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January, 2008

Word Wright

Neubauer's Nuggets
No problem is too big or too small for our Joan
By  Joan R. Neubauer

Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer answers questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her at Subject: Neubauer Nuggets, and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.

Dear Joan,

I've completed a novel, have submitted it to every publisher known to man, and have a collection of rejection letters to prove it. I know this is a good book and want to publish it. I've been looking into subsidy publishers of different kinds, but my friends say, "If you have to pay for it, it's not real." What's your advice?

Catherine Denning
Hobbs, NM

Dear Catherine,

I suppose there are exceptions, but nearly every writer I know wants to sell their manuscript to a traditional royalty publisher. I can understand that because it validates your efforts. Having said that, let's look at some possible reasons and options.
First, you must understand that selling a manuscript involves more than having a great manuscript. You must have three elements in play: a great manuscript; a full knowledge of the industry; and the know-how and ability to promote, also called platform. (See the following question.) Whenever you have any correspondence with a publisher, you must convey all three in some way. In other words, make them aware of your professionalism.
Now, if this is your first book, you may not have the complete package that each publisher looks for, so subsidy publishing may work well for you. Find a reputable company that will work with you to professionally edit your manuscript; teach you things you must know to succeed; help you with promotions; guide you to developing your platform; and can work with you to get good distribution for your book. There are a few out there, but you've got to look for them.
Once you get your book into the marketplace, work like crazy to promote it. If you've chosen the right publisher, they'll help you with lists of places to approach; how to put together a press kit; and other important promotional information. Some may even provide you with opportunities at book festivals, radio appearances, and as a speaker for various organizations. Take advantage of every opportunity you can. Go. Travel. Call people on the phone. Send post cards. Do everything you can to get your name and information about your book out there, so that you can sell books.
With experience and sales numbers in your arsenal, publishers will look far more favourably on you and your work. They're not stupid. They want to sell books, and they want authors who know how to do it. You can be one of them.
Don't listen to your friends who tell you, "If you have to pay for it, it's not real." Many authors have started with subsidy publishing. Have you ever heard of Agatha Christie, Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, or James Redfield? They all started out by paying for it. No editor recognized their genius until these writers had proven it on their own. You'd find yourself in some fine company. And by the way, I self-published my very first book as well. I printed copies on my laser printer and bound them with plastic covers and combs. The rest is history.
Now go for it. Take control of your writing career instead of leaving your fate in the hands of others who don't care nearly as much as you do.
Let me know how it goes.


Dear Joan,

Iíve been going to writers' workshops and conferences and have heard one word over and over: platform. I've asked about it, but no one can give me a clear idea of what it is. Can you help?
Ed Cook
Dallas, TX

Dear Ed,

I'm with you. I've been to several conferences as well and heard people use this word without being able to define it. Let me give you a graphic example of what platform is.
If you were to make a small stage for yourself only 6" high, that would be a small platform. That would be as if you were well known in your neighbourhood and among your family and friends. With a small platform, you're not likely to reach many people and thus, not sell many books.
If, on top of that, you built another larger, platform that stood 12" high, more people outside your immediate circle could see you above the crowd. You could reach more people with your message and sell more books, but still not that many.
Now, for every promotional thing you do, either intermittently or on a regular basis (newspaper column, freelance magazine articles, radio shows, TV appearances, book signings, presentations, etc.), you make your platform larger and taller, thus, you reach more people and can sell still more books. If you notice, authors who sell lots of books are known to lots of people (fans) because of their promotional efforts. They have a big platform.
So, in order to sell a manuscript to a publisher, you need to develop your platform ahead of time. Consider writing a regular newspaper column for some local or regional newspapers. Work closely with a published author at book signings so you become known to booksellers. Sell articles to magazines. In short, accumulate professional credits of all kinds in advance of presenting your book for publication. In that way, when an editor or agent asks you about your platform, you can tell her all about it and make sure she knows you stand head and shoulders above the crowd. With all that, if you have a great manuscript, odds are, you'll be signing a contract before long.

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Joan R. Neubauer is a publisher at as well as a published author. Check out her two latest books, A Serpentís Tooth and Shadow Dancing. email at or You can sign up for WordWright's monthly email newsletter at the site as well.

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