Frequently asked questions

What is your email address?

If clicking the contact link at the left does not open a mail message automatically for you, you can address a message the old-fashioned way. The address is dick [at] dmargulis dot com.

i’ve written a book how much to edit it? thx brandi

I have no idea, brandi. However, if you will please send me the manuscript, as a Microsoft Word document attached to an email, I’ll be happy to look at it and get back to you with a quote for the level of editing I think it needs.

Understand, though, that before I can take you on as a client, I need some information from you. The more information you provide now, the fewer questions I will pester you with. Here is a list of the kinds of information I need from you:

  • Your name (yes, including your last name, preferably with capital letters in the appropriate places), full address, and one or more phone numbers. I’m a friendly guy, and we can talk on a first-name basis, but what you are asking me to do is enter into a business relationship with you. So it will impress me no end if your first email to me looks more or less like a business letter rather than a tweet to a classmate.
  • Something about the book—what category, for what audience. If it is fiction, what genre is it? What age group is it for (adults, young adults, middle grades)? If it is nonfiction, what sort of book is it (how-to, self-help, inspirational, technical, history, memoir, biography, and so forth)?
  • Your qualifications, in brief. Have you had books published before or is this your first? Are you a recognized expert in your field? Are you a motivational speaker? Are you a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a member of the clergy?
  • How you intend to market the book. This can be in broad strokes at this point; I don’t need a detailed marketing plan, but I would like to know that you have a plausible plan for selling the books once they’re produced (or giving them away, if that’s your intent).
  • Titles of some existing books your book competes with.

Some of this information is more relevant for some situations than others. If the book is a corporate giveaway, for example, then your marketing plan doesn’t concern me at this stage.

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My book is already laid out in Word. Can you just touch it up and get it printed for me?

Um, no. Word is not a page layout program. It is a word processing program. You may or may not feel it is the best word processing program, but that doesn’t matter, because it is the publishing industry standard. But in any case it is best suited to preparing a manuscript, not laying out pages. Whatever you have done to make pretty pages I am going to undo before I attempt to edit the manuscript or design your book for you. I will not, under any circumstance, send a touched up Word file—even after converting it to a PDF—to be printed for you.

The less formatting you do the better. If you are a Word expert and know how to use paragraph styles in a consistent way, by all means do so. If you do not know how, then just leave everything in the default Normal style and let me worry about the formatting. Whatever you do, please do not fiddle with fonts. That is a waste of your time and mine and will increase the amount of my quote.

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Can you help me self-publish my novel?

I can under limited circumstances. It is usually a bad idea to self-publish fiction. If you already have a fan base (a big network of followers on Twitter or a lot of Facebook friends, for example) and you are confident they will want to buy your book, or if you are writing in one of the specific niches that have large online communities of avid readers, then your book may be a candidate for self-publishing. You will probably want to issue it as an e-book or as a print-on-demand book to limit your costs (rather than printing thousands of copies and having them fill up your garage for the next ten years). You should not plan to retire on your profits from such a venture. In fact, you should have enough cash in the bank to absorb the cost of publishing without blinking.

It is a much better idea, especially with a first novel, to follow the tedious, frustrating path of submitting queries to literary agents and then sweating while the agent you finally get tries to peddle your manuscript to publishers. Established publishers can get a book into the major retail chains. On your own, you cannot do that. And the best part is, the publisher pays the costs of editing and production, not you. So you cannot lose money on the deal. I can provide some coaching and moral support, but it is up to you to do the actual work of writing the query letter and researching literary agents. Do please be careful to avoid scam agents and subsidy publishers. Keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Before you sign anything, drop me a line for a sanity check.

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Can you help me find a publisher?

I am not a literary agent. I can help you be a publisher. But finding you a commercial publisher is the job of an agent.

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Can you help me find an agent?

Begin with this book: 2011 Guide to Literary Agents. In it you will learn a great deal about the manuscript submission process, and you will be able to find a number of agents who work with books in your genre. There are also lists you can find online.

A critical resource is (Preditors & Editors). Agents you find listed in the Guide to Literary Agents are all legitimate. But there are many scam artists posing as agents. The Preditors & Editors site is a reliable guide. If they red-flag an agent, stay away. Members of the Associate of Artists’ Representatives (AAR) are all ethical, legitimate agents, but there are many good agents who are not AAR members. So you need a way to check their credentials.

Learn about writing a query letter. (I can review a draft and recommend improvements, but this is a letter you should write yourself, not pay someone else to write.)

Several literary agents have blogs in which they discuss the finer details of the query process.

In the case of each agent you plan to query, carefully study their submission guidelines. Follow the guidelines to the letter. The easy manuscript to reject is the one that comes from an author who doesn’t follow instructions.

Submit to just one or two agents at a time, and give them at least a month to respond to you. Most rejections are pro forma and meaningless (“not right for us”). Ignore those. Occasionally someone will offer a nugget of useful advice (perhaps about a particular phrase in your query letter, perhaps about something that struck her as not quite right about the story itself). You don’t have to follow all the bits of advice you get (they’re liable to conflict with each other in any case). But use these as input to your own thought process, and tweak your query letter as you see fit.

