Friday, April 04, 2014

This Above All

Next week I will be speaking to the English and History students at Fort Hays State University. My topic will on the nuts and bolts of publishing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Some of them will be very interested in publishing as a salaried position or as a freelance writer. Some will want to pursue an academic career. If they want to succeed in academics, they must make a publishable contribution to scholarship.

Through the years I've helped quite a few people and taught a course at Hays several years ago on writing for the popular press. I've come to believe the biggest reason most don't get published is they don't a single thing about guidelines. There are other reasons, but this is the main one.

It's really, really easy to learn about a publishers guidelines now. All you have to do is Google. What are guidelines? Simple, it's how, when, and where a publisher wants you to submit your story or article.

It's critical information. I'm tempted to write this post in all caps because it's that important. When a publisher says they want your query letter by snail mail, he really means it. Or perhaps he will only consider email. Or the house hates queries and will only consider the whole book. Some want fifty pages, or sample chapters or the chapters plus a synopsis. Find out.

In addition to this information, some will state what they don't want to see or give you hints. A surprisingly number of magazines have an strict limit for word length. Some only want agented material. My mystery publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, has an extremely rigid set of guidelines, and they will only consider new books at certain times of the year.

For those of you who are trying to break in, target a certain house, and look up their guidelines. Then follow them to the letter.  It will put you far ahead of the competition.

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