Publishing your first book is an adventure only to be under taken with the resolve to understand all the steps in the process before you begin. A good friend wrote me recently that his daughter had just finished her first novel and he wanted to know what advice I might have for her. It didn’t take long for me to dump everything I knew onto the page. I ended up with a bare-bones summary that may raise more questions that it answers. The article at least puts up all the red flags a new author needs to notice. My advice follows . . .
First of all, make sure that you have a good story. If it doesn’t measure up, you will not get an agent to represent it, or if you self-publish, it will not get good reviews. Send the manuscript out to several trusted readers. Friends and family are prone to tell you what they think you want to hear. Invite candid, honest criticism. Compile their reactions. Revise and cut if necessary.
Most beginning authors overwrite. My first manuscript was 165,000 words long. The final published version was 93,000 words. Cut till it hurts. Contemporary readers want vigorous, fast moving stories.
Have the manuscript proofread by several different people. Agents and publishers will not correct spelling errors, omissions, grammatical mistakes, etc. They will simply reject the work if they see too many. Agents and publishers look for any reason to reject a submission. Don’t give them one. Compile the corrections into one page by page list and make the corrections.
Shysters, charlatans and crooks . . .
Visit the Predators and Editors website to research the credentials and professional standing of anyone you are considering to hire, whether proofreader, story editor, print-of-demand publisher, agent, etc. There are a lot of shysters and charlatans bilking aspiring writers. Ask for referrals. Follow up. Be wary. Just because they are nice doesn’t mean that have your best interests at heart.
Once you have what you would consider a final version, submit the manuscript to a story editor. This will cost quite a bit, but it will save money in the long run. Revise as the story editor directs.
Proofread the manuscript after revising it. Thoroughly! Errors always creep into the text when revisions are being made. Authors are not good proofreaders of their own work. Hire a professional. It will be expensive, but it is worth it.
Subscribe to Writers’ Market on line. It will give you the ability to search by genre for agents and publishers.
Research how to write inquiry letters. Don’t venture out thinking that you have something special or cute. Agents and publishers are deluged with inquiries. They are geared up for straightforward, brief, well-written inquiries in standard format. Anything too long, too cute, or poorly written will be rejected.
Once you have selected an agency, read the background of the agents employed to make sure your submission is on target. The most experienced, top agents in a firm are fully occupied with well-known authors. Inquire to a junior on the roster. Send out up to 10 inquiries at a time but only one at a time to any given agency. Most agencies do not like multiple inquires (inquires send at the same time to several of their agents.) Wait for the responses.
If you get a response, great. Go with it. Be aware, however, that an agent may not be successful in securing a publisher. Agents are, however, the best route into the publishing business. You will find a few publishers who will accept direct submissions but they are usually specialized or very small.
Be patient . . .
Under the best of circumstance, the inquiry process will take at least one year. Be patient. If nothing works out, you may want to consider self-publishing your book.
If you decide to go the self-published route, again make sure that you have a reputable print-on-demand (POD) publisher by checking Predators and Editors (see above). Probably the most reasonable and easiest firm to work with is createspace, a subsidiary of Amazon. They offer one stop shopping with a full range of services including cover design, interior layout, etc. They are reasonable but expect to pay something in the range of $350 to $650 depending upon how much you want them to do for you. They can produce both paperback and Kindle versions for you.
Cover design can be very expensive, as much as $1,500. The usual pitch is that a good cover will help sell the book. Trouble is most of your books will be sold on line through Amazon or other online dealers. The cover needs to look good but don’t pay for a drop-dead great work of art. You will be lucky if you self publish to get any brick-and-mortar dealers to stock the book; even less likely if you publish with createspace because brick-and-mortar stores hate Amazon and createspace is a subsidiary. Prospective buyers will not be finding your book on a display rack; in a position. in other words, where the cover shows it off to best advantage.
Traditional publishers allow retailers to return unsold copies. Createspace and other full service POD publishers do not accept returns which is one reason why books are not kept in dealer inventory. If a POD publisher makes returns available at a price to you, turn them down. Your book will appear on the retailer’s computer system as POD, not in stock and as special order only. Paying to extend return service is a con, pure and simple. Stop doing business with any firm that recommends it to you as an extra for which you pay a fee. (See my posting on Outskirt Press who recommended I pay for return service while withholding the honest counsel that they probably would not be able to get my book into a brick-and-mortar store anywhere. Avoid Outskirts Press.)
If you are very successful with a self published book, you may sell as many as 500 copies over the first year or so. Expect to make about $1.75 – give or take – on books you sell through retailers on line and brick-and-mortar, or $875.00. You can make more selling copies yourself and putting books out on consignment — up to $4.00 a book — but it is very time-consuming and it is difficult to keep up with dealers who are not responsible for “shrinkage,” shoplifting losses, in other words.
If you want only to produce eBook versions, contact Smashwords. They charge little or nothing and will put your book out in every available eBook format. You will need to format the pages and cover before submitting. This is tricky but not impossible. You can pay someone to do it or learn how, especially if you plan to publish more work in the future. My own experience is that paperbacks are still outselling eBooks, but the trend is away from print and toward the screen.
Traditional publishers usually release a hardbound copy of a new book first and follow with a paperback version in a few months. Don’t consider a hardbound. It will be expensive to produce and it will not sell well.
If you want to position your book so that you can make it available to all retailers, online and brick-and-mortar, consider working with IngramSpark. They produce quality on demand paperback, hardbound books and eBook versions at a reasonable cost. You must come to them with your cover already designed and formatted to their specifications and the interior must be formatted as they specify also. IngramSpark doesn’t get high marks for customer service. They expect the customer to know the business, but IngramSpark is available online to all retailers and allow sellers to return unsold copies (the author buys them back at cost).
You need a blog. You can get it professionally designed or do it yourself. Agents will look to see if you have a presence on line. You should also create a Facebook page dedicated to your book also. None of this activity is guaranteed to produce sales but it is expected nevertheless. In four years, I posted 161 articles on my blog and did not find any correlation whatsoever between the number of visitors to my site and book sales.
No guarantees . . .
When it comes to promoting your book, there are many publicists, promoters, and online services of all kinds that will work with your for a fee. None guarantees results. That’s because they really can’t demonstrate that they generate sales. They are most successful with non-fiction books on timely subjects. In five years, I have never encountered a fellow author who benefited from working with a publicist or promoter. Ask for referrals. Speak to other authors who have used the services of a firm that you are considering. I have tried many different approaches. None produced satisfactory results. Blog tours, twitter promotions, review-for-a-fee programs, give-away programs, you name it; most are come-ons looking for your money and more are coming into the business every day. Divide the fee you will be charged by $1.75 and you will see how approximately many books you will need to sell to break even.
Marketing efforts that produce measurable results include word-of-mouth, reviews in the local press, on online retailer sites like Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes & Noble and speaking engagements.
Good luck. Always be proud of your work. Many great writers were never discovered in their own time.
Below are links to other articles that I have posted on related subjects. If the link doesn’t work, copy it and paste into your search field.