Herta Feely was a Godsend when it came to helping me rewrite a proposal for my book, which was finally accepted by my agent and then by my publisher. When I first met with Herta, we connected immediately and she was instrumental in helping reveal my true self in a very personal story. Hats off to her and her hard work!
–Lee DiPietro (Memoir, Against the Wind, Skyhorse Publishing, Sept 2015)
Publishing (or Self-Publishing) and Agent Advice
You’ve done it. You’ve finally finished your book. Congratulations! But wait, you’re not finished. Now you have some important decisions to make.
The first question to ask yourself:
• Do I want to self-publish or opt for traditional publishing?
Perhaps you made that decision at the beginning of your writing project and so already know the answer, but if you need help, we are here to advise you, because it can be a grueling decision.
We’ve worked with writers pursuing both options, so let’s take a closer look.
Traditional versus Self-publishing
There are many things to consider when deciding between these two options, and please note that a third option has appeared on the scene, called partnership publishing, which is a kind of hybrid between the two, but we’ll discuss this briefly under the heading Self-Publishing. So, here are a few factors to think about:
- Time – how quickly do you want to publish your book?
- Realize that the process of finding an agent, who will then need to find a publisher, can easily take two years. Or more. In some instances the process can move more quickly, but unless you’re famous, don’t count on it. Self-publishing can be done very quickly.
- Control – do you want control over the content of the book? The cover? I’ll let you guess which option gives the author greater control. However, self-publishing also means that you must hire an editor, a designer, etc.
- Advances and royalties – what are your financial aspirations and goals? These days, publisher’s advances are shrinking, and yet royalty rates are often the same. Again, you have more control over royalty percentages with a self-published book, but the trade-off is that you are also paying to have your book published and you won’t be receiving an advance.
- Marketing and promotion – no matter which publishing option you choose, know that you are expected to assist in the marketing of your book. Without your vigorous work, sales will be slim.
- Bookstore placement – do you have your heart set on seeing your book on bookstore shelves? Know that is much more difficult to find your book in a bookstore if it is self-published.
There’s more to each of these factors, and there are even more factors to consider, but these will get you started, especially if you have a conversation with us.
- Do I want to approach one of the big five publishers (Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster) or a smaller independent press?
But let’s say you’re going for one of the big five. In that case, you’ll want to find an agent. The first step is the query letter. Sending a query out to agents should be easy, right? Well, it’s also a process that requires strong and concise writing. You’ll need:
- • a query letter for fiction submissions (plus a complete manuscript), and
• a query letter and a book proposal (with a partial manuscript) for non-fiction and memoir.*
To put it bluntly, unless you’re extremely lucky, it’s an exercise that can keep even the most dedicated writers from moving their manuscript off their desktop and into print. At the very least, it’s certainly less fun and can take weeks – valuable time you could spend (dare we say it?)…writing your next book! (see Resources for Writers page for a shortcut.)
I would not have received a book contract had it not been for Herta. She helped me revive a project that I had abandoned a year earlier. She helped me rethink and reorganize the project in a way that rekindled my interest and energy. She was emotionally supportive and encouraging while providing invaluable assistance in organizing and editing the material. Herta is knowledgeable about the world of publishing and able to provide practical advice about how to structure a proposal. She is rare in her ability to listen and to understand exactly what is needed to move forward. Herta has all the skills anyone might need who is looking for assistance with a writing project.
(The Infertility Patient’s Mind-Body & Stress Reduction Workbook)
Herta knows the business. She’s a highly skilled writer and editor. she helped me find my “voice” and honed my work until it was accepted for publication!
-Tobias Lanz (non-fiction, The Life and Fate of the Indian Tiger, ABC-CLIO)
Let Chrysalis Editorial help you.
Some years ago, Herta worked as the executive editor of a literary agency, where she received and read hundreds of query letters, book proposals, and manuscripts. During the past eight years at Chrysalis, she and Emily have written scores of query letters and book proposals for clients. We welcome the opportunity to help you compose a query or draft a book proposal that will draw an agent or editor’s attention.
