Avoiding Predatory Publishers

Today’s virtual world is fraught with danger. From the prince of a faraway country asking for money to complex computer viruses disguised as helpful software, scams and phony programs are everywhere, and the publishing world is no different.

As self-publishing and open access academic journals become more prevalent, there are publishers who have realized that there are many ways to take advantage of inexperienced authors. These writers, taken in by promises of fast publication, may be forced not only to churn out works for the publisher, but will be required to pay in order to become published. Contracts may also force authors to sign over the copyrights to their works, creating a larger profit for the publisher without requiring them to provide editing resources or peer reviews for their writers—to the detriment of the authors’ credibility and reputation. Such self-serving institutions are defined as predatory publishers.

Because there is such a vast array of publishers to be found in today’s online world, discerning which publishers are predatory and which are legitimate can be difficult. Here are a few tips to use when evaluating the legitimacy of a publisher:

  • Look at their website. Professional publishers will have a polished website free of grammatical errors or major design flaws. They will also have a clear mission statement and specific genres that they specialize in publishing. Predatory publishers rarely have specific areas of publication and often carry a range of works from a large variety of unrelated topics.
  • Watch for transparency. Good publishers are open and honest about their publication process and carry a clear mission statement.
  • Research previously published works. To get a grasp of the publisher’s quality, look at a sample of pieces that the company has published. Mistakes regarding spelling or grammar could show a lack of peer reviewed editing.
  • Be mindful of fees! Any author’s fees should be clearly explained by the publisher. Hidden fees that appear during the publication process can indicate predatory publishers.
  • Check the copyright agreement. If a publisher operates under an Open Access model, make sure they have a Creative Commons or other type of open license in use. Publishers should be clear about what rights the author will have after publication.

Authors are often approached by predatory publishers who offer to publish their work quickly. However, if an author discovers that the journal or publisher is illegitimate, the most effective course of action is to refuse the publication and withdraw their piece as soon as possible to avoid any future negative associations with their work.  In the case of finding good publishers, caution and patience are key. While becoming a published author is an exciting accomplishment, we must be sure to arm ourselves effectively against the unfortunate institution of predatory publishing.

How to Handle A Rejected Submission

As a writer, receiving a rejection is inevitable, but there is always a chance the text you have been working on still has opportunity at different publishing houses. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein were both rejected upon first review, and these two are not the only famous books thwarted by publishers. Sometimes you must submit to multiple publishing houses before someone can see the merit of your work, and that’s okay. We’ve compiled a list of helpful tactics to utilize your rejection to craft a stronger manuscript.

1) Don’t be Disheartened by Rejection

Rejection is always difficult to cope with, but the vast majority of books aren’t accepted in just one submission. As mentioned above, we are all fond of some books which faced rejection multiple times before being picked up by a publishing house. These books had authors behind them who believed in the importance of their works and so should you.

2) Don’t Stop Submitting

All publishing houses aren’t looking for the same types of works or even have the same types of people working for them. There are a vast number of publishers who specialize in different works, and you should explore all your options. Try to find publishing houses whose previous published books are similar to the book your submitting. Are you trying to publish a science fiction novel? Look for a publisher who specializes in everything science fiction. Rejection from one publisher, or even multiple publishers, isn’t a death sentence for your work. Keep submitting!

3) Listen to Feedback from Publishers

Publishers will occasionally tell you what they see as critical errors, and this can be a good opportunity to improve your manuscript. You shouldn’t expect feedback from the editors (they often don’t). If they do address problems within your manuscript, they will generally address global issues. Global issues can range from plot coherence to the constant misspelling of a word throughout your manuscript. Take it as an opportunity to improve your manuscript for other publishers, and don’t be afraid of submitting a revised manuscript to the same publishing house.

4) Objectively Edit Your Manuscript

As a writer, it can be difficult to look objectively at your work, but this is necessary to become a great writer. Try asking yourself why your manuscript was rejected. Is the writing appropriate for the intended audience? Are your characters believable? Did you follow the submission guidelines? Are you considering assumptions about shared knowledge? Look for plot holes and inconsistent formatting. These are all things to consider when receiving a rejected manuscript.

5) Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

A misconception about writing is that it’s a one-person job. But typically the best, most enjoyable works are produced when multiple people contribute to the production of a work. That’s not to say you need to rewrite with a co-author, but having a third-party proofread and suggest ideas can vastly enhance your manuscript’s readability. Because writers can become overly attached to their manuscript, a third-party allows for an unbiased opinion which can help find critical flaws within a work. Just be sure to find someone who is not attached to your work already.

