FAQ - Getting Published

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I have an idea for a story, how do I get started?

If you want to write a story, then sit down and start writing! You may want to enroll in a writing workshop or creative writing class through your local college, university, or board of education. That way you can get feedback on your work from your teacher and your fellow students. If there is a writer-in-residence at your local library or school you can also get feedback on your writing there. Lots of people have great ideas but it’s not a poem, story, or novel until you sit down and do the work.

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My ideas are really fabulous but I’m not a writer. Where can I find a writer to write up my ideas and split the profits for the novel I’m thinking about?

There isn’t really a commercial market for ideas. It is the written expression of an idea, the part the writer does, that has worth. If you have a story that you believe has commercial value but you need assistance with the writing, you can hire a ghostwriter. This means you would be paying a writer to do his or her full-time job so you would need to have the funds available to do that rather than hoping to split some future possible profit. See Ghostwriting for more information.

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What’s a query letter?

A query letter, or a letter of inquiry is a cover letter asking if the publisher is interested in publishing your work.

Keep your cover letter concise. Introduce yourself and your work in one page – two at the most. Like any letter where you are applying for a job, you want to give the reader enough information that he or she will want to contact you for more. Mention how long you have been writing and where your work has been published (for example stories or poems appearing in literary magazines) and if your book is non-fiction, relate your expertise in the given field. You may want to include a chapter-by-chapter outline as well.

Make sure your letter is free of typos and that the company and contact name are spelled correctly. Spend some time on the letter. You spent months or years on your book; a few days on your cover letter is worthwhile. If you can’t write a compelling cover letter, the reader may not think you can write a compelling book.

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Do I need an agent?

You do not have to have an agent in order to be published in Canada. About 70 percent of the books published in Canada do not have an agent-assisted contract. There are also so few agents that it can sometimes be easier to find a publisher on your own. However, there are some publishers who will not accept unsolicited manuscripts at all and will deal only with agents. It is your decision whether you should pursue an agent or a publisher first. See Literary Agents for more information and a listing of agents in Canada. 

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How do I protect my idea from theft?

In Canada, you automatically hold the copyright to any original work you produce. You can’t copyright an idea or a title; only the written expression of your idea. Someone else might also write a book on jungle cats from outer space but it’s not a problem unless they use your words. See Copyright for more information. 

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What is a SASE?

Self-addressed stamped envelope.

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Should I self-publish?

As noted in the Writers' How-to publication How to Self-Publish by Eve Silver, "Decide why you are considering self-publishing. Is it because you think the project isn't good enough to draw the attention of an agent or editor? If the answer is yes, if you think self-publishing is the easy, fast route for a book that is less than your best, think again. Readers demand quality. Self-publishing should be a choice not a fallback.... Self-publishing means creative control, but it also requires you to take on creation, editing, production, distribution, marketing, and sales, or hiring people to carry out some of these roles. If you have an entrepreneurial bent, are ready to take on a steep learning curve, and enjoy the idea of having ultimate control over all aspects of your project, then self-publishing is a great option." See How to Self-Publish for an in-depth guide to self-publishing. 

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How can I get financial assistance to write?

The Writers’ Union of Canada does not provide financial assistance to writers. Check with the Canada Council for the Arts, your provincial/territorial arts council, and your local arts council to see if you qualify for any of their granting programs. See the Writers' How-to publication Writers' Guide to Grants for more information. 

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