Tag Archives: Publishing

Ten Tips for Approaching a Publisher

I am, of course, coming from the viewpoint of a publisher of plays, but most of this applies to other forms of publishing.

1.  Find out what sort of things the publisher publishes

There is no point in presenting your material to someone who has no interest in it.

Lazy Bee Scripts is a publisher of works for the stage.  We are of no use to someone who is offering a screenplay, and the screenplay is of no use to us.

 2.  Find out how they reach their market

Publishing means a lot of different things: magazines, hardback books, paperbacks, eBooks, and so on.  You need to know what you expect the finished product to be like, and find a publisher who delivers that sort of product.

For example, at Lazy Bee Scripts, we don’t produce books that will look good on a coffee table; our aim is to publish plays that will look good on a stage.

Another major issue for plays is that of performance rights.  Usually, most of a playwright’s income comes from performance royalties; do you need a publisher who is also a rights agent? (Most publishers who specialise in stage works are also rights agents.)

3.  Decide what you want from a publisher

100% ProofAt one extreme, there’s just sales (you’ve created and formatted an e-book; you just want to upload it somewhere to sell it).  At the other, there’s “everything” – you want the publisher to write the book for you.  (The rich and famous have the option of approaching a publisher with a request to find a ghost writer.)

Between those extremes there’s everything a publisher might do – editing, proof-reading, fact-checking, layout, illustrations, cover design…

Do you want the publisher to publish your manuscript regardless of quality?  (That’s vanity publishing.)  Is your manuscript finished or do you need an editor to work with you on grammar and style?
The more you want from a publisher, the more the publisher has to invest in your work.  A publisher will only invest when there is a chance of making a return.

The basic issue is to find a publisher who offers the services you need.

4.  Check that your chosen publisher is accepting submissions

Publishers don’t necessarily have the resources (or the money, which is the same thing) to cope with all the manuscripts they are offered.  Occasionally, a publisher will decide that there is too much work pending and will refuse further submissions until the load is rebalanced.

Writers’ yearbooks used to be the place to check for such information; these days it’s the publisher’s web site.

5.  Find the publisher’s submission process

Even within the same field, different publishers work in different ways.  Some will accept unsolicited manuscripts.  Some want a query letter first.  Some adopt a half-way house of query letter plus a sample.  Some will only accept submissions through agents.

Again, writers’ yearbooks or publishers web sites should tell you.

6.  Follow the submissions process

If the publisher wants a query by e-mail, send a query by e-mail.
If the publisher requests specific information, supply that information.
If the publisher wants your manuscript as a Word document on a CD, send the publisher a Word document on a CD.
If the publisher wants your manuscript hand-written in red ink, double-spaced, on single-sided feint-ruled foolscap, find a different publisher.

7.  Present yourself in a professional manner

Getting your work published is a business arrangement.  Think of your communications that way.

8.  Address your weaknesses

What sort of mistakes do you typically make in writing?  Grammatical errors?  Misspellings? Confused homophones?
Publishers can be very judgemental. Their processes include editing and proof reading which are necessarily pedantic. When you approach a publisher every piece of information you provide will be viewed from the point of view of someone for whom the question “can you write” is vital.

Even if you are only sending a two-line query, you need to proof read it.

9.  Understand advice

If a publisher criticises your work, try to take it calmly.  I know it’s your baby.  I know publishers are not always tactful (I write as a shining example).  Beneath the criticism, the publisher is trying to help.  Try to see through the affront, ignore the tone and concentrate on the content.

You may not agree with the advice, but take the time to understand it.

Note that it’s your work.  You don’t have to take a publishers advice.  (Similarly, the publisher doesn’t have to take your manuscript.)

A publisher rejecting your manuscript will usually not tell you why.  (Having made the decision, the publisher has other things to invest time in, and some authors take a critique as an invitation to argue.)  If a publisher rejects your manuscript but still gives you advice, treat it as a bonus.  (You don’t have to agree with it – see below.)

10.  Allow the publisher to be wrong

Publishers may reject your manuscript.  Don’t argue.  It’s their judgement of what they can sell, and if they can’t sell your work, then they’re no use to you in any case!

Console yourself by thinking about each of the twelve publishers who turned down the first manuscript for Harry Potter.

The Ultimate Question

Why?(To which the answer is not  42)

Some visitors to Damian Trasler’s blog have arrived there as a result of existential searches.  Damian found the following inbound search terms in the blog’s data log:-

lazy bee scripts/why
why/lazy bee scripts

I have no idea whether or not the searcher (I assume this was one person, although the first search term cropped-up twice) found the answer, not least because I’m not sure what the question means.  It could be

Why should I buy something from Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why is there a company called Lazy Bee Scripts? Or
Why did Damian Trasler choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher? Or possibly
Why should I choose Lazy Bee Scripts as a publisher?

