How? What? Where? Why?
The Most Asked Writing Questions and Their Answers Revealed!
Q - Do I need an agent?
A - No & yes. This is undoubtedly one of the most asked questions. For children's publishing, you can negotiate your own contract and sale, if your story is exceptional and marketed to the correct editors, BUT, this is getting harder and harder to do successfully. Unfortunately, an agent is often harder to get than a publishing contract! Yes, it's a catch-22, but in talking with other writers, I have found that the best advice is to continue to submit your work to select editors, while also subbing to reputable agents. For the adult market, it has been my experience that with novel length work, a good agent is almost essential, but also just as hard to come by. Keep trying!
Q - Where do I find an agent?
A - Purchase the "Guide to Literary Agents" or better yet, if your library has a copy, make use of that. Make sure that any agent you query is certified with AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives). In the links page on this site, you will find a link to Victoria Struass's "Writer Beware" column, where you can research the reputability of certain agencies.
Q- How do I pick out an illustrator? Or, should I illustrate my own picture book?
A - Unless you are an accomplished artist, there is no need to illustrate your work. In most cases, publishers prefer to choose an illustrator for the book.
Q - How do I find out who to send my work too?
A - There are several ways. First, buy a copy of the "Writer's Market Guide," or if you are a children's writer exclusively, the "Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market." There is also a market book for Poetry and Short Story writing available from Writer's Digest. Second, pin-point publishers who publish the type of work you are offering. Write for guidelines, or try and find them on-line. Last but not least, take a trip to the library and/or book store, and take notes on which publisher is publishing what. Use that information to your advantage.
Q - Does a critique group really help?
A - YES! Even if it's a one on one critique, as long as the participants are honest and competent, your writing will benefit. If you join a group and the chemistry just isn't right, leave the group and search out another. Many wonderful friendships have sprung up from writer's crit groups, so there is a double benefit!
Q - Is it worth it to take writing related courses?
A - This is a subjective question, since there are always good and bad classes out there, and it also depends on the level of involvement you bring to the course. I personally have never taken a correspondence writing course through the mail or on-line. I opted for classes at my local community college in creative writing and literature. They were very helpful, but I found that I actually learned more about the application and business end of things from networking with other writers and participating in writer's groups.
Q - Isn't it better to just send the WHOLE manuscript instead of a query?
A - In most cases, no. If it is a picture book, and is under 12 pages, then many publisher's will allow you to submit the entire manuscript, but it is always better to find this out ahead of time. For all novels, an enticing query is the way to go. Check out my article on successful queries for more details.
Q - What is a synopsis, and is it necessary?
A - A synopsis is a brief, yet comprehensive summary of a story, usually only 1 to 3 pages long for children's novels, and can run up to 7 to 9 pages for a full length adult novel. And yes, it is an essential component for novel queries. For a more detailed definition and practical suggestions for writing a great synopsis, check out Vicki Coe's article on synopsis writing.
Q - Do I need to file for a copyright before submitting my work to agents or editors?
A - No. Once you create a piece, you own the copyright to the work, unless you sell the rights at some later date. The chance of a over-worked, understaffed editor or agent 'stealing' your baby is so slim as to be almost non-existent. I'm not saying it never happens, but it is very unlikely. For those of you that are still unsure, here is an idea that was passed on to me from a fellow writing associate: Take your completed manuscript, plus any handwritten notes, doodles or such, including any crit help you've gotten and put it in a large envelope. Then mail it to yourself, but when it arrives, DO NOT OPEN IT! File it among all your documents, let it gather dust and if you should ever suspect plagiarism, and wish to make a legal claim, you'll have your original work sealed and legally post dated as proof. It may sound silly, but she was assured that this method would hold up in court. I can't vouch for that, but it couldn't hurt!
© of Sheri Gilbert April 2000
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