It’s finally finished. You’ve worked, and you’ve toiled, and finally you can say that your book is done. Now the hard part’s over and you can get published!
Most of the following is for writers in the US, but much of it applies to the rest of the world as well.
First, Know Thy Book Genre
Before you even think about putting your book out there, what kind of book is it? What genre? What Subgenre? Is the format formulaic, trope twisting, or experimental? Do you know the difference between urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and horror? Epic fantasy? Low fantasy versus high? Political thrillers versus military fiction? Murder-mystery vs. mystery-romance? Historical fiction vs. historical romance?
We haven’t even gotten into the hundreds of types of non-fiction yet.
Knowing exactly what your book is knowing how to sell it, even if you’re putting it out there on your own. Different publishing houses and presses prefer different genres, or have imprints for those genres, agents prefer specific kinds of books to represent, and self-publishing can live and die based on its keywords (kind of like here on Steemit). Don’t just know its genre, know its subgenre as well, anything that can expand its market.
The Traditional Route
So you’re going the traditional route, eh? Well, it’s traditional for a reason, because it’s been the method used for decades upon decades and it’s generally worked if by “worked” you mean putting a book to press and getting it to marketplace. This can be the highest paying avenue for writers, so it’s the most attractive for those starting out.
The dream for writers, at least in the beginning: I will get picked up by a major publishing house with a six-figure advance, go on nationally televised talk shows, and rub elbows with celebrities who’ll be jockeying to play the lead in the blockbuster movie that will eventually be made from my words.
If you believe this will happen for you, take a moment to go to @thewritersblock and check out their Discord. I can wait. While there, feel free to tell the writers there of how you think it’ll go for you. And make sure to bring wine and popcorn for @anikekirsten and @nobyeni, and maybe a paper bag for @negativer once he starts hyperventilating from hysterical laughter.
This isn’t to dissuade you, it’s a reality check.
First you need to find a publisher. This is assuming you’re looking at major publishing houses or “the New York houses”, as in the companies largely based in New York City. Get picked up there, and it’s assumed that you’ve “made it”. However, you’ll need to find one that’s looking for your kind of work. A good way to do this is to look through their catalog, as well as read from the authors in their stable. This will give you a good idea of whether or not you’d be a good fit there. Also, in this scenario, you don’t have an agent, so you’re looking for a house that will take unsolicited submissions. You’ll find in your research (and you absolutely should be researching), that the number of houses drops dramatically upon limiting yourself to houses that will take an unsolicited submission.
“Hold up, Vaughn. You’re throwing out some words there. What’s unsolicited?” Glad I imagined you asked. An unsolicited submission is a manuscript, or book, that the publisher didn’t ask for. What that means? You don’t have an agent, so you’re not coming from someone that’s trusted. Does that mean you should give up? Not… really? Houses WILL take unsolicited manuscripts, but…
The Plight of the Slush Reader
In every publishing house there is something called “the slush pile”, or, all of the unsolicited manuscripts received by the house. They number in the hundreds. Thousands. Often more. Acquiring editors are already overworked with solicited submissions, so, enter the slush reader.
A slush reader is usually an intern, or someone doing (unpaid) grunt work. As someone who interned for a semester as a slush reader, I can tell you that it is not fun. The slush reader’s job is simple: keep the Z-list crap off the editor’s desk and out of their inbox. If you thought your writing group was brutal in workshop, you have yet to see the sheer viciousness of a slush reader. I was assigned anywhere from 50-200 manuscripts a day. Your idealism detonates about three manuscripts in.
I had a rejection rate of about 96%. I would send a rejection after reading the first paragraph if it didn’t grab me. I rejected just from the opening sentence. If you could hold my attention for ten pages, you made it to my editor’s desk. Otherwise, you get a form rejection letter and notice that your submission was properly recycled. 96% got that letter.
And I was one of the nicer ones.
Even if you got to my editor, she was even more brutal than I was. Of the 4% that made it to her, half of them were rejected outright, 40% would get a rejection letter with notes (AKA, the Golden Rejection), and 10% would get that “Maybe/Yes, but” letter that lets you know you’re still in the running. It’s a reality check to remind you that you’re competing against hundreds, thousands of other writers, some of whom have been doing this a lot longer than you have.
