Monday, January 19, 2015

Advice on manuscript submissions - 3) Book publication - the traditional way

Have you heard of the chicken that crossed the road?
Of course – everyone has.
But have you heard of the writer who never marketed his work?
No – how could you?

Many people write books but unless they make an effort to sell their work to an agent or publisher, it may suffer the ignominy of dying a lonely death in their computer’s hard drive never having left its motherboard’s apron strings.
How many potentially best-selling novels have gone this way?

Marketing your novel is not an easy task. It can be daunting, confusing and downright depressing but it is part of the long hard road every writer must take in order to see his/her name on a book’s cover.

While self-publishing is readily available for both e-books or paperbacks, there are still many writers striving to follow the traditional route. The following information is for their benefit. It’s basic info you can find anywhere but it’s surprising how many authors fail to read and follow the fine print.
So, where to start?

You have completed your manuscript. It has been edited and proofread and is ready to go out into the world. Today, the names of literary agents and book publishers on-line. Or you can subscribe to various writers' marketplace books and journals with details specific to the country you live in.

Not only will you find lists of publishing houses and their imprints, but comprehensive details of each publisher’s requirements. It is important to note the specific type of book each publisher handles, e.g. science fiction, scholarly works or crime. You can also find how many books that company produces per year. For a small company printing only one or two books a year, your work would have to be both brilliant and super specific to their requirements to be accepted. But where a company produces fifty or sixty a year then their acceptance will be much broader. You owe it to yourself to give yourself the best chance.

So you are confident you have something that is pretty good but you prefer a second opinion before jumping in boots and all. This is where you can take advantage of a manuscript appraisal. Rather than being seduced by a publishing house to use and pay for their appraisal service – which comes with no guarantee of publication – it is probably better to secure the services of an independent appraiser. They will provide helpful feedback about the quality of your work and may also suggest the best publisher or agent to approach.

It is important to note that these days few publishing houses accept submission directly from authors. Most only accept manuscripts recommended by a literary agent.
Authors argue that it is now as difficult to secure such services as to be signed by a publisher. 

Again, do your homework. Not all agents represent client’s manuscripts of all genres. Check their submission guidelines – do they want the first chapter, three chapters or the first page and a synopsis only? Do they want hard copies (printed) or will they accept electronic submissions.
There is no point sending a parcel of 500 double-spaced, quality-printed A4 pages to a company that specifies, send a short outline by e-mail with no attachments.

If you are foolish enough to send in your full manuscript, you are not only wasting your time and the time of the publisher but also the printing and postal costs. And sadly your work could end up going through the shredder. Let’s hope it was not the only copy of your manuscript. It has been known to happen. Then sit back and wait. The response can take three months, six months or longer.

If you are successful in securing an agent then you sit back and wait again while he/she trolls suitable publishers on your behalf.  Then wait for the offer of contract to arrive in your in-box.

With genuine traditional publishers you will pay nothing for your book to be produced.
Be wary of publishers who insist you contribute (often thousands of dollars) to the publication of your book. Don't get your finger burnt!

Once the contract is signed, you will likely receive an advance payment on your royalties and, hopefully, about nine to twelve months later you will have a copy of your published book in your hand.
Good luck – it is not a quick or easy journey. 

The author’s personal journey through the publishing minefield:

I completed my first manuscript in 2004 and was lucky enough to secure the services of a London agent. Knowing little about the industry, I signed the contract I was offered not realizing the publisher only produced small numbers of hardcover books suitable for the British Library. The company did not print paperbacks or distribute to retail outlets, and at the time there were no electronic books.
Being committed by contract to offer each of my subsequent titles to the same publisher before I could offer it elsewhere, I found myself in a bind. Only when my agent died did I find the opportunity to part company.

Over a period of five years I had seen five novels published but had spent many hundreds of dollars trying to market my own work – with little success. No one wanted to buy expensive hardcover books from an unknown author.

By 2010, the doors to self-publishing were beginning to open. It was a pathway fraught with many dangers such as vanity publishers trying to seduce unsuspecting authors into parting with huge fees to see their work in print. Taking note of the warnings, I discovered how to publish my own books with a print of demand (POD) publisher at no cost. From there, I moved into the world of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and haven’t looked back.

At the start, like many aspiring authors I had aimed for the traditional route, but it was not right for me. After ten years of authorship, I can recommend self-publishing, which now provides me with a regular and modest income.

I suggest you follow your dream, but advise against wasting years reaching for the stars  - aiming for the unattainable.

Pics: 3 x Bigstockphotos, 1 x Hills Gazette 2006 (Sea Dust - my first book), Book cover (The Twisting Vine was initially published by a traditional publisher and the title was not my choice. When I changed to self-publishing, I republished the book as Through Glass Eyes - my original working title). 

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