The answer to the first one is simple: we’re offering something that really appeals to you at a price you can afford.  Go ahead and buy it.  (Go on, you know you want to.  It’s only a few clicks away.)

The second question is about company history and how the name came about.  Maybe another day…

The third and fourth questions are questions about value proposition: what is the value of Lazy Bee Scripts to an author?
The Lazy Bee Scripts web site demonstrates what we do for authors (we sell their scripts and collect performance royalties).  There’s also plenty of information on the publishing pages of the site about the way we go about it.  What we don’t have on the web site is a simple statement of our value proposition to authors.
We don’t tell playwrights why they should use our services because, in my view, that’s putting the question the wrong way round.  I’m very happy to tell you about our service, but I don’t want to tell you that you need it, because maybe you don’t.  We’ve been publishing Damian’s scripts for around ten years – so it would be fair to assume that our services suit his needs – but only Damian can answer why that is.  So, in my view, instead of asking someone else Why Lazy Bee Scripts?, the questions for the writer should be “what do I want from a publisher?” and “which publisher comes closest to offering it?”

Sometimes “Why?” is a question you have to answer for yourself.

Posters and Poofreading

Borshtch 'n' TearsThe point of a poster is to grab your attention, make you think you want more and (implicitly or explicitly) tell you where to get it.  Usually, that means a vivid image.  Most posters are glimpsed, rather than studied, so the written information should be kept to a minimum.  Most, but not all.  When I was mis-spending part of my youth in London, there was a poster on the wall of South Kensington tube station, opposite the Piccadilly Line platform that was almost entirely filled with text in a legible but small font.  The publicist had realised that, having hurried down the escalators and through the tunnels, the passengers would have an average of three minutes waiting on the platform, with nothing to do but stare.  The poster, from Borshtch ‘n’ Tears gave them something entertaining to stare at.  Borshtch ‘n’ Tears was (and still is) a Russian restaurant in Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge – within walking distance of South Kensington underground.  The poster, whilst saying something about the cuisine, used jokes and puns to keep you reading – for example, crediting the proprietor with lifting the Rouble out of trouble.  On one line, there was a handwritten editorial correction, with a note “our poof reader is on holiday”.

I am given to using this joke from time to time, but I’ve found that it needs a gloss to point out that it is a joke, otherwise it is seen to be an example of Muphry’s Law.  Muphry’s Law (courtesy of David Marsh, author of For Who the Bell Tolls: One Man’s Quest for Grammatical Perfection) is the editorial application of the better-known Murphy’s Law, and says that “Anything criticising editing or proofreading will contain an error of some kind.”

Proofreading is a difficult process; the human brain is very tolerant of errors, so we read what we expect to read.  More so if we’ve written it.  It’s also a recursive process; you can read a piece and correct the errors you find, and then, on re-reading, find more errors.  Currently, in addition to the author’s process, we have three levels of error-trapping in our publishing process.  Even then, it’s not perfect.  Imagine that we have a 90% success rate in finding errors.  (I don’t know what the actual figure is, since it’s very difficult to count the errors we don’t find.)  So, if there are 100 errors in the piece, on our first approach we’ll find nine out of every ten – so we’ll leave ten behind.  On our second pass, we’ll pick nine of the remaining ten, leaving one which (90% of the time) we’ll get on the third pass.  Result: perfection.  However, if there are 1000 errors at the start, we’ll get 900 the first time through, 90 the second then after that third pass, we’ll find nine errors and leave one behind.

The message here is that the more errors there are in a manuscript when it reaches the publisher, the more likely it is that some will persist in the final version.  Clearly the author has the major part to play in getting the text right at the start, but, as I’ve said, it isn’t easy.  One of the best strategies we’ve found is for the author to get a group together to read the script out-loud, specifically with the intention of finding the errors.  The more people there are involved, the better chance there is that someone will stumble over the errors.  There is a further advantage that even if you don’t find any errors, it’s fun!  Remember, you can never have too much poofreading.

All the right notes

Customers who have found scripts on the Lazy Bee Scripts web site frequently ask about songs to go with them.  (We’re talking about school shows, family shows and pantomimes here.  It’s not a common question about murder mysteries.)  For new shows, we’ve been putting song lists on the web site, and Nickie in the Lazy Bee Scripts office has been working her way through the back-catalogue compiling on-line lists from the authors’ song suggestions.
Occasionally, this throws-up neat illustrations of the need for greater precision by an author; what we need is accuracy.  This means correct song titles and the names of the composers and lyricists.  In the song suggestions for her nativity play Little Donkey, Dominique Vaughan had specified We Will Rock You.  Fair enough.  Nickie, working from memory, put the composer down as Brian May. Then she thought that she’d better check – Queen’s raucous chant seemed out of place as the rest of the songs were Christmas Carols.  It turned out that whilst the song Dominque intended did include the words “We will rock you,” it was in fact The Rocking Carol (“Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep”).