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September 14, 2005

Susan's Slightly Sarcastic Rules for Writers

Susan’s Slightly Sarcastic Rules for Writers


I get a lot of emails from other writers, asking questions about the business, from the most basic things (“where should my margins be set?”) to more complicated things (“how the hell do I find an agent when I’m unpublished and they won’t talk to unpublished people?”).  I answer all of them as best I can, drawing from my own experiences.  Sure, there are books out there on every subject under the sun, and there are classes you can take.  Heck, there are rules everywhere you look, always someone wanting to tell you how to do it their way.  Who needs ‘em when you’ve got me? 

That’s right.  My family didn’t call me “Little Miss Know-it-All” for nothing.  So I’m here to share my vast insights into the publishing world with you.  Hopefully, something I say will lead you on the path to fame and fortune (or at least to the post office to buy stamps for your SASEs and to Office Max for envelopes).

We’ll start simple and work our way up to indecipherable.  And, please, as always, keep arms and legs inside the car throughout the ride and beware of sarcasm.  It bites when it’s hungry.

Very Important Questions on Formatting:

(1)   What kind of paper should I use to type my manuscript?

White.  8.5 x 11.  No pretty borders with cats or jellybeans.  Words on one-side.  Double-spaced.  Preferably, free of coffee stains or chocolate fingerprints.

(2)   What font should I use?

Let’s not go crazy here.  Times New Roman (12 point) is perfect.  You might be tempted to use Curlz or Ransom Notes, but stop yourself.  Like white paper, plain vanilla is best.

(3)   What about margins?

I vote for an inch all around.  If you want to add a smidge here or there, go for it.

(4)   How many pages should my manuscript be?

Here’s an easy way to figure this out:  write your story until it’s finished.  When you’re done, count up the pages.  That’s often the perfect length (unless your agent or editor tells you otherwise).

(5)   How do I figure word count?  Do I use MSWord or 250 words per page x the number of pages?

Okay, you’re talking to someone who doesn’t balance her checkbook, so I don’t like dealing with numbers (unless I’m depositing them in my bank account).  Here’s the easy solution:  if your software program has a word count, use that.  If it doesn’t, do the formula.  ‘Cuz guess what?  The publisher will figure out something slightly different, so it doesn’t matter, except to give a general idea of what the size of a printed book would be.  My contract specifies word count for my series books. I call them "guidelines," because I write until I’m done with the story, then check my MSWord number, which is often a tad higher than my upper limit.  Has my editor ever said, “We must cut 5,000 words because you’re over your word count, per your contract?”  No, she hasn’t.  I’ve seen more debates about word count on writing listservs than any other question. If this is what’s keeping you from actually writing, maybe you should go to beauty school.

Extremely Vital General Writing Questions:

(6)   How much did you pay to get published?

This is a trick question, right?  I didn’t realize that you were supposed to pay until this whole POD technology came about (and, as I’m constantly reminded, “it is a technology, not a method,” or something like that).  Well, let’s just say that this particular technology has rendered it super-easy for folks to see their work produced, often for a “set-up fee.”

I am a writer because I love to write.  I’ve been writing my whole life, and it took me eleven years post-college before I signed a contract with a traditional publisher, small though it was.  I never, ever wanted to have to pay for my books to be published.  To me, payment meant vanity publishing, and it wasn’t on my agenda.  We live in a fast-food world, however, and people want to have things happen instantly.  Does instant coffee ever taste as good as brewed?  No.  It doesn’t.  Books are like that, too.  Sometimes there’s a reason publication doesn’t happen pronto.  I look back on nine of my manuscripts that will never see the light of day, and I’m relieved no one wanted to publish them.  They were practice.  They gave me the freedom to find my voice and my style, my confidence, and to generally mature as a human being so I could handle all the crap I’d have to take when traditional publication finally happened.

So unless you have a book you desperately want to share with your family because it details your genealogy, or, for health reasons, you cannot wait for traditional publication, I’d suggest saving your money.  Or buying a lottery ticket.  Because no matter what iUniverse advertises, very few self-published works get picked up by the NY houses and become instant best-sellers.  Trust me on this.

(7)   How much did you pay your agent to take you on?

Okay, here’s another situation where you shouldn’t have to pay any money upfront.  Be very wary of—or run like the wind from—agents who charge reading fees or who want hundreds of dollars when they sign you up for whatever reasons.  The AAR lists reputable agents who do not charge fees.  Yes, some will want you to reimburse them for overseas phone calls or copying, but that’s AFTER they’ve been marketing your manuscript (and/or have sold it).  Good agents make money by selling books, not by charging fees.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  And, yes, like getting traditionally published, it’s not easy to find a crackerjack agent when you’re starting out; but keep trying.  There are plenty of sites with information on agents, and you want to find that particular one who’s excited about your work.  It makes all the difference in the world.

(8)   I’m a writer, but I haven’t written anything yet, though I’m wondering if you’d like to tell my story, because it’s really interesting.


