Path to Publishing: You Wrote a Book, Now What?

After the DFW Con, a family friend heard I had requests for manuscripts from agents (squee!) and asked what the process was. When you’re just starting out, it’s really hard to get a sense of how this whole crazy publishing thing works.

To help you out, here’s a summary.

  • Write a book.
  • Celebrate! You just wrote a book! That’s really freakin’ hard! Most people never even get that far, so bask for a bit.
  • Give it a rest, then go back and edit it with “fresh eyes.” Make it polished.
  • Consider giving it to someone else to edit. Or give it to a “beta reader” who will be honest with you.
  • Decide whether you want to self-publish or go the traditional route.

If you want to go the “traditional route”:

  • Write query letters. They’re like cover letters/resumes for you and your book.
  • Send your queries to agents after you’ve carefully researched them. (The internet is your friend).
    • An agent is the first gatekeeper. You need an agent to get a publisher. You should never have to pay any reputable agent anything to read your stuff. They get paid by taking a commission off of anything you eventually publish. Sort of like a real estate agent. Typical timeline for acquiring an agent? 6 months to a year or longer.
  • Go to events, like the conference I just attended. Turns out a risk I was taking in my query was the reason I was getting rejected. Meeting in person got me the attention I needed, and I got requests.
  • Find an agent you like (and who likes you) and sign a contract saying you’ll work together.
  • Your agent will then sell your manuscript to publishers. This can take 6 months to a year.
  • Then, if they want to publish you, you’ll get a contract, an advance, and (hopefully) royalties.
    • They’ll do edits, a cover design, prepare marketing materials, provide some advice on how to market yourself, and make all the decisions related to actually constructing a book. You’ll get the prestige of being published by a “big publisher,” (even if it’s not one of the “Big Six”**) and know that someone other than your mom and dad was interested in your work. You’re more likely to have your book sold in print form from a bookseller.
      • The “Big Six” are: Hatchette; Macmillan; Penguin Group; HarperCollins; Random House; Simon & Schuster

The self-publishing/indie path (they are separate, but overlap in a lot of ways):

  • Hire a reputable editor to look over your work. Yes, you’ve already edited it at this point, but the biggest distinguishing feature of a poorly constructed self-published work is bad editing. Do it again. Be willing to invest in your work.
  • Decide what format you’d like to publish. Is it a book that needs to have a physical copy? Is ebook-only ok? This really depends on your goals and the kind of book you have.
  • Hire a cover design artist. You need a cover even if you are publishing e-book only. I suggest looking somewhere like Writer.ly.
  • Here’s where it gets tricky. There are several places you can self-publish, and lots of resources about them. Do your homework before you give your book to anyone. While there are reputable places (Lightning Source, PubIt!, CreateSpace), there are also more sketchy places that aren’t suitable for a large-scale book production (Lulu, AuthorHouse, etc), and there are people who are outright looking to scam you. Don’t let them. Do your research first.
  • If you’ve got an ebook, format and upload your book to all the places you can (Smashwords, Amazon, Nook, Apple). Again, do your research, because this gets complicated. (If you don’t care about saturation, just upload it to Amazon. That’s the easiest and has a pretty solid market share.)
  • You make all your design, book construction, marketing, and pricing decisions yourself. You also get more of the royalties per book, but you’ll sink a lot of time into this process, and there’s still no guarantee that anyone will buy it. You get speed, and more per book, but may not end up with a printed copy to show off in your bookcase.
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