“As a writer, the worst thing you can do is work in an environment of fear of rejection.”
I heard a joke about publishing once. I’m not sure who to credit for it, but it has become somewhat legendary in the field of writing. It goes something like this: “I could write an incredible novel about rejection slips, but it would probably be too long for a publisher to touch it.” In this day and age, it’s harder than ever to publish a book. Why? It all started to change with the invention of National Novel Writing Month in 1999. Since then, people have spit up hurried manuscripts like they’re going out of style. Carelessly thought-out, unedited November stinkers, sadly, make up the bulk of what is being written nowadays. The problem however isn’t in what’s being written, it’s that almost every single person who finishes a novel thinks they deserve to be published. I don’t know the exact statistics, but I would venture to say that the amount of query letters that agents receive today is roughly ten times what it was in 1998. With over 200,000 novels written every November, the proportion of good novels that agents receive is at an all time low. Of course, the point of this article isn’t to say that a good novel cannot be written in a month – after all, for every 200,000 November novels, 100 novels are actually published – the point is to show what your viable options are at this point. The sad fact is, if you’re an unpublished writer without an agent, almost nobody will actually read the sample chapters you send them – they simply don’t have the time! So for this installment, I will talk about the current publishing routes, alternative or otherwise, along with their advantages and disadvantages.
This is the first part of a series on publishing. Hopefully by the end of it, you will have a solid approach on how to get your work out there. Also, in case you are getting discouraged, the fact that you are reading this shows that you care more about your work than 95% of the other writers who are currently trying to get published. Remember Carol’s words above, and don’t lose faith. I truly believe that if your work is good enough, and you consistently try to get it out there, it will be discovered.
Traditional self publishing was once commonly referred to as “Vanity Press”. In the 80s, there was a certain amount of judgment that one might receive from the writing community if they were to peruse this method of publishing. That’s simply no longer the case. In TSD, you keep 100% of your rights and 100% of your royalties. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you different – if a company doesn’t give you full control over both your rights and royalties, they are not a traditional self-publishing company. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to this method of publishing. Apart from full control of your work, this method allows for instantaneous publishing, it is easily accessible, and there are no deadlines whatsoever. Unfortunately, there are also a few inherent disadvantages. First, it costs quite a bit of money. You have to pay a fee for the use of your chosen self-publishing service, and you have to pay for the initial printing (and all other future printings should you be so lucky). Second, most often, self-publishing services offer absolutely no marketing, which means you will have to do all your own marketing – which again, costs money. If you do get to this point and aren’t sure what to do, I recommend you contact me. I can provide you with the details of a world-class marketer, Heather Hernandez, who can market your book from the ground up. Three, you control your own books. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you are heavily marketing your novel, and are responsible for the books that are shipped out, you might spend a LOT of time filling out shipping labels and putting books in bubble wrap. This also means you will have to rent out a large storage shed or, if you can’t afford one, live in a house filled from top to bottom with unsold books – and that’s a lot to ask of your family, roommates or spouse.
Print On Demand
Print on demand is a method of self publishing that is very similar to TSP. It’s often not quite as cost effective, because you pay for each book individually as it is ordered, but it does solve the space issue.
This format is so commonly used that most books that are released will be published in a .mobi format simply because, for many readers, if it isn’t out on Kindle, it might as well not be out at all. Many new authors get confused on this point however. Just because most of us will likely eventually publish on Kindle doesn’t mean that it’s in a new author’s best interest to immediately publish their completed novel in this format. If you decide to pursue a publishing house, publishing in the Kindle format can hurt your chances of a house accepting your manuscript (more on that in a bit). Also, when seeking reputation, the fact is, agents represent clients who have books that aren’t already published. The advantages and disadvantages are fairly similar to that of TSP and POD. In Kindle, you maintain all your rights. You are allowed to change the manuscript at any time and however you see fit. Obviously though, Amazon takes a certain amount of your royalties. The smallest amount they take is 30%, but that is only if your book sells well. Originally, you can expect Amazon to take a bit more (maybe 35-40%). Whether one-click publishing is worth the significant royalty loss and the added challenges when still pursuing traditional publishing is up for each author to decide for themselves. If you do decide on this route, I recommend using CreateSpace to get it done.
