifying comic book sales beyond comic-book stores is extremely important.  That’s especially true if you want to write for demographics that are far more likely to visit a bookstore than a comic-book store– like women, children/parents, first-time comic book readers, etc.

13 responses so far

May 21 2009

Unsolicited manuscripts almost always get rejected

Patricia Chui did an article for Salon about her experience reading unsolicited manuscripts.  Here are some choice excerpts.

To our credit, we readers did give every single submission, no matter how ludicrous, a fair and honest appraisal. During my reign as slush handler, a few projects garnered further consideration from our editors; one was even published. [emphasis mine] …

The slush pile [is] a teeming smorgasbord of mediocrity sprinkled with healthy doses of the awful and the insane. Fair or not, there’s a kind of self-selection process that governs the pile, the perception being that good writers are the ones who manage to stay off of it in the first place. The job of our readers was to sift through the pile and find the exceptions to the rule. It was a Sisyphean task at best. Every day, boxes of self-help, pet-inspired wisdom and near-death experiences would cycle through my office to be read and rejected in what seemed a never-ending stream of futility. Being on the slush pile was the literary equivalent of being on death row…

It was the phone calls that were the bane of my existence. Most of those who called were probably hardworking folks who showed courage just by picking up the phone. By God, I hated them…

The callers who irked me most were those who hadn’t done their homework and were using me as some sort of research tool. They asked me how to publish a book, how to get an agent, what kinds of books we published. One gentleman inquired, “When you publish my book, how much will you pay me?*” Another wanted to know, “How many copies of a book do you usually print?**” (When I said it depended, he countered, “So, what then? Millions?”) I was astonished at these questions; I couldn’t imagine dialing the general number at Miramax and asking how to make a movie. There’s a place you can find this information, people. It’s called a bookstore. Look into it.

*– It depends, but Tobias Buckell found that the typical first-novel earns a cash advance of around $4000. Around $5500 if you have an agent.

**-Again it depends, but most novels get an initial print-run of a few thousand copies.

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Apr 27 2009

Unoriginal thought of the day: Selling e-books for $10 is inane

Shaun Hill covered $10 e-books yesterday. Harper-Collins tried to justify this outlandishly high price by saying that the paper, binding and other physical costs of a single hardcover copy usually run out to about $2.

Shaun points out a few good reasons why $10 is well above an optimal price point. I’ll expand on these a bit.

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16 responses so far

Mar 22 2009

E-Books and the Future of Publishing

Slate’s Jacob Weisberg argues that the Kindle will totally reshape the publishing industry.  Not likely.

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26 responses so far

Mar 08 2009

Writing Tip of the Day: Pick Your Publishers Carefully

This should be pretty obvious, but unfortunately it isn’t.  When you submit a novel manuscript or a comic book script, pick your prospective publishers carefully.  Make sure you submit it to publishers that actually work with stories that have a lot in common with your story.

  1. Audience (age and gender)
  2. Genre and content
  3. Style/mood
  4. Setting (real-world Earth vs. historical vs. the future vs. a Tolkien-like fantasy world)
  5. Length, for books (length usually goes hand-in-hand with the age of the audience)
  6. Art style, for comic books (dark and gritty vs. Western cartoons vs. anime/manga, for example)

Prospective publishers love it when authors put some thought into this.  If your query clearly shows that you have looked into which publishers will be the best fit for your book, you will look professional and competent.  A good place to start is looking up 5 or 10 comparable works on Amazon.  Where did they get published?  For comic books, which editors signed on?  That should give you a few publishers to look into.

I’ll use a very particular example to show how easy this is.  For example, right now I’m looking for publishers that would be interested in a guide for how to write superhero novels and comic books.  It’s aimed at teens.  Many publishers have printed books for kids that want to write, so finding apt publishers shouldn’t be a problem.  I’d also like to look at publishers that have printed guides about writing comic books.  

After 30 minutes on Amazon, I found ~10 works that seemed comparable at first glance.  Let’s look at why these works might or might not suggest that their publisher would be interested in mine…

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Mar 07 2009

Why First-Time Authors Shouldn’t Even Consider Self-Publishing

This is pretty much the most obvious writing advice I can think of. If this is your first novel or comic book, don’t self-publish unless you can afford for the project to completely flop.

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79 responses so far

Dec 17 2008

How much do comic book writers make?

This source gives the figure $80-150 per page.  That’s $2000-4000 for a comic book script.

28 responses so far

Dec 05 2008

A Bear Market for Authors and Publishers

Some publishers are cutting staff, and the market for books slumped dramatically in October and November.

No responses yet

Nov 07 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Please Don’t Include Art with Your Query

Some authors make or commission sketches about their novel so they can visualize it better.  That’s fine, but please do not include any in the query package you submit to a publisher.  (If you’re writing a graphic novel, please see this guide to graphic novel queries instead).

Art will probably not make your novel query seem more appealing!

  1. It feels amateurish.
  2. Publishers pick manuscripts based on the author’s ability to spin an interesting story, not on his ability to visualize the characters or make them look interesting.  Consequently, any art you included would distract from your most important qualities.
  3. Even if you’d like to use your illustrations in a novel, publishers are wary about the cost of illustrations.  Author/illustrator Jane Eldershaw says that “it can be surprisingly difficult to talk publishers into using illustrations, even for non-fiction and gift books. I’d suggest (especially if you’ve never been published) that you not mention illustrations until you have a publisher who adores your prose. Then suggest they look at books that have been illustrated in the manner you envisage and wheedle.”
  4. Do you have sample cover-art you’d like your publisher to consider? If so, please show it after your manuscript has been accepted.

One response so far

Aug 28 2008

Mr. Buckell reports: the median advance on a first sci-fi or fantasy novel is $5000

Tobias Buckell gathered some data describing how much authors make on their first advance. The median author in SF or fantasy makes $5000. The average in both categories is slightly higher (about $6500), but that’s probably distorted by a few superstars that skewed the distribution curve.

He also broke the data down by agented vs. unagented submissions. The median advance for an unagented manuscript is $4000, compared to $5500 for an agented manuscript. You might think to yourself “aha! I will make more if I have a superior negotiator on my side!” That’s probably true, but please also consider that a novelist that is good enough to convince an agent to work with him is probably better-than-average to begin with. In addition to that selection bias, you’d also have to factor in the agent’s share of the advance.

That said, I think an agent can be a powerful ally and (all things considered) one that will probably pay for himself.

5 responses so far

Aug 04 2008

The Future of Political Nonfiction

City Journal wrote a well-researched article on the future of conservative nonfiction, but I’d like to make a larger point about political nonfiction. “Since the new conservative imprints have far less latitude than traditional nonfiction imprints to fail, they tend to rely heavily on, and largely be defined by, a handful of proven iconic authors.” It’s probably true that smaller publishers have to be wary about rolling the dice with noncelebrities. But, because of blogging, I think that it’s tremendously difficult for a non-celebrity of any political persuasion to publish political nonfiction. Readers can find blogs that offer any style of political thought for free. Some blogs are exceedingly well-written and intelligent. So why would anyone want to pay for your opinion? Because you’re someone who has an invaluable perspective because you used to be a President, a secretary of state, or are a hugely popular talk-radio host, etc…*

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