No, thank you very much.  I have plenty of stories of my own, just festering in my brain waiting to be told.  If you’re a writer, you will sit down and tell your own story.  The guy who sprayed for bugs in Dallas used to brag about how he was gonna write a book and would probably get published before I did.  I wonder, Bug Man, did you do it?  Or are you  tormenting another unpublished writer in Big D, seeing if you can make ‘em cry?  (A wee bit o’ trivia:  Tom Delay was our bug man in Houston —well, his company—and my mom used to call and yell at him all the time, swearing he used sugar water, ‘cuz the roaches really seemed to love Tom’s bug spray.)

Well, yikes, looks like I’ve hit my quota for today.  Did I scare you off yet?  Have you decided to put away your pencil and go for that J.D. or M.D. that your mother’s been begging you to return to school for?  Because that’d be a whole lot easier.  Writing isn’t for sissies.  Gotta put on your big girl pants and deal with it.  Here’s my test for aspiring authors:  if you don’t have enough rejection letters to wallpaper at least a small bathroom, then you’re not trying hard enough.  And, please, feel free to email me with any other questions.  I do so love spreading the joy of my craft to my fellow scribes.  But I’m sure you could see that, couldn’t you?

Now get your butt back to work.  Or Mark Carstairs will smack you.




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» "How Much Did You Pay To Get Published?" from A Writer's Life
Author Susan McBride posted her Slightly Sarcastic Rules for Writers, a must-read for all aspiring novelists, on Lipstick Chronicles today. Among the questions she tackles are: How Much Did You Pay To Get Published? What Font Should I Use? How [Read More]

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Over on the Lipstick Chronicles, author Susan McBride offers her Slightly Sarcastic Rules for Writers, which includes some light-hearted tips on word counts and margins, but also some gospel truth about not paying to be published and never paying an [Read More]


Love this!


Okay...who IS Mark Carstairs? Every time I click on his thingy an error page comes up.
Hey, Susan, where were you when I was papering my wall (of course I really did!) with 40, count 'em, 40 rejection letters for Barbie. (My agent spared me the pain with Bubbles.)
One thing to add about agents. A NY bigshot who wanted to represent me - and, oddly enough, has a really good reputation - absolutely hit the roof (yelling, pounding table, etc.) when I asked to speak to some of his other authors as my "How To Get An Agent" book advised. He was extremely intimidating and, of course, having the spine of spaghetti squash, I cowered.
When Heather the Great Agent came along I mentioned this to her and she promptly sent me a list of people she represents. I never called one, but I knew whom to go with.
It's a long road (ideally) with an agent, so you better find someone you can argue with reasonably.
Now...about writing and eating at the same time....

Sarah, you're right about agents. It's a tricky thing to find the perfect match. I'm no longer with the agent who got me the three-book deal with Avon. We just weren't on the same page about anything. I love my agent now and can't imagine being anywhere else. Jerrilyn Farmer told me that hooking up with an agent is like marriage. You don't know if it's gonna work until you're in it. I wonder if the rate of authors leaving agents is similar to the divorce rate. Hmmm. Something to think about.

As for Mark, he's real. I know he's real. I just click my heels together and sprinkle fairy dust, and, abracadabra! There he is! (No, I'm not drinking mimosas this morning, but I did have the deluxe margarita at Friday's last night before book club. It was lovely!)

I had always heard you were supposed to write in Courier, since it was monospaced or something like that.
I'll know I've truly arrived when I turn in a 400 page manuscript in Dingbats and no one dares to complain.

Dusty, I heard that Stephen King uses Dingbats. So you are aiming high. (P.S. I'm sorry I missed you at B-con, though I was constantly waiting to hear someone calling, "Tawni!" from across the room.)

yep! this is exactly why I am a reader and not a writer!

I don't think I could take that kind of rejection! I don't take rejection of books I have read-not written-well either!

I will continue to read not write...wallpaper with manuscripts! Man you ladies are way tougher than I will ever be! And people say I am tough! HA! You are my heros!!!! :) :) :)

Susan, I have a very important question for you...
Do I have to read your books in order??? :)

I am sure you have answered this question a million times :) but could you answer is one million and one?

I have not read them yet, but I did read the back covers-from you website-and I think they sound really good...
A soon-to-be-devoted fan, I am sure :)

Glenice! What a lovely question. No, you don't have to read my books in order. But there are only two Deb Dropout books out now (BLUE BLOOD and THE GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER), so that'll make it easier on you. ;-) THE LONE STAR LONELY HEARTS CLUB won't be out until late January. Just got the cover flats yesterday, and the cover looks GORGEOUS. Although, they have Nancy quoted as saying my series is "fun and fuzzy like champagne" instead of "fun and fizzy." Though I'm told that'll be fixed by the time the book comes out. (Someone who saw the boo-boo wondered what kind of champagne Nancy was drinking.) Anyway, thanks for asking, Glenice! I'm sending a big hug your way, just 'cuz I feel like it.

Me thinks I'm getting a reputation around here. Maybe I should back off a little. :)

You're books are fun and fuzzy? I really need to read them!


Mark, there you are! No, don't back off. It's fun having you around. Fun AND fuzzy. ;->

This is gospel truth, Susan. Especially the part about not paying to be published and not paying reading fees. A lot of people don't seem to want to hear this information, but you are right on.

