Beginning Writer’s FAQs

By Myra Nour

1. How do I get started?

This can be a tough one and will take more than a paragraph to answer; so this is addressed in an article called “Starting Your First Novel” by Dawn Seewer.

2. Do I need a pen name?

It’s up to you whether you choose a pen name or use your own. Reasons for a pen name: Some names “feel” too plain, as in my own Mary, so I changed it to Myra; also some names may sound more appropriate for romance than say a horror because it has a pretty flow to the sound; some authors want a pen name for anonymity, they may not want grandma realizing they’ve written an erotic romance; some hardcover publishers ask for exclusive rights to the name of successful authors; it may serve well to, say, have a man’s name if you’re writing for “men’s publications” and are worried that they may not consider female writers as seriously – the same holds true for male writers, who may choose a feminine name if they write romance. When choosing a name, it may be better to combine two names you like (if you’re not using any part of your own) rather than picking someone’s name from the phone book, that way you won’t run the chance of getting sued.

3. How should the manuscript look?

Use 8 ½” X 11″ white bond paper, do not use erasable paper; the margins should be 1″ to 1 ½”, depending on the publishers specifications, if unsure, use 1″ which is pretty standard; double space; use only one side; make sure your printing is crisp, readable; you may use a computer, typewriter, or word processor – but NO handwritten material; good, clean copies are OK; and use courier or courier new font for computers, and pica or elite for typewriters. For more information on manuscript format check out the article list.

4. What about the page(s) setup?

Go to the writer’s article list for an article and examples on this subject.

5. Should I copyright my work & how do I?

Your work is considered copyrighted from the moment you write it. Place a “©” symbol on your work. But if you’re worried about someone stealing your story, official copyrighting is an option. It costs $30 to register at: Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559-6600. Send for the application and instructions 1st. Or visit web site at

Since 9/11, some copyrighted material has been reported to be held in a storage warehouse until it can be looked over. It is recommended you consider sending your copyright by UPS or Fed Ex. Although, it may be that this situation has been rectified. If you want to send it via postal services and be sure the copyright office receives it, get a confirmation receipt.

You can also copyright the “layman’s” way. Send yourself a copy of your story and note the date you wrote it, and don’t open. The official Post Office stamped date is your proof if needed.

6. How do I submit my manuscript?

The first step is to make sure you’ve gone over your manuscript, rewriting and editing until you’re literally sick of it. It’s also a BIG help to get other people to read your story…we are often too close to our work, to see little mistakes that jump out at others. Next, research the publisher’s requirements and follow the guidelines. The Writer’s Market has a huge listing of publishers, and can often be found at the public library. But, I’d recommend purchasing a copy for your own; besides the dictionary and thesaurus, it’s one of your best aides. For writers interested in submitting short stories, I recommend Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.

Make sure you send a cover letter, and #10 business envelope for their reply (SASE). Wait one month past the time given for a reply before asking for a status update. Note: short stories 6 pages or less may be folded in 1/3 and sent in a #10 envelope. Pet peeves: some editors hate staples, some clips, etc., so follow guidelines if any given in this area – when in doubt, leave pages “unattached”. Novels are to be sent without encumbrances too. For more information on cover letters check out the cover letter format page.

7. Do I need an agent & how do I find one?

Do you like legal matters and do you know all the “ins & outs” of contract negotiations with publishers? If your answer is no, then an agent is a good idea. But, reality is, many 1st time writers can’t find an agent willing to represent them; but when the book is accepted by a publisher, then you may find an agent willing to help. I spoke with one author who had 4 books out before she found an agent.

I recommend the Guide to Literary Agents as a source. Research whether the agent has sold any books recently. It’s good if they’re a member of AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives) because they have to follow a written code of professional practices. The average rate charged by agents is 10% to 15%. What about agents who charge a fee? Beware & do your research. There’s lots of scam artists out there raking in the bucks from vulnerable writers. Some do charge a “reading fee” & do give the author a detailed critique of their book, so it may be worth it to the writer…but you still have to check them out and make sure they do get books sold.

8. How many times can I sell the same story?

If a magazine purchased “First North American Rights Only”, you may resell it as soon as the story is published. Note: if the magazine was not copyrighted, your material is now in the public domain, & to be copyrighted now, you will have to make “substantial changes”. Do your research before sending a story in, make sure the magazine is buying rights that you’re willing to sell. For example, I didn’t consider sending a story to a publisher who wanted to purchase “all rights”; meaning I couldn’t resubmit the story after it was published.

9. How do I cope with rejection? Go to the list of articles for an article on this subject.

10. How much can I expect to earn?

Pay for magazine stories & articles vary greatly, from several dollars to thousands. Many small magazines are non-paying, but great exposure for beginning writers, & helps add to your writing resume. In the romance business, I’ve yet to see an author share how much they make from their writing, although, if you’re like me, your convinced that the big name writers make millions.

These are the advance rates and royalties given in the Freelance Rates & Standard Practice: in romance, min/max is $1,000/$40,000; the average $6,400; the prevalent range $1,000-$10,000. Royalties: for romance, the 1st 150,000 books, prevalent range 4-10%; thereafter, 7-15%. And as the book noted, 50% of romance books did not “earn out” their advance; so these authors will never see a royalty check, the advance was their pay. (This book was purchased in 1998, so rates may be slightly different.)

© 2000 by Myra Nour

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