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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    First steps to the bestseller list


    Almost every person alive thinks they have a story to tell. Everyone from Dick Cheney to Tila Tequila has a book deal pending, or wants one. If someone does something remarkable, we say, “”Hey, you should write a book about that!”” But how many of us know how to actually go about making that pipe dream carry a tune?

    Well, Wildcats with literary leanings, you’re about to learn.

    There are many reasons to want to write a book. As English sophomore Amber Bailey put it, “”I’ve always been interested in writing, coming up with stories to tell and share with my friends.”” According to creative writing and English freshman Alissa De La Fuente, “”I want to publish a book so other people can read my writing.””

    Business junior Sean Pagaduan said asking him why he wants to write a book is “”like asking why some people like to go on walks or drink beer or sing with the radio on full blast. It just feels good to write. It’s probably vaguely related to endorphins or something.”” He wants to publish a book because, he says, “”I want to entertain people, and I want to teach people something about their own lives.””

    No matter how noble your reasons are for putting pen to paper, publishing is a difficult, unkind business. Colorado-based literary agent Kate Schafer Testerman said the best thing aspiring writers can learn is to not have too many expectations.

    “”Don’t expect to be published,”” she said. “”Don’t let that be your only goal. Write to write, to become a better writer.””

    The first step in getting a book published is to actually write it. It is hard to swallow, I know, but you do actually have to have a finished novel before you can do anything else.

    She also urges writers to edit and polish their manuscript before they ever send it out for review. “”Not only should your manuscript be finished, but it should be polished as well. Just typing ‘the end’ doesn’t mean it’s ready to (send out).””

    Most agents and editors suggest writing it, rewriting it, editing it, having a few trusted friends read it, then putting it away for a few months before doing it all again.

    Pagaduan said he’s going to do just that. “”After the manuscript is finished, you let it sit for at least a month. And then you go back to it and see just how terrible it looks, and you spruce it up.””

    For a non-fiction book, you will need to write a proposal. This includes an overview of the book you want to write, including research, market analysis, sample chapters and a list of the chapters you plan to include. You should probably revise this a few times, too.

    When you feel ready to send your book out to the big bad world of publishing, get to know your market. Research the industry, read books like yours, figure out where it would be shelved in the bookstore.

    As Testerman said, “”You need to know that it’s an incredibly competitive way to make a living, and that being a writer is only half the story. To make it, you need to commit to being an author, and that’s a horse of a different color.””

    Know your competition. Know what publishers are good for what you’re writing. Revise your manuscript some more. Visit Web sites like and Be on the lookout for hoaxes and scams — they’re out there! Red flags include services you have to pay for.

    The general consensus is that you don’t have to copyright your work at this stage, but don’t be stupid about it. Don’t post your entire novel on your blog and allow the copy/paste function, then get mad when some kid in Chula Vista wins an eighth-grade story contest with your stuff.

    The next step is to find a literary agent. Reputable publishers do not take blind submissions from writers, and though you are by now versed in the ways of publishing, your agent will always know more.

    According to Testerman, who represents several bestselling authors, your book has a much greater chance of being published if you have a good agent on your side. “”In this day and age, most traditional publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions. The only way to get your material in front of an acquiring editor is via a literary agent.””

    You get an agent for your manuscript by sending a query letter. This is different for every agent (make sure you check for specifics on each one you query) but it usually includes a kind of letter of intent. Testerman explained, “”A query is a letter written by an author sent to an agent or publisher, telling a little about the manuscript they’ve written and are offering.””

    “”I want to know why you’re writing to me in particular,”” said Testerman of the requirements for submission for her literary agency, kt literary. “”Then I want you to hook me with a brief, one-line description of your work, followed by a little longer description that sets up the story and the characters.”” A different agent may want a synopsis of your piece or a few pages of your manuscript.

    You will probably have to send query letters to several agents before you find one who is willing to represent your book. “”Be prepared for rejection, but don’t be afraid of it,”” Testerman said.

    Once you have an agent, they will then send your manuscript to editors at various publishers who they think would be interested in the project. If the editor likes your book, they will talk to the higher-ups in their company to see if they like it, too. If the boss’s boss thinks it shows promise, the editor might agree to take the project on. Or they could decide that it’s not the right fit for them, it’s too green or that it would make some very nice kindling.

    But if the editor does like it, they send the agent an offer and negotiate the terms of the contract. It usually includes territory rights, royalties and, yes, that advance you’ve been dreaming about.

    “”There’s really no ‘usually’ about advances. They can be a couple thousand dollars, or, if you’re Tina Fey, a couple million,”” Testerman explained. “”Even looking at the high end of a very nice deal, you’re talking about $99,000 spread out (across) almost three years, and $33,000 a year isn’t the world’s best living,”” she said.

    “”Most writers — something like 80 percent of all published authors — know enough to keep their day jobs,”” Testerman said. “”A writing career may allow you to upgrade your computer more frequently than you would otherwise, but it’s far from a lucrative living.””

    If you are a non-fiction writer who sold the publisher on a proposal, now is the time to write the actual book. For both, the editor will send a letter of content change suggestions that are not so much suggestions as nicely-worded demands. This is why it is important to get an editor you like and trust to make your book the best it can be.

    Then, finally, your book is released. Depending on a myriad of circumstances, it could generate modest interest, or it could be huge. Writing a book, getting it published and trying to make a living as a writer is a very difficult, stressful process, and it might take you years to finish that manuscript and get an agent. But, like Pagaduan says, it’s worth it: “”I might not be published, but I’m not going to stop trying.””

    Testerman said the odds are slim and the going can be tough, but not to be discouraged by the fear of rejection. “”Every day, someone gets their big break. And if you commit to it, and your work is the best it can be, someday, it might be you.””

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