Let’s say you hit it out of the park, and you get that letter offering a book contract (this is a whole ‘nother entry here…), but they have some notes, suggestions. Your book, which you believed was so lean and clean that you could convince people it was handed down from on high, is going to be put through the wringer. You will be handed to an editor who be just as brutal as everyone before, and as before, the notes aren’t because they think you suck. You wouldn’t be there if you sucked. No, they want it to be even better, punchier, more moving, more attention paid here and less spotlight there, and fix all of your habits that you didn’t even notice before. It won’t be fixed in one run. Or two. Editing can take up to a year, or more, depending on how busy your editor is and how much work your manuscript needs to turn into a book.
By the time it gets to press, at least, you’re generally safe from the scariest part of publishing: Marketing. They have people for that, but you’ll still have to do interviews, get on social media, build your brand, but a lot of it is taken care of by the publisher. As for social media, I know plenty of authors who, upon being published, hire an intern or marketing firm to just do their social media for them. Yes, even their Twitter.
The Agent Route
“Okay… So traditional publishing sounds like playing the lotto. What if I want an agent instead? Why are they better, anyway?” Good questions I’m imagining you’re asking! 😊
An agent is a solicited contributor, someone empowered to negotiate on your behalf, to worry about the money of it all and just let you write your books and build your brand. Having contacts and connections at larger publishers that tell un-agented writers to f--- off is a big reason to have one. If you get picked up by a house on your own, you’re taking what they offer. With an agent, there’s a possibility that multiple houses will be looking at your manuscript, decide they want it, and then you end up with a bidding war, while all the while your agent is nudging both sides against the middle to score the maximum payday, because they get a percentage and they want their dolla-dolla just like everyone else.
Awesome, right? Why doesn’t EVERYONE use an agent, you’re probably thinking. Well, a lot of people try, and there’s only so many agents. Also, getting an agent is often considered just as hard, if not harder, than finding a publisher, mostly because of the connections they have, the firms they represent, and the reputations they have to uphold. Even if you go after a new agent (recommended by some because they’re hungry and want to build a client base), it’s still difficult to get their attention, and keep it. Depending on what you’re writing, it can go different ways.
Welcome to Query Hell
First, you’ll need to write a query letter. A query letter is where you introduce yourself to the agent, sum up why the Hell they should pay any attention to you, summarize your book, thank them for their time, and close it professionally. And you have to do ALL of that in under 8 sentences.
A term often used is “elevator pitch”, where an agent or director, or big fish client is on the same elevator with you, and for the next 15 seconds, they can’t leave, and have to listen to what you say. You have to use those 15 seconds to get their attention, get them interested in your work, and why it would make them money/benefit them before they get off the elevator. Many writers half-joke that it’s the hardest thing in the world to write. The other half is generally a thousand yard stare.
There are workshops, books, articles, and guides on how make your query letter shine, most of which are just a Google search away. The reason they’re important? Remember when I was talking about being a slush reader? Query letters are an agent’s slush, and they can be read and set aside or discarded in the space of one breath, so you want to make sure it counts.
The Next Requirement
If they bite on your query? There’s more that you need. If you’re going fiction, no matter the genre, you need a complete manuscript, because that’s what they’ll be pushing on publishers and they’re not going to sign you if you just have a few chapters and a good idea. Non-fiction? A complete work is good, but often you’ll be submitting a book proposal, which can be a harrowing process because you’re completely planning out a book with target audience, chapter lists, research to corroborate, etc., and the book hasn’t even been written yet, whether you’re writing memoir, philosophical treatises, or a guide on how to get a rockin’ beach bod and own the club scene.
It’s likely that an agent will have some editing notes, but they’ll be more broad. It’s generally to clean up the manuscript to get it solicited submission ready and save the editing staff at a publishing house as much grief as possible. Then again, you might end up with an agent that’s just as meticulous as an editor (there’s a lot of overflow between jobs) and put your book through several editing runs before any publishers see it. Remember, it’s not just your brand, but their reputation that’s on the line when your work reaches an acquiring editor’s desk. If they’ve signed you on, they want you to succeed, possibly more than you do. An agent is the person who has your back, or is supposed to, at least, in the rough hellscape that is the publishing marketplaces. It’s rough out there for authors, and an agent might find you a home.
