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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ask the Book Doctor about Copyrights, Mentors, and Simultaneous Submissions

Real questions writers have asked; real answers, from a real book doctor

Q: After a book is written, how do I go about protecting my work with a copywrite [sic] before sending it off to prospects? Is the standard initialing acceptable? Would I need to initial each page? Would I need to get it notarized, so the idea cannot be taken by someone else?

A: According to current law, you own the rights to your copy—hence copyright, rather than copywrite—the moment you complete a body of work. If you find that someone has used your material without permission, you have the right to sue, whether or not you registered the copyright or published the book. You don’t have to initial the manuscript, register it, get it notarized, or anything, because you automatically own the rights to your intellectual property, based on the fact that you created it. The law protects you, should anyone use your material without your permission.

Professional editors, publishers, and agents also know the law and will not steal your material. On the flip side, when editors, agents, or publishers see that an author has copyrighted a manuscript, they perceive they are dealing with a paranoid person or an amateur, so don't prematurely register the copyright on a manuscript and give others the opportunity to make an incorrect assumption.

Manuscripts are always open to change, whereas copyrights are not, so a copyright should not be registered until the material is edited, proofed, and laid out, right before the book goes to press.

If you sell your book to a publisher, ask your publisher if it handles the copyright registration. Most publishers register the copyright in your name for you, prior to going to press. If you plan to self-publish, register the copyright right before you send the final file to a printer. Follow the procedures outlined at the government website,

Q: Where can I find a mentor to tell me where to send my poetry to get it published?

A: Mentors are a rare find indeed, and they don't hang out shingles announcing their availability. I was blessed with a mentor early in my career, because we had been friends in college before he became an accomplished poet. He read my poetry, picked out two specific poems, and told me a magazine that might be interested in them. He was right, and the magazine accepted both poems, for which I received two contributor’s copies. I was on my way, though, and after that, I found my own markets.

Instead of waiting for a mentor to appear, patronize literary magazines. Buy single copies of many literary publications or subscribe to several and support the market, because publications need supporters, too. Subscribe to, which lists poetry markets and gives their guidelines. Once you become familiar with the poetry market, you will know when, what, and how to submit to each potential publisher.

Q: What does "simultaneous submission" mean?
A: When an author sends the same book proposal or novel query to more than one agent or publisher at a time, it is called a simultaneous submission. For several reasons, the method favors those who are doing the submissions. It speeds up the process by allowing writers to send out many submissions at a time, an important ability, when responses sometimes take months, if they come at all. In addition, if more than one agent or publisher shows an interest, the author has negotiating power. For that reason, some agents and publishers don’t care for simultaneous submissions and prefer exclusive submissions.

Those that do not accept simultaneous submissions will say so in their guidelines. When you see such a note in the guidelines, submit to those agents or publishers last, after hearing back from most or all others. If, however, you have only one particular publisher in mind, submit your query or proposal to that publisher first, with a note that it is an exclusive submission. If you receive a rejection from that one publisher, you can then send simultaneous submissions to others.

At the end of the cover letter of all simultaneous submissions, add a line that states, "This is a simultaneous submission."

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to  Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at or

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Words and Word People

I love words, so it's no surprise that I love other people who love words. In last month's issue of The Writers Network News, I reported a discussion I had with a member about the use of "sneak" versus "snuck" and the fact that "snuck" is used in spoken English, but it is considered substandard in written language, except in dialogue. This kind of stuff fascinates me.

Having discovered Scrabble on Facebook and then adding it to my iPhone as well, I've become a complete addict of Scrabble, playing with friends and strangers alike. In case you think I'm some sort of master at Scrabble because I'm a great editor, it's not so. I am not a master at the strategy of Scrabble, and worse, I am not the best at looking at a jumble of letters and making long, point-scoring words out of them. I often miss excellent opportunities and end up losing, yet I get right back in the game, with the same friends or with strangers. Why? Because I love words.

My fascination with words began when I was young. My father read books to us kids at night, acting out the dialogue and adding emphasis to the narrative. He made me long to learn to read, and I eagerly grasped the skill when I finally entered first grade. Kindergarten was not available at the time, or I would have learned earlier, I'm sure.

I certainly hope that everyone with children will read to them when they are young. It gives children a boost for life. Even after I learned to read, my teacher used to gather us cross-legged on the wooden floor and read about Jane, Dick, Sally, and Spot and their adventures, reading to us at a much higher level than we could yet read, and it made me want to read even better, so I could read more intricate stories. My father and my first-grade teacher made me yearn to learn, and I did.

As an adult, I read to my son even before I was sure he knew what I was saying, but he sat quietly in my lap and helped me turn pages when he was small, and once he began speaking, he was able to finish my sentences when I read him his favorite books. Children learn by repetition, and while it may annoy adults to read the same stories over and over, doing so is the best thing we can do for children.

