The Sad State of Affairs
Many authors are unaware of the entire publishing process. They have their own ideas from what they have assumed from reading about the big success stories and then expanding their own conclusions. The writing and publishing process becomes a fairy tale that many see as fact. Publishing, even self-publishing, is not an overnight process at least not so if you are wanting to produce quality work.
Sadly more and more authors have an unrealistic view of the publishing process. They think all authors are overnight successes. They think all publishers will spend millions to get their name out there. They think they have it all figured out. They are wrong.
Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing?
Over a decade ago, it was unheard of to think of any other way to publish than go through an established publishing house. The few who chose this ‘self-publishing’ route were looked down upon by the majority as not professional or ‘real’ writers.
That has changed.
Now, a huge percentage of books on the market are self-published. The industry is changing and in many ways becoming more complicated for the writer.
One of the biggest questions a writer will have to answer is how they want to be published.
The Starting Point
I guess if you really went back to the starting point of the publishing process, you could argue it was when the writer first started to write. But I see that mainly as the start of the creative process and the beginning of producing a book, not publishing one.
The publishing process begins when the author is done with his book and ready to make decisions on which road to take to get his work published: the road most traveled or the one harder to gain access to.
Traditional Publishing House — These are publishing houses that typically require an agent to approach them. A few might allow direct submissions but those through agents get priority. Not all traditional publishing houses are large. Many are much smaller than the big guns but have quite a bit of power and have been around for quite awhile.
Small Presses — These are publishers who are much smaller in nature to the point of being owned and run by only one person. They have more limited funds and resources, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be the perfect route for an author. Some agents will work with small presses, but most of them that small are the ones that work directly with the authors, cutting out the middleman.
Royalties — This is what you receive as payment for your book. It is a percentage of the sales the publishing house receives. That does not mean it is a percentage of the retail price or what the bookstore sells them at. It is a percentage of what the publishing house gets which is much less than what they are sold for. Royalties are negotiable but the average is 40% for eBooks and 10–20% for print books.
Advances — These are checks given to you by the publisher in advance of any sales. If they feel that the book will bring in the bucks for them, they are willing to take a chance and give you money before you’ve earned it. Not all authors get an advance, but it is great when you do.
Agent — The agent has played a huge role for decades in the publishing industry. They are the ones with a foot in the door with the connections to give your book at least a chance to be seen by the publishing company. They look over your book to see if there is potential and which publishing houses might be the most receptive. Keep in mind that they also get a percentage of your royalties. After all, they did a lot of work to get you signed with a publishing house.
Now you know the terms and the role the agent plays. They are the ones to connect you to a publishing house. They help you with contracts and more. They want you to succeed because it helps them succeed. If you go the traditional route with the larger houses, you’ll want to find an agent.
No one likes to talk about being rejected. They don’t want to because they don’t want to believe it exists. After all, all the successful authors never had to face it, right? Wrong. All those over-night successes you know about are myths. They were not over-night successes. They faced constant rejection.
Agatha Christie is known the world over as the Queen of mystery. The first publisher who read her work snatched her right up and made her a star, right? Wrong! She faced continual rejection for over five years before someone gave her a chance.
Steven King’s Carrie was rejected numerous times.
Dr. Suess is loved by all yet he was rejected as being too different.
Beatrix Potter is a household name. Yet her success because she self-published. So much for success in the decades before only coming through traditional publishers.
Let’s look more closely at those successes in the last few years everyone wants to be like. J.K. Rowlings, and Stephanie Meyers. They wrote their books and quickly were published, or so the urban legends go. They faced rejection over and over.
Rowlings was turned down a dozen times and would have been turned down a thirteenth if a child, surprise! her target market, read the first chapters and demanded more. The powers that be had to rethink their plan of action.
Meyers was turned down 14 before someone decided to give her a chance resulting is major movies and iconic characters. How much do you bet that 14 publishers cried in their beer over that loss?
Rejection is part of going to publishers and agents. They get thousands of manuscripts a year if not a month. They can only take so many. That means a lot of good ones fall through the cracks.