It’s crucial to understand that rejection is a normal part of the writing process. Every writer has confronted rejection countless times. Embracing rejection is difficult, but can be one of the most helpful tools for a writer if utilized correctly. Often times, writers will submit their manuscript for years before a publishing house accepts it. But in the end, some of the most prolific, award-winning books are rejected dozens of times before being published. If you ever feel down about your rejection, take a look at this list of some of the most rejected books of all time and remember that you’re in good company.

Children’s Books: Industry Standards and Resources

Children’s books can be a confusing genre. The notes below explore genre standards among different children’s books and provide resources for further research. These notes were created for UNG Press’s panel, “Children’s Book Publishing From Start To Finish” at the 2019 Dahlonega Literary Festival.

Print Version: Children’s Book Industry Standards (PDF), Children’s Book Sources (PDF), Powerpoint Presentation (Google Slides)

General Info

  • Children’s is a genre that relies on gatekeepers, even for young adult books. Teachers, parents, librarians determine what children read.
  • The Golden Rule: Children want to read stories about other children who are a little bit older than themselves. (Jenny Bowman, children’s book editor, creative writer, and specialist in Children’s Literature)
  • Children’s books are exploratory in nature

Board Books

Age: prereaders
Word Count: 300 words or fewer, may only have 10-20 words max
Page Length: 10 pages or less

  • Designed to be read by an adult to a child
  • Covers early learning concepts such as colors, counting, letters, etc.
  • Light on text, heavy on illustration
  • Made from thick cardstock or cardboard

Example: First 100 Words

Picture Books

Age: 2-7
Word Count: 500 words or fewer, max of 900
Page Length: 32 pages standard, but can be 40, 48, or 56 (at max)

  • Designed to be read by an adult to a child
  • Short on text; rely equally on illustration
  • Introduces universal theme that are approachable
  • Features one main character, one plot or idea, and one storyline
  • Should offer a (simple) question and provide the answer at the end

Example: A Bad Case of Stripes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Easy Readers/Beginning Readers

Age: 5-8
Word Count: 750 – 1,500 words
Page Length: 32 – 64 pages, depending on the reading level

  • Written for children learning to read on their own
  • Introduction of chapters
  • Short sentences with limited vocabulary
  • Simple, repetitive text with simple sentence structure
  • Slightly more text than in an average picture book
  • 2-5 sentences per page
    Every page or every other page has an illustration
  • Topics and themes are lighthearted and usually explore one idea, subject, or theme

Example: Elephant and Piggie, Henry and Mudge

Chapter Books

Age: 7-10
Word Count: 4,000 – 12,000 words
Page Length: not typically longer than 100 pages

  • The first “real” book for children
  • Written for children becoming fluent readers
  • Protagonist is around 8 or 9 (the upper age range of the readers)
  • Contains a plot with setbacks
  • Start to see subplots and more complex story lines
  • Few to no illustrations
  • More complex sentences and plot development
  • Paragraphs are still short, about 2-4 sentences each

Examples: Magic Tree House, Charlotte’s Web

Middle Grade (MG)

Age: 8-12
Word Count: 20,000 – 40,000 words, depending on publisher
Page Length: over 100 pages

  • Longer chapters than found in chapter books
  • Often no illustrations
  • Content categories similar to adult fiction
    • mystery, adventure, humor, historical, fantasy, etc.
  • Series are popular
  • Plot lines directed to 10-12 year olds because kids read above their age
  • Intense subjects may bump the book into an older age category

US bookstores don’t differentiate between levels; must choose between MG and YA or YA and Adult. UK bookstores do differentiate and have a “between” category.

Example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Holes

Lower Middle Grade

Age: 7-10
Word Count: 20,000 – 35,000

  • Themes will be complex but approachable: no kissing, no gory violence, subtle politics, if any at all
  • Have a subplot or two
  • Uses elements like humor, fantasy, or magic realism, or explores factual, science-based ideas and historical events
Upper Middle Grade

Age: 10-13
Word Count: 45,000 – 55,000

  • Themes are more complex and mature, explored in an age-appropriate way from the protagonist’s point of view
  • Still not as detailed or ‘angsty’ as young adult
  • Sometimes referred to as “tween” especially if the themes explicitly explore pre-tween issues

Young Adult (YA)