By the time my son was five, he was sight reading signs that passed by quickly on the highway, and when he reached grammar school, he excelled in all his courses, because he so easily read his textbooks. He breezed through college and veterinary school, and it comes as no surprise that he is also an excellent writer. In addition to practicing veterinary medicine, he writes a veterinary column for a regional magazine.

My daddy has passed on, but his legacy lives on, in me and in all his children and grandchildren, all of whom have done well in life. What started all this success? Words. No wonder I'm a word person!
Oh, and by the way, because I bought and paid for a house strictly from my income as a writer and editor, I call it "The House that Words Built."

Yes, I love words, and I would wager you do, too, because you are reading this blog.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Where to Start?

A friend called the other day. She’s had a book in her head for ages, and she’s finally ready to write it, except for one tiny detail. Where should she start? She hadn’t written a word yet, because of her fear she might start in the wrong place.

I told her that the best place to start is with the first thought that comes to mind. With computers we don’t have to worry where to start, we simply have to get the words down. Later, we can revise, revamp, and reorganize the material, but we can’t get anywhere until we get the words down on paper (or in the computer, as it is, today).
When she asked where to start writing, the little devil in me wanted to say, “In the kitchen, in the office, in the dining room, in the bedroom; wherever you keep your computer. That’s where to start!”

Her fear of starting in the wrong place brings up a deeper issue. We all have fears, be they mild or serious, that thwart our efforts, if we’re not careful. In this case, she was afraid to begin writing a book. I have a project—not a writing project, but still a complicated thing I want to learn—that I keep putting off, because I have fears around it. Oh, I have devised all sorts of excuses, such as I want to wait until I have a large block of time to work on it, or I’m not smart enough to learn it. It’s been bugging me for a couple of months. I should listen to my own advice: just start it! What’s the worst that could happen?

Do you have fears that are keeping you from writing or doing other things you need or want to do? Let’s face those fears together. By the end of this month, I intend to have started that project, just as my friend will have started writing her book. It doesn’t matter where I begin, only that I begin.

One more note: Write In Style, my award-winning book on creative writing, is officially out of print. New copies are selling for between $75 and $220 on Amazon. While they last, however, you can still buy one of the few remaining new copies at the original price of $12.95. To purchase, go to Hurry! Supplies are rapidly dwindling. Only a few dozen are left.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Writers Need Community

I just returned from the first Turner Cassity Literary Festival in Douglasville, Georgia. The event honored Cassity, a curmudgeon of a southern poet, playwright, and short-story writer and a former librarian in Africa and then at Emory University in Atlanta. He passed away in 2009, but a cousin of his attended the event and told a few tales about the eccentric man who won many awards and earned a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Three of the five presenters at the festival were known best for their poetry. The only other female presenter and I were both better known for our prose, although it comes as no surprise that we both wrote poetry too.

One of the speakers quoted someone else, and I wish I could remember who he quoted who said, “If you write poetry when you’re eighteen, you’re an eighteen-year-old. If you still write poetry when you’re forty, you’re a poet.” The quotation came up during a Q & A session with the speakers, when someone asked of us how we started writing and what sustains us. We all agreed that the things that sustain us are festivals, conferences, seminars, workshops, meetings, critique circles, and generally being around other writers, as we were all doing that weekend. I had been writing for a living as a journalist and business communicator for many years before I attended my first writers conference in 1983. There I found inspiration and encouragement to learn more about the creative side writing and ways to make even my articles and business communications stronger, better, and more creative. I probably never would have become a book doctor/book editor had I not attended writers conferences and joined a critique circle back in the early 1980s.

What could be better than schmoozing with other writers? When writers ask me how they can get inspiration and motivation, I emphasize the importance of joining a critique circle, attending meetings with writers, joining and participating in organizations for writers, and attending literary festivals and conferences.

Writer, sustain thyself! Drink from the river of knowledge that flows from fellow writers. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to raise a writer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hocus-Pocus, Mental Focus, and Research

My task of late has been to research publishers who may be interested in buying the second rights to Write In Style. The book is officially out of print, since my publisher took it off the market last year, but I was able to buy the few remaining boxes. I've been selling those books through my website,, as well as in person, wherever I speak, but my inventory is low. It's time to decide whether to self-publish the next edition or find a publisher.

Here's my thinking: I don't want to spend my time packing up and mailing books; I'd much rather a distributor handle the physical labor. I'm not in the retail business; I'm an editor. I don't want to have to maintain records of sales and such. I don't have the contacts to get my books in bookstores, and I'm not interested in learning all I'd have to learn to be my own publishing house. I want another publisher to pick up the slack, reprint the book, and add an index, which was missing from the first edition. I want the publisher to handle the printing and distribution and send me a royalty check now and then. Sure, I'll still sell a few copies wherever I speak, but I don't want to be the only person selling them. For all those reasons, I intend to do everything I can to find a publisher, before I fall back on self-publishing as a last resort.