Small Press/E-Press Route
There’s a big difference between small/e-press and larger New York houses, and it’s not just the size. Send your manuscript to a publishing house, and it could be months to years before you hear back. Query an agent and it could be over a month before you get a reply to your 8 sentence pitch letter. Smaller presses get back to you faster because their submission load isn’t as high. It’s still up there, and many still use slush readers, but you’re more likely to get attention, and authors are authors at a smaller press, instead of a number. At least, that’s the general viewpoint. Plenty of authors would be all too happy to argue that point.
Small presses tend to be focused on specific genres, such as mystery, thriller, romance, memoir, philosophy, cooking, what have you, and it’s easier to find them and submit. One thing you shouldn’t do with a smaller press is consider it “settling”. Smaller presses are far more likely to respect the integrity of your work rather than have you rewrite, replot and revise with the aim of maximum marketability. Small presses are also more likely to take a chance on a new or beginning writer. A lot of authors got their starts at smaller presses.
E-presses or Web-Based Presses
If you ever want to hold your physical book in your hand, don’t go to an e-press. Otherwise, e-presses are somewhat decentralized, comprised of freelancers for writers, editors, cover artists, and the publishers themselves situated all over the country, and often the world. With an e-press the final product will be an eBook to sell on Amazon and other distributors.
What an e-press brings to the table is quicker replies and a faster turnaround from your manuscript being accepted to being on the market. The standards also vary from press to press to being respected to being a step above a vanity press. When researching e-presses, and smaller presses as well, it’s vital to look into the reputation of the press, as well as their social media presence, as some e-presses are rife with controversy.
It’s easier to get your book with a smaller press or e-press, but it also means that a lot more of the work will be on you. The amount of editing and revision will depend on the press and could be as stringent as a New York house, or nothing more than a quick proofread before shoveling your book onto Amazon with a stock photo cover and title written in Comic Sans. Also, the marketing is decidedly less than a larger publisher. Often your work will be sent out to reviewers, an official announcement made on release day, and the rest will largely be up to you. Promoting a book is exhausting, and promoting your own book is even worse, as it takes away time you could use on writing your next book.
“Eh. Screw this. I’m just uploading it to Amazon.” I felt I’d imagine you’d say that.
Self-publishing used to be considered the great shame of the publishing industry until E.L. James repurposed her Twilight fanfic and started making, at one point, a million dollars a day. Suddenly, self-publishing didn’t seem too bad of an idea.
There are authors, established ones with back catalogs that fully belong to them, who would tell you that self-publishing is just… just… it. Granted, these authors already have connections with editors, cover artists, and a fanbase they built up while writing for other presses. You do not. They can price their books on Amazon with a high royalty rate and a higher price, knowing that they have readers who will buy anything they put out. You… do not.
Self-publishing means that all of the work is on you. You have to write it, and that’s the easy part. You also have to edit it, and it takes a writer a while to learn to look at their work with an editor’s eye without ending up spiraling into rocking back and forth next to a half-empty gallon tub of ice cream and listening to Adele. You’ll also have to come up with a professional looking cover, because that’s 90% of the reason that someone looks at a book by a new author. Even if your work is award-caliber stuff, if the cover is amateur-hour, no one’s going to buy it outside of friends and family.
There is a way around this, as there are plenty of freelance editors looking for work and cover artists willing to take commissions, but often you’ll have to pay out for something the publisher would have taken care of for you. You’ll have a lot more control, but the burden of responsibility lies entirely with you, and the cost might not outweigh the profit.
But, Wait! There’s Steemit!
Is it article length, meaning under 4000 words? If yes, sure, why not, you might pull the kind of upvotes and value that’ll reach an industry standard rate for freelance writers.
Is it longer?
And you want to publish it on Steemit? If you haven’t already, go to @thewritersblock, particularly their Discord, and tell them you’re going to publish your book on Steemit. Make sure to supply paper bags because a lot of people are going to hyperventilate from hysterical laughter.
Hold Up, You’re Skipping Something
Yep, the money of it all. That’s a whole ‘nother entry, trust me. We haven’t even gone into the royalties, taxes, promotion costs… Don’t worry, I’ll be back with Part 2. 😊