Ever heard someone tell you that you should write a book? Or do you already have one underway?
Here's a guide, filled with an overabundance of resources, to help you navigate the vast – and often confusing – publishing world.
Are you deciding whether self publishing or a traditional publishing route is best for your work? Are you unclear on how to find a reputable literary agent, without getting scammed? Do you know how to format your books into popular digital formats? Or which print on demand service gives you the best quality for your dollar? Wha
These and many more questions on book publishing have professional answers, provided by published authors and experienced agents, found in these professional resources.
Decision Time: To Self-Publish or Not?
There was a time when self-publishing was for losers. After all, if you were a real author, then you'd find a legitimate publisher.
Well, that was then, this is now. There's quite a bevy of vendors that will help you get your book into print. Or into digital form. Or both.
You are now in business. Which means that you're responsible for every aspect of your book's success.
If you've decided that self-publishing is the way to go, congratulations! You'll be earning a bigger cut of the profits than you would be if you found another company to publish your work. Take that, Big New York Publishers.
After you're finished toasting your new business venture, get ready for reality. You are now in business. Which means that you're responsible for every aspect of your book's success. You can't blame your agent for landing you at such a rotten publisher. You can't diss the publisher for choosing such a lousy title and cover designer. And no complaining about how they aren't doing enough to promote your book.
Now, let's circle back to a couple of paragraphs ago. Especially the part where I used the phrase “cut of the profits.” There's no guarantee that your publishing effort will be profitable. That's yet another part of the adventure of being in business.
Okay, enough harsh reality. Let's get your self-publishing venture off the ground.
Resources for Self-Publishers
Your journey as a self-publisher will have three phases:
- Writing the book
- Taking it from manuscript to finished book
Phases One and Two tend to be sequential, but here's the thing that surprises a lot of rookie publishers: Promotion shouldn't wait until a delivery truck arrives with a shrink-wrapped pallet holding boxes of your printed books. You should be thinking about promotion as you're writing the book. If not before. (Yes, there are authors who've created a complete marketing and sales plan before they write a single word of their book. Consider becoming one of them.)
If you've never written a book before, the process can seem overwhelming. Dan Poynter to the rescue. His Para Publishing offers an entire line of books on planning and executing a writing project:
- Writing Nonfiction: Turning Thoughts into Books takes a book-building, rather than a book-writing approach. This will help you create printed book spinoffs like eBooks, audiobooks, and videos.
- If you're thinking of working with a collaborator, Poynter and co-author Mindy Bingham tell you how to go about the process in Is There a Book Inside You?
- Are you an obsessive organizer? Great! Self-publishing is an activity that's tailor-made for the detail-oriented. Your Book Writing & Publishing Calendar shows you what to do and when.
Before I leave Dan Poynter and head off to other parts of the self-publishing universe, permit me to recommend the book that has launched thousands of others, The Self-Publishing Manual. Now in its 16th edition, Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual tells complete novices how to write, print, and sell their own books. It worked for me back when I first started self-publishing back in 1985, and I think it will serve you well today.
Not-so-fun factoid: Many self-publishing companies (also called publish-on-demand or POD companies) mark up printing by 100% to 300%. Ouch.
Poynter's approach has long been of the “start your own company, write, print, and promote your own books.” Which can lead you into places like the printing industry, working with freelance cover designers, proofreaders, and indexers, handling distribution, and more. For many years, this was the only way that self-publishing operated. No more.
Nowadays, there are all kinds of companies that will take your manuscript and turn it into a finished book. Some are legitimate and do a great job. Others? Ehhh, not so much. Need help with separating the good guys from the bad guys? Turn to Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.
Not-so-fun factoid: Many self-publishing companies (also called publish-on-demand or POD companies) mark up printing by 100% to 300%. Ouch. Want to know which companies Levine is talking about? Well, you'll have to buy his book. But he teases us with a partial list on his website.
Mark Levine also blogs – with an attitude – at Publishing Revolution: A New Word Order. Sample post: Twitter Whores, Johns and Pimps. Sample quote: “If you have to brag about how many people follow you on Twitter, you’re a loser. Period.”
Count Peter Bowerman as another self-publishing how-to guide author who isn't head-over-heels in love with the PODs. Bowerman's publishing business approach is similar to Poynter's, and he spells it out in great detail in The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living.
So, why is Bowerman not so keen on the PODs? Here goes: POD books tend to have per-unit prices that are much higher than similar offerings in online and bricks-and-mortar stores. And you can imagine what that price differential will do to your sales – you won't make many.
Which leads to Bowerman's other big knock against the PODs: Most of their sales are to the book authors themselves. Nothing like buying your own book, is there?
These days, a book is more than one of those ink-on-paper things. If you're going to publish it yourself, you'd better be thinking of an eBook version. Here to help you out are...
- How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks - All for Free by Jason Matthews
- How To Publish An Ebook On A Budget - An Author's Guide To The Free, Simple Way To Format & Sell A Book For Kindle, Smashwords, iBooks, NOOK and More by Stephanie Zia
- Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran
- Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard
- Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author by Zoe Winters
- Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker
DIY Book Promotion
We've covered book writing and resources for self-publishers. Now let's look at promotion.
