FAQ - About Getting Published

Click on a question to skip down to the answer:
I have an idea for a story, how do I get started?
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?
I have a manuscript, how do I get it published?
What's a query letter?
Do I need an agent?
How do I get an agent?
How do I protect my idea from theft?
What is a SASE?
Should I self-publish?
How can I get financial assistance to write?

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. 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 ghost writer. 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.
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I have a manuscript, how do I get it published?

It can be a long and difficult process to get a book published and not everyone is successful. Start by doing some research on publishers. There’s no point in sending your children’s picture book manuscript to a company that only publishes non-fiction for adults. Go to your local bookstore and look in the section of the store where your book would be displayed if it were published. Look at who the publishers are. The publisher information appears on the back of the title page of most books. See what other books are available in a similar genre and get a feel of how your book fits into the marketplace.
Then go to the internet and do some more research on your targeted publishers. Look at the other things they publish to see if your book seems to fit the sensibility of that publisher. If your book is similar to the work they are publishing already you might have an interested publisher. Or maybe your book is too close to another book they just published on the same topic. The submission guidelines should be available on the publisher’s website as well. This will tell you where, when, and how to send your manuscript to the publisher.

Most publishers want a query letter and a sample of your writing.
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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 per cent 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. The Union’s website contains a list of agents.

Also see Information on Literary Agents in Canada.

How do I get an agent?

Getting an agent can be a similar process to getting a publisher. Most want a letter of inquiry and a sample of your writing. Your letter should introduce yourself and your writing and talk briefly about your projected writing career.

Also see Information on Literary Agents in Canada.

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.

Usually copyright is registered at the time of publication. It is not necessary for you to register before that but although it is not necessary, you can pay to register your copyright with The Copyright Office. For more information check http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/cp/cp_main-e.html

What is a SASE?

Self-addressed stamped envelope.

Should I self-publish?

If you self-publish you add—to the difficult job of writing a book—all the additional work of a publisher. It is extremely difficult to get self-published books placed in bookstores, which makes it even more difficult to make money. There are a few success stories but the majority of self-published books may never see a bookstore. Self-publishing may be appropriate if you want to give copies of your book to your friends and family but if you want to make it a commercial success you have a lot of work ahead of you.

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, your provincial arts council and your local arts council to see if you qualify for any of their granting programs. The Union offers a publication entitled Writers’ Guide to Grants.

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