So you've polished your manuscript to perfection and think it's ready for print. A part of you feels an an urgency to see it magically appear on the shelf at the local chain bookstore and sell millions of copies. Well don't give up on your dream, but you also need to get a reality check. Although Editing is the hardest part of the writing and publishing business in my mind, things don't get easier just because you book is done. In fact you are merging onto another highway entitled Publishing Turnpike. This highway is NOT an expressway, but rather a long road filled with traffic and roadblocks. A writer should start this path realizing that the business of getting your book in print is challenging and at times will make you want to give up. Don't Give Up! Just realize the reality of the hardships of publishing and keep working to get your foothold in the market.
At this juncture you have one of two options for how you proceed to put your manuscript in print. The first option is to be traditionally published by a major NY publishing house or a small quality press, in which you must submit your manuscript. Option Two is to self-publish your book or go with a Vanity Press. This means you pay to put your book in print and are in charge of your marketing plan.
If you meet the following criteria you should at least attempt to be traditionally published:
- You have a book which is of a topical style or in sync with other best seller molds and has the possibility to do well in Trade Paperback. I.E. you wrote a legal thriller and have the knowledge and writing ability to add credibility to your product.
- You have written a literary manuscript which you feel would do well in the current market. This is an area that is really subject to opinion. Frankly you look at the bestseller lists and books like "The Help" or "The Time Traveler's Wife" don't really sound like they would target a mass audience, but someone saw the literary merit in the work and decided to take a gamble.
- Have an expertise that validates your work. For example, if you wrote a guidebook to Montana and live and work as a tour guide in the region then there's a good chance Frommer's or another Publishing House may be interested in publishing the work.
When to Self-Publish:
- The only time you go to Option 2 first is if you wrote a book, which appeals to a very limited audience (for instance - "A Basic Guide to Wind Jumping in Indonesia") , deals with a controversial plot/topic, is overly existential or rooted in complex plots that wouldn't resonate with a large audience. Those are just a few reasons.
- You couldn't find a traditional publisher or literary agent interested in your work, but still want it in print.
- You have a business or organization in which you only wanted a limited number of books printed.
- You don't have the patience for writing queries to Literary Agents or waiting for a publisher to pick up your work. * Frankly this is NOT a good reason to self-publish. If you are impatient to publish then it's most likely you are not ready to be published. There are exceptions to this, but no good books are printed quickly for the sake of being printed quickly. Patience will lead to a better publishing option and if Self-Publishing is still what you choose at that juncture, then go for it!
For me I chose Independent publishing as I love the business of publishing, marketing and Intellectual Property. It gives me an outlet for the skills I acquired in college. I think if I'd pressed I could have found an Agent, but I wanted to immerse myself in the publishing process.
So you want to be traditionally published, great, just bring your patience and don't take rejection letters personally. If you want to be traditionally published there is a precise system.
- First you need to query a Literary Agent. I will post a guide on query tips in the near future. The query letter is vital to getting and agent and must be properly formatted, well-written, humble, and informative. A query letter runs one page (no more - shorter is better. Show that you can express yourself in short concise paragraphs). Typos and poorly constructed sentences lead most query letters to the trash. Also don't tell the agent "your book is the best book ever written" or "we will make millions from this book!" Don't use phrases like "honey," "baby" or other casual nicknames. This is not professional and sounds cocky.
You need to research agents and formulate each query letter to fit that particular agent and agency. They all focus on different areas of fiction and non-fiction and have various query letter guidelines. By not following their guidelines for a letter, you will most likely end up in the trash. Research the agency and guidelines and find out if the agent you are querying is a she or he. Don't write a query letter to a Mr. when it's a Mrs.
The best way to find reputable agents is via The Writer's Market. This guidebook is a MUST for writers...it costs about $40 and is worth every penny! Make sure any agent you query is certified and credible. No credible agent will charge for reading a manuscript or query letter!
Once a letter has been submitted it usually takes weeks to months to receive a response. If you're lucky, the agent will ask for a writing sample or full manuscript. However most query letters come back with rejection form letters. Don't be discouraged. In this economy many literary agents don't have the resources to take on new clients. Don't write them back, begging for another consideration on the same book - accept the rejection and move on. You want an agent who loves your work and wants to sell it - not one that doesn't enjoy your style.
For smaller presses you can submit your manuscript on your own. Consult the publishing companies submission guidelines. Response time is typically a few weeks to a few months. Be patient and don't nag. They will get around to it when they are able. After a few months then you can follow up.
*Don't bother submitting to the likes of DoubleDay or Random House without an agent - they'll throw your work away and you'll lose a few dollars in postage.
Another alternative to traditional publishing is also by attending writers conferences where Agents regularly attend and networking with other writers and agents in the form of Writer and Publishing Associations.
Option B: Self-Publishing
Within Self-Publishing there are two subdivisions: True Self-Publishing and Vanity Press Publishing.
TSP means you are responsible for every aspect of the publishing process. You design the cover. You typeset the manuscript. You find a printer to print your book (note a printer and publisher are two very different things. The former is in charge of the total packaging and distribution/marketing of product - Doubleday is a publisher, a printer just prints the books and has no other role in the process). You are in charge of distribution and marketing.
This is the route I chose for my novel "Burden of Proof." I researched printers and settled on Lighting Source, who only charges $87 to upload your book into they POD system and add it to the Ingram database. LSI allows for you to start your own Imprint, and therefore I own my own publishing company. I purchased an ISBN for Lone Mountain Press through Bowker. I then had to learn Quark for the cover design and spend hours editing and typsetting the manuscript. It's a learning experience, but I much prefer this route to Authorhouse.
Vanity Presses: Vanity Presses such as Author Solutions, I Universe, Lulu, etc...claim to be self-publishing houses, however they are really publishers who require you to pay them to be printed. This can be a good and bad thing. On the one hand, companies such as AuthorHouse offer a professional typesetting and cover design team and have promotional and distribution resources, which you might not have access to otherwise. On the other hand they charge exorbitant fees, and offer NO editing and companies such as Barnes and Noble typically won't sell Vanity Press books in store. The fees per printed book typically price out your key customers so you lose money. Trust me I went the Vanity Press Route several years back and to date I've made $10 off those books after an investment of $1500
The only time I recommend Author Solutions is if you don't want to mess with finding a printer, typesetting, cover design, purchasing an ISBN, etc...However if you do go with a Vanity Press I suggest paying to have someone edit your book or making sure it's well edited, because the publisher won't even look at the content as long as they get their $$$ and a poorly editied Self-Published book can hurt your future credibility as a writer.
That's all for now...I'll post another entry on Vanity Presses: Pros and Cons and Literary Agents in the next few weeks. Look for a detailed entry on step 5: Pre-Press next time on The Inkspot!