I've never papered anything with my rejection letters. I keep them in a file folder, alphbetized by sender, with the name of the rejected work written on the corner and pull them out whenever I feel the need to inflict a little psychological damage on myself. Except the nice ones; I keep those where I can see them. Is it weird to treasure a rejection?

Daisy, one word: No. I framed my first rejection letter. Shows we're walking the walk.

And, David, thanks for the support. It's a wee bit scary to post an opinion when you know it may not be very popular.

When you consider that the alternative to informing people is that a lot of them end up getting scammed, it's worth it to speak up. Good for you.

I'm fuzzy to have around? Cool! (Does that mean I should shave off my goatee?)

And I'm with David. If people want to pay to get published/read, they should at least know what they're getting into. Acting like it's normal/ok/legit doesn't help anyone.


MAN! you have SO much more patience than I. anyone who needs to ask about margins needs SO MUCH MORE HELP than you can give, should give. What a tiresome thing - sorry but just because you are a writer, I do NOT think it's your job to teach someone about manuscript prep. There are books out there, guides out there, I'm sure there are gazillions of classes and websites to teach you about margins. I think that is SO rude - to waste your time like that.
I understand, believe me, about the kindness of authors and paying back and paying forward but MARGINS? This is really sorry stuff; I suspect that people who really need to ask about details like fots and margins aren't paying enough attention to CONTENT and think that it's their margin width that is keeping them from being published. That may sound mean, but I've spoken to lots and lots of editors and writers and people who teach writing and that mentality exists; that your work is perfect, it's just that you used the wrong font size and that's why that agent refused to represent you. That's a whopping case of denial.
Am I being mean here? Sorry, yes I am. But I believe I'm being truthful as well; and i underestand often that you get questions like that because people simply want to relate to you, to talk to you so they come to you with a question you can easily answer. But, well, er, I've been reading manuscripts now for over 2 years, and I know how many people want to be writers. It ain't yer font size that is keeping you from fame and stardom folks.
Grump grump (I know, but it's been a bad week; lost my new iPod post bouchercon, lost a friend to leukemia and mom's in the hospital. I get to be extra-grumpy.)
Your pal Andi who will NEVER ask you if I should outline, or if I need to write in pencil or pen on lined paper or in a notebook or using file cards Or formatting. Or what the latest trend is in mystery so I can write one about that trend and become famous.

Andi, girl you have had a rough week!!!!

thanks Susan...I can always use a hug :) I will just go get which ever one I can find then :) if I find them both--then the more the merrier :) And then I WILL get to read them in order! Now all I have to do is FIND them!!! I am not much for ordering online...I get to much that way...I evidently can not control myself very well :)


You're kidding, right? I'm not supposed to be handing in my manuscripts on the jellybean paper? I wonder when my agent is planning to break this news to me.

Harley, from YOU we expect it. Heck, if it weren't on the jellybean paper we'd be sending out a squad to check up on you. But we're really glad you stopped using the neon PINK; too Barbie.


Sometimes it's the little things that paralyze new writers. I still remember how unnerving it was to submit my first manuscript -- I didn't want to get even the tiniest thing wrong and look like a dope.

But you didn't say whether you underline words you want italicized or actually use italics in your ms...

Seriously -- nice of you to cover the basics. I've never even seen jellybean paper, but now I'll be on the lookout. ;-)

Carla, you're right. We all have to start somewhere, and I remember being a newbie and having to figure it out myself. I use actual italics in my manuscript, which the copyeditor lovingly underlines (oh, yes, I know it's lovingly). ;-) You haven't seen jellybean paper??? Are you kidding??? Don't you look at all the stationery on those racks at Kinko's? I have to check it all out. It's amazing what they have.

To make folks feel better: I submitted my very first manuscript, THE THORN OF THE ROSE (yes, an historical romance that was a blatant rip-off of GONE WITH THE WIND) at age 19 with my own cover illustration...and a silk rose...and red tissue...and a squirt of rose-scented spray. One editor said it was the prettiest package she'd ever received. I don't think anyone in NYC would say that now. So white paper. No cover illustrations. No silk flowers. No scented spray or tissue. I've come a long way, baby.

Oh Carla I totally get that - I mean you DO want to do it right. I'm just saying that the information is out there and it seems a tad what rude? Presumptuous? No, none of that but I just think it's a waste of time to be hanging around with a writer and waste time asking about margins. If you don't know enough to request submission guidelines, or how to research this stuff, eep. I'm not saying "oh everyone knows" - heck I don't, but I wouldn't expect to find out from an author. The rules might be different for HER publisher (sans serif fonts ONLY) but I'd just hope folks would want to know more INTERESTING STUFF from Susan. Or any author.
And there really is a "type" out there - alas - that seems to think that if only you used the right font, well, you'd be published.
I think the jellybean paper can be found at a really good office supply place or one of those paper stores at a strip mall near you. No wait!!! I won't put in the urls, but I swear to you, I just googled "jellybean paper" and it's out there. Ya gotta go look. Me? I prefer duckies.

I sent my first manuscript to the agent in the only box I had that was the right fit---a box from Omaha Steaks. Stained with blood. Years later, the agent told me it made the Get This Rube bulletin board in the office. Hey, how was I supposed to know???