Age: 12 to adult
Word Count: 40,000 – 75,000 words
Page Length: varies

  • Content categories similar to and read like adult fiction
    • mystery, adventure, humor, historical, fantasy, etc.
  • Explore issues and topics that teens can relate to
  • Heavy with “Firsts”
    • First kiss, starting high school, entering the adult world, etc.
  • Characters must be 13+ for Barnes & Noble to shelf it under Young Adult and not kids
  • Includes more adult content (such as sexuality, mental illness, politics, etc.)
  • How explicit/what the message is depends on the publisher. Some publishers seek these topics out, others avoid them.
  • Emerging category of New Adult that targets readers between 18-30

Examples: The Book Thief, The Hate U Give, The Fault in Our Stars, Ready Player One

Sources

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine, ISBN: 978-0-06-236717-4

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul, ISBN: 978-1-58-297556-6

Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2019 by Writer’s Digest, ISBN: 978-1-44-035440-3 (Updated yearly)

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
www.scbwi.org

Getting Started:
https://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/just-getting-started/

SCBWI Blog
http://scbwi.blogspot.com/

SCBWI is the only professional organization specifically for individuals who write and illustrate for children and young adults. Our mission is to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books in every region of the world.

We give established writers and illustrators the tools and resources to manage their careers, as well as educate those just starting out. SCBWI is also proud to serve as a consolidated voice for our members within the publishing industry.

Membership in SCBWI is open to anyone with an active interest in children’s literature, from picture books to young adult novels. We welcome aspiring and published writers and illustrators, as well as librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, translators, and others. A passion for children’s literature is our number one criterion.

Inkygirl
http://inkygirl.com/

Advice for Young Writers and Illustrators from Children’s Book Creators
http://inkygirl.com/advice-young/

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Her illustrations also appear in books by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Rob Sanders, Lauren McLaughlin, Aaron Reynolds and Colby Sharp. For more info about Debbie and upcoming projects, see DebbieOhi.com. You can find Debbie on Twitter at @inkyelbows and on Instagram at @inkygirl.

KidLit411
http://www.kidlit411.com/

Kidlit.com
https://kidlit.com/

Writing World
http://www.writing-world.com/menus/children.shtml

Rachelle Burk’s Resources for Children’s Writers
http://resourcesforchildrenswriters.blogspot.com/

Children’s Book Insider (Monthly Magazine)

Ellen Jackson, author of over 60 children’s books
http://www.ellenjackson.net/book_genres_for_children_123774.htm

Summer Edward, Children’s Literature and Publishing Consultant
http://www.summeredward.com/2013/04/types-of-childrens-books-formats.html

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Guidelines for Submitting a Manuscript

It’s time. You’re finally ready to submit your writing to a press. After many hours of researching and editing, it would certainly be a shame to see your manuscript returned to you, the dreaded rejection slip attached to the cover. In order to avoid this disappointing outcome, we’ve compiled a checklist to help make the process quicker, more efficient, and less frightening for the fledgling writer.

1. Proofread your manuscript one last time.

In the past, this was generally left to the hands of the editors at the publishing house. However, with the advent of self-publishing and many more manuscripts to sift through, well-proofread works are in demand. Your manuscript will stand out more if it is as error-free as humanly possible. It might seem unnecessary and even tedious if you’ve already performed regular edits throughout the writing process, but it’s still important. You don’t want your manuscript to be rejected over an easily corrected typo.

2. Make absolutely certain you adhere to the standard formatting guidelines.

The general expectations for a submission vary depending on the genre and audience, but there are hard rules that every writer must follow when it comes to formatting. They are as follows:

  • Your manuscript should always be double spaced. It’s easier on the eyes and more readable than a single-spaced text.
  • Consistently use a standard font size and type throughout the manuscript. When in doubt, it is always safe to use the default Times New Roman, size 12.
  • Put page numbers in your manuscript’s header. Manuscripts are big and easy to get out of order. If the editor can’t follow the flow of your writing because the pages are unnumbered and thrown together haphazardly, they will not accept it.
  • Include your last name and story title in the header as well. Ensure that the editor does not accidentally mix up your pages with someone else’s.
  • Only type on one side of the paper. Saving paper is tempting, but ultimately detrimental in the submission process.
  • If you’re submitting a paper copy of your manuscript, do not bind the pages together with anything permanent. Editors need access to individual pages.

3. Convey professionalism and keep track of your records.

Grammatical correctness and proper formatting do not guarantee acceptance. You should still present yourself professionally in order to stand out.

