Thanks so much to Marvin Wilson for guest blogging for me today! Marvin is “An old Hippie rock and roller, a non-religious, dogma free, Maverick spiritualist Christian. I am an author, with the audacity to write novels. I also am an editor. I’m on the editors staff at All Things That Matter Press and also do freelance. For a rate quote, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Having gone through the daunting and laborious task of getting that first book published, I thought I’d take some time and write down some things I’ve learned along the way. Maybe some talented new writer can read this and cut down on the amount of frustration, confusion, and anxiety that I went through trying to break through the barrier from “amateur writer” to “published author.” As the published author of just three books so far, with three more scheduled to be published in 2010, I am certainly no senior writing sage – don’t profess to be. However, I am a quick learner, and I think that if you are new to this industry, or even started on your way, you will find my observations and recommendations more than sophomoric. Let’s get started.
First, you have to know what you want, and at the same time you must be realistic in your expectations. Unless you are already famous in some other area, in the literary world you are an unknown. If you have never had a magazine or newspaper article published, never hosted a successful blog, never had so much as a poem in print anywhere, no literary resume of any weight, you have to realize that nobody knows you, and nobody cares that you’ve written a book, even though you may believe it’s the next Great American Novel. Your friends and family have read your manuscript. They may have filled your head with affirmations of how wonderful your precious book is, encouraging you to get it published, assuring you that you are at least equal to Stephen King and will most surely be fantastically successful.
Probably not. Not with your first go-around. Maybe not even with your second or third or fourth book. The King himself went through decades of living as a starving artist before his breakthrough novel, “Carrie,” vaulted him into ‘overnight’ success. (Read On Writing by Stephen King. This is mandatory reading for all aspiring authors). Trying to get a major publisher or literary agent to pick you up, as a novice, is about as easy as herding cats, and as much fun as a root canal. If you go about it the wrong way, you may well become despondent, frustrated, and give up. This article is intended to help you find your way with some clear, proven methods of getting your writing career up and running.
So, let’s get started. Here are your down-to-earth choices, Mr. or Mrs. Novice Author. There are four realistic choices available to you.
They are- 1. Self-publish 2. Go with a vanity press 3. Go with a POD 4. Get a contract with a small traditional publishing house
Choice number one: you can self-publish. This is a monumental undertaking. You buy your own ISBN number, you copyright the work yourself, you produce the cover art (or pay an artist for it), you hire a printing press to produce the copies (Amazon.com now has a self-pub option with BookSurge that makes it a little easier, I’ve been told), and then you seek a distributor to distribute your books (which you probably will not be able to get) or you market and sell your books yourself. True self-publishing makes sense only if your work is too controversial for any publisher to print, or if your book relates only to a small geographic area, or perhaps if you just want to produce a textbook for a class you are teaching in some obscure subject that you are an expert at – those types of scenarios. Otherwise, it’s too much work (for this author, at least) to take on.
While the next two options are often (mistakenly) called “self-publishing,” they are actually not. These are publishing houses that do it (all that work we discussed above) for a fee. They are the vanity presses and the POD (print on demand) publishers. Some of the better known vanity presses are iUniverse, XLibris and AuthorHouse. But there are hundreds of them, just do a Google search. They are the easiest way to publish. With many of them, you just pay a fee and they’ll publish your work, even if what you’ve written is the most pathetic drivel ever penned. So if you are with me so far, we are now left with two other choices. Get with a good, reputable POD publisher, or go for a small traditional publisher’s contract. Let’s talk the POD route first.
A good POD publisher will have standards. The more respectable the outfit, the higher the standards. They don’t publish just any rubbish. You will in most cases need to submit a query letter to get their attention. You also need to investigate the company enough to know if they are accepting submissions and/or queries at this time. Remember, they are small; they can only publish so many books in any given year. Nowadays they all have websites, so go there and read up on them. Find out what genres they accept and which they do not. Most do not want a full manuscript submission before reading your query. If they like your query, they will usually ask for a sample first three chapters.
Know this: submission guidelines vary - so do your homework. Your book could miss a chance at being published just because you didn’t take the time to read up on how a particular publishing house wants you to submit your query/sample/manuscript. That nettles veterans in the industry. If you are too unprofessional to read and follow simple submission instructions, or for some reason can’t read, they don’t want anything to do with you. Remember, these are professionals. They’ve been at this a long time, and they can smell an unpromising, slow-learning amateur from a continent away.
After reading your query and sample, if they still like what they are reading, they will likely ask to read the whole manuscript. Then, and only then, (and after an agonizing long wait, most cases – I’m talking months - really) will you find out if you have landed a publisher willing to publish your work. So, first off, you need to learn how to write an effective, attention-getting, professional looking query letter. There are plenty of sources for tutorials on the do’s and don’ts of writing a good query letter. Do a Google search. Two sources I highly recommend from personal experience are Carolyn Howard Johnson’s book, The Frugal Book Promoter, and Janet Elaine Smith's Promo Paks.
Now we come to the fourth viable option, landing a contract with a small traditional publishing house. Here are some of the advantages of going that route:
A) They pay all the expenses to publish your book. You have no out of pocket costs. Unless, that is, they don’t have an in-house editor to your liking and/or standards and you need to hire one. And, a side note here, you must use a good editor. The best authors with dozens of best-sellers already to their credit have an editor. Even editors use another editor for their own books. As the author, you often cannot “see” what is actually on the page. You think it’s there, but it’s not clear or missing altogether – or visa versa. Good editors will spot plot/subplot/timeline inconsistencies, character trait/speech inconsistencies, poor sentence and paragraph structure; I could go on and on. This is mandatory – hire the services of a professional editor, a good one. Back to the advantages.
B) Unlike the Big Houses, small traditional publishers still allow you a large amount of control over your work. You will still most likely have the say in what the cover looks like. A company I worked with recently, (Cambridge Books), even welcomes the author submitting the cover art his or herself if they have it. Also, if they like your manuscript enough to pay to publish it, they probably won’t demand that you rework it in any major way.
Now some disadvantages to consider.
A) As with POD’s, small traditional publishing houses do not have staff and budgets to market your book for you. You are just as alone here as with the POD’s. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
B) When I say “small” traditional publisher, that’s exactly what I mean. You have not hit the big time. Getting your first “real” contract can lull you into a deadly slumber, thinking you’ve “made it” and have no work to do except write for a living from now on. Your book could go nowhere, and probably will, unless you start promoting and marketing the living bejeebers out of it starting months before the expected release date.
C) You make less money on the sale per book. Since the publisher has shelled out the bucks to publish your book, they take a higher cut of the proceeds from sales. Your royalties will be a smaller percentage than with POD’s, and your net ROI will be somewhat less on personal sales than with a POD publisher.
There you have it. Four avenues to consider for publishing your book. My best wishes I send to you as your pursue your new career in the wonderful and challenging world of literature.