The "Get This Rube" bulletin board? Nancy, that's hilarious! Ohmigawd. Was that a romance in the bloody box? Now, if it had been a crime novel, it might've worked.

Susan: I actually did catch a glimpse of you at B'con. It was right after the Anthonys and you were breezing by with your entourage. And girl, let me just say...rrrrROWR. I mean, you were dressed to flat *kill*.

I was momentarily struck speechless, which should tell you something right there.

And then you were gone. Maybe next time.

Dusty! That's so sweet! Thanks mucho. I think I'll have to print that out and stick it up on the wall so I can remind myself what it felt like to be all dolled up while I'm working in my jammies.

Here's what made me know immediately that my agent was the guy for me: he UNDERSTOOD what I was trying to do with the story. He UNDERSTOOD what the problems were and had suggestions about how to fix them -- suggestions that were 100% dead on. He loves the same kinds of books I love and love to write.

And, even better, he got me a two-book contract.... :) I think we'll be in it for the long haul.

Hey, Robert, congratulations on both the book deal and on having a great agent who's obviously on the same page with you. You go, dude. ;-)

I don't wallpaper with my rejection letters either. I keep them in a file, a big fat file! Anyway, I think of them as my writing badge, proof that I really am a writer. My agent kept telling me we were getting good rejection letters. Isn't "good rejection" an oxymoron? And don't get me started on mailing boxes for manuscripts. I never could find quite the right size for the box, the mss, and the return box. I tried all sorts of cardboard origami configurations to get everything in one box. I finally settled on a cardboard box for the original mailing and a plastic return envelope. I spent as much time worrying about the packaging as I did about the mss inside the box! If only I'd known about the Omaha Steaks box--would have saved me hours of worrying!

No, really, there are such things as good rejection letters and what a wonderful agent for saying so. The fact that you've even gotten to the box stage is excellent.
(Might want to ask your local Mailboxes, Etc. or UPS Center for old copy boxes...they usually work.)
Finally, let me say this, Sara. You need only one - one - acceptance and you are a published author. Bubbles came down to two publishers - Dutton and Viking - but since they were both in the same house, Viking backed out as I had a previous relationship with Dutton. So one it was and that was all I needed. You'll get there.

Sara is getting published! By Kensington next year, right? I'm so happy for her. I read her manuscript in the Malice Domestic contest and wanted her to keep truckin'...and she did...and look what happened? She's a true story of persistence paying off. You go, Sara!

Congrats! Why didn't you say Sara? The Lipstick Chronicles is toot your horn central and no one knows how to blow so well as Susan McB!

Um, Sarah, could you rephrase that ever so slightly? After all the penis clothing comments, your endorsement might be misconstrued just a wee bit. (Though Carol Stacy did tell me that a "top 20 singles" girl like me needs to "wear a mattress on her back," so I'm getting all sorts of interesting input these days.) I think I should be scared. Very scared.

After a thorough review and careful consideration, I'm standing by my words. I'm with Carol. A girl should always be prepared. Anyway, those rug burns hurt. Ouch!

Okay, I will toot my own horn, but I’m not going anywhere near the mattress/rug comments! Yes, Moving is Murder will be out next April from Kensington Books. I just got the cover and I love it. I did hang in there because I got some good feedback and encouragement from Susan and from lots of other authors!

Susan, one thing you and Sarah S were discussing at the top of this thread was finding out who else an agent represents. Before I signed with my agent I went to her web site, where a complete list of her clients was posted, along with recent deals they had signed. When I saw who else she represented in the crime field (Giles Blunt, Linwood Barclay, Kelley Armstrong), I pitched myself to her -- and she caught me! Long live the Web.

Howard, you're so right. The Internet makes it much easier to check out agents and their clientele, as writers should. That's how I found out about my previous agent and emailed several of her clients to ask how they liked her (even though it eventually didn't work out with us). You can even go to Amazon, put in an agent's name, and see what books it pulls up, because authors so often put their agents in their Acknowledgments. Then you get a good idea of what they're selling. And that's what it's all about: finding an agent who's making deals, making money, and will work hard for you. Sounds like you got a winner, Howard!

I have read with interest the various discussions on a number of blogs regarding the alleged follies of so-called “self-publication.” The underlying assumptions in denouncing “self publication” as a foolish endeavor appear to be the following: (1) only literary agents and “real” (NY) publishers are equipped to determine if a book has the requisite literary merit to compete in the marketplace and to interest readers; (2) the author tried to get an literary agent and/or a “real” publisher but was uniformly rejected; (3) the foregoing rejection thus means that the book does not have the requisite literary merit to compete and/or be of interest to readers; (4) self-publishing a book that everyone has already decided does not make the cut is downright stupid because it is a bad book, it will not get reviewed, booksellers will not buy it, readers will never get to read it, etc.; and (5) the proper thing to do is to keep writing in isolation for years if not decades until you have produced a work that is good enough for a “real” publisher to “pay you” for it. Also, there appears to be a strong sentiment among some writers and critics that “self-published” authors are really second-class citizens, “author wannabes,” imposters who have no business or right to hold themselves out as authors, or apply for membership in those organizes that require a “real’ publisher as a condition to membership.

