So you’ve finished writing your book—perhaps a lifelong dream—and now you want to get it published. Where do you go from here? You poured your heart and soul into the writing, and I hope you also spent countless hours editing and revising. Any seasoned expert… [Continue reading below]
So you’ve finished writing your book—perhaps a lifelong dream—and now you want to get it published.
Where do you go from here?
You poured your heart and soul into the writing, and I hope you also spent countless hours editing and revising.
Any seasoned expert will tell you: All writing is rewriting.
Certainly the writing alone took months, maybe years. But you did something few people ever do: You finished writing your book.
Maybe you’ve done your homework on the do’s and don’ts of publishing a book, but you’ve found so much conflicting advice that you’re overwhelmed.
How do you decide your next step?
In simple terms, you have two options:
Which is best for you?
As one who has written and had published nearly 200 books since the 1970s, let me try to help you decide.
I’ll start with definitions so you know what you’re actually choosing.
Traditional publishers take all the risks.
They pay for everything from editing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, binding, cover art and design, promotion, advertising, warehousing, shipping, billing, and paying author royalties.
If a “publisher” requires any money from you—even a minimum number of copies purchased—they are not a traditional publisher.
They might refer to themself as a co-op or a hybrid publisher, and they might even insist that they accept some manuscripts and reject others, but they are not traditional publishers.
Regardless what services or suppliers you use to have your book printed, this option is rightly referred to as self-publishing.
Why? Because everything is on you. You are the publisher, the financier, the decision-maker.
Everything listed above under Traditional publishing falls to you. You decide who does it, you approve or reject it, and you pay for it.
The term self-publishing is a bit of a misnomer, however, because what you’re paying for is not publishing, but printing.
So, the question becomes, why pay to be printed if you could be paid to be published?
Some say writers can make a lot more money by self-publishing. They argue that rather than settling for just a 15% or so royalty of the sales by a traditional publisher, they enjoy all the profits.
The problem with this logic is that it too often underestimates what it costs to self-publish.
The likelihood is that the “profit” per sold book, often at best, equals about the same as a traditional royalty.
The drawback then is that as a self-publisher, you have vastly less experience promoting, advertising, marketing, selling, delivering, and billing than traditional publishers do.
Besides the fact that this is a full-time job that will likely rule out your having the time to write another book, with rare exceptions, traditional publishers sell many more copies than self-publishers do.
That said, self-publishing may be your choice under certain circumstances. Such as:
In truth, there are many reasons you might opt to self-publish, so the issue becomes whom you can trust as a supplier for all the services you’ll be paying for.
That’s where you need to do your homework. Talk to others who have self-published to see whether they felt ripped off, over-promised, over-charged, etc.
Many vanity or subsidy or hybrid self-publishing suppliers have beautiful websites, rave reviews, and examples of beautifully produced books that will make your mouth water.
They’ll use terms like, “If we accept your manuscript…” when the truth is, many such firms would print anything you sent them as long as your check was attached.
They’ll offer all the services I listed above, but if you decide not to take advantage of those, you’ll pay less but also wind up with an inferior final product.
That’s why too many self-published books look self-published:
But those are the least of the potential issues.
With careful planning, studying, and comparing, you should be able to self-publish your book for much less than the $10,000 or more that many of these companies charge for their “premium” packages.
Few traditional publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t consider new writers and their work.
They accept submissions from agents or from writers recommended to them by one of their current authors.
I’ve been coaching writers for decades, so I’m well aware of the confusion, the desperation, and the frustration you may be feeling.
Which is why I wrote this roadmap to the publishing process.
By the end, I want you confident and clear about which route to choose when publishing your book—and you’ll know the steps to take.
We’re in the busiest and noisiest era in publishing history. It has never been easier to get printed, and never harder to be traditionally published.
But don’t let that discourage you.
Getting a literary agent or a publisher to take a chance on you or your manuscript does not happen by accident. It requires time, focus, and excellence.
Begin by considering:
A first time fiction writer is expected to submit a complete manuscript for consideration.
The most important step as you begin is to become a ferocious self-editor. Even if you choose to self-publish, the quality of your writing is determined by this.
Acquisition editors (first readers at publishing houses who decide whether your manuscript is worth showing to their bosses) and literary agents tell me they know within two minutes or as few as two pages whether your manuscript is worth pursuing.
That may not sound fair, but it’s the hard truth. If you wished they would have stuck with it till you got to the good part, next time start with the good part. 😊
All writing is rewriting. Put your best foot forward by learning to aggressively self-edit until you’re happy with every word.
