Pushing Beyond the Page: Getting Published
I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to getting your work published. There are many factors to consider when making the decision about how to publish your work. What kind of work are you producing? Do you have a family album for which you will only produce a few dozen copies? Is this a masterpiece of fiction or prose? Do you have the next best answer to common health or fitness? For every genre there may be a different solution for the best options of publishing your book. The market for your book may also be very specific and must be considered early in the process as well.
My experience is in publishing fiction. Some principles apply to all genres, but some publishers are very specific about what they produce. It is worth the time to read about how some of the best authors began their writing careers too. Some of them struck it rich on the first try (Nicholas Sparks) while some wrote one or more novels before they hit the “big time” (John Grisham). I have, by no means, made it into that elite, but have enjoyed the journey. I still have hopes of reaching greater and greater audiences.
Finding a Publisher
One of the greatest frustrations in writing is finding someone who is willing to take a risk and publish your work. Traditional publishing companies take a lot of financial risk every time they accept a new author. A novice author, no matter how well they write, had few readers. We start with family and close friends, but the publisher, to make a profit, must sell the books beyond that small audience. There are many resources and listings of publishers, but my favorite is “The Writer’s Market,” edited by Robert Brewer. This book is published annually and contains names and information about many of the North American publishing companies. This book has resources, also, on how to find an agent along with some agent listings. There are chapters on what publishers and agents look for, how to write a query letter, and how to identify your audience. When venturing into the world of publishing it may help to do this initial reading and preparation. You may save yourself a great deal of frustration as you go.
Digging into the publisher listings pay attention to how many new books the publisher puts out in a year, how long can it take to hear back from them, what are their submission requirements? It seems that every publisher has their own unique method of gaining information from potential new authors. Some will not accept an author without an agent, some require that you be previously published. It is much like hearing from a potential employer, “You’re too young and need more experience.” How can you gain experience without that job? Or how can you have a previously published work unless someone accepts your book in the first place. Also the listings usually indicate what genres the publisher prefers to publish (some only publish romance novels or children’s books).
I recommend developing a list of the most promising publishers gleaned from your publishers’ resources. Check out the websites for each one. Most of them will have a tab for “submissions,” or “new authors.” This will give you the details of what is actually required. In most cases you will need to write a “query letter.” This is a single page document where you make you case as concisely as possible. You need to sell yourself and state, briefly, what your book is about. Many publishers also want a sample of your book, but often they only want a few pages. It is hard to tell much about the book in a few pages, but they learn about your abilities and your style. They don’t need the very first pages. Be selective. I found some publishers still required paper submissions. This gets expensive, as you have to print each page, double-spaced and mail it.
Smaller publishers are a little hungrier, but they may also not put many resources into marketing your book. This was my experience with my first novel. I found many publishers, in 2009, were not accepting any submissions. It seemed to be a low point in publishing. Nevertheless, I submitted query letters to about thirty different publishers, most of whom I found in “The Writer’s Market.” I sent first chapters, bios, whole printed novels, emailed whole novels, synopses, you name it. If they required it I sent it. I sent them in bunches and hoped daily for that letter to come in the mail saying, “Congratulations! You will be our next best-selling author.”
The reality, for me, was that I received a handful of replies. They were in generally form letters saying, “Regretfully, we are not able to publish your book. It is just not right for our company at the moment . . .” More often I heard nothing. Dead air. This is much like the job market today. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” or not.
Finally, after one full year of sending query letters and synopses and waiting, I decided to look into self-publishing. As I began to research the process, the long-awaited letter finally arrived. “Congratulations! We are considering your book for publication . . .” It was thrilling and I dropped all desire to self-publish. I had a contract within two weeks and began the process of fine-tuning my novel with the help of a “real” publisher.
Pushing Beyond the Page – Getting Published
My most recent endeavor has been to venture into the world of self-publishing. At first it seems simple and like an obvious choice, but there are pitfalls that make caution a must. Like my experience with traditional publishing, I have not learned everything there is to know about this facet of producing your work, but I will share what I know and, perhaps, others will help fill in the gaps.
Fortunately there are many resources available to help you in the world of self-publishing, but it can still be too much of a good thing. As with traditional publishing, you must decide what you are trying to accomplish and identify your audience. If you are merely putting together a family reunion photo book your choices will be different than if you are trying to gain a national audience for your new self-help ideas.
One thing to watch for are the “vanity” publishers. This type of self-publishing does work, but the cost can be quite high. For this service you pay an editor to check over your work and help you correct grammar. They may make suggestions about style and content, but overall, they “approve” what you have written. They have professional graphic artists to help with cover design and book layout. Your costs may run into the thousands of dollars, but you will have a professional product to sell. Every step of the production for the book has a significant cost. You will end up with a certain number of copies which you will, then, be tasked to market and sell. Additional fees gain you marketing and advertising help, but add to your overhead. If you have written a best-seller you may recoup your costs, but it is a risky way to start out.
Print-on-demand (POD) publishers offer reduced fee options (and this is becoming more common in the “vanity” market as well). In fact, one can publish a novel through Amazon Createspace at little or no cost to the writer. This may be true with other POD publishers too, but I have not investigated them. At this point you may want to stop reading and check out how this works with Amazon. I was intrigued by the possibility of “free” publishing, myself. If you have a manuscript and have done the editing you may submit this directly to Createspace (once you have opened an account). If it meets their editing criteria you may go on to design you own cover. Createspace has stock photos that can be used for free to make the cover. Once you put it all together and they approve the design, you may publish your book.