While the foregoing business model is probably more accurate than not most of the time, like every general rule there are exceptions and, in my opinion, we are entering a new era where these exceptions will increasing grow in scope and application. One, not every author wants a literary agent or a big publishing house. That business model comes with cons as well as pros. Not everyone thinks the pros outweigh the cons. Two, not all “self-published” books come with a history of rejection or are born of desperation. Three, “self-published” does not ipso facto mean “bad book,” “crummy read,” or any variation thereof. Four, self-published books can and do get reviewed. There are many wonderful and highly reputable review organizations that have not bought into the concept that “self-published” automatically means “not worthy of review.” In fact, in my particular case to give you an example, 19 book reviewers have requested Night Laws for review so far. 13 have completed their reviews to date, which are printed on my website, www.jimhansenbooks.com. And most of these are pre-publication reviewers. Most of the post-publications reviewers (there are many dozens) have not even been approached yet. Five, bookstores buy books from every size publisher, provided that the book is good (that is the key). They find out, sooner or later, which books are good and which aren’t. Booksellers care much more about the quality of the book and the name of the author than the name of the publisher. Authors cannot build their name and reputation among booksellers or readers without a printed book.

Some people appear to feel that a writer becomes an “author” by slaving in his/her basement for years or decades, weathering a continuing avalanche of rejections and then finally getting a “real” publisher to raise his hand and say, “Tell you what, I’ll give you five thousand dollars for it.” In my opinion, that is not the bright line test of when a writer becomes an author. In the end, a book is a connection between an author and a reader. It is the reader’s enjoyment of the book that makes the author an author, not whether there eventually turns out to be some third party who sees the book as a possible business opportunity and offers a pittance of money.

“Self-publishing” is not for everyone. Publishing, big or small, is a series of very demanding and professional tasks that include editing, cover design, distribution and promotion. Only the self-starting and dedicated persons will succeed.

The point I want to go back to is this: A “self-published” book does not ipso facto mean “bad book,” or written by an “author wannabe” rather than a “real” author, or that the author is on some stupid adventure of vanity and economic foolishness. And with that, I issue a challenge to everyone reading this comment. E-mail me at [email protected] and I will send you a free copy of Night Laws. You can decide for yourself whether this is such a thing as a good “self-published” book. If you read it and think it stinks, you’ll at least be in the position to tell the world how right you were all along.

Jim, why did you self-publish?

Jim, here's what I don't think most writers understand about self-publishing (from the questions I'm asked anyway). If you go that route, you are responsible for all aspects of your book: writing, editing, cover art, design, publishing, sales, marketing, distribution, et al. When you are published traditionally, there are many, many experienced people who do those jobs for you, and the publishers already have relationships set up with bookstores and wholesalers across the country and all over the world. Your books will actually be on bookshelves in stores, grocery stores, airports, and other outlets in places you will never, ever visit. That's a huge, unmatchable benefit of being published traditionally.

I started off being published by a small traditional press and even that was hard, because they didn't have the staff to do all those things I mentioned above. Though my book was in their warehouse and available through regular distribution channels, there wasn't the manpower to publicize, do the sales calls, push the orders, schmooze the buyers, all those good things that actually help sell copies of books so that you can, hopefully and eventually support yourself as an author.

I know there are people who choose self-publishing for many reasons, and some who succeed beautifully. But it is a tough, tough row to hoe, and that's something I don't think advocates of self-pubbing talk about often enough.

I just think people want things way too fast these days; but, as Lee Goldberg mentioned on his blog, there are no shortcuts. If you go into self-pubbing with your eyes wide open, that's your choice. But there is a huge gulf between that and traditional publication in the eyes of the business (i.e., booksellers, libraries, wholesalers). Be aware of that, because it's reality. But everyone must take his or her own path. My dream was always to be traditionally published. That's all I'm saying.

Susan, I appreciate you comment and even more for the fact that it is the first time anyone has said anything about me in a blog without taking an opportunity to personally slam me and make some kind of degrading comment. I appreciate your courtesy and respect.

You point is absolutely right about the self-publisher having to fill the roles of many professional that the big houses supply. What are the chances that someone could actually do all of those thing? I have found while there is a definite learning curve, they are not unsurmountable tasks. For example: (1)I had to spend many hours with Gregg Reference Manual, but now have that firmly under my belt; (2) I had to master software to design the cover, but now have that firmly under my belt; (3) I had to set up a publishing company, get enrolled as an established vendor with Baker & Taylor and set up distribution channels; (4) I had to learn who reviews books, how to approach them, and solicit review (which I now have); (5) I had to learn who authors are in the genre and how to approach them for blurs (which I now have); (6) I have had to work with the printer (Central Plains Books, great people), proof the galleys myself, etc.; (7) I had to design and build my own website, which albeit is still amateurish since I'm limited to Publisher 2000. That is just to get me this far. I seill need to approach additional reviewers who will not read MS but only printed books, send the book to B&N for evaluation, set up an Amazon cataloge page, etc.

But you know what? As much work as it has been, I'm really enjoying it. I'm meeting great people and learning the business from the ground up.