Don’t do it. The world may not have called the Nook/Kindle competition just yet, but the writing community has. Pretty soon Nook will be like Microsoft’s HD-DVD format… extinct.
This one is tricky. When it comes to AP, you absolutely need to know what you’re getting into. For years, people have been getting fooled by assisted publishing companies like Page Publishing and others. The process is simply too similar to traditional publishing. Authors “apply” and get “accepted” by a self-purported “publishing company”. Many of them stretch out their time estimates to make it seem like they are doing something quite challenging, order POD books from separate websites, publish your book on Kindle, and “market” your book by placing it on their own websites – most of which get a few hundred visitors a day if even (most of which are actually prospective clients and not people actually looking to buy books). So basically, to break down the average assisted publishing company, it takes about 10 months to do something you could have done yourself in a month and while keeping the lion’s share of the royalties. If this sounds like a scam, that's because it is. Most assisted publishing services are scams. The only AP services I’ve seen that haven’t been scams have been on websites that market themselves as traditional self publishing or print on demand that just so happen to offer other useful services. The problem with assisted publishing, also known as “co-operative publishing”, is that the most companies do not identify themselves under those labels. Whenever you are offered a book deal from a small company, you need to look at what they are actually offering you. If they pride themselves on offering to publish your book on Kindle while taking “only a small fee”, or if they offer “marketing” that includes placing your book on their own personal website – a website you’d probably never heard of before you were offered your book deal – they are probably not a company you want to be involved with. There may be exceptions, but they are few and far between.
Okay, so what is the big deal about traditional publishing? Every single one of the methods above will give you a book that, if it’s good enough, should absolutely find a way of getting sold… right? Not really. Let’s put it in perspective. There are over three million kindle books available on Amazon. As of March 2015, there are 318.9 million people in the United States, and yet, every year, one million books are published in the US alone. On average, each book sells less than 250 copies in total. Thanks heavily to national novel writing month, without some kind of marketing, your book is just a gem in a sea of mediocrity, doomed to complete and utter obscurity. Traditional publishing sets your novel apart from the rest in a variety of ways. First, it acts as a natural filter. Most people know how hard it is to get a book published, so they automatically favor books that have undergone that process. Second, TP (pardon the acronym) not only offers advances to make it easier for an author to focus on writing, but it often pays for editing and cover work without ever expecting to have that money returned. When your book is traditionally published, it is not just a reflection of you, but of the company that chose to take a chance on your work, so they want it to be the best it can be! Third, they market for you. Every publishing company will market for you. Some take it out of your share of future royalties, while others (most of the largest companies like Random House) consider it a cost of doing business. The fourth and final reason is by far the most important: publishers have platforms.
Lets take the company Random House. Random House has deals with bookstores in multiple countries. When they release a new book, without anyone ever having read it, the cover is immediately displayed everywhere from Powell’s Books to Barnes & Noble. Established publishing houses have credibility, power, an established system of marketing, and a target audience. Whatever happens, they will sell more than 250 copies, guaranteed. If the book doesn’t get enough interest, while the publishing house loses money, the author doesn’t lose anything but pride.
While most people would choose traditional publishing in a heartbeat if they could, it’s not that simple. Very few publishing companies accept unsolicited work from anyone who isn’t already a big name in the literary world. Getting published is a multi-step process, and as far as I know, there are no realistic guides that thoroughly discuss each of the steps in an easy to follow and direct way… which is why I’ve decided to write one as my next blog post.
Have you published a book? If you have, how did you do it? What were your experiences? Comment below to help other writers do the same.