Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


So, I couldn't fall asleep last night because the wheels kept turning. The last time I remember feeling that way was in high school, when I had a crush on the foreign exchange student. Of course, a little Old Crow and Coke usually helps me sleep these days; nevertheless, all the bourbon in Kentucky couldn't put me out last night. (Well, maybe ALL the bourbon in Kentucky.)

Why, you ask, gentle reader? And good for you for recognizing the implied rhetorical question. I'll answer it anyway. My number one agent requested a partial for my WIP yesterday. If you have no idea what that last sentence meant, it means you're probably not a publishing professional or aspiring author of some sort, so let me break it down for you.

I've been meaning to get into some of this stuff for some time on this blog, but never really had a good excuse to until now. Besides, you would probably find me checking in every day to relate all my rejections or partial requests incredibly dull after a while. But I think a number of people could benefit from some of this information, and I know that EVERYONE can benefit from my worldview, so let me break down for you the basic ways of breaking into publishing. There are, oh, let's say 4. Let's run down the list.

4.) SELF PUBLISHING. The literary equivalent of cashing your paycheck in for rolls of quarters and tossing them all into a wishing well. Basically, the theory behind this is that traditional publishing is broken, and they could never possibly recognize your genius, so by publishing on your own you get your product directly into the hands of the reading public, who will naturally hail you as the next Hemingway.

Here's the thing (well, one of the things) about this route: you have to be right. You have to really, genuinely have something so good that people will ignore all of the nicely bound, professionally vetted books on the shelves and pick up your work because it's just that damn good. So, the first thing to ask yourself in this scenario is, are you really a misunderstood genius or is your work just not good enough for mainstream publishing yet?

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't want to totally undersell self-publishing. The best outcome of this route is that you will produce a genuine gem which will get you the notice of the mainstream publishers, who will publish your future work. (Did you notice how the best outcome of self-publishing is not being self-published anymore? Yeah, me too.) Much more likely, though, you will front a bunch of money to see what is essentially a bound copy of what you already have on your computer and never make that money back.

Oh, and did I mention all that presupposes that you're lucky enough to find an honest self-publishing company, and that you're almost infinitely more likely to get taken by a scheister? I won't be cyncical and imply that ALL self-publishing companies are essentially the equivalent of those cash-for-gold companies that sucker old people who watch FOX News except for aspiring authors, but, eh, I can't even really end that sentence in a nice way. There are a few self-publishing and POD companies that are "honest" in their own way, I have no doubt, and actually believe in the whole "let water reach it's own level" method of democratizing publishing.

And, again, to be fair, self-publishing will be very important in the future, what with the interwebs and all. But for right now this is the publishing equivalent of masturbating with a blowup doll. No matter how much you pretend it's a real person, or it'll get you ready for your first time with a real person, IT'S STILL JUST A FUCKING BLOWUP DOLL.

3.) HIRING AN EDITOR. Well, this is slightly more reputable than self-publishing, but it's still more or less a crap chute. The big positive on this route is that you're dealing with an actual publishing professional (hopefully you didn't pick a scheister again, like you did with your vanity publishing firm last time, you born sucker) and, more importantly, you get an actual return for your investment: a polished manuscript.

The bad news is, did I mention you have to make an investment? If you have the money to hire an editor to look at your work, do you really need to be working as an author in the first place? Could you feasibly hire a ghostwriter? Okay, but all that aside, let's say you find a reputable editor for a reasonable price (probably on a sliding scale, you cheap bastard) and, best of all, he/she has real connections in the publishing industry, and if he/she really likes your work, may even hook you up with the right people. You could really genuinely get published this way.

HOWEVER (you knew there was a however, didn't you, you cheeky fuck?) However, Rumpelstiltskin may have been able to spin straw into gold, but even he couldn't polish a turd until it shone. Was that mixed metaphor a little bit too complicated? Let me break it down: crap in, crap out. Was that too simple? Okay, I'll put it to you this way, no editor in the world can make your crappy manuscript good. Sure, he'll do his job, make sure the grammar's good, give you a ream of notes on how you could improve setting, characterization, and everything else, but ultimately an editor can't tell you that your manuscript is rejected. Remember? Because you're paying him to look at it? So he has to look at it? So, hey, do this if you've got money to burn. But don't use it as an excuse not to write the best damned manuscript you can. Which, incidentally, is the whole other issue with self-publishing that I didn't even go into, because that was like a 500 word paragraph already.

2.) QUERYING AN AGENT. Ah. And here we are. The long dark teatime of the soul that most of us currently inhabit. Think of the publishers, the guys that actually bind your book and sell it, as not wanting to talk to you. Not to YOU personally, necessarily, just not to the collective "you" of kooks, scam artists, and short-tempered manifesto writers who flood their offices with proposals. Every book proposal with a shred of potential is buried beneath a stack of "If I Did Its" by all the O.J. Simpsons of the world. "But" you cry out collectively, "If the publishers don't want to talk to me, who do they want to talk to?" The answer is simple: agents. People who do all the leg work for them (for a modest commission, of course.) Think of the agent as a gatekeeper, like that thing in your throat or your sphincter, only in reverse. Instead of the publisher sorting through the crap, the agent sorts through the crap, and then the publishers just have to sort through the agents. The actual process of getting an agent to accept your book is just a bitch, though. Would you want it any other way? If it were easy, nothing but crap would get published. The first step is to submit a query letter, which is where you essentially ask the agent if he MIGHT be interested in your idea. If the agent likes your query, he will request a partial manuscript, usually 3 chapters or 50 pages. (This is what I was talking about up above. In case you're wondering, a WIP is a work in progress. I got too exhauted to get into industry jargon, so I'm just going to tell you at this point.) Can you guess what the next step is with an agent? Yeah, you guessed it, he requests your full manuscript. Then, assuming you've passed through all these hurdles, the agent still has to place your manuscript with a publisher, so you have any number of opportunities to still get rejected once you are agented. Nevertheless, this is, in this humble blogger's opinion, the primo way to go.

1.) QUERYING THE PUBLISHER. Remember the job interview metaphor I used in the last paragraph? (At least I hope I did because I wrote this paragraph first chronologically.) Let's carry that forward into this one. This is essentially like walking into the biggest building on Wall Street, demanding to see the CEO, being let in by a secretary dazzled by your confidence, and boldly stating your case to the CEO. And then the CEO says, "I like the cut of your jib, fella. I'm going to hire you right off the street and make you an Executive Vice President." You with me so far? Okay, I'm not saying this to be dickish or anything, I'm just trying to say that it's a long shot. If you're the kind of person that can do this, more power to you. If you've ever walked in somewhere, not a restaurant or something where they have to do what you say, and just gotten what you wanted based on your charisma or confidence or whatever, this route may be for you. To go straight to the publisher you have to be a fucking brilliant writer, a great people person, and have a hell of a head for business, because you're taking care of everything yourself. And you, you personally, are jumping through every hoop in the publishing world. Admittedly, this route might work better if you had hired an editor before, so you can see how there is more than one road to reach Rome.

Questions? Concerns? Interest in further entries on these topics? I can't really tell you much more beyond the aspiring author side of this business, but, hey, maybe that's all interesting in it's own right.


  1. Have you learned nothing from my teachings? "It's" means "it is" exclusively. You mean to write "its" in the last sentence.


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