They say necessity is the mother of all invention. I know it’s true, because I’ve experienced it myself. The need arises, and we invent to meet that need. That’s exactly how I began writing choral music.
The year was 1997 and I was serving on staff in a church in north Texas, when the need arose for the dedication of a new building. To meet that need, I constructed a song lyric, then paired up with a friend to write the music. Voila! Necessity is the mother of all invention. Next thing you know, our choral work was accepted for publication. Now, some 22 years and 750 published choral works later, I’m still writing for the needs of my ensembles.
I know many of you have written many works much in the same way as described in the above paragraphs. I wonder if you’ve ever taken the time to submit any of your works for publication? Has anyone ever encouraged you to do so? Maybe you think, “I’ll do that someday.” Perhaps you don’t know where to begin, so here’s a simple 5-step “how-to” process that may just lead to your first published choral work.
The first part of becoming a published composer is research. Research every publisher you’re remotely interested in. Find out their publishing patterns. How many crops of new songs do they release per year? What kind of pieces are in those crops? Who are their “stable” writers? When is the best time to submit your work? What are the rules of submission for your favorite publishers? All of this information is readily available online – most of it on the website of the publisher in question. Do your homework. Know your stuff long before you submit your first composition.
2. WRITE:Your music will most likely need to be scored in Finale or Sibelius. Finale is generally the publishing industry standard. Learn the software and create clean and well-organized scores. As a publisher myself, reviewing a score is a lot like reviewing someone’s resume. Attention to detail speaks very loudly to the reader.
3. RE-WRITE:Once you’ve written your work, leave it alone for a period of time. Then, come back and review it again. The improvements you make on rewrite are invaluable and often the difference between the ultimate acceptance or rejection of your work by the publisher.
4. RELATIONSHIP:You would be shocked if I told you the tiny size of the choral publishing community in America. The vast majority of the choral music sung by choirs of any type in the USA is written by less than 200 composers/lyricists. I’m not saying there are only 200 composers. That would be ridiculous. There are thousands. But, I am saying most of the music being sung is written by a relatively small number of composers. Most of my published works are the result of nurturing relationships with other composers. I cannot emphasize this aspect enough. Be friendly. Be available. Be easy to work with. Invest time in the lives of others.
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5. SUBMIT:Once you’ve written and re-written your work, send it to your preferred publisher as prescribed in their submission guidelines. Then, wait…..and wait……and wait. Waiting is a tremendous part of the publishing process. Sometimes it takes more than a year to hear back from a publisher. Then, when you do have your work accepted, it will likely be two more years before you see your first royalty statement. Here’s an important warning for you – do not submit your completed work to more than one publisher at a time. This is a huge ‘no-no’ in the business. Also, (this should go without saying, but it recently happened to me) never ever, ever plagiarize another composer’s work and call it your own. This will kill any chance you have of ever becoming a published composer.
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