Choosing an Agent
If you choose the traditional publishing route, you then have to look at whether or not you want an agent. Well…again that depends on the route you want to take: Big Publishing house or small press.
Going the big publishing route requires an agent. They are the ones who have a way in through the locked gates and might get your manuscript looked at.
There are hundreds of them out there. Okay, there are thousands. That alone makes it hard to find the right one. They are like the publishing houses now as they are getting way more requests than they can handle. That means they are highly selective.
You want to find an agent that deals with the genre your book is in, is accepting new submissions, and has a good portfolio. A great source to find a starting list is found at Poets and Writers. I love this site as it has a wealth of information for writers.
Follow the guidelines the agent as laid out for submissions and make sure you create a wonderful and attractive query letter.
Types of Editing — Overview
Overall plot editing. Highest yet most detailed level of editing. Shows where parts of story can expand or be eliminated. Deals with the complete book.
This is the next level in editing that focuses more on the individual sentences. Word usage, sentence structure, and even location of sentences are addressed.
This is the most basic form and alone is not really editing. Proofreading focuses on grammar, punctuation, and glaring formatting issues.
The publishing process begins once the writing is finished. At that point, the writer has to decide how to get their work edited. This is where a vast number of authors make their biggest mistake in their writing career — they choose not to get a professional editor.
Self-editing is important and required for a good product, but outside editing by a professional is also extremely important. If you are looking to go the traditional publishing route, most agents and/or publishers will not even consider a book that has not been substantially edited. If you are looking to self-publish or use a smaller press, you will only be shooting yourself in the foot if you skip this step.
Yes, editing is part of the publishing process. Be prepared to change parts of your book by either cutting sections or expanding them. Remember that no bestseller ever sprung from the pages in the first draft.
The last thing that happens is the formatting of the book. It might not be the exact last step as proofreading really should happen after this, but this can be looked at as the last really, really big step.
What is formatting? You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize what this entails. If you are one of them, that’s okay. You’re to learn about all this.
Formatting is putting your book in a state that is appealing to the eye, easy to use, and meets certain printing standards. It puts the title page in, the copyright page in with the right information, sets the font, the paragraphs indentation, headers and footers containing page numbers if needed and/or title of book with author name. It makes a new chapter start on a new page. It is the visual placement of the entire manuscript.
I have gotten books that were poorly formatted. Oh my gosh! I couldn’t finish them. You can’t enjoy a story if the formatting turns you off.
The Self-Publishing Process
Much of this publishing arena is the same as traditional except you are doing literally all the work or at least organizing it by yourself. From writing it to marketing, it is all yours.
You need to get an editor. That means you have to shop around for one and shell out the money for it. Though even those who use traditional editors do this, you won’t have anyone in the publishing house looking over it for glaring mistakes.
You need to format the book yourself for print. The way you typed it will not produce a quality book. You have to meet certain standards. Are you going to print and/or publish as an ebook? That is crucial in your formatting as formatting for one is not the same as formatting for another one.
Once you have formatted, you should get it proofread for any formatting issues such as spacing. Then you upload the file to the system you are publishing through.That is another decision you have to make.
How will you publish? Are you going to use a local printer which will cost you more upfront though cheaper per book, or are you going to go through a print on demand service that is easier to use and cheaper initially but costs more per book?
Once you have given your file to the right publishing place, you need to get galley or preview copy to proofread once again. That can take days to weeks. then you need to upload corrected copies and review once again.
Somewhere during this time, you need to get a cover designed. You are in charge of doing it yourself or hiring someone. Trust me, if you are not savvy with the programs used to create them, hire someone else to do the job for you. This could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Anything cheaper, research as your cover might not be unique.
Now you have to market your book. It will not appear in the big stores more than likely. You have to petition to get them in there and they take self-published works you might not be able to afford the fees. The real work begins.
Getting your book published is more than just writing it and pushing a button for the world to see the results. It is a long process that can be time consuming and expensive. The more you know about it the better you’ll be able to successfully publish.