The caveat to doing the “free” publishing is that Createspace directs where and how the book is sold. They are the publisher of record. The ISBN (I will explain this later) is in their name and, while you may set the price, if you go this route entirely you may not be able to sell your books anywhere but on Amazon. Nevertheless, Amazon comprises the lion’s share of the market. So by hitching your wagon to Amazon, you could still do quite well at selling your book.
I chose a middle route for my second book. I did submit the copy to my original publisher, but I found out later that they were dealing with a distributor who had declared bankruptcy. I suspect this was a little distracting while I was hoping they were evaluating my manuscript (or maybe they just didn’t like it). Having done some research I chose to self-publish.
I am blessed with daughters who are all very literate and capable of proofreading and editing my manuscripts. One is a teacher and willingly provided the editorial service I needed for my second novel, “Congo Mission.” I paid her a modest sum (this could reach into the thousands for some editors) and she did a marvelous job. I’m not saying that having a professional copy editor wouldn’t be valuable, but one must take into account the “return on investment,” to a certain extent. Getting the spelling and grammar correct is a major undertaking. Editing content and advising the writer on what sells and what doesn’t sell is probably important, but comprises a major investment. I utilize readers to help me decide if I have a good idea or not. Friends and relatives can read your book and provide surprisingly effective critique. After-all, they are “consumers.”
I had this manuscript in hand when I started the process with Createspace. Here it gets a little tricky. My document was double-spaced with equal margins. A paperback book has to have a wider margin along the spine side of the page. Createspace provides a template for you to do the proper margins and spacing. The best idea I found (from Smashwords – which I will discuss in a later post) is to “NUKE” your document. This process is to copy the entire document to the clipboard then open it in “Notepad.” By doing this you remove most of the extraneous formatting that can get you into trouble later. The formatting guide provided by Createspace helps you to know exactly what is required. It took me a couple of weeks, making adjustments, to get the formatting just right so that it looked perfect on the template. When you upload the correctly formatted manuscript, it is then checked to see if everything is in shape. If issues are found, you have the opportunity to fix them and re-upload the document.
This is only part of the story, however. Before I ever uploaded my manuscript I paved the way to make this book my own. I formed a publishing company, called Esengo Publishing, purchased ISBN numbers, and found a company called Smashwords where I was able to produce an e-book.
Pushing Beyond the Page: Self-Publishing
Your Book Cover
The appearance of the book cover is one of the most important aspects of publicizing your book. Think about it; when you go to buy a book at the book store what gets you to pull the book off the shelf? It is either the “catchy” title or the appearance of the cover. Browsing online books or library books we tend to do the same thing. I don’t stop to read the intro if I am not attracted to the cover. In my opinion the cost of having the cover done professionally is worth it. This may be true every aspect of writing your novel and totally depends upon your budget. However, I have browsed Independently published books and have found that I am easily turned off by the cover art. A “middle” cost choice would be the use of a good photo (taken by you or purchased on the web) and Photoshop. In skilled hands this can lead to some very attractive covers for less money than you might pay a graphics professional.
My first book was produced by a publisher who had a professional graphic artist on staff. They took my ideas and put them on the cover. Their first attempt was not what I had in mind, but on the second try they hit it just right, and I was very pleased. I worried about the cost of this on my second book. I knew what I wanted, but I do not possess the Photoshop skills needed for the task. Nevertheless, I found a graphic artist was very reasonable and knew a photographer who did excellent work and was not expensive. I paid less than $350 for all of my graphic work. For the second book, this was my single largest expense. I do not regret this for a moment. If you have a local college or university you may be able to utilize the skills of a student, but you will need to supply them with information about the submission requirements for your publisher (Createspace provides templates and information). There are specific features that must be accounted for, such as the width of the spine and the “bleed” or area around the edge of the cover that will be impacted by the final cutting size.
Just like critiquing your writing it is good to get others to look at your book cover. It is much easier to make changes before you submit the files to the publisher than to do it later. With Createspace, just like submitting the interior work, you have opportunity to review the cover before going to print. Once the cover art has been accepted and the interior is ready you are ready to print books, right?
Here is a crossroad that writers must come to. Your book requires and ISBN number. This is the “International Standard Book Number,” and this thirteen digit number and barcode are printed on the back cover of nearly every book. This is a number unique to your book that identifies it in several ways. The number is used by book seller to find your book. It identifies the publisher, title and format of your book (you need one for each format, paper, ebook etc). You may be able to purchase an ISBN cheaply, but the caveat is that in so doing you will be identifying your book with the publisher who sells you the ISBN. Createspace can sell one to you, but it identifies your book as a “Createspace” published book. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it is obvious to buyers that it was self-published. Likewise, if you use a Createspace ISBN, you may be limited on where the book is marketed. Go to Bowker (the only place to purchase your own ISBN) https://www.myidentifiers.com/isbn/main for detailed information about purchasing an ISBN. They aren’t inexpensive, $125 for one number, but you get ten for $250. You need two if you plan to publish in paper and electronic formats (though Kindle does not require or even encourage you to use a separate ISBN for their electronic publishing). If you plan to self-publish more than one book you will need multiple ISBN’s making the purchase of ten for $250 more reasonable.
I went one step further and actually formed a publishing company (Esengo Publishing – Esengo means “joy” in the Lingala language, spoken in the Congo) for my own books. When my books are published, the ISBN will reflect that name “Esengo Publishing” as the publisher of record, not Createspace. I also purchased ten ISBN’s because I have several other book projects in the works. It is a significant up-front cost, but I will not have to purchase them again for my next books.
If you want to know what it takes to found your own publishing company, click “Say Hi” and send me an email. I would happily fill you in.