As writers, we all want to get published. But over the last few years, the landscape has changed drastically. Gone are the days where your only recourse was to stick your manuscript in an envelope, mail it to a publisher, and await a response.
This week, I thought we could look at avenues to being published.
For most of us, we’d submit a sample of our book (usually three chapters, a synopsis, and a cover letter) to a slush pile (a publisher’s unsolicited manuscripts department). Then we wait to hear back from the publisher. At this point, we’ll either get a form rejection, a positive rejection (offering feedback), or they’ll ask to see the rest of the book. If it’s the latter, it’s a waiting game again, with eventually a similar outcome – a form rejection, a positive rejection, or acceptance (yay).
You outlay no costs with a traditional publisher. Remember this. Traditional publishers do NOT charge. Your only expense will be stamps and envelopes (if you use snail mail), or after your book’s published you might spring for the launch or a publicist. The other positive with a traditional publisher is branding. Imagine having ‘Penguin’ or ‘Allen & Unwin’ or ‘Text’ near your name. There’s an inference that by being accepted by a traditional publisher, you must’ve met some standard of quality. Publishers will get your book into bookstores.
As far as royalties go, you’ll only get about 7–10%. Most of the big traditional publishers are not open to unsolicited submissions. The only way to approach them is via an agent. (Should note that there’s nothing wrong with smaller boutique publishers, though – some of which are producing our best books.) Going the route of a traditional publisher can take time. I waited fifteen months to ultimately be rejected on one occasion. Many publishers also don’t want you submitting elsewhere while your book is with them, so it can be a time-consuming process going from one to the next and so on.
The other route to traditional publishing is getting an agent. Getting an agent largely involves the same rigmarole as submitting to a publisher (outlined above). The benefits of an agent is they can submit your work to publishers who are closed to unsolicited submissions. Agents, however, will also take a percentage of any deal struck.
You can either out-source the work required (e.g. editing, proofreading, layout, cover design) or do it all yourself, (although given your closeness to your work, you’re likely to miss things in editing and proofreading that a fresh set of eyes wouldn’t). There are printers everywhere, and you can even have access to the big mobs (e.g. MacPherson’s) that the traditional publishers use, ensuring your book looks great. Many self-publishing houses offer publishing packages that allow you to have everything done.
You have full control of your book. All the royalties are your own, which means that you should be able to make your investment in the project back in a short time. You can sing, ‘I did it my waaaaaay …’
Distribution is potentially the biggest issue. You’ll independently have to try distributors – e.g. Dennis Jones – to get your books in bookstores. Paying for the services (e.g. editing, design, layout, etc.) is an outlay for which you’ll have to allow.
Similar to self-publishing, but a group will provide all the services required from go to woe, although often there isn’t attention to detail and no real editorial guidance. Hypothetically, you could publish gibberish. There’s no real quality control, as all you’re doing is paying them to furnish you with a product. At the end of it all, you’ll have a book that’s yours to try and place in bookstores or hawk on street corners.
It’s a straightforward process. You have a book at the end of it all.
Again, can be expensive, no distribution. Sometimes, the quality of the book can be average.
Partnership publishing provides the services required to publish your book, e.g. editing, layout, and cover design, to produce a handful of copies of your book. For all this, you’ll have to pay a hefty sum. Additional books (your books) can be purchased from the publisher at ‘discounted’ author prices, or you pay for additional print runs at higher rates.
You should get professional services. Partnership publishers will (or should) provide that run of professional services that traditional publishers do. They’ll market your book on their website.
Expensive. Partnership publishers will usually take half your royalties. Some partnership publishers are unscrupulous and will tell you what you want to hear (e.g. Your book is absolutely brilliant!) or that you are ‘invited’ to be published to get your business.
PoD (Print on Demand)
This is a service where you set up your book with a PoD (e.g. Lulu). This will mean meeting stylistic requirements and then uploading your manuscript in the format they specify (usually a Word document, or a .pdf). Then, if anybody wants to buy your book, they order it from the PoD, and the PoD simply prints out a copy specifically for them.
Do it yourself, ready-made availability, easy to do for somebody who just wants to do it.
As with anything when it comes to volume, the more you have of something, the cheaper it is per unit. Here, you’re charging people per one unit, so it’s always going to be a bit more expensive. The margin for profit is smaller because it’s more expensive to print one book at a time.
As eReaders become more and more prevalent – either through eReaders such as Kindle, Kobo, Sony, or through Kindle apps on their smartphones and/or tablets – more and more books are becoming digital. Years ago, this might’ve been considered quaint. Now it’s becoming more and more the norm. Given now that primary school kids are expected to have access to iPads, etc., it’s a matter of time before reading digitally becomes parallel (if not surpasses) reading hardcopies. Conversion is easy, and then you can hit online retailers like Amazon (who monopolise 70% of the market), Smashwords, and BookBaby.
You can do it all yourself, paying nothing but time. If you did out-source the work (e.g. conversion, designing the cover), the expense would only be in the hundreds, as opposed to the thousands. Uploading to Amazon is free, although they’ll take a small percentage of your royalties. Being on Amazon gives you immediate global distribution you wouldn’t even get with some traditional publishers. Ebooks are cheaper (to buy), but on something like Amazon, you get a larger percentage of the profits (70% if the cost is over $2.99, 35% if it’s cheaper).
Everybody’s going the ebook route now, so it’s hard to distinguish yourself from the pack. Many still prefer the hardcopy book. Poor conversion leads to code bloat (inflated coding in the conversion), which can affect load-up times on pages, etc., as people are reading your book. If enough people complain, Amazon reserves the right to withdraw your book. They also reserve the right to change the price of your book to something suitable if they think you haven’t priced it suitably.
As an aside …
Just to illustrate the validity of this as a route, there are authors who are (at the very least) self-sufficient simply by publishing through Amazon, and/or have been picked up by traditional publishers due to their success. So it’s worth considering. (Watch this interview with author Amanda Hocking, who made a success of it in on Amazon: click here.)
Many of the big publishers have opened up slush piles for digital imprints.
One last sidenote
Don’t forget that 50 Shades of Grey began as an ebook. Its success saw it picked up and turned into a hardcopy. Now it’s also being turned into a movie. Not bad for an ebook.
So they’re your options. The biggest difference is years ago, people thought you must publish via a traditional publisher to be valid and/or successful. Not so the case anymore. There are several avenues, each as perfectly valid as the others.