  • Just as one would for a job application, include a cover letter. This should include a brief synopsis of what your work is about as well as your personal contact information. Do not include any information that is irrelevant to the manuscript, such as childhood stories.
  • Always have a paper and electronic copy of your manuscript. Publishers have a significant pile of manuscripts to sort through. They might take longer than expected to send it back to you with initial proofs if it is accepted. In the worst possible case, it may be misplaced or even disposed of if rejected. Keep multiple copies on hand to avoid losing a significant amount of time and work.
  • Many editors also advise that you cover the cost of returning the manuscript. This can be as simple as paying for the stamp. Whether the manuscript is accepted or rejected, you must maintain a professional demeanor. Editors will be much more willing to work with you in the future if you make their lives (and jobs) easier by covering the postage cost of a returned manuscript.

4. Be sure your manuscript matches the publisher’s genres.

If you’re submitting a creative writing piece about a woman who hears whispers in the walls of her home, it would be best to focus on a magazine such as Cemetery Dance, which solicits and publishes only horror stories. Always make sure that the content of your work—the genre, writing style, and theme—matches whatever publisher you are considering. If you are uncertain about a press, visit their website to find out more about them. It doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with their catalog as well!

5. Keep these final words in mind: Caution, Organization, and Persistence.

  • Avoid any presses that require you to pay them. These ‘vanity presses’ tend to prey on the inexperience of new authors.
  • Create a system where you can keep track of where each manuscript is sent and what further action needs to be taken on your part. Be sure to note the date.
  • To quote every successfully published author: Never stop trying. Write every day, send manuscripts to as many publishers as possible, and learn from every rejection that you may receive.

What tips have you learned when submitting your manuscript? Let us know in the comment below. Interested in more great content? Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.

Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit

Literary agents are agents who represent authors and their manuscripts, ultimately securing a book deal between the author and a publisher. Though their role isn’t essential to getting a book published, it can be beneficial because they have network connections to the best book publishers, and often have worked with successful authors before.

Photo by RawPixel on Unsplash

Literary agents do a lot of the leg work that authors may be unfamiliar with, so their expertise is always valued. They help secure fair deals, protect authors’ rights, ensure authors are paid fairly, and act as a liaison between the author and the publisher. Furthermore, literary agents connect authors with publishers in specific genres. Because they know the market, they can guide authors in specific directions that will garner success.

Besides the technical and professional aspects, literary agents also offer camaraderie and support for the authors they represent. They are there every step of the way, encouraging authors and making sure publishers see the authors’ craft.

Because literary agents aren’t always necessary to get a book published, authors must decide if they need one. If authors want to pitch their book proposals to larger publishing houses—especially the Big Five publishers—they will need and want a literary agent to help them navigate the process. However, if authors write for a niche market or if their work is more suitable for a smaller press, a literary agent is not always necessary.

After determining if a literary agent is needed, authors must find one that works best for them. Authors can visit online resources such as Publisher’s Marketplace, which provides logs of active literary agents. Another useful resource is the Association of Authors’ Representatives, an association of over 400 members that authors can choose from and seek a partnership with. Authors can narrow down their search by category and genre to find literary agents who have worked on projects like theirs. There are other online resources that offer more ways to connect with literary agents. Print resources exist as well; the Writer’s Market, published yearly, provides information on over 500 literary agents.

Authors can also use their own connections in the publishing industry to find an agent. If they know anyone who has worked with agents before, they can ask for recommendations of specific literary agents who might be interested in working with them. They can also inquire about places or events where they can interact with different literary agents.

After narrowing down their search, authors can reach out to prospective literary agents. This can be done in a couple of ways. They can attend events that literary agents may speak at—including writer’s programs, book festivals, and conferences—to get their foot in the door. They may also send literary agents a professional query letter telling the agent about themselves, their book, how they know of the agent, and how their work and the agent’s work could create a good partnership.

Literary agents provide a plethora of valuable information that any author can learn from. Thousands of literary agents are as eager as authors to make a book deal; authors just have to start the process of finding the perfect fit.

This is the third post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Read “Know Your Author Rights” and “Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role” now.

Interested in more great content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.

Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role

An important part of finding success as an author is marketing. Though book publishers help create positive buzz, authors must take on the primary responsibility of marketing their book.

Marketing combines elements of publicity, promotions, and public relations to generate interest from an audience and create sales. A marketing plan is a detailed plan that establishes the steps authors will take to successfully market their book. Common practices to promote the upcoming book include press releases, reviews, giveaways and contests, and sharing accompanying works.

While these practices are great and will guarantee some level of success for authors, there are other ways in which they can generate positive buzz. Essential to the marketing of a book is social media. While the publisher handles other aspects of the plan such as creating and distributing press releases, authors can take charge with their social media accounts.

Photo by RawPixel on Unsplash

Why should authors use social media?

