Writing for Publication

I’m on the editorial board for an academic journal, and I also facilitate a diverse and enthusiastic writers’ group. Over the past few months I’ve started to think about all the publishing tips that fall into the I-wish-someone-had-told-me-ahead-of-time category. If you’re thinking about writing for publication, you’ll find some useful information here.

1.  Know what’s required. Get a copy of the submission guidelines from your prospective publisher (often you can find the guidelines online). Writer’s Market is the essential guide for freelance writers: Get your hands on a copy (from the library or www.Amazon.com) and study it.

If you’re writing for a magazine or journal, look at a copy ahead of time. I once received an academic submission that had footnotes at the bottom of each page. No journal uses that format anymore: It made a terrible impression on me.

2.  If you’re writing a book, down the road you’ll need to write a marketing report for the publisher. Start making notes now. Think about how you’ll answer these questions:

  • How would you describe your target audience for your book?
  • Can you explain in one sentence what your book is about?
  • What are the main competitors for your book, and how is your book different?

3.  If you’re writing a nonfiction book, very likely it will have headings. Set them up and format them in a systematic way (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on, using your word-processing software). Thinking about consistent headings now will save you endless time and trouble later on. (Spoken from experience!)

4.  Make sure your Style choices (from your word processor) are consistent. If your manuscript is a mixture of Normal, Normal Indent, and so on, you could have a mess to untangle later on. Today’s publishers don’t set your book in type for you: Your computer files have to be ready for publication.

5.  Space only once after a period. (The old two-spaces-after-a-period rule is appropriate only if you’re using a typewriter.) And don’t hit the space bar after the last period in a paragraph.

6.  Know the rules about serial commas. When you have a list of three or more items, most book publishers want a comma before and. Newspapers and magazines don’t want that comma.

George, Katherine, and I went to the concert. BOOKS

George, Katherine and I went to the concert. MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS

7.  If you’re planning to sell your book on the Amazon.com website, plan to use their “Look Inside!” feature to your advantage. Prospective buyers will be able to read the first four or five pages of your book online. Make those pages sparkle and shine.

8.  Seek feedback from friends and family, and take their comments seriously. If they tell you that something isn’t clear, or doesn’t work for them, don’t argue: Fix it.

9.  Educate yourself about writing. I once edited a manuscript from a would-be writer who had no idea how to do quotation marks. It’s common sense to read a book or two before you try writing one yourself.

10. Learn from the pros. Find a few successful books similar to the one you’ve written, and study them to see how they’re put together. You can do this free of charge at any library.

Bonus: Some excellent free resources are available online. Even if you’re not planning to publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, register (free) at their website, and read their free web pages about publishing and marketing. Another good resource is www.Smashwords.com, which features two free instructional books that you can download. They also list experts who can help you with publishing tasks at reasonable prices.

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