Jim, you sound highly organized, motivated and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. The fact that you're enjoying it means that obviously you made a decision that was right for you. I don't want to slam anyone for choosing a different path from the one I chose. We all have to live our own lives according to our own needs. I know other self-published authors in St. Louis who have done what you're doing, and it's worked well for them. I also know many who've been disappointed and lost a lot of money (and time). Self-publishing is a huge undertaking, and it's certainly not for everyone--just as you think traditional publishing isn't for everyone. Getting respect and acceptance when you're self-pubbed is an uphill battle, moreso than if you have a traditional publisher. That's just the way it is.

At the risk of starting a self vs. traditional pub war (oh, please no. I've been through too many of those on DorothyL) let me just point out that a self pubber who has been rejected by the traditional press and in desperation goes the self pubbed route may be hurting him or her self more than anyone.
Perhaps that is one manuscript - no matter how great you truly believe it is - that needs to be shelved. Writing well is a long process and every sentence you write contributes toward that process. So, really, nothing is wasted by putting a manuscript aside. Not even time.
Best to start over with something fresh if rejected right down the line. There's a reason for those rejections and, frankly, there are so many damned books being published that you might as well go for a publisher with distribution, etc., as Susan said.
I fear that some of these companies take advantage of a writer (dare I say it, a middle-aged writer's) desperation by publishing something that shouldn't be published, thereby confining the writer to mediocrity when he is capable of greater work.
Okay. That's it. I'm out.

Sarah - I find it SO interesting that you talk about "start over with something freish if rejected right down the line". Because I tend to assume and I'm sure it's true of most folks, that whate you send out is the thing you've been working on SO hard for so long. Or so hard, anyway.
From time to time, as a "first reader" (aka slush pile reader) for a small press, I find myself sending back a report that says" I wish I could see something ELSE from this person" knwing how unlikely it IS that he or she just happens to have something else to show us. But yes, there are times when there IS something there - a voice, something that grabs my attention. BUT the plotting is dreary, or oh no, not one of THOSE stories again (and no, I won't but I recently had that very experience - with one of THOSE stories. A story that no one would publish because it's so vastly overdone). But it's something I find myself saying every so often to my editor at the press for whom I read.
It has been one of the more surprising things I've learned in the couple of years of reading manuscripts; to realize that I could sometimes see the talent, almost through the tired story line, or the trying-to-hard-to-be-hip dialogue or the manuscript taht screams "how hard can this be? I've read dozens of mysteries of course I can write one" (which MIGHT be true but often just AIN'T. Says the woman who can't.)
So after almost 60 manuscripts (one of which was published, to my extreme pleasure) and two plus years of doing this, I've seen a huge range. That there is talent out there is true, but it's so rare that it shows up all ready to go.
And while often those manuscripts DO need to be shelved, at times if an author has made it, they come back out, have you noticed? Can you tell? I think I can; when someone's "hit" and their publisher says "quick, what else have you got?" and the early work shows up? I swear that's happened and I'm at the point when I can tell - sometimes you can check the copyright if it got that far, but sometimes it's just "oh dear, it should have STAYED in the drawer" time. But it's still worth having around - as more than one writer friend has told me "it's ALL material". And you never know when you might cannibalize ONE great scene or one great character from an earlier work that didn't make it.

Really interesting to hear from a professional reader, Andi. Are you listening people? And it explains a lot about those "good" rejection letters I used to receive - that they said no..but do you have something else.
I was fortunate to have an editor at NAL who was willing to type up a 10 page single spaced "memo" about my first book. She was my editor on all the Bubbles books, during which the memos got shorter and shorter as each book progressed. Those editors are few and far between.
Thanks for that insight, Andi.

I have nothing but respect for someone who can publish his or her own book, actually get it out there to be reviewed and still keep his or her sanity, but...

There is a certain joyful satisfaction that comes from going through the agent hunting process, going through the submission process and actually, finally, being accepted by a big NY publishing house. The feeling of elation cannot be beat. It's almost as if you've won the lottery, only you really had to WORK for it and it only cost you some time, a bit of sweat and maybe some photocopying fees.

I'm sure there is a lot of self-published fiction out there that's very good, but I can't help feeling that the author may somehow be cheating him(her)self by going that route.

Beating the odds is very good for the ego....

Just so you guys know, Mr. Hansen posted the exact same 'self-publishing is good' message on at least two other blogs in the last day or so (I mean word-for-word). I'm all for expressing your views, but this has a spammy flavor to me.

Hey, Daisy, thanks for the heads-up. Another friend pointed that out to me as well. Anyway, this wasn't a column about self-pubbing vs. traditional pubbing. It's about lots of things we learn as we grow as writers, making fun of some of it, but hoping to share a few things, too. Getting some interesting emails from people asking more questions. There's a lot of misinformation out there, and I'm glad some folks are taking the time to find out more.

It's funny how some topics just seem to take over threads, no matter what they're about, isn't it? (By the way, can you guess who's getting absolutely no work done today? I'd say 'well, it's Friday', but it's not.) :P

Daisy, I'm with ya, girl! Both on the thread thing and about not working much today...oh, wait, shhh, don't tell Mark, or he'll get on my case. But, heck, I've still got until midnight, so that's plenty of time to revise today!

I haven't been to this thread all day, and I decide to stop in and see in Jim has posted here, and look what I find.

