"The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, Fourth Edition," by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander

Pros: Incredibly thorough; will help you understand every aspect of the publishing business
Cons: May be demoralizing to those who think they understand what publishing is about
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Alpha Books.


Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander want you to get your book published. They want you to understand absolutely every aspect of the business–from idea generation through book promotion–so that even though you’re a beginner, you can navigate those shark-infested waters like a pro. Sometimes you might think they go into unnecessary detail, such as when they describe the ins and outs of an editor’s typical day at a publishing house, but the truth is that because of a lack of this understanding many writers shoot their careers in the foot by making unnecessary mistakes.

It’s a sad truth that the public conception of the publishing business is very unlike the reality of it. Because of this, would-be authors make mistake after mistake, often reducing drastically (or eliminating) their own chances of getting published, regardless of the quality of their work. Publishing is a business like any other, and there’s more to take into account than some lofty ideal of “quality”–the realities of salaries, sales, and overworked people can’t be ignored.

Audience & Topics

This book is aimed at anyone interested in gaining entrance to the world of publishing, whether you want to write novels, poetry, children’s books, how-to books, or magazine articles. If you want to publish with the big-name pros or even self-publish, this book will help you decide what would suit you best and how to achieve it. It begins at the beginning, discussing why you write–which will figure into how you go about getting published. It also discusses how the pros come up with their best-selling ideas and how to research the market.

Part two of the book discusses the submission process from start to finish. It helps you ensure your proposals will actually be read by the people you’re sending them to, and how to make sure you don’t annoy the very people you need to please. You’ll also find out when you need to submit a query vs. a proposal vs. a manuscript and why.

Part three discusses contracts and agents–when you want an agent, what an agent can and should do for you, what you can expect from an agent, and when you might not need one. It also includes tips on understanding how publishing houses decide what to publish (and how you can help them decide to publish your book), as well as information on book contracts–what tends to be negotiable, what doesn’t, and what you should and shouldn’t push for.

Part four helps you understand how to work as part of a team with your publisher. You’ll learn how to handle deadlines, prepare your manuscript properly for the publisher, maintain a good relationship with your editor, involve yourself in the publicity process, and more. Here the authors include the information that will prevent you from making all sorts of fatal-to-your-career mistakes. Once you understand what it is your editor, agent, and publisher all do, and how they go about doing it, you can properly interact with them to get what you want while doing your part–without ending up as “that diva” that no one is willing to work with again.

Finally, the book includes lists of helpful books for writers, resources of various types, and a computer disc of various sample items such as proposals and contracts.

The Disc

I use a Mac; while it seemed that one of the two browser programs on the disc was meant to be usable on a Mac, it didn’t work for me. I was able to manually open the html files of course, but since they were named things like “document 1”, that wasn’t entirely helpful, and I actually would have found it more useful to have them available as part of an appendix rather than in such cumbersome form on a disc.

The Information

Because the public vision of the publishing industry is so vastly incorrect, there are many ways in which a writer can feel frustrated, annoyed, angry or hurt by things that really boil down to misunderstandings or a lack of comprehension. There are also so many ways in which a writer can ruin a potential career by making herself known as a high-maintenance troublemaker, when perhaps if she better understood what her editor’s job was and how her editor conducted that job, she might do the right thing.

In addition, although I call it “the publishing industry,” there’s a lot of variety out there. Without a guide to that variety (when to query, when to submit a proposal or manuscript, how long each thing should be and how it should be written, what should be included with it, how it should be mailed, when and how you should or shouldn’t follow up, etc.) it’s easy to make a misstep. That’s where “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, Fourth Edition” comes in.

This is an incredibly thorough book that will impart a very good understanding of the realities of getting published. It will help you to understand how editors, agents, and publishers view writers’ actions. It will help you to make yourself an invaluable part of a publishing team, which can only serve to enhance your career opportunities.

This book makes a great complement to Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher. Where that book covers the arguments for self-publishing, this book helps you to understand mainstream publishing. Where that book discusses the best niche marketing techniques, this one delves into mainstream marketing. Where the WFSP leans heavily on modern web technologies, the CIGGP leans more toward traditional publishing–but each book touches on the other side of things. If you’re just starting out and still trying to navigate your way around how, where, and why you plan to write and publish, I highly recommend reading these two books.

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