Libby Grandy

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Writing Articles

Guidelines for the First-time Author


Webster’s definition of author: the writer of a literary work (as a book)


You have written a book!  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  You can’t believe you did it.  Actually, you have completed a manuscript.  It does not become a book until it is published, but let’s not quibble.


So, now what?  This is the moment when writers marketing their first book need guidance, because the wrong steps can lead to disappointment and a drawer full of unpublished manuscripts.  Even if you have successfully marketed magazine articles, this is a new publishing arena.


Understand that your first draft is simply that—a first draft.  Set it aside for a period of time and then begin your successive drafts with a fresh eye.  In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he recommends putting a manuscript away for a minimum of six weeks.  


Objective readers should critique your final draft, preferably fellow authors who write in your genre.  Check with your local bookstores about a critique group or go online to find one in your area.  Form one of your own if necessary.  I can’t emphasize too strongly how invaluable an empowering critique group can be.  Constructive feedback needs to be garnered before an agent or publisher reads your material.  After the critique and necessary editing, you are ready to put your marketing package together.


Just as a good resume represents you as a potential employee, your marketing package represents you as a writer.  It is very important that your manuscript adheres to the criteria of the publishing world.  The following guidelines are generic as the world of publishing is both commercial and subjective.  Each agent or editor has his or her own personal preferences.  Most do prefer the following:


        Courier or Times Roman 10 or 12 point typeface

        Right margin not justified.  

        Manuscripts double-spaced 

        Page numbers in the upper right-hand corner 

        Your last name, slash and title (name/title) in the upper left-hand corner of every page


The next step is writing a synopsis for fiction or a proposal for non-fiction.  Writers sometimes find this more daunting than writing the manuscript itself.  There are many good books on both subjects.  Read them!  (Thought all the hard work was done when you wrote that last page, didn’t you?)   


Now you are ready to write your query letter.  It should not be more than one page long.  A query letter is similar to a cover letter for a resume; again, do your research and find examples of  query letters.  Whether or not your synopsis or proposal and eventually your manuscript is read can depend on an excellent query letter.


At this point, you will have to decide if you want to find an agent or go directly to publishers.  As a first-time author, it may be difficult to find an agent.  However, they have the necessary contacts in the publishing world and access to the publishing companies who do not accept unagented material.  Often you will find the words "agented only" beside the names of the larger publishing companies.


If you choose to query publishers, make an effort to contact the editor interested in your kind of writing and send only the material requested.  Never send an entire unsolicited manuscript!  Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents and Writer's Market will provide you with the necessary information for both agents and publishers plus their names, addresses and profiles.  Websites  for agents and publishers provide up-to-date information.


Now you are ready to prepare your marketing package.  For fiction, it should include your query letter and a synopsis—possibly a first chapter. Sometimes three chapters are requested.   Most writers want to send what they consider their best chapter (one that often falls later in the book).  Agents and editors decide if they want to read an entire manuscript based on the same "rule of thumb" as readers.  Does the first page and the first chapter make them want to continue reading?


For non-fiction writers, the requirements are different.  A well-written letter is always important, but you will end that letter with the offer to send a detailed proposal.  (Hopefully you have educated yourself on proposal writing.)


Now you have edited and polished your manuscript and had it critiqued.  You’ve done your homework and know exactly what should be included in the marketing package.  You are ready to mail your material and a self-addressed stamped envelope to agents or publishers.  Don’t procrastinate!  Do it!  Then get busy on your next writing project. 


Before signing your first book contract (if you do not have an agent), seek legal advice.  Joining the Association of Authors' Representatives,, is one relatively inexpensive option.  Although first time authors usually do not receive large advances, you should not be afraid to negotiate a contract to your advantage.  Small publishing companies seldom offer any advance, but they will continue printing your book far longer than the larger publishing companies, who base their printing decisions on the number of books initially sold.


One last word of advice—don’t take rejections personally or let them invalidate your faith in yourself or in your writing.  If you've been practicing your craft and honing your skills, you are probably a good writer, and if you have a manuscript that you believe in, there are undoubtedly readers out there who would love to read it.


While waiting for a response from your queries, relax and revel in the fact that you have done what others just talk about doing.  You have written a book.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Congratulations!