Susan, I can't afford to fly to St. Louis and make you work, so you'd better get those revisions done.

Please don't ask me how much work I got done today, ok?

Nancy, regarding your question why I self-published.--

Here’s some of the story. I read a crime thriller many years ago, enjoyed it immensely and decided to write my own novel some day. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a book called Perfect Shadows, a crime thriller, never having written anything before except law stuff, of course. I sent the first three chapters to a handful of literary agents with a query letter. One called me almost immediately and asked me to send the entire MS. I did. She called me the same day she got it—she loved it and would be thrilled to represent me. This is a highly respected and well-known agent who has been in the business a long time, by the way. If I mentioned her name, you’d know it. Anyway, the book got great reviews and went to a second reading at one of the big NY publishers. Close but not quite. I thought to myself: bummer, but not too shabby for right out of the box. I was less than thrilled with the entire process.

Later I decided to try it again and wrote Night Laws. The same literary agent represented me again and sent the MS straight to the top editors of Bantam, NAL, St. Martins, Mysterious and Pocket, with much acclaim and excitement. The first response was a long, personal letter from the head editor, which, while a rejection, was viewed by my agent as coming with a hair’s breath of acceptance. It was the best rejection letter she had ever seen! The editor expressly stated that she wanted to be personally sent the next MS written by me.

Meanwhile, while the MS was out for review at the other houses, I was continuing to refine it and realized that it had not been in it’s best form when sent out. Another near miss came in, with much praise but a comment that the pace needed improvement. In an effort to find out if that was true, I made a bar graph listing each chapter and giving it a brutally honest rating on a scale of 1 to 10 for factors such as pace, excitability, etc. Out of 53 chapters I found three or four “5s” and a couple of ‘7s”. All the rest were 8 or higher. So there was a pacing problem and the book was not at it’s best strength.

Continuing to refine the book, I knew it was good and getting better by the day, and that I would self-publish if it wasn’t picked up by one of the big houses. Although I initially was excited about being picked up by a biggie, at that point in time I started to get even more excited about going down a more non-traditional route and self-publishing. I began the research on self-publishing and lost sight of the biggies altogether. When the last close call but no commitment from that batch came in, my agent was ready to send it out to others.

I told her I was no longer interested.

I continued to relentless edit and re-edit the book until my bar graph had at least an “8” for every chapter. My feeling was that at the time the book was initially sent out, it was just outside what the publishers were looking for, maybe in top 5% instead of the top 2%. My subsequent work on the book, in my opinion, bumped it up where it needed to be.

So, at that point, I was convinced that my book was good enough to run with the big dogs and deserved to see the light of day. The books reviewers and authors who have graciously looked at it, so far at least, seem to agree.

My “self-publishing” involves a wholly owned, very legitimate company which is an approved vendor with Baker & Taylor, registered with BowkerLink, etc. My final thought is that self-publishing can be great for the right person with the right book. Anyone considering it though should in fact have a book that can run with the big dogs. If you don’t have that, in today’s market, any type of publishing is futile. Even with a good book, we all face an uphill challenge.

Sorry this was so long-winded. By the way, if you want a copy, just let me know.

Jim, I think your explanation describes why you didn't publish with a traditional house. But it doesn't explain what did motivate you to go to the expense and effort of self-publishing. The confidence that the world would be a better place if everyone could read my book? The gratification if attending a reunion with the word, "writer" on my name tag? I don't understand the basic motivation. But that's my weakness.

Anyway, I think Susan's original intent was to help writers avoid getting scammed by the many ventures that portray themselves as legitimate publishing house but are, in fact, vanity presses. Most of us depend upon the internet to do our research. When you Google "publishers" a long list pops up that's surely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Writers like Susan, who are generous enough to help, can make sure newbies don't get their hearts broken.
Thanks, Susan.

Nancy--What was my motivation in self-publishing? It was certainly not because the world would be a better place if everyone could read my book. The closest I come to trying to make the world a better place is through my law talents, often represnting clients who need legal services but can't afford to pay. Depending on my degree of sympathy, I represent these people for free or at a greatly reduced rate. I also taught inner-city kids for 10 years in the Cleveland Public Schools, which I have since viewed as paying my debt to society.

I think that good books deserve to see the light of day and it's the author's responsibiliy to be sure that happens. Lots of writer appear to do the same thing, only by submitting their work ad nauseum until everyone who can reject it has. I have never been one to leave my fate in the hands of others.

Nor is my goal to make money. You mention the "expense," but it is really not that much. I will have less than $7K invested in the total process for an initial print of 3,300 copies. Time will tell how many actually sell, but I fully expect to come out in the black. I will be sending out 200-300 ARCs to the indies in the next few weeks and we'll see if that generates orders.

I do have to admit that I wouldn't mind the word "author" attached to my name somewhere, somehow, to some degree. But the real goal is to entertain the reader. If the reader gets a good ride and is glad to have invested the time, then I'm satisfied. If that comes under the heading of making the world a better place, then, yeah, maybe I'm guilty to some extent.

I guess I rambled more than I gave you an answer, but there it is. Regards, Jim.

Not to change the subject, but can anyone tell that the graphic by the "bug man" graph is a worm reading a book? It looks way darker on my screen than it did on the CD. So I just wanted to point that out.

