Q: My writing organization is preparing an anthology. Would standard manuscript format apply? We are unsure of individual submission formats at this point. Please advise.
A: Standard manuscript format applies when submitting a manuscript to an agent or a publisher. If you are going to self-publish the anthology, you may set the format any way you would like, but if an editor is going to edit the submissions, which I strongly advise, you would do well to ask for submissions in standard manuscript format, which does several things. It gets writers in the habit of using standard manuscript format; it is easy to read; and it gives an editor room to work. If you are unfamiliar with standard manuscript format, go to www.zebraeditor.com and click on Tools for Writers. There you will find many free reports, including one that explains standard manuscript format.
Q: I often notice ads from people who are assembling anecdotes from a specific group of people, to be published as a nonfiction book (dog lovers, cat fanciers, fathers, knitters, inspirational tales from those who lost loved ones, etc.). When submitting a nonfiction book proposal, the writer’s credentials, background, and experience play a more important role than for a work of fiction. How do publishers assess a writer’s credentials for an anthology of nonfiction anecdotes, as opposed to books on shamanism (you are a shaman) or on How to Mend a Broken Heart (you are a psychologist)?
A: When someone writes a proposal for such an anthology, the publishers evaluate the subject matter for profitability and assess the writer’s publishing history, editing abilities, and organizing skills, because the writer of the proposal does not write the entries; he or she simply compiles stories, selects the best ones, organizes them, and edits them.
Q: I have been working on a book that lays out like Chicken Soup for the Soul, wherein other people tell about their experiences. My book is similar, but on a different type of topic.
I know I need to have a contract drawn up so I can ask people to send me their experience on my topic and ask them for their permission for me to use their story in my book. Two of the people I need to contact and ask the same question are songwriters. I would like to ask them if I could use their lyrics at the beginning and end of the book.
My question is what type of lawyer would I contact? Is it safe to maybe have a paralegal draw up a contract?
A: You probably need an entertainment attorney familiar with anthology contracts. He or she will explain what you must do to protect yourself while you obtain the rights to use the work. I would not use a paralegal. Go to an organization called Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts to find an entertainment attorney near you. Sometimes one visit will take care of it.
Obtaining the rights to use lyrics is another story, and it can be complicated, time-consuming, and sometimes expensive. Contact BMI and ASCAP to find out who owns the rights to the songs. Follow up to ask for permission to use.
Q: My poem has been chosen as a finalist for the annual contest by [name deleted]. Keep your fingers crossed for me; I can use the ten grand. Have you ever heard of this organization?
A: Yes, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it has a terrible reputation. The same organization has used many names, all of which have the reputation of telling everyone who enters that they are finalists. To receive your reward, some of these scams make “finalists” attend an expensive conference. In one news story about [name deleted], 4,000 alleged finalists paid more than $500 to attend a conference, were not given workshops or meetings with publishers or editors as promised, and instead were forced to judge the poems themselves.
Almost all competitions will sell books in which your poem or short story appears, but the less legitimate competitions sell books are at highly inflated prices, and the contents are not necessarily of high quality. The worst ones (in my opinion) charge a fee to make your poem look better or bigger than others and still charge a large price for the book, if you want one.
Before entering any contest or anthology competition, always research the organization. Many competitions and anthology collections, especially those run by nonprofit organizations, are legitimate and offer a small honorarium plus publication. When a competition tempts writers with huge prizes, such as $10,000, consider it a warning sign and steer clear.
Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.