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are widespread platforms where millions of people interact every day. These platforms are free forms of publicity in which authors can directly engage with their audiences and promote their books. If authors create strong relationships with their readers first, they will likely already have loyal customers when their book is released.

How can they use social media?

To promote their books, authors can use social media sites to post writing advice, small excerpts from their books, and cover reveals. Creating these small promotions and linking to their author website or book page generates the elusive positive buzz authors seek.

Authors can easily engage with their audience by creating a conversation. They might ask “What is your favorite book?” or “What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?” This allows people to respond and create a connection with their favorite author. It also shows the audience that the author isn’t just trying to make a sale—they care about what their loyal readers think and feel.

For authors and their upcoming book, creating a positive image is also critical to generate positive buzz. Authors can do this by associating with prominent organizations that are appropriate to their field.

Why should authors care about their public image?

When readers think about an author, they unconsciously associate them with what they’ve seen or heard in the media. To make sure people view them positively, authors should present themselves in favorable ways. However, their presentation should still show an authentic image of themselves and their work, especially when seeking industry connections or when presenting to an audience for the first time.

How can authors create a favorable, authentic image?

Authors can join organizations that are specific and related to the genre of their works. For instance, a romance author may join the Romance Writers of America, an organization for writers of romantic fiction, to connect with people in their writing genre. This creates an opportunity for authors to reach potential customers and befriend other authors who can provide advice and support for the rest of their career.

To promote their book directly, authors can often participate in speaking engagements at organizations’ events. At these speaking engagements, authors may become “experts” on the topic of their book and relay valuable, interesting information to audiences. This creates more positive buzz and will likely result in book sales later.

Conclusion

Though publishers work closely with authors to ensure their books find success, publishers are not responsible for all of the marketing. Authors must take initiative to create a plan that will benefit their upcoming book release and their career. Social media and public image are paramount parts of the process.

This is the second post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Read “Know Your Author Rights” now and check back on September 21 for “Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit”.

Interested in more great content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.

Know Your Author Rights

It’s an exciting time when a publisher accepts an author’s manuscript. However, with the celebration comes a contract that discusses ownership rights. Authors and potential authors may wonder what rights to retain and what rights to grant to publishers. Before you make any hasty decisions, you first need to know a little more about ownership rights.

Photo by Albertus Galileo on Unsplash

Copyright laws legally protect original works from being reproduced and credited to other people. When you create a new work, you automatically own the rights to it. These rights include the right to distribute, reproduce, publicly display, and modify the original work.

When you begin a partnership with a publisher, these rights will shift around a bit. Ideally, a publisher will specify the rights they intend to buy. Sometimes, though, the contracts are ambiguous or unclear, often with stipulations for rights muddled by intimidating legal terms. Have no fear! If you do your research about ownership rights, you will be in a better position to retain certain rights to your manuscript and create a beneficial partnership with the publisher.

There are a variety of rights you may negotiate to retain for yourself or grant to your publisher. These rights include first serial rights, one-time rights, and second serial rights.

First serial rights mean the publisher can publish the manuscript for the first time, but all other rights remain with the author. One-time rights mean the publisher purchases the right to publish the manuscript one time. There is nothing stopping the author from selling the work to other publications at the same time. Second serial rights mean you grant a publisher the right to publish the manuscript after it has already appeared in another publication.

The most important rights to be wary of are “all rights.” The publishers’ contract may stipulate that authors sign over all rights to their works. This means your work no longer belongs to you; instead, the publisher owns it and you can’t use it again without their permission. Try to avoid signing contracts with these “all rights” clauses. Instead, negotiate with the publisher for serial rights or one-time rights, which are more beneficial because you may want to revisit your work later.

It’s important to know what ownership rights are available to you, but you may have the daunting task of picking apart the contract to make sure you’ve received a fair deal. You don’t want the experience that many others have unfortunately had. They find themselves in a sticky situation with no rights to their books, a poor relationship with their publisher, and very little success. It’s beneficial to seek assistance from authors who have already worked on contract agreements and can offer insight. It is also recommended to seek legal counsel or someone certified in copyright law to offer advice.

As an author, it’s important to research ownership rights so that you understand what rights will fit your manuscript best. Once you’ve received advice about contracts and picked the contract apart, try to negotiate with your publisher before signing. If you can’t agree on the terms, it may be best to find another publisher who can better meet your needs.

Remember, publishers want your book to be successful, so work with publishers that make you feel comfortable and confident in where your partnership will take you!

This is the first post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Check back on September 14 for “Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role” and September 21 for “Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit”.

Interested in more great content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.