Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish is the Question, and Just Where Can I Get it Done? Part I

Traditional Publishing
Now that you’re all edited to perfection, and formatted, it’s time to decide just how you want to publish. There are a couple of options, and within those are even more options. First, though, you need to decide if you prefer to publish traditionally, with a formal publisher, or if you just want to do it yourself.

There are any number of schools of thought on this, and even more opinions. I’ve done it both ways, so I’ll just tell you how to go about each to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, and you can decide which on is right for you.

Traditional publishing refers to having your book published by a publishing house. There are many publishing houses out there, some of them big publishers (generally referred to as “the big six”), some middle ground publishers, and then the small or independent publishing houses. Each offer different things, and each individual publishing house will have its own rules or policies.

Who are the big six?

Hachette Book Group (formerly Warner Books, as in Time Warner). More recognizable are some of their imprints, such as Little, Brown & Company, Grand Central, and Orbit

Harper Collins has many imprints, I think somewhere in the range of thirty-ish, such as Harper Teen, Avon, Walden Pond Press, and William Morrow.

MacMillan Publishers also has many imprints, including Rodale, Templar, and St. Martin’s Press. I believe they have around fifty-ish divisions.

Penguin Group just this year overtook Random House as the largest publisher.  Besides Penguin Books, they imprint Ace Books, DAW Books, Signet Books, Viking Press, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and Jove among many others.

Random House of course includes Crown Publishing Group and Knopf Doubleday Group, with I don’t know how many imprints. Ballantine, Delacorte, Golden Books, Bantam, Dell, and of course, Doubleday.

Simon & Schuster rounds out the six with Free Press, Gallery Books, Pocket, and Scribner to their name.

I will tell you right now you don’t have a chance to even be looked at by any of these big guns without an agent. Direct inquiries, or worse, direct mailing of your manuscript will land your efforts in the trashcan, and can possible even get you blacklisted if you’re a pain in the butt about it. So if you’re looking to be published by any of these guys or their subsidiaries, get yourself an agent.

How to get an agent? You can either google “agents” and search them out, one by one, or you can subscribe to a service such as WritersDigest or WritersMarket, where they have done the homework for you. However, even if you subscribe to a service such as that to narrow your search, make sure to go to each agent’s website and read their guidelines. If you don’t follow their guidelines strictly, they won’t even glance at your query letter, and you will have wasted your time. Make sure you double check if they require exclusive submissions (meaning don’t send it to anyone else until they’ve given you a yea or nay) or accept simultaneous submissions (meaning you can send to as many as you want at once). If you do have simultaneous submissions out, let them know in your query. It’s the polite thing to do.

Ah, yes, the dreaded query letter. I wish I could give you some magic formula for writing one, but I don’t have it. No one does, because it’s all a matter of you writing the right words to catch the attention of the agent you are querying, and to make your book sound like the best thing written since Grapes of Wrath. You can also google this, and read advice from any number of authors, agents, and editors. The most important thing to remember is that agents are busy, and receive hundreds of queries a week. You must catch their attention immediately, within 10 seconds, or you don’t have a shot. And be professional. Absolutely no spelling or grammatical errors or you’re out. There are some online classes you can take to polish your query, and I highly suggest doing this first.

Also, don’t send a query to an agent you don’t really care to work with. What if they offer to represent you, and then you say, “Uh, no thanks, I’ll wait for someone better.” Agents are a fairly close knit bunch, and they will let the others know about this ungrateful author they dealt with. Guess what will happen to your query at the next agent’s desk? Bottom line: don’t waste their time.

Be prepared for rejection. There may be the rare author out there who was picked up by their first agent. I don’t know who they are, but they could exist, right? Do you know that Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was rejected 60 times before an agent signed her? Stephenie Meyer was rejected fifteen times. That’s actually a pretty low number of rejections. So be prepared. And be prepared that no matter how prepared you think you are, how tough you think you are, rejection hurts. Don’t expect them to send constructive criticism, either. Remember the line about receiving hundreds of queries a week? You’ll be lucky to receive a form letter rejection.

You can also choose to look at some of the smaller publishing houses, sometimes referred to as independent (indie), or vanity publishers. Many times they will accept submissions directly from an author without an agent, and some of them actually won’t take an author who has an agent.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a big check to come in the mail, either. The face of publishing has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of sending in your manuscript, receiving a fat advance, and then being sent on a whirlwind book signing tour. In some instances, you may receive an advance which is not a “bonus” per se, but rather is the publisher giving you a deposit against future earnings of the book, which means you don’t get paid any more until you’ve made back that amount of money in your earnings for sales.

Should you be so lucky as to find an agent, and then six months to a year later get picked up by a publisher, you’re looking at another six months to a year before actual publication, then six months more until you receive payment for your first month of sales. Conceivably, you could be looking at thirty months or more from signing with the agent until your first paycheck. While this is worst case scenario, best case scenario is being signed by a smaller publisher, who will get your book out within six to nine months, and then pay you six months after that. If you get a check a year after signing a contract, that’s pretty quick.

What happens once you sign a contract? Well, then the work begins. You will be busier than ever pre-marketing your book. Social networking via Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and the invaluable book blogs begins. You have to start becoming visible long before your book comes out. I won’t get into detail about that here since I’ll be detailing that in a later post, but just know that if you do go on a whirlwind book signing tour, you’ll be footing the bill unless your name is Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King, or Danielle Steele (you get the idea). A publisher isn’t going to dump a bunch of money into something like that on an unknown author. They have no guarantee of making any money on your book. Of course they want to sell your book, because they don’t make money if they don’t, but their end game is to make money off your book, not spend money on your book.

What can you expect to get paid? I would guess your average take is going to be around 15% of the total price, and then deduct from that what your agent makes. Not many people get rich off writing books, unless you can sell millions of books. So if you’re writing, do it for the love and passion of it, and plan to make a decent living if you’re good, but don’t plan to get rich unless you’re amazing. Even then, luck plays a lot into your success.

Next post we will take a look at self-publishing, which is a route many authors are choosing. Even some established, formerly trad-published authors are going that way.

As always, happy writing!

1 comment:

  1. All really great advice! I really wish being published was this big glamorous thing where they throw tons of money at you and send you around the world for signings. Dang you Richard Castle for making publishing look so good! Maybe one day right :)