Since Self-Publishing crawled out from under a stone, dusted itself off and faced the world with confidence, writers have been presented with a viable alternative to the traditionally accepted road to getting published.
After having five books published by a well-respected house in London, I turned my back on the traditional route and opted instead to self-publish. Since then, I haven’t looked back.
So, here are the two main publishing pathways and some of the stepping stones to be navigated along the way.
After completing a writer’s Apprenticeship (that is another post) you now have your completed novel in your hands. It is your baby. You are proud of it and you will feel inclined to guard it jealously. But in order for your work to see the light of print, you must decide the best route for it to take.
There are two choices - the traditional way, and the self-publishing path.
ROUTE ‘A’ – Traditional publishing pathway
(However, if you want to go straight to self-publishing, bypass ‘A’ and go straight to ROUTE ‘B’)
What all authors wish for is to write the world’s next bestseller or at least to see copies of their book in the window of every book shop they visit. (That was once my dream – now I can live without it!)
To enter/compete in the very competitive publishing arena you must:-
1) Polish your manuscript to the nth degree – edit, edit and re-edit. Seek constructive advice.
2) Learn how to write a submission letter that will be read. Phone the agent or publishing house you are targeting and get the name of the current submission’s editor. Don’t make any silly mistakes on your cover letter. Check the literary agent’s requirements and submit what is stated – no more, no less.
Note: I admit to bending the rules when it comes to submitting to only one agent at a time. Waiting for a reply can take months (even years – believe me), so send out multiple submissions.
As for publishing houses, most will not accept unsolicited manuscripts (mss) – they require every submission to have been vetted by an agent before it reaches them. If this requirement is not stated on their website then a phone call to the editor might confirm that you can send your ms directly to them.
3) When submitting your work, remember that the cost of sending a complete script by mail can be quite expensive. Today, electronic submissions are accepted by many literary agents.
4) Wait patiently for a response (write something new in the meantime). Waiting times are 6 weeks to 6 months to Never. Set your own limit as to how long you are prepared to wait for a reply before following your submission up.
5) Be prepared for rejection letters. These can be demoralizing and hurtful as they are referring to ‘your baby’. Accept the advice they give (if any is offered) and bounce back quickly to send your manuscript elsewhere.
6) If you strike it lucky and are offered a contract, open a bottle of bubbly and celebrate!
Lucky? Yes, lucky! That means the right person picked it up your ms from the mail tray or slush pile and liked what they read. Consider J. K. Rowling – she was rejected 12 times before 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone' was accepted by Bloomsberry – and that was only at the insistence of the chairman’s eight year old daughter.
7) Receive an offer and a book contract and you will be over the moon. But BEWARE! You may be floating on a sea of euphoria and you are about to step into the unfamiliar territory of the publishing world.
8) Read the contract carefully. Get legal advice if you are uncertain about anything. You are probably signing a contract that locks you in for this book and possibly 2 or 3 more (which you haven’t even written yet).
10) Over the coming weeks and months, your edited ms is returned to you for checking. The galley proofs follow. If these are actual pages, the postage costs of shipping the ms back and forth can be hefty.
11) From personal experience with my first book – only 400 copies were ever produced in library-quality hardback, and not a single copy was ever circulated to British bookshops and the titles were never printed in paperback. The recommended retail price in Australia per single copy was $54.00 (Exorbitant!).
12) Despite all this - you have a celebratory book launch (costs money). You order and pay for a supply of your books and sell a few (at cost price), but when you try to interest local bookshops, you find there is no interest. You are an unknown author and the price is too high.
14) Reality sets in. Your book has sold out (all 400 copies in a matter of weeks, but you discover, to your great disappointment, that the publisher does not intend to reprint despite over 100 back orders). So, whoopee!, you are now a published author but you are going nowhere and making nothing financially. In fact when you add up your expenses in promotion and publicity, you have already spent more than you earned.
15) Undeterred, you write your next and subsequent books, fulfill your contractual obligations and continue to promote your books and your name.
ROUTE 'B' – Take the self-publishing path
1) Learn all you can about self-publishing, independent (indie) publishing, assisted publishing, and know the difference. There are presently dozens of companies on the Web offering to publish your book for you, but BEWARE - don’t get caught by companies anxious to feed your ego. A few copies of your book could cost you thousands of dollars and there is no guarantee the title will sell. Self- publishing (done completely on your own) is easy – if I can do it, so can you.
WRITERS BEWARE: These words from David Gaughran (The Author Exploitation Business May 4, 2013.)
“Publishing is a screwed up business. The often labyrinthine path to success makes it much easier for those with nefarious intentions to scam the unsuspecting. But it doesn’t help that so many organizations who claim to help writers, to respect them, to assist them along the path to publication are actually screwing them over.
“But identifying the crooks is not easy because, the scammy vanity presses are owned by traditional publishers who are marketing their methods as the “easy” way to self-publish – when it’s nothing more than a horrifically expensive and terribly ineffective way to publish your work, guaranteed to kill your book’s chance of success stone dead, while emptying your bank account in the process.
“And it’s much harder to tell the scammers from the legitimate organizations when they are owned by the same people. Take Penguin-owned Author Solutions, one of the worst vanity presses out there.”
2) Write a new book or request the return of the rights of your previous titles and self-publish.
3) For paperback editions (POD - Print On Demand) – if you want to go it alone – try Lulu.com, Createspace, Smashwords. (I opted for Createspace.com who charge no fees. All you pay for is the cost of each individual book and postage. Lulu and Createspace both supply the ISBNs.)
4) Have your work edited. Consider paying a professional editor. Prepare you ms as best possible and transfer it to the appropriate template from the company you are working with.
6) By following the instructions (e.g. on Lulu.com or Createspace) you can produce your own paperback book
7) To publish e-books on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), or other e-reader devices, follow the specified guidelines. You can upload your ms yourself or pay a formatting company to do it for you.
8) Build your author name as you add more titles on Amazon then sit back and wait for customers to buy your book.
Important things to consider:
1) Your budget – how much do you want to outlay – $0.00 to thousands of dollars?
2) Buy your own ISBN number (Thorpe Bowker) or use the one provided (as with Lulu/Createspace). By that means, libraries or bookshops can order your book.
3) Get a US - ITIN number (Tax number) – if you are likely to earn money from e-books marketed in USA. Otherwise Amazon will withhold 30% of your earning.
4) Be aware paperback titles from unknown authors do not sell well.
5) E-books – if sold at a reasonable/competitive price ($2.99), do sell well.
6) Several mainstream authors are turning from the traditional route to self-publishing.
7) The stigma of self-publishing/vanity publishing has almost disappeared.
Benefits and financial savings to authors who self-publishes wisely:
1) No more trying to sell expensive copies of your book.
2) No more hawking books around – let Amazon be your promotional platform
3) No more book launches (unless you want to reward yourself).
4) No more sending expensive MSS by mail
5) No more waiting 6 weeks to 6 months to Never, for a response. Publish today!
6) No more being locked in with binding contracts.
Things worth worrying about:
1) You don’t have enough time to write all the books you want to write.
2) What will the tax man say now that you made several thousand dollars from your first book in only the first few months?
Now that is a problem I can live with.
Good luck on your publishing journey.
Margaret Muir (Historical fiction) /M.C.Muir (Nautical fiction)