Yes, I know I'd make more money per book if I self-published. I've long known the vast profit difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I also, however, know the vast difference in sales, when it comes to traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I've sold a couple hundred books in the past year, but my former publisher sold a thousand in the first few months after the initial release in 2004. I'd much rather get a small percentage of a couple thousand sales than a large percentage of a couple hundred sales, especially if I don't have to be the person to fulfill all those orders.

Having done my homework and made my decision, then, it is time to get down to researching the markets for my reference/writing book. Ugh! Clerical work. I find nothing creative about this process, but I add a little something to the mix to make it more interesting and rewarding. I search online and find some potential markets, but my best bet, and what worked when I sold it the first time, is to go to a real live brick-and-mortar bookstore, find the section in which my book belongs, and see what other publishers are releasing books that reach the same market as mine. That's my next step: on to a bookstore.

Oh, what's that you say? Where have all the bookstores gone? Right. That's a problem, too. Even though critics say that the Barnes & Noble business model has edged out many independent bookstores, where do I go to see what's being published and sold to my market? Barnes & Noble, of course. The one independent bookstore that comes to mind would have too small a section on reference/writing. I want to go to the store that has the biggest section in my category.

I'll give you a little inside secret. Once I see the exact section where my book belongs, I visualize my book on the shelf, in the correct alphabetical order. I spent time visualizing Write In Style in a bookstore in 2000, and by 2004, I walked into that same store and saw my book on the shelf right where I had visualized it.

Hocus-pocus and mental focus aside, now I have to research, and although it's no fun, it's one of the many steps serious writers must take, if we want to see our books in print.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Pain of Submission

We writers love to write, but oh, the pain of preparing our babies for submission to agents and publishers! We have to stop being writers and turn into other people. First we become researchers. We have to research every potential market thoroughly, so we can be sure we’re sending it to the right place. We then turn into clerks or secretaries, pulling together files and information each individual agent or publisher requests, printing or e-mailing it, and tracking our submissions. Next we turn into therapists, if our submissions get ignored or rejected, and we have to reassure ourselves that we ourselves weren’t rejected, just our manuscripts. We must also be coaches, pushing ourselves to keep submitting our work, despite all the paperwork, details, pain, and heartbreak.

Recently I spent hours updating my latest book proposal and revising the sample chapters. I then printed out the whole package, all forty-seven pages of it, only to discover that both places where I had wanted to submit the proposal took submissions only over the Internet, and one took submissions only through its website. Why does every darn potential market or agent want something that differs from all the other potential markets or agents? Every package has to be revamped to fit the place where I’m sending it, which adds even more hours and misery to the submission process.

I have nothing to prove my theory, but I believe that each agent and publisher sets out to create a unique submission process intentionally, so they can easily reject noncompliant submissions without reading them. I do know that some agents look for absolutely any reason to reject a manuscript, thereby whittling down the stack of submissions they have to seriously consider. For that reason every submission must be the result of careful research and meticulous preparation. I cannot throw together a mass mailing of any kind.

As in any job, the part that’s the least interesting becomes the most tedious, but if I performed only the part of writing that is fun, my work would never get published.

Meanwhile, I have a full printed submission ready, if any other agents I investigate actually want a full printed proposal and sample chapters, but by the time I locate another agent worthy of handling my precious child, I’ll probably have revised both the proposal and the sample chapters several more times, and even this printout will be obsolete.

Maybe I’ve uncovered the reason why the process is called “submission.” We have to submit to cruel punishment and grueling detail. We have to cave to the demands of agents and publishers. We must surrender our ego, abandon our self-esteem, grovel before the gods of publishing, but if we’re willing to submit truly and completely, in the end we might receive absolution—and a publishing contract.

In 2003 I worked the system and sold Write In Style, so I feel certain I can win again with my new project, my first collection of memoirs. I’ve sold individual memoirs to various publications, so I feel confident I can sell the collection as a book. If you’ve considered writing and selling your memoirs, sign up for my upcoming seminar, WRITE YOUR MEMOIRS FOR FUN AND PROFIT, to be held in my home Saturday, April 30, 2011. For more information, go to You'll see another short seminar there that I'm giving for Booklogix in Alpharetta, Georgia, and that one is also going to be a Webinar, if you can't be there in person, so be sure to sign up.

One more note: Write In Style, my award-winning book on creative writing, is officially out of print, and used copies are selling for as much as $89 on Amazon. While they last, however, you can still buy one of the few remaining copies at the original price of $12.95. To purchase, go to Hurry! Supplies are dwindling!