This week I got an email from Shannon, a new writer, who is confused about the publishing industry.
She said this: "I started writing a book about 3 months ago. I sent a couple of chapters to a few publishing companies. They said I would get 70% of the royalties from each sale. They offer a wide variety of places they would sell my book, but they want almost $9000 to do all the printing, publishing, and so forth. I am simply confused! Please help me! I'm new at all this and don't know the safe avenues to publish my book. Am I supposed to get discovered?"
When I read Shannon's email, I was really impressed with her passion for writing. It was clear she loves writing and has ever since she was a child.
But it was also clear that Shannon really does need some help. That's no wonder. The modern publishing industry is huge and intimidating and overwhelming, especially to those who are just beginning to test the waters of publication. It was scary for me many years ago when I first started pursuing publication, and the industry has only become more confusing.
Let me break down the publication process into 4 basic steps for Shannon and anyone else thinking of jumping in: (This process applies to fiction-writing; non-fiction can be slightly different.)
1. Finish your novel before thinking of publication.
In fact, I highly suggest finishing several novels. As I've said many times here on this blog, becoming an author requires as much training, education, and practice as any other profession.
Just because we "played doctor" as a child and became a CNA in high school, doesn't mean we're ready to work in the ER as an adult. To become a successful doctor, we'd have to go to medical school, do a residency, and then start at the bottom with the crappy jobs and work our way up.
Writing in our childhood and teen years can provide a good foundation, but to become a successful author we have to take the time, energy, and effort to learn all we can about what constitutes good fiction and how to craft a riveting story. Then we need to practice, practice, practice. And that just takes time.
2. After finishing a couple of novels, look for feedback.
I would strongly, and I do mean strongly, caution any writer who assumes her work is good enough for publication without feedback. After writing 20 novels, I STILL seek feedback on every single book. No writer is capable of viewing her work objectively enough. The work is too big, too complex, and we're too limited and enmeshed to edit our book well enough on our own.
Writers can seek out feedback in numerous ways: critique partnerships, critique groups, feedback from contest judges, or beta readers (usually non-writers who give general story feedback). After getting feedback from fellow writers and readers, then the next step is seeking out a good editor who can provide both a content edit (looking at the overall story) as well as a line edit (looking at writing technique issues).
3. Once the manuscript is edited and polished, seek legitimate publication venues.
Here's where I say, DO NOT, absolutely DO NOT pay anyone $9,000 to publish your manuscript. That's a scam (aka vanity publishing) and I know too many authors who've gone this route and never earned back even close to what they paid out.
Traditional publishers pay YOU (in the form of an advance) to publish your book, not the other way around. Because traditional publishers pay for books upfront with advances, they're much less willing to take risks and thus more picky about what books they take on. They rely heavily on agents for exposing them to new authors and potential books.That means writers who want to go the traditional route must often locate a literary agent to represent them and sell their manuscript to a publisher.
Nowadays, writers also have the option of self-publishing. Writers going this route may need to invest in a good cover, a couple of quality edits, and formatting, etc. Then writers can upload their books to online stores without paying a dime to the stores. Instead they split the profit with the online stores. Usually the writer gets to keep 70% of the profit on all books sold.
4. After the book is published, do your own marketing.
No, DO NOT wait to get discovered. If you do, you'll likely wait forever. Whether traditionally or self-published, writers can't sit back and wait for readers to come to them. They won't come (at least beyond your mother, sister, and most loyal friends).
Instead, authors in today's publishing industry have the very hard task of drawing readers to their books. New writers have to face the reality that there are millions of books (and I do mean millions) that are competing for a reader's attention. So why would readers choose yours?
That's the challenge of today's marketing. You have to help readers understand why they should pick up your book. Why will they like it? What makes it stand out from others? What makes it unique and special?
I've written lots of posts about ways to market (and other writers have done the same), so I won't go into details in this post. The bottom line is that there's no easy formula for selling books. Marketing and getting discovered continue to be a challenge for both traditionally and self-published authors.
That's my advice for Shannon! What's yours? What have you learned about the publishing industry that you would share with a new writer seeking publication?