Query letters follow a basic formula, which we can provide you, and once you’ve written a draft, we can help you polish it to perfection. Query letters can be tricky though:
- How do you summarize your book in one or two sentences?
- How do you capture the interest of the agent or editor?
- How much or how little should you write?
Book proposals are an entirely different beast. While you might write a query in a day (or two), a solid book proposal can easily consume a couple of weeks. If you’ve never written one, we recommend purchasing a book that can help you (there are many). For some of our favorites go to the Resources for Writers page of this website.
Please note that whether you are approaching agents or editors at a smaller press (that might not require an agent), it’s always necessary to have a well-written query and book proposal.
With Chrysalis at your side, you’ll feel confident that your query letters are enticing, your book proposals substantive and complete, and that the agents and editors you approach are right for your project. We can take care of some of the process or all of it, including giving you advice on how to negotiate fees and avoid scams.
Note: This service does not guarantee that you will find an agent or a publisher. Every agent and editor receives hundreds of manuscripts, and anyone who guarantees that yours will be chosen from the slush pile is not telling the truth. But we will do everything in our power to make the process more manageable.
Visit our Resources for Writers page for more tips on finding an agent or publisher.
Herta Feely is a pleasure to work with. She helped me compose a query letter that caught the eye of two New York City editors, both of whom asked to see my manuscript. She has a firm but gentle hand, and better yet, she has compassion for writer anxiety and can adjust her tone accordingly. I am extremely grateful to Herta. She has an astute eye for both macro and micro-editing, and I have been very pleased with the suggestions she has given me. I can’t imagine getting as far as I have without her help. Thank you Herta! I’m sure I’ll be back for more help soon enough.
(novel, All That You Can Leave Behind)
In many ways, you’re lucky to be a writer today. Self-publishing is not what it used to be, and now more than ever, self-published books have just as good a chance of “making it big” as traditionally published books do. But it’s not an easy process either, and you should learn all you can about self-publishing to give your book the best chance at success.
• Which self-publishing option should I use? There are hundreds of options, but there are some books out there that can help with your decision. See the Resources for Writers page for a couple we recommend.),
• What do I need to do to prepare the manuscript for publication? For a professional manuscript you ought to hire an editor to proofread and edit the final draft. Earlier in the process you might want to work with an editor to receive a manuscript critique and/or some coaching. Then you need a graphic designer for the cover and possibly to format the book.)
• What else do I need to do? We highly recommend that you develop a marketing strategy and a budget for your book at least three months in advance of the publication date. You might also want to assemble a team of experts – a publicist and/or book marketer, etc.
• Should I use crowdfunding to finance my project? We know several authors who have used Kickstarter to great success. It is time-consuming, but will give you a feeling of support for your project and ease the pressure on your bank account.
Chrysalis Editorial offers a full complement of services to get your book published, from copy editing to formatting the book and helping you devise a marketing strategy.
Finally, a brief note on Partnership Publishing:
One of the newest forms of publishing to emerge is called Partnership Publishing. In short, it’s a hybrid of traditional and self-publishing.
Such publishers usually have a process for deciding whether they would like to help you publish your manuscript or not, and if they accept, both you and the publisher share not just the costs of getting your book into print and on the market, but also other aspects of the publishing process, including marketing and distribution. Some, like Inkshares, use crowdfunding to finance their books.
A warning is in order. Recently, when we did an Internet search of “partnership publishing,” we had to do quite a bit of work to find such companies. And they are not to be confused with established publishers, such as Simon & Schuster, which have “partnered” with a self-publishing press (in their case, Author House) to create their own “brand,” in this case Archway Press, about which we found quite a few negative reports.
We are not making a judgment here, but encourage you to be very careful when assessing the value of such an investment. Packages can be hugely expensive (in the case of Archway, the costs are up to $14,999 for fiction and non-fiction; and up to $24,999 for business books). In most of these cases, the traditional publisher has absolutely no bearing or connection to your work, though they might like you to think so. One of the spiritual book publishers, Hay House, also has its self-publishing arm, called Balboa Press. Again, we encourage you to look closely at whether such affiliations afford your book any greater credibility than any other self-publisher.
- Good luck!!