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SoYouWanna publish a book?

If you've never truly considered writing a book, take another look at the rubbish filling bookshelves at airport kiosks. The "authors" of that stuff are laughing all the way to the bank. While English majors and real literary types are screaming at each other in the stuffy halls of academia or the pages of The New Yorker, these clowns are quietly rehashing tired plots and making millions for it. You're a smart person, so we see no reason you shouldn't take a crack at making bank as well. (Heck, even if you're a ding-bat, we think you should give it a try. Al Gore's books sold millions.)

Here's how you too can tap into the wallets of all those gullible readers out there. Please note, however, that we can't actually write the book for you. You may have to do that yourself.

1. Know How The Process Works


The first rule of getting a book published is to avoid writing a book. Whoa, what the hell are we talking about? Yes, it's very counterintuitive, but the main goal of anyone who wants to publish a book is to land a literary agent, before spending years writing something nobody wants to read. (Of course, if you're reading this SYW because you've already churned out a work of genius, don't fear; go directly to 2. Prepare a proposal.) Let us explain: the literary world is a very closed community and the people who green light publication accept books only through very specific channels. Think about it: nobody could ever handle reading the mountains of spew that aspiring authors churn out all the time, so the system has established filters to weed out most of the garbage. You need to learn what the filters are and how to get through them. Namely, agents.

Agents -- what do they do, exactly?

An agent is a separate individual who performs much of this filtering process. You most certainly don't want to send a manuscript directly to a publishing house. They won't read it. They consider pieces only if they come recommended by an agent. Agents read manuscripts, or ideas for manuscripts (known as queries and proposals), and decide whether a project has promise. If it does, the agent signs a contract with the author, promising to use best efforts to get the thing sold to a publishing house, in exchange for around 15% of the deal. Editors at publishing houses would much rather deal only with agents who have a good track record for presenting quality ideas, so agents can be very choosy about who they sign. Landing an agent, therefore, is the whole idea of the game. Once you have one of those on your side, she will work incredibly hard to get your idea sold.

Agents, in turn, don't particularly like reading 300-page manuscripts either. In fact, they don't like reading much more than 1 page. So the first step to getting an agent to even pay attention to you is to send them a query letter. A query letter is essentially a short summary of your idea, who you are, and why you are qualified to write this project.

But you say, "Wait. I don't wanna give up fifteen percent of my book-deal-to-be. That stinks." Can you proceed without an agent? Don't even try. And are they worth the cash? You bet: 85% of zero is nada, and you got nada without an agent there, Chekhov. Don't worry, though, there are thousands of literary agents all across America and a few excellent guides that give you tons of information about what they like to represent and how to contact them. The very best is the Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, 1999-2000 : Who They Are! What They Want! And How to Win Them Over! by Jeff Herman. But first you need to know what agents want.