One of the ways that Mandala Journal encourages diversity is to encourage people who have a story to tell to dive in, even if they are just getting started in their journey to become writers. In the spirit of lending a hand to those who are relatively new to the writing world, Fiction Managing Editor, Cyndyl McCutcheon, spoke with Young Adult author, Jackson Pearce, via telephone in February 2011 about the publishing process.
Cyndyl McCutcheon: When do you start looking for a publisher?
Jackson Pearce: You start looking to get published when you've already written the book and edited it and when it is as complete and perfect as you can get it. Not when you're done with the first draft; not when you are getting ready to start on a book. Now, it's a little different for nonfiction. For nonfiction, sometimes you can approach a publisher before you've written a book. In all other cases, write the book first.
CM: Is an agent necessary, or can you go to the publisher yourself?
JP: An agent is never necessary, but an agent is always advised. I would never in a million years do anything in publishing without an agent. I had one when I started and I'm always going to have one. The thing about agents is they know the publishing industry inside and out and they can make the best choices for you and they can represent you. They're not trying to be jerks. Publishers are going to try to get the contract that is best for them. Now, your agent is going to turn that into the contract that is best for you. For example, one of my first contracts they wanted to charge me for shipping the books to bookstores; they wanted the film rights; and all of these little details that you wouldn't get out of looking at a contract. So, when you're on your own you really have to navigate all of that on your own.
CM: What would you typically self publish and what would you publish through a publishing house?
JP: It kind of varies. If you want to maybe see your book in a few local bookstores and you want it for your local friends and family, you're seeking a sales number that's under the 1,000 range, or maybe if you've written a textbook for your class, that is an instance in which I would say that self publishing is probably in your best interest. Now if you want to see your book in national stores or you want to see it largely printed, you want a shot at making the New York Times best-seller list, if you want to see it reviewed by major reviewers, then you're not going to self-publish. Now, there are a few extremely rare examples of people who made it big time with self publishing, but they are an extreme minority, extreme minority.
CM: How do you know which publisher to choose?
JP: In submitting, the way you get an agent is you send out queries. A query letter is basically what you're writing about and the agent will say, "Yes this is a book I want to represent you with" or "No this is not a book I want to represent." And after you get an agent, your agent sends the book to publishers that they like. They are going to send it to houses that are looking for your specific type of book. For example, your agent isn't going to send a vampire book to Little Brown, who published Twilight, right now because they've already got a big one. So, an agent would probably send it over to Harper Collins. That's basically how they're going to choose maybe five or so houses that they think would be a good fit for.
CM: So, basically after you get an agent they handle everything business wise?
JP: They handle it, but they're representing you, and you are still making all the decisions.
CM: So when finding and agent, you shouldn't have to give any money up front, right?
JP: Yeah, if they ask for any money up front, it is a scam.
CM: Any advice you want to give to young aspiring writers who want to get published?
JP: Um yeah, my advice is always that if you're ready to get something published, remember that when you are writing and you're having a good time, that is the art side of writing, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you're thinking about getting published, that means you are ready to enter the business side of writing and you need to be very professional and work hard. You will get rejections and it's very frustrating to get rejected so you have to work hard and persevere and not take it personally. I got seventy-six rejections for As You Wish. It was also rejected by a house where they already had a werewolf book. So you can't take rejections personally. Just hang in there.
Cyndyl McCutcheon is an English major at the University of Georgia pursuing a career in Publishing who loves the Lord and her family. She loves to read mostly teen and Y/A fiction, watch anime, and listen to k-pop. Art and writing are among her favorite hobbies and she hopes to one day become a famous novelist. If she had four more college lives, she would want to study robotics, videogame design, art, and fashion just because they all sound interesting.