so you’ve gotten your manuscript as polished as you can possibly make it and you’re feeling pretty good. in fact, you think you’re ready to publish. for many, this would be the light at the end of the tunnel. ah, finally! it’s done and ready to share!
but share how? like with skinning the proverbial cat, there is more than one way to publish. how much work are you willing to put in? how much time are you willing to spend on this? for me, this is the real nightmare, because it’s no longer about the creative process. it’s the scary world of business. i actually dreaded this part of the process. my anxiety was almost enough to send me back into the cave with my manuscript to find more that i could “fix” in it rather than face all of the decisions that were banging on my door.
but alas, that time came and i did creep out of the cave to meet it. you will, too, if you’re serious about making writing your career. if it doesn’t seem daunting to you yet, it’s because you haven’t actually faced it or researched the pros and cons and everything that needs to be done once the book is “finished”. i have. let me boggle your mind, as well. first, you must make the biggest decision: self publish or traditional house? i will not go into the arguments that circle the net around this issue by taking one side or the other. i will just say that each comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. the meat of the decision comes from whether or not you think you can handle those drawbacks rather than if the benefits are good enough. here is what i’ve figured:
self publishing: well, i’ll be honest. this is the route that i originally planned to take, at least for the first few books. i wanted to build up a “resume” before approaching an agent and publishers. i thought, really, how hard could it be? everything you need to know these days is right there on the web, including easy sites like createspace that publishes in just moments. here is what i failed to consider, however. there is so much more to it than just publishing. if you choose to go this route, you are choosing to take on the cover art, the advertising, finding reviewers, scheduling your own launch and blog tours and appearances. you get to do your own copyright registration, pricing, distribution, and whatever else. you need to drum up interviews and make ads and keep a budget. i am sure there is more that i have forgotten to list or may have simply blocked out of my mind because it was just too much. i just wanted to write! i can admit that i have no marketing experience or know how. i am not a businesswoman. not only do i not have the skills to manage all of this well, but i do not have the desire to do so! also to consider, and something that i’m sure weighs on the minds of a lot of indy authors, is the stigma that comes with self publishing. we all know it. some don’t wish to acknowledge it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. even if you’ve written a wonderful story, you’re going to face it. that stigma will put a blight on your book and your sales. the thing is, anyone can self publish. and unfortunately, anyone does. the digital world of publishing has been flooded with self pubbed books that are unpolished to say the least. these are the authors who didn’t listen to critiques or possibly didn’t have honest critiques to tell them that they needed to reconsider what they were putting out. they see no need to have an editor take a pass at it for sloppy mistakes or plot holes. there is a lot more to this indy reputation that i am sure you know from having read some of these books yourself, so i won’t drone on about it. let me just say that their folly will tarnish your reputation before you’ve even started. fair? obviously not, but true regardless.
there are benefits to self pubbing, obviously. there’s less hassle to begin with, since you have no one to answer to. you set your own deadlines, you make your own schedule, you get more money from each sale, and you have total control over your work. you don’t have to wait to publish when someone else wants you to, you don’t have to query or propose or do the competitive analysis. all the decisions are yours. if that’s what you want, then this could be the route for you.
traditional: i decided to try the traditional route when i realized just how much work went into the process post writing. i had no more time to write because i was busy trying to run a freaking business that i didn’t realize was a business! i had to read up and research on all that boring stuff about marketing and PR and everything else that i really wasn’t interested in learning. i’m not a strategist. i entered a contest or two that stated the manuscripts entered could not be published until the contest ended, so this gave me time to look into finding a publisher. i visited so many publishing sites that i started keeping lists to keep them all straight. there are a lot and each seemed to have a different feel and different guidelines for submission. i read a lot of FAQ pages and social media and blogs about their staff to see if it was a good fit for me and my books. i have now spoken with two houses who have expressed interest, and they are vastly different from each other. so here are the benefits i can see from going this route: editing, graphic support, marketing support, PR support, and time to do what you really want to be doing – writing. they take care of all the formatting (which was really giving me fits) and distribution to retailers. because they are a publisher, you get a certain amount of credibility through them with the consumer. people see that it is from a traditional house rather than a vanity press and they expect a polished piece that had to have gone through a certain acquisition process, thereby producing a quality product. drawbacks include a smaller percentage of the sale, less control (and in some houses, no control) over your own work, somebody else’s schedule to follow, feeling rather like a peon in a cast system in some cases (i’m not bitter).
