In Answer to Traditional Publishing Queries

A blogger that I follow posted an open query on her site to anyone she knew that was traditionally published, and since The Shadow Things was traditionally published and so I have had that experience, I picked up her list in the hopes that I could shed a little light on her questions.

If you are also a traditionally published author, and you have answers to these questions, please throw in your two cents!

Dear Published Authors,
What can you tell me about your publisher? I don't have a manuscript quite ready yet, but I am starting to research publishers. At this point, I haven't decided between self-publishing and traditional publishing so I am wide open to any words of wisdom you may have to offer.

Also, what questions should I ask of a publisher? I would hate to agree to a publishing contract only to find out that I agreed to something that I wish I hadn't. I am a person who likes to know what I am getting into and to be prepared. Below are some questions I have been asking. What else do I need to know?

1. What do I need to submit? Manuscript (in what format), synopsis, monies, bio, etc.
What you need to submit will vary from publishing house to publishing house.  They will (or should!) have their requirements posted on their website.  These requirements are not always clear.  I am sorry, but sometimes they can be mind-boggling.  Rule Number One: there are very few hard-and-fast rules.  You have to roll with their punches.

2. Is the acceptance of my manuscript guaranteed (such as in some self-publishing pay money and they print whatever you like) or is it dependent on their review (traditional publishers and some hybrid publishers use this route)?
The acceptance of your manuscript is subject to the whims of the publishing house.  It may not suit them (in which case you probably should have researched their corpus of literature better), it may be that they already have a lot of books coming out in that genre, it may be that they are swamped.  When rejected, you may feel that it is because your manuscript is not good enough.  This is not always the case.  Oftentimes, it just wasn't their cup of tea.

3. Are there restrictions on the length of the book? (For example, it must be at least 48 pages to be printed in paperback and at least 108 pages to be considered for hardcover). (Or, for example, no one wants the next unabridged Count of Monte Cristo).
Traditional publishing houses often state the word limits they require on both ends (no less than so many words and no more than another number).   These restrictions will vary from house to house.

Hardcover books tend to be costlier than paperbacks.  The anticipated popularity of the book will often dictate whether it is published in hardcover or not, I believe, not the size of the wordcount. 

4. Who owns my manuscript? Do I maintain ownership or do I sign it over to the publisher?
If I understand this correctly, whoever holds the copyright, owns the manuscript (makes sense!).  In my research I came across this article on copyrights and copyright transfers.  This is something you will need to keep an eye on and look for in the list of papers you may sign with a publishing house.

5. Would this be a non-exclusive contract (in other words, do they have restrictions on my ability to submit my story elsewhere)?
Before your manuscript has been accepted, you may send your queries and proposals to as many houses as you wish.  (You may or may not be asked if you are submitting to multiple houses simultaneously.)  Once your story has been accepted, its freedom to be published in other venues is probably dependent upon the contract's limitations, which may vary.

6. Are there time limits on the publisher's services? Will my book ever go out of print?
An article defining out-of-print may be found here.   Your book can, and may, go out of print, and the contract can make allowance for the rejuvenation of the printing (e.g. if my publisher fails to bring out a new printing of my novel within six months of my having sent in a written request to renew it, all rights to my novel will revert back to me). 

7. In addition to the initial fee (if there is one), are there times during this submitting/editing/publishing/marketing process when the author is expected to provide funds?
This is probably dependent upon the publishing house.  And this is the part where I mention that the entire traditional publishing industry is doing itself no favours in short-changing the author so vigorously in terms of royalties and returns.  As I have entered the publishing world, I have watched more and more authors move away from traditional publishing, not because self-publishing is easier (please don't make me laugh), but because we would far rather haul our own carts and urge ourselves at our own hectic pace than be overridden by corporations who intend to work the life out of us and give us very little in return.  They are not all evil conglomerates, but the system is not designed to help the author, and the authors have become increasingly aware of that as the internet network has made self-help more and more feasible.

8. Does the publisher provide the editors and cover design artists?
In general, yes, I believe so; and occasionally you even have the opportunity of interfacing with your cover artist and offering suggestions (or making demands).  Back-pocket editors and design artists are part of the traditional publishing package.

9. Does the publisher print both hardcover and paperbacks? How do they decide whether to do one or the other or both? (Perhaps by how much money you pay? Or by the length of the book?)
I think I inadvertently answered this question above.  Insofar as I understand it, whether or not a book is printed in hardback or paper depends upon its popularity (and therefore the assurance of reaping a return on the money invested in a more expensive type of cover).  I have been watching Andrew Peterson's publication of his (I believe) last Wingfeather Saga novel, The Warden and the Wolf King, and in an Instagram photograph I noticed that the first two books were paperback; the last two, once the series had grown in popularity, were in hardback.  It all depends upon the economic assurance that you will not be throwing money away by creating a more expensive product that people don't want.