If an agent decides to take you on and/or your manuscript is accepted by a publishing house, it will still go through editing there.
But your goal is to make it the best you know how so it will get past those first readers—potential agents or acquisition editors.
Landing an agent can be just as difficult as landing a publishing deal, because they are every bit as discerning regarding a manuscript’s (or an author’s) potential.
The advantage of an agent (which makes them worth their 15% of whatever you make) is that they serve as your manuscript’s cheerleader.
Agents know the business, the industry, the players—who’s publishing what and who might like what you’ve written.
They shop your manuscript to publishers and advocate on your behalf. Having landed an agent is a credit in itself.
It shows that you and your writing have already survived serious vetting.
Some (but not many) traditional publishers consider unsolicited or unagented manuscripts, but if you can land an agent, that’s your best bet.
Having an agent can make your life a lot easier. They can:
Once you’ve researched and compiled a list of agents who seem to be a good fit, follow their submission guidelines to a T. (Google literary agents.)
A query (question) letter is designed to determine whether an agent or publisher might be interested in your manuscript. It’s your first impression—your initial sales call.
Make it stimulating and intriguing.
You’re not selling your writing just yet; you’re merely asking to get in the door.
Position yourself as a colleague, not a fan. Make it short and to the point, preferably one page, and send electronically.
Before you hit Send, proofread your letter. Then proofread it again.
While up to a half dozen typos in a 300-400-page manuscript are of little consequence, any typo in such a short document will make you look like an amateur.
Have a friend or relative proofread it with fresh eyes.
This is the document agents want. For some, it’s the only document they require before asking to see your manuscript.
Every word should pique an agent’s interest—your goal is an invitation to send your entire manuscript.
Briefly but completely describe the details of your manuscript. Leave nothing out.
For nonfiction, include every issue you cover and the basics of what you’ve said about each.
For fiction, synopsize every chapter.
Proposals can contain any number of components, including:
The average proposal can range from between 10 to 25 pages. Keep it as tight as you can without leaving out anything crucial.
As a rule, a query letter precedes sending a proposal. But check potential agents’ submissions guidelines on their websites.
Some want to start with your proposal. Show them you’re thorough and willing to work.
The best way to set yourself apart, besides ferociously self-editing your book, is paying for a professional editor.
The biggest mistake many self-published authors make is spending more on design and marketing than on professional editing and proofreading.
A great looking book with a terrific cover and lots of promotion will die a quick death in the market unless the editing and proofreading are also evident.
(Resist the urge to hire a relative who majored in English or even teaches English; book editing is a unique discipline.)
The last thing you want is a handsome product that reads like the manuscript made the rounds of the traditional publishing houses, was rejected, and had to be self-published.
Writing quality sets you apart in a saturated marketplace.
Many companies offer all the services you need to self-publish, but some are more trustworthy than others. It takes a lot of success—and sales—to recoup the costs of such services.
You may run across the term “hybrid publishing,” referring to different pay-to-publish methods, but the bottom line is that it’s still self-publishing.
As I’ve said, you are the publisher. You pay the bills.
My friend Jane Friedman’s helpful article, What is a Hybrid Publisher?, explains this in detail.
In short, hybrid publishing companies claim to combine the best of a traditional publishing house with a self-publishing model. But beware.
Many of these are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Again, do your homework, get references, compare pricing.
The more popular platforms to “publish” online:
Other considerations for self-published titles (unless you’ve hired someone to navigate this process):
But hear me:
Please exhaust all efforts to be traditionally published before resorting to self-publishing.
If you are fortunate enough to have your manuscript accepted by a traditional publishing house, they assume all the financial risk, so it costs you nothing.
Should you choose self-publishing, the cost varies greatly. You can “publish” virtually free online if you don’t engage an editor, proofreader, or designer.
Self-publishing actual books can range from between $1,500 and more than $10,000, depending on how many services you require or which company you hire.
I’ve made it my life’s work to coach writers to get their work to a level where they can market it to traditional publishers. Even if you choose self-publishing, you want your writing up to that standard.
A great starting point? My 21 Ferocious Self-Editing Tips Checklist can turn you into an aggressive self-editor and give your writing the best chance to impress industry gatekeepers.
Regardless whether you choose to compete for a traditional publishing deal or self-publish, give everything you have to your writing.
Hone your skills. Read everything you can get your hands on about the craft.
Your reader deserves it.
And so do you.