A Writer's Resource
January 13, 2005
Mid-Manhattan Library, Literature and Language Collection
Beginning writers often have as many questions about the business of publishing as they do the craft of writing. How do I find an agent or a writing workshop? How do I apply for a grant to fund my writing? Where can I find information on literary contests? How does self- publishing work? How can I avoid being scammed? These are just a few of the many questions answered by resources at the Library and online.
Where Can I Publish My Work?
The Literature and Language Collection on the third floor has circulating literary magazines that will help you develop your craft and help you become familiar with the kinds of magazines where you will most likely first get published. Most writers begin their careers by publishing in small literary magazines. In general, major publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts or works from writers not represented by an agent. Publishing your work in literary magazines allows you to develop your resume and gain recognition from others in your field, including other writers, agents, and editors.
Most literary magazines will pay at least a nominal amount for what they publish, sometimes in the form of copies of the issue in which you get published. To find a list of literary magazines and small publishing houses with submission guidelines try the CLMP Directory of Literary Magazines and Presses and the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses.
How Do I Find a Book Publisher?
Unlike the major commercial publishing houses, small presses and university presses often accept manuscripts from unpublished writers or from writers without agents. The Writer's Market, The Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, Poet's Market, and Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market are four titles issued annually by Writer's Digest Books that will help you find a market for your book. Each contains lists of publishers, magazines, specialized journals, agents, contests, and more. In addition, you will find essays from published authors that provide advice and direction for beginners. Each title will give listings specific to the type of writing involved, for example, a list of chapbook publishers for poets. Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents takes more of a personal approach to helping authors find publishers. Rather than containing long lists of simple contact information, it contains a shorter list with more in depth information about agents and publishers. The Writer's Handbook, in addition to lists of markets, provides fifty essays on getting published written by established writers. The two-volume Literary Market Place (LMP) is considered the bible of the publishing industry. It contains an exhaustive list of publishers indexed by geographical area, subject, and type of publication. It also lists radio programs that discuss books, a calendar of book trade events, and provides lists of translators and interpreters.
The International Literary Market Place will provide much of the same information as the LMP but for markets in other countries.
Do I Need an Agent?
You will need an agent if you intend on publishing a book-length work of fiction in a commercial publishing house. Agents are not necessary for you to publish poems or stories in literary magazines or to publish a book-length work through a small, technical, or university press. Before you decide you do not need an agent, please take note: Agents represent you. They fight for your work and champion it in a very competitive marketplace. They know how to match your manuscript to an appropriate editor. They also understand contracts and other legal aspects of publishing. A word of warning: agents should only earn money if you're earning money. Agents will typically command fifteen percent of your book's earnings but they should never charge "reading" fees or other up-front fees. If an agent asks for money up front, seek another agent. The Guide to Literary Agents is an annual publication that lists over 600 agents, what they specialize in, what their commission is, who they've represented recently, how many other writers they represent, and more. The guide also includes useful essays such as finding the right agent, and how to write a query letter. Other titles like Writer's Market and Jeff Herman's Guide also contain information on finding agents.
What is Self-Publishing?
Print-on-Demand (POD) technology has made it increasingly simple for writers to publish their own books and forego the traditional agent/publisher route. In the past, writers who chose not to work with an agent or with traditional publishers often turned to vanity or subsidy presses to publish their work. Vanity presses typically charge writers thousands of dollars to produce multiple copies of a book that the writers then own. POD publishers (such as iuniverse and 1st Books) charge writers much less than vanity presses do because they can print very few copies of a book and still turn a profit.
When a traditional publishing house purchases a book from an agent, readers are assured that the agent has liked the book enough to represent it and champion it. Readers are also assured that an editor has liked the book enough to deem it worthy of publication. With self-publishing, there are no such assurances. Writers can publish anything they want provided that they are willing to pay for publication themselves. This is why there is a stigma associated with self-publishing. While there have been numerous success stories, the average self- published book sells around 150 copies. The writer is also largely responsible for the marketing and publicity. The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing discusses different publishing options as well as the many ways to generate sales. Other titles such as Be Your Own Literary Agent further help independent writers circumvent the traditional publishing system.
How Do I Improve My Writing?
There are probably more opinions on the craft of writing than there are writers. Ernest Hemingway once said that the best way to learn to write was to go off somewhere and write. Of course, Hemingway had a wonderful teacher in Gertrude Stein. The AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs publishes a comprehensive list of writing programs across the country. Artists Communities: A Directory of Residencies in the United States That Offer Time and Space for Creativity is another useful directory. Money can free you from other obligations and give you the time and energy to focus on writing. Grants and Awards Available to American Writers lists over 1000 sources of funding and 600 awards.
There are literally thousands of different books on the craft of writing, many having achieved the status of classic. John Gardner's Art of Fiction and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird are just two examples of classics in the field of fiction writing technique. Strunk and White's short and essential Elements of Style is required reading in most college writing classes and should be in every writer's reference collection along with a good dictionary. Guides exist for practically every problem that writers encounter (character development, dialog, keeping to a schedule, writer's block, etc.), and for every type of writing (poetry, screenwriting, mysteries, short stories, memoirs, romances, etc.).
It is often said that you cannot be a good writer without being a good reader. The Mid- Manhattan Library has one of the best and most diverse collections of fiction, poetry, drama, and literary journals in the entire city. Speak to a librarian about guides to the best titles in these genres and others.
What Can I Find Online?
Many websites exist that complement all the guides and directories discussed herein.
The New York Public Library catalog. Find circulating copies of many of the books recommended in this brochure.
The website for Poets & Writers magazine. Follow the links to information about literary journals, small presses, awards, conferences, organizations, and more.
Usually your publisher's responsibility, copyright and your legal rights as a writer are discussed in depth here.
A good site for writer's conferences and writing programs.
A no-fee agent directory.
Many online contests are hoaxes. Beware large fees for entering contests or publishing poems. Good examples of what to look out for are found here.
A good starting point for internet browsing.
Where to Find It at The Library
The following titles are available from the Literature and Language Collection on the 3rd Floor:
- The Art of Fiction 808.3 G
- Bird by Bird 808.02 L
- CLMP Directory of Literary Magazines and Presses REF 016.8105 C
- Elements of Style 808.042 S
- Grants and Awards Available to American Writers REF 001.44 G
- Guide to Literary Agents REF 070 G
- International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses REF 051.025 I
- Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents REF 070.5025 J
- Literary Market Place (2 volumes) REF 655.4025 L
- Novel and Short Story Writer's Market REF 808.025 N
- Poet's Market REF 070.5025 P
- The Writer's Handbook REF 808.025 W
- Writer's Market REF 808.02 W
The following titles are available in other units of the Mid-Manhattan Library:
- AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs
REF 808.042 A
2nd Floor Education Collection
- Artists Communities: A Directory of Residencies in the
United States That Offer Time and Space for Creativity
REF 700.2573 A
3rd Floor ART Collection
- Be Your Own Literary Agent
2nd Floor Job Information Collection
- Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market
REF 070.525 C
3rd Floor ART Collection
- Complete Guide to Self-Publishing
2nd Floor Job Information Center
- International Literary Market Place
REF 070.5 I
- 2nd Floor General Reference Collection
Thanks to Poets & Writers Magazine for ideas and inspiration from their "Top Six Questions Writers Ask."