10. Do the publisher obtain or help me get the ISBN assignment, Library of Congress Control Number, and U.S. Copyright Registration for my book?
The publisher is responsible for creating the official numbers associated with the literary work.  (In my long list of Things to Do to Self-Publish Plenilune, obtaining these numbers myself is there.)

11. Does the publisher only print black and white books, or would they also print color books? Do they ever print books with interior pictures? What are the requirements for those?
Colour will probably also be dependent on the economic feasibility of the project.  The printing of black and white images in books is common: that's part of your book, and while there may be some wrangling, that will also probably be accommodated according to your needs and the publisher's. 

12. How does the publisher print the books? Is it done on-demand or are large orders printed at a time?
A publishing house will order a run to be printed (this quantity to be determined by the publisher).  Subsequent runs can be ordered as well.

13. Do they offer marketing/networking and help me attain endorsements and reviews? If so, what does that look like and what role do I play in that? (I'd hate to sign a contract with them and then find out unexpectedly that I am required to tour the country for a booksigning during my busiest months here at home).
Publishing houses do offer varying degrees of publicity and author-readership interaction, but whether you publishing traditionally or by yourself, it is increasingly more imperative that the bulk of the responsibility rests on the author's shoulders for marketing and networking.  You absolutely cannot depend upon the publishing house to do this for you, even if they offer some of these services.  It's up to you, because that's the way the book market works these days.

14. In what markets will my book be carried? Is there a time limit on how long a book would be carried by them?
This depends on the distributors that any individual publishing house has in its back pocket, and the duration of the shelf-life of your book will be dependent on a time agreed upon by the distributor and the publisher: if that time has expired and a portion of your books has not sold, the books will be bought back by the publisher.  (This should not effect your royalties, but unfortunately sometimes it does.)

15. Is it likely that my book would be carried in a physical store? (Or is it only offered online?)
As of now, traditional publishing is still heavily invested in the physical book.  Your book will be printed and distributed to physical locations, although it will probably come in ebook format as well.

16. If I wished to purchase some of my books for my family or if I wished to carry my books to an event to sell them, how would I obtain copies? Is there a reduced cost for the author to buy books? Is there a specific quantity that must be purchased at a time?
This will probably be dependent on the contract.  I know it is listed in my contract as allowing me to purchase my books at a reduced price, but this may vary from contract to contract.
These are some questions answered.  If you have more questions, a good resource to explore is the website Go Teen Writers, which is extremely helpful and a lot of fun to peruse.  I hope this helped!

5 ripostes:

  1. I believe if I understand correctly, "the wolf king and the warden" and "The monster in the hollows" are published by Peterson's own Rabbit Room Press and part of the recent kickstarter was to put those two out in hardback. However, the first two "Across the Dark Sea of Darkness" and "North or be eaten" could not be published in hardback because they were published by Waterbrook Press and they held the rights (if I remember his reply to a a fan query correctly.)

  2. Jenny, did you acquire an agent first or did you just query publishing houses without one? I want to get published by one of the 'big six' houses (preferably penguin) but them and all their subsidiaries don't accept queries unless you have an agent. I'm querying some right now - just wondering if you had any tips, not specifically on querying, but on how to interact with them once they agree to be my agent. Do you sign a contact with an agent? And a separate one with a publisher? Are there any hidden strings attached? Are there things I can get ready now, like figuring out how I want it laid out, or getting a cover made, that would speed up the publishing process? And how long does traditional publishing take from acceptance letter to book launch? Thanks.

  3. Bound and Freed - You're welcome! I hope these answers prove useful.

    Lilly - It is nice to see Andrew Peterson able to start up his own press; it is also nice to see his beautiful books in hardback! There is nothing so fetching as a big fat hard-bound novel.

    Ellie - I did not get an agent, so I'm afraid you will have to perhaps investigate what Go Teen Writers have to say about that, or research it more on the internet. Some houses won't take you unless you are fronted by an agent, like you said. I'm afraid I don't know the ins and outs of that relationship, but I certainly wish you the best as you check it out!

  4. I self-published my book and although I'm very glad I did, I did not count on it being quite so much work. Hearing of your traditional publishing experience was very enlightening, as I'm considering the traditional route for my next book. Something that you highlighted well, however, is that no matter which option one chooses, you have to commit to furthering your book yourself to some degree--you can't wait for someone else to do it for you. It pays to be a proactive author!