This should be a long process. If you rush it by querying a dozen agents a week, you will quickly run through your whole list before you discover and correct a glaring spelling error that you missed the first six times you reread your letter. Take it slow, and adjust your approach as you learn more.

And don’t sign anything with anyone until you do your due diligence (at a minimum running it by your own lawyer).

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I already have a publisher, but now I have to get my book edited. Can you help?

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This is a bad sign. It is the publisher’s responsibility to hire and pay the editor, not yours as the author. I suspect you mean you have fallen into the clutches of one of the vanity or subsidy publishers. That is almost always a bad idea. If you have not already signed a contract, I will be glad to help you publish the book yourself. If you have signed a contract, please consult an attorney about the possibility of getting out of it. When you are the publisher, you have the responsibility to pay the editor, and I will be glad to quote on that service. Before proceeding, let’s discuss the specifics of your situation.

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I’m too shy to market my book myself. What do you charge to market it for me?

Many—perhaps most—authors are shy. They see themselves as introverts. I see myself as an introvert too. But nobody else does. Why? Because I’ve learned the lesson that you have to “fake it till you make it.” You will have to learn to fake being an extravert until it feels natural to you. This is the case whether you have a contract with a major publisher or publish the book yourself. Other people can help put your butt in the interview chair, but you have to give the interview. Other people can schedule readings and book signings, but you have to do the readings and sign the books. If you cannot or will not, you are not likely to come out ahead on your publishing venture.

If you are really too mortified to face the public, you may want to consider publishing your manuscript as a blog or a website that people can read for free, rather than as a book. It costs money to produce a book (even an e-book), and if you are not going to do what it takes to recoup your costs, then why do you want to do it at all?

I am not a book marketing consultant. I can help you think through a basic marketing plan, but it is up to you to execute that plan. To do the job right, you should probably retain a book publicist or at least a book marketing consultant, budget permitting. In the end, though, no one is going to market the book for you; you are going to market the book yourself.

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I found a great picture on the Web. Can I use it for the cover?

No. Unless you know for a fact that the picture is in the public domain (because you found it at Wikimedia Commons and it is marked as such), it belongs to someone. You do not want someone making unauthorized use of work you create. You should have the same respect for work created by others. There are many places to purchase images at reasonable prices. I can help you find suitable images for use on your book cover.

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Can you use this snapshot of me in the backyard for the author photo?

Maybe. Was it taken by a good amateur photographer who knows something about composition and lighting? Were you dressed for an author photo or for gardening? Is the photo high enough resolution? Is it in focus? My experience is that about three quarters of the snapshots people send me are completely unusable and most of the rest really are not very good. I recommend paying a professional. Be sure you explain where the photo will be used and that you need the photographer to assign all rights to you. Make a point of finding out how the photographer wishes to be credited.

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Can you use this studio portrait of me for the author photo?

Was it taken twenty years ago by someone in a booth at Sears? If so, then I would say no. Go to a bookstore. Look at the author photos on a variety of books (particularly books in the same category as yours). If they are all stiff, formal portraits and you yourself are something of a stuffed shirt, then a studio portrait may be the way to go. But you will generally do better with a more informal, candid-style portrait, perhaps at your desk or elsewhere in your home. Yes, it costs something to have a photographer come to your house to take your picture. It is your decision in the end, but I recommend doing it right.

By the way, if you do decide to use that old studio portrait, you still have to contact the photographer about rights. If you do not know who the photographer was, you cannot use the picture. If the photo was taken by Olan Mills (they take a lot of photos for school and church directories and for many other kinds of organizations) you can obtain the rights for $25 (last time I checked). On their contact page, in the field labeled “Select the topic you wish to discuss with us,” select Copyright in the pull-down list and write to them with whatever information you can provide about the image.

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How much will it cost to print 100 copies of my children’s picture book? And by the way I found a great illustrator.

The color picture books you find in the children’s section of the bookstore or library are printed on offset presses, which means that they are printed in quantities of 1,000 or more (often much more). Printing 100 copies means printing them on digital equipment. And although the cost of color digital printing is coming down, it is still not competitive if you intend to sell these books at a profit. If you are just looking for prepublication reading copies to distribute to reviewers and are willing to pay the high price of digital printing, we can look into that.

Otherwise, you have two choices with children’s picture books. You can submit your manuscript, either through a literary agent or directly to children’s book publishers (some of which accept direct submissions from authors). Or you can find a novel way to market your book.

In the first case, you must submit the manuscript (the words) only. You should not mention an illustrator. The publisher will assign an illustrator and you will have no say in the matter. If you recommend the great illustrator you found, your manuscript will be rejected before it is read.

In the second case, you are up against a major problem. People who purchase books for children like to see the imprimatur of a known children’s book publisher. This applies to bookstore buyers, librarians, and grandparents. So you will have a hard time getting your book into stores or libraries. However, if you are part of a network or parents or teachers who you think would be interested in buying your book directly, you may have a plausible case for self-publishing. In that case, we can discuss the illustrator you found. Because in that case, you are the publisher. But be prepared for a hefty printing bill.