First, let's start with a tune by Canadian musician Dave Carroll. “United Breaks Guitars” resulted from his Taylor guitar's fatal encounter with American carrier United Airlines. Carroll tried (and failed) to get the airline to replace the instrument.
His song became a summer 2009 hit on YouTube and led to his recently published book, also called United Breaks Guitars. The publishing project inspired a new song, “I've Got a Book Comin' Out,” which features Carroll in Relentless Book Promotion Mode. (Visualize a guy standing on a highway median, hawking copies of his book and you'll get the idea.)
Since book marketing will be a key part of your self-publisher's job description, here's John Kremer with a lengthy to-do list. Kremer is the author of the classic 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. Guaranteed to keep you busy for a long time.
If you're thinking of hiring a book publicist, Lissa Warren's book, The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity, will show you how to work with one. Or you can use it as part of your do-it-yourself toolkit.
Want a guide that fits your personality? It's okay to be a bashful book promoter. Matter of fact, you'll find plenty of tips for the introverted in J. Steve and Cherie Miller's Sell More Books!: Book Marketing and Publishing for Low Profile and Debut Authors Rethinking Book Publicity after the Digital Revolutions.
Taking the Conventional Publishing Route
The conventional publishers don't get a lot of love these days. The self-publishing community derisively refers to them as Legacy Publishers, Gatekeepers, Or the oh-so-sinister Big Six.
Despite the derision, these big, lumbering dinosaurs have figured out how to stay in business. And you might just have the mass-market topic that they're itching to publish. So, how do you approach them? Here goes:
Get a Literary Agent
It's been said that getting an agent is a lot easier than getting a publisher. That doesn't mean it will be easy. Literary agents are drowning in queries from wannabe authors. So, don't be surprised if your wonderful publishing idea meets a wall of silence or a thicket of no's.
Where are these agents who are drowning in queries, most of whom will likely ignore yours or say no to it? Here are six directories:
- The Association of Authors Representatives requires that members adhere to its Canon, which prohibits the charging of those much-loathed reading fees.
- Writer's Digest editor Chuck Gambuchino compiles an annual Guide to Literary Agents that combines a directory with how-to information on contacting potential agents and selecting the one who's right for you.
- Jeff Herman is a literary agent. And a very well respected one at that. His Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents lists hundreds of agents. It also offers highly detailed information on what they're looking for and how to contact them. Herman's Guide offers the same thorough coverage of publishing companies.
- The Preditors and Editors list serves as a writer's early warning system. The site copy notes, “Some agents and agencies don't want to be listed with P&E, even though it's free, because P&E dares to give negative recommendations.”
- The subscription-based Publishers Marketplace is a service of Publishers Lunch, which is considered to be a must-read in the industry.
Writer's Market is one of those reference books that your library keeps behind the counter. And you'll probably have to give the librarian your ID card while you're using it.
Reason: It's one of those books that has a funny habit of growing little legs and walking out the door. If you'd rather not take a trip to your oh-so-security-conscious library, you can get an online subscription via WritersMarket.com.
Another good place to meet the agent of your dreams is at a writers' conference. From the literary agent's perspective, publishing is like any other creative business – you have to constantly be on the lookout for new talent. What better place to find it than at a gathering that attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of writers?
Use the NewPages.com international directory to find writers' conferences that sound interesting. Freelance fiction editor Jodie Renner compiles a North American conference and book festival list that she updates several times a year.
Okay, I just used the term “early warning system” to describe the Preditors and Editors list. Does this mean that you, the author in seek of an agent, should be careful of who you're dealing with? Yes. Be very careful. To get up to speed on the scams that could ensnare you, read the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America guide to literary agents.
Can you get published without an agent?
Sure. Happens all the time.
But keep in mind that many of the major publishers will not consider un-agented submissions. So, if you have your heart set on being published by the likes of Doubleday or HarperCollins, better find an agent who wants to represent you.
If you decide to forgo agency representation because you're more interested in dealing with publishers much smaller than the Big Six, be aware that you'll still need to present your work in the best way possible. Small publishers are no more tolerant of sloppiness than their large counterparts.
Three Important Writing Sales Tasks
Regardless of the size of the publishing house you're seeking, you must become an ace at writing query letters (which are frequently sent via e-mail), sample chapters, and book proposals.
For these three writing sales tasks, your best resource is Jeff Herman's aforementioned Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents. Herman's fellow agent, Michael Larsen, offers another title, How to Write a Book Proposal, that is also worth a look.
Need some motivation?
Now that your head is filled with book publishing information, you're in need of some inspiration.
So, how about some motivation from a high school dropout-turned successful author? Marc McCutcheon has written a very entertaining kick in the pants called Damn! Why Didn't I Write That?: How Ordinary People are Raking in $100,000.00 or More Writing Nonfiction Books & How You Can Too!.
Face it: Being a writer is a tough and lonely career. It's easy to get discouraged.
Writing a book, publishing, and bringing an audience to your masterpiece is doable, but takes some understanding and dedication to the task. Keep in mind, whether publishing a book yourself or going the traditional publishing route, writing a book is a process.
Where are you at in the process? What book are you working on? What path are you on towards publication? And how are you staying motivated? Let us know in the comments below.