I knew it was a worm... now I can see the book.


Aw, Mark, you always come through for me. Makes me feel all fun and fuzzy...I mean, warm and fuzzy (I'd hate to be misquoted like Nancy). BTW, only 90 pages to go. How close is that to being done? Like, very.

Susan, to me he was a blue version of the UC Santa Cruz official mascot, the banana slug. I couldn't see the book, but the glasses reminded me. Years ago, I bought a UCSC tee-shirt JUST to have "Fiat Slug" - very erudite, educated slug, readling Plato or some such. He's really quite fine - http://www.slugweb.com/slugweb/index.phtml.
I especially like him because I came from a school that didn't have a mascot and we really didn't want one. But whereas my alma mater ended up with a TOTALLY DORKY mascot over what we proposed (ok, we proposed the Connecticut College Crabs, what can I say?) (there's a reason beyond grossnes; it was a joke, which you only would know if you, like me, were a crew jock. YES, I was. Really.) but ended up with (ready?) the Connecticut College Camels.

And they wonder why I don't give lots of money. Snark.

Then again, i now live in a state where a college mascot is the geoduck, so I feel better. (the geoduck, pronounced "gooey-duck, is, btw, the world' most obscene clam.) Ready for the Evergreen State Fight Song?

The Geoduck Fight Song
(words and music by Malcolm Stilson, 1971)

Go, Geoducks go,
Through the mud and the sand, let's go.
Siphon high, squirt it out,
swivel all about,
let it all hang out.

Go, Geoducks go,
Stretch your necks when the tide is low
Siphon high, squirt it out,
swivel all about,
let it all hang out.

Now I ask you, how can you not cheer?

Oh, man, you had to go and mention college. My son starts his first year of dorm-life tomorrow. The nest will now officially be empty and I'm both thrilled for him and heartbroken.


Andi, that worm does rather look like a slug. I remember stepping on a slug in barefeet one summer after it rained. Yuck. Why would anyone want a slug as a mascot? (This coming from a proud Jayhawk.)

Robert, are you having empty nest syndrome? Do you need to talk about it? I'm sure Nancy can relate...would you like to lie on her couch and sip a mint julep (with a box of Kleenex handy)? Yes, personal service is our signature here at TLC.

How about a bottle of tequila instead?

Rob, just tell us where to send it. I think Nancy keeps a well-stocked liquor cabinet. Was it the worm thread that got you thirsty for tequila? Just curious.

Uh, Nancy has stayed out of the liquor cabinet for almost 18 years now. But I do serve some excellent chocolate desserts, Robert, which are now my addiction of choice. I, too, was heartbroken, crushed, bereft when my children went off to college. It was a horrible time in my life. But after a couple of hours I pulled myself together. ;-) It's another phase for everyone--exciting and full of possibilities. Come over to my couch anytime.

Susan - they want a slug as a mascot because the whole idea of mascots and sports is about as meaningful and exciting to them as it is to me - which is why I cheered at the idea of a gross slow gooey mascot.

YEah I remember hearing someone else talkinga bout stepping barefoot on a slug. I have shuddered at the idea since and I live in Slug City - Seattle. Where, after 15 years in the SAME HOUSE, we are getting SLUGS coming INSIDE the place and we Do Not Know Why. It's too creepy. Argh.

Um, Andi, maybe they're coming in because they heard about your cheering at the idea of a gross slow gooey mascot. They think you like 'em.

i'm doomed! DOOOOOMED!!!!
I did get someone offering me the loan of a duck or two...oh yeah, that's what we need.

I have a well-stocked liquor cabinet, Rob, you can come over to my house. But I don't have kids in college...yet.

And there's only one reason to cry - that tuition bill!

Due to an overwhelming demand for copies of Night Laws, the 9/15/05 offer must be cancelled from this point forward. No further requests can be honored if they are received following the posting of this comment. (9/20/05, 2:30 Denver time). If you make a request after this posting, you will automatically be entered in the Giveaway Contest as described on my website, www.jimhansenbooks.com. Prior requests will be honored, of course. If you made a prior request and do not receive the book by 10/30/05, please let me know. Thank you all and happy reading. Jim Michael Hansen.

Glad we could be of service, Jim, but next time we'll have to charge you our classified ads rate. (I think it's $1 per word. I'll have to check with our accountants, the fine people at Ernst & Young, who not only tally Emmy votes, but voluntarily balance the checkbooks of those of us who work at TLC. Isn't that nice of them?)

Susan, a dollar a word sounds more than fair. I'll probably post some more comments, I've got lots of stuff to sell besides books . . . old lamps, a bent snow shovel, some really cool artwork of dogs playing pool, stuff like that. Smiles, Jim.

Artwork of dogs playing pool, huh? Sounds like the perfect gift to give Nancy for Christmas. Is it less than five bucks, Jim? That's all I'm allowed to spend as her Secret Santa.

Sorry, the dogs artwork is pretty high quality. I'd need at least $7.50 to see that go buy-buy. But I do have a really neat poster of a cat hanging from a clotheline, caption "Hang in there," for $1.50. It's a poster, mind you, not a real painting, but from far away you realy can't tell. Think Nancy would like that?

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