QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 22, 2010

To Market, To Market.... Back to Basics on the Technicalities of Pitching Your Novel

Making the transition from scribbler-of-entertaining-prose to aspiring-to-be-published-author can be tricky. And sometimes it seems that the technical details of that process get glossed over, so I thought I'd, ya know... start at the beginning (and when I come to end, stop.)

And when I say "the beginning," of course, I'm referring to the marketing process. Which means you've already got a shiny, edited and complete manuscript ready for publication.

First, you should know exactly what you are asking for from the agents you query. You are not asking them to publish your novel. You are not even technically asking them to sell your novel. You are asking them to represent your interests in the sale of the publication rights (more on that later). Your agent contacts editors on your behalf and, if offers are received, presents them to you so you can decide whether or not to accept (like a real estate agent would). They will also offer their expert opinion regarding that decision and negotiate the details of your contract.

Therefore, when you query an agent, you should state you are seeking representation (not publication).

Which brings us to publication... Naturally, you are hoping for a sale, but what exactly are you selling?

You are not selling your novel. You are not selling the copyright to your novel. What you are selling, for the most part, are the rights to first publication (and sometimes other rights we'll discuss in a moment).

So what are first publication rights, anyway? Well, that means simply the right to publish a book which has never been published before. This is particularly important for newbie writers to understand in this age of POD publishing options.

Sites like Lulu.com, CafePress, and CreateSpace offer writers the ability to have their book "in print" immediately, but many writers may not realize that by using their POD publishing services, they no longer have rights of first publication to offer to a traditional publisher. Also, publishers vary in their opinion of how much content may be published online before a book considered "published," so it's wise to limit how much of your manuscript is available on your website or blog.

Publishers are far less interested in purchasing the rights to reprint a book, so if your goal is a traditional publishing contract, don't put yourself in a situation where you have no first publication rights to offer.

Finally, in addition to the rights of publication, your contract may also include additional rights... such as rights to electronic publication or rights to publish in another language. Or it may include options for these rights, like they may require a chance to counter-offer on a foreign deal, etc.

In the end, the right to your book remains with you.

H. L. Dyer, M.D. writes women's fiction and works as the Clinical and Academic Director for the Hospitalist Program at a pediatric teaching hospital near Chicago. In addition to all things literary, she enjoys experimental cooking and composing impromptu parodies to annoy close friends and family. Click to visit her personal blog, Trying to Do the Write Thing.


Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for this post. Very informative in the breaking down of the nitty-gritty.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Just to clarify one point - if you publish your book on Lulu without an ISBN and do not make it available in the Lulu store (or for sale anywhere else), you probably still can offer rights of first publication. Doing it that way is no different than going down to kinkos and making a copy of it. I have used Lulu to create 5-10 copies for beta readers that way - it's the cheapest non-electronic option for doing that.

H. L. Dyer said...

Yes, Edward is correct. Most of the POD companies do offer a private printing option, which is no different than printing your book at Fed Ex or OfficeMax. You would absolutely retain first rights of publication, as your book would never have been made available to the public.

I have also used Lulu to print test copies. I found it helpful towards the end of the editing process as the different format let me catch things I hadn't noticed while reviewing on screen.

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Thank you for this post, very very interesting.

Brooklyn Ann said...

Awesome post! I always wondered about possible consequences of posting novel excerpts. Glad I've never posted many.

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Lydia Kang said...

Thanks for the post. It's always so enlightening to learn more about the dizzying world of agenting and publishing!