Get your foot in the door without loosing any toes

About three weeks ago, Columbia College Chicago hosted what is called Story Week which has been going on for more than a decade if I’m not mistaken. It is a festival celebrating writers and each year we have some stupendous and charming writers and professionals in the business of all sorts come and share their wisdom. This year’s line-up included lovely writers like Roxane Gay, faculty member Eric May (yeah, I blog and I rhyme), and Barry Gifford to name just a few.

I went to some events and the one I got the most out of was a publisher’s bootcamp event in which professionals discussed how you can squeeze your pen and broken laptop into the publishing world before the rest. I’ve created bullet points for each person so you don’t spaz-out looking at chunky impregnated paragraphs. The bullets contain informative information (wow, that’s the best adjective I can come up with? Informative information? Not redundant at all…but I digress). I’m done, I can’t type right now, educate yourself.

anitra budd

Anitra Budd, managing editor at Coffee House Press– Her role as an editor involves but is not limited to; literally managing and overseeing everything that goes on, reading, and choosing the books that Coffee House will take on. She also handles the rights and permissions of selected books, the production schedule of publications, and client author interaction such as answering any questions and addressing any concerns they may have. She is a very busy lady who often attends lectures and conferences all the while helping and choosing interns too, your modern day superwoman ya’ll.

  • Very small press with a staff of about seven
  • Publish about 18-20 books per year
  • Primarily accept books that are considered somewhat different and off-kilter (in a good way, obviously)
  • They take both un-agented (which are most of their clients) and agented previously unsolicited work
  • Advances range anywhere from $1,000-$5,000
  • They take about 4-6 weeks to respond to a sample and about 4-6 months to respond regarding a full manuscript
  • They accept simultaneous submissions! (I know, how awesome is that?!)
  • They get about 1,200 submissions per year and only accept 18-20, so it is rigorous my friends! Give them the proper time before you query
  • Accept a lot of literary fiction and even poetry that they really believe in but are not really the best place to submit genre fiction to
  • A book is usually published within 18 months of signing the contract
  • The books get circulated pretty well, to places like Barnes & Noble, SPD, independent bookstores..etc…

Her advice?

  • Don’t take the first offer you get right away even if you plan to because it’s your only option. Seriously, sleep on it.
  • Sometimes, the best work has the most bland cover letter. Let the work speak for itself, keep the cover letter concise.
  • The best authors are concerned with everything! Their work is never done.
  • And, as always, follow submission guidelines!

eleanor jackson

Eleanor Jackson, literary agent at Dunow, Carlson, & Lerner Literary Agency– Her role in essence, is to sell books to publishing houses.

  • Likes to discover new authors
  • She takes short story collections, memoirs, and poetry.
  • Gets about 200 queries per month and she takes only about 12 of them per year and half of those are previous clients
  • You and your synopsis need to be clear, concise, and straight (not like, in sexual preference..)
  • When you are querying about a memoir, don’t make it about yourself instead, talk about the memoir itself and what it’s about
  • The query should always be sent with a sample
  • The relationship between a client and their literary agent is like a marriage for the long haul
  • You should look for an agent when you have done everything that you could possibly do on your own
  • AAR and Publisher’s Market Place are good sites to search for agents
  • Agents take a standard 15% commission
  • Contracts are about two pages and lay out the necessities and information about expenses and includes an exit clause
  • You should thoroughly read and always be aware of what you’re signing and agreeing to

Her advice?

  • Please don’t write your query from the perspective of your character
  • “We are on your side. We want you to succeed!”
  • Don’t try to write a trend, trends end eventually
  • The signs of a bad agent are the same as signs of a bad bf/gf
  • Please don’t send your queries in color or try to bribe her with cupcakes ( I know what you’re thinking, she’s classy, I’m going to send her a cronut too)
  • You should always work with agents who have humility, people who aren’t afraid to be wrong


donna seaman

Donna Seaman, associate editor of Booklist– This snazzy lady is famous for her reviews and how she has made a career out it. She is a book addict and is known as one of the best (if not the best) book commentator of our time.

  • Writing book reviews helps you get published
  • You have to be very attentive and take great care into each element/aspect of a story
  • Write against your usual structure from time to time, it’s good to get out
  • Early reviews for a book really matter so make sure you handle what you are saying with great care
  • When you review, you have to do it out of love for literature
  • You should be critical in a constructive way not in a demeaning manner
  • Do not write empty praise, back up what you’re saying with analysis
  • When reviewing particularly a work of fiction, bring up humor, wit, atmosphere, and mood.
  • At Booklist, they receive about 300 books per day!
  • When reading and choosing what they will read, they look for publishers they like and are familiar with
  • Really like narratives
  • They don’t normally select self-published books
  • They write about 10,000 book reviews per year
  • They like responsible, correct, and well-written books
  • Reviewers are given two weeks to read, review, and submit

Her Advice?

  • You really have to love to read and write
  • Cover and blurbs on a book are very important because you get to see how excited the publisher/agent is about the book
  • Booklist has a voice and style so when you create a snarky review, you cannot get away with it so be considerate
  • Take notes while reading

Alright, guys. That’s all I’ve got for you.

Go get em’, tiger!

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