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The Writer's Role in the Publishing Process

  • Polish the manuscript
  • Decide whether to approach an agent or go directly to a publisher
If approaching an agent, send manuscript with a single page cover letter showing details of author's qualifications, target market, genre, and any other information which might convince the agent that this book and author is worth taking on. Avoid hard sell wording. Include return postage and, if necessary, a synopsis or chapter outline.

A similar approach is used with a publisher.

  • Research and select an appropriate publisher
  • Follow the publisher's submission guidelines as to whether they want the whole manuscript or just a few chapters, format, synopsis, chapter outline, marketing report, manuscript assessment.
  • Write a query letter / cover letter as above to accompany the manuscript and enclose return postage.
  • Most publishers reject 99% of the manuscripts they receive. Agents in NZ are also currently refusing new clients. If the author wishes to publish overseas, then most publishers only accept work through an agent.
Standard reject letters state the publisher / agent has no more room for another author or title, or that they don't accept unsolicited work.

If the standard letter has been tweaked, then it could indicate that the manuscript has been read.

If the letter mentions a reader's response, then it shows that the manuscript was actually read by a reader, and that suggests that it was seriously considered.

Lastly, if the publisher / agent states that they are not interested in this manuscript but would consider other work by the author, then this is the best reject letter to receive.

  • If the manuscript is accepted the publisher will draft a contract. The author needs to read this carefully and understand it before signing. Contracts can be negotiated and cover the length of time, the territory, and subsidiary rights that the publisher wishes to have license over. Once agreement has been reached, there is often an advance on royalties given to the author.
  • By default the copyright resides with the author. The author gives the publisher license to exploit the rights of the book. It would be unwise to sell the copyright to the publisher; just sell them the right to use it.
  • The advantages of using an agent
They work to sell your book to the publishers and usually a publisher will look more favourably on a book they submit, because an agent acts as a quality filter and it is in their own interest to only submit saleable work.

They negotiate the contract

Once the contract is signed, the agent manages the money side of things, taking out their commission before sending the balance of royalties to the author.

The agent can sometimes find extra work for the author.

  • An assessor acts like a mentor and reads through the manuscript making comments regarding structure, plot, characterisation etc. They may also make suggestions as to how the author could fix problems. The author should be careful to clarify exactly what any problems are and correct them in their own way, rather than allow the assessor to impose their ideas on the story as this may alter the style or plot completely.
  • Once the contract has been finalised, there will be input from the author at the editing stages and the author will also be asked to check and approve the proof copy of the book. The author usually has 14 days to read and make any changes to the proof before it goes to the final print.
  • Once printed, the book is then marketed and the author is usually involved in book launches, newspaper and media promotion. The publisher arranges with the agent for the author to visit various places to promote the book.
  • Royalty cheques are paid six monthly once the publisher has recouped the initial advance from sales. An average author royalty is 10 15% of the book price. First print runs are usually 5-6000 books.
Michelle MacKinnon Author on SearchWarp!
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Michelle MacKinnon was born in New Zealand, in 1957 and she lives with her husband in Palmerston North. In 2008 she published a double award winning novel called Escape from Eden and in 2009 she published an award winning children's picture book called Bluebell Mary. Michelle has seven children, three adopted and four by birth. Since her training as a General and Obstetric nurse, Michelle has been involved in many different vocations from beekeeping, alternative medicine, and hobby farming, to accounting, marketing, and voluntary counselling. Writing has been a lifelong passion and in 2008 she completed a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at the Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington, New Zealand.