so, that is your first decision to make. my own road veered toward traditional publishing for the reasons listed in the self pubbing drawbacks.
so, if you decide to go the same route i did, searching for the right publishing house as a home for your manuscript, the next step would be to query the publishers you’ve chosen. do your research first (and this applies to querying agents as well) so you know what which editor to address (they aren’t all looking for the same thing even if they are at the same house), what their guidelines are (everyone has their own), what sort of turn around time you can expect, which authors they have signed (then you can check out what sort of voice they like or, in some cases, what the queries they took a bite at), and all manner of other things. check out their social network profiles (this is not stalking…they put those up there for business reasons, so there’s no shame in checking them out for the same business) and really read their sites and FAQ pages. there is a wealth of information out there that makes certain mistakes just inexcusable.
next, write out a few blurbs for your book. think about it as if you were writing the back cover blurb. you don’t want to get too detailed (they let you do that in the summary), just a taste to pique their interest. you’ll then plug that into the letter (which should not exceed one page) after the intro and personal information. i won’t be telling you how to write the rest of your letter. you’re a writer, this should not be an issue. personally, i think you should keep the whole letter rather short and sweet, but be careful not to make it too short and too sweet. use a distinct voice, though. let them know you have personality, but keep it professional. piece of cake, right? again, there is an abundance of information on the web, examples of successful queries and instructions, that should make this step relatively easy other than that blurb. the blurb is very important. don’t mess up the blurb.
also in the letter, make it known that you are willing to work at this career. for my own, i state that i am an active member of the RWA, that i have already established social networking under my pen name and acquired a following, that i have a website and blog they can visit (which gives them a chance to check out further examples of my writing as well…sneaky), and that i have written other manuscripts as well (showing that i am still working and have more to publish after the first, a sort of inventory to keep momentum going). it is important that, as a new author, i appear capable and hardworking. i’m expecting them to take a chance on me and need to show that i am a good bet, not just a one hit wonder. if you were buying a camera, you want to trust that it will take more than one picture to make your money worth it, right? you want that camera cranking out photos as often as you want to press that button. it would be the same for a publisher. they are putting a lot of time and money into their authors. they want to know that that author is going to keep working and making their initial investment worth it, too. show that that you are that sort of author.
now, not all queries, even perfectly written ones, will get you a bite. i have a few rejections in my folder, i’m not going to lie. but it’s not been as bad as i thought it would be. in fact, every one of them was very nice about it and a couple even gave me some sound advice. this was not a reflection of my writing. a few didn’t even see more than the summary past the query. they may be rejecting simply because they can’t take on any more of that genre right now, or that it’s not the sort of story they feel they can work with. a few actually complimented my work but felt it just wasn’t the right story for them. this is fine. we’ve all felt that way, right? you’ve read a book that others loved, and you couldn’t really say it was bad. it just wasn’t to your liking. jane eyre was like that for me. i have friends who absolutely loved that book. i was not a fan. was it poorly written? no. it just wasn’t for me. so if you get rejected, don’t take it too personally (easier said than done, i know). learn from it and then try again.
if choosing traditional, i also want to say that not all houses are built alike. i mentioned that i have spoken to two. one was a larger house and one is smaller. the larger house, i will admit, i expected to prefer. after all, they have larger resources, bigger reputation to lend, more experience, and everything that comes along with that. however, it seemed to rub me the wrong way. because they are larger and have a lot more authors, i felt like i wasn’t that important to them as an acquisition. it was kind of a take it or leave it sort of mentality. the editor i spoke with was nice enough for the most part, but the way the house worked, i felt, just wasn’t for me. i would have very little say in the way my book was handled. while i didn’t want to be in charge of everything that self pubbing would have left me with, i didn’t want to relinquish all control over everything, either. then i spoke to the smaller press. i did this today and i am still feeling pretty darn good about it! they offer support, not control. that was the main draw for me, but on top of that, they are very friendly and seem to really want me and my writing. they seemed just as excited to have me on board as i was to be on board. it was such a relief! i no longer dreaded handing over my baby as i did with the thought of self pubbing and the bigger house. i won’t go into all the details because that would be crass, but i am pretty happy with the contracts they’ve offered. we talked quite a bit and they seem pretty approachable with any questions or concerns i may have during the process. it was a really good experience.
i’m not saying that this is the route everyone should take. obviously, since i didn’t take the other routes, i can’t speak with experience there. but on my road to publication, this is the path i’ve chosen. so stay tuned. big news to come.