by Isabelle Casas
Last semester, I had the privilege of interning at a small book publishing company called Dzanc Books, run by Michelle Dotter. Here are a few of the things I learned:
- As a writer, you want to have a strong grasp on your goals for publishing. Are you writing for fun, part-time, or as a career? Your goals will influence the steps you should take on your writing journey. You should also be ready for anything to happen. As with many careers, there are various paths you can take — be prepared for some unconventional ones.
- Acquiring a literary agent will most likely take a long time but is necessary if you ever want to publish with big names; however, some smaller agencies will take work without literary agents. This decision ties into your goals and aspirations. (Important note*: An agent should never take money from you. Your relationship will be mutual. They’ll get paid when you do).
- You should always research the agent you query. It will help you when you write your query.
- Acquire an agent you can trust, don’t just accept a relationship with anyone, take the time to know who you’ll be working with.
- Important notes on queries:
- Certain genres will respond to certain queries. Get to know your genre’s format before sending them out.
- Put work into it. First impressions matter.
- Keep it short when pitching your book — essentially give it an effective elevator pitch (1 page).
- Don’t send your queries at once, get feedback first.
- Set up a separate email for queries so you don’t miss responses and so you can save them.
- Books have expected word counts. If you go over them, you must have a convincing reason.
- Establish your genre. When you submit a book for publication, put some comparative titles in the description, so publishers get an understanding of where you stand.
- Getting a response takes a long time. Don’t get worried if you don’t hear anything right away. It doesn’t mean anything until you officially hear back.
- Take list of the people who compliment your work.
- Accept good feedback.
- Trust in your editors. It’s important to have good communication with us. We only want what is best for your work: to make it better. Editing should be a collaborative effort which functions to improve the quality of the work. If you must set boundaries, talk about those boundaries and be confident in your arguments.
- Submitting to a literary journal like the Oakland Arts Review will help you build your writing credentials. Submit to a vast number of journals so you can have the optimum chances of getting published.
- In book publishing, there are multiple phases your work will have to go through before it hits the shelves. Familiarize yourself with these avenues and be prepared for a long wait time, especially at a small company.
- Lastly, be ready to edit. Publishing a book is going to be a lot of work.
As a student editor and writer, I can thoroughly say that the publishing world can seem like this daunting and menacing beastie that one could never overcome. When I was first introduced to the idea of publishing, the president of the Creative Writing Club at Oakland University circa 2019 looked us dead in the eyes and said, “Be prepared to be rejected. You will get rejected over and over and over again.” He was an intense president, but his warning was apt. The important thing to remember when publishing is to expect rejection but keep fighting for it. Ideally, you get into writing for a reason, a passion, a desire — don’t lose sight of that.