Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How do you get your book published.

We have been getting quite a few people coming into the store lately asking us how they can get their book published. Well there are basicly two ways you can go about it: Self publishing (printing your self or through a vanity press) or finding a publishing house to publish you - you will likely need to find your self a literary agent to find a publisher.

If you decide to go the way of the Self Publisher here are a few Pro and Cons taken from to think about.

Self Publishing Pros

1. Control: Many people who self-publish do so because they want control of the whole process. Every decision is the author's.

Once a contract is signed with a traditional house, decisions are out of the author's hands. The look and feel of the book, how it is marketed, whether to reprint or sell to foreign markets or a movie studio....

A self-publishing author holds all rights and has complete control over who uses the work and how.

2. The Market: Some people who self-publish do so because they have a niche market they know well. This is the case for a bulletin I self publish for Grade one parents. I sell it to schools to distribute to parents. As a teacher, I have access to teachers that no publisher could have. I am happy to do the work to market my writing in this venue because of my insider knowledge.

Another writer publishes books on exercise for dancers. He is a former ballet dancer and a medical practitioner. Again, he knows the market personally and has immediate access to people who will buy his books.

Another writer is marketing her self-published cookbook on a speaking tour about low carb living.

There is another special group of self-publishing writers, those who envision a very small print run. For example, writing a family history is a common reason to self-publish. Other writers just need to see their name on the cover of a book. Self-publishing meets those needs.

3. Time: If you self-publish, you can get your book out much more quickly.

You can spend years sending out a manuscript, getting a rejection, sending it out again to another publisher....

And if you do get accepted?

A traditional house spends a year or more getting a book on the shelves. With self-publishing, that time can be reduced to weeks for a book, hours for my bulletin.

4. Money: (a)Many people are attracted to self-publishing because of the low royalties offered by traditional publishing. When a book is sold traditionally, the author will receive about 10% of the selling price. A self-publishing writer can get 40-60% of the selling price. Keep reading, because there is a money downside, too.

(b)As a small business, and you will be a small business if you self-publish, you can deduct many expenses. This can be a big advantage if you have other significant income.

Note: As a writer you can also deduct many expenses, so publishing may not be as profitable as some people think, given that you had to write the book anyway. On the other hand, if your book lasts a long time, you can continue to deduct business expenses long after the book is written.

5. Testing the Market: Some people self-publish as a way to test the market. Once a writer can prove people will buy a book, he or she takes that information to a traditional house and uses it to try to secure a

6. Attention: The self-publishing author gives the project his or her attention. In a traditional house the sales force has many books to sell. They can give only a part of their time to any one publication.

Self-Publishing Cons

1. Being Alone: In a traditional house a whole team of people are investing in your book. Editors, layout people, printers, packagers, sales people, distributors, lawyers, accountants....

To do a good job of self-publishing you either have to become skilled in all these areas or to hire expert help.

2. Marketing Getting someone to open their wallet to buy a book takes both time and money. The fiction market in particular can be difficult to target.

Who will read a particular book?

How will you convince a reader to buy your book instead of another book just like it?

How much of your time can you devote to marketing your book?

3. Time: Everything your book needs from conception to sales will come out of your daily schedule. In a traditional house, once you've written your book and made the corrections your editor calls for, you're done. The publisher will want you to do some publicity and it's in your interest to do it, but there is no question that the self-publishing writer spends far more time in production and sales.

4. Money: You have to spend money before you get anything. And there is no guarantee that you will ever get a return on your investment. All the risks are yours. If you publish with a traditional house you generally get an advance and then if your book sells well, there will be royalties.

Many book sellers will not buy directly from an author. It is too expensive for them to set up an account to handle only one book. That means finding a distributor, who will need a discount on the price of the book. The book seller also needs a discount. The 40-60% profit gets eaten quickly in this system.

The book business also has an odd convention. If books do not sell, the stores return them for a refund. You can offer a larger discount and write a special contract refusing returns, but not all stores will accept that.

5. Tight market: You were testing the market? Even if you sell your book successfully you have no guarantee a publisher will take it. Publishers buy only what they believe will make them money. If they already have a book like yours, if their list is already full, or if they believe there is a change coming in the tastes of the reading public, they will not take a book even if it has shown strong sales.

6. Prestige: There is a prejudice against self-publishing. Many believe that unless you have "sold" your idea to someone who vets your work, there must be something wrong with your book. This will matter more if your work requires some academic standing. It is important to recognize that many self-published books have an amateurish look and feel because, frankly, an amateur produced them.

On the other hand, many well-known writers self-published and have had enduring success. Consider Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Margaret Atwood, for example.


While looking for information on Literary agents I came across Neil Gaiman's blog from Tuesday, January 11th, 2005 titled "Everything you wanted to know about literary agents..." I would recommend reading Neil Gaiman's full blog entry!

In the blog Neil contacts his friend and Tor books editor Teresa Neilsen Hayden who Neil says "knows publishing better than anyone else I've ever met." This is what Teresa wrote back, along with a note from Neil himself:

What I got back was the kind of comprehensive post that aspiring authors should read with care. Study, even. Mark it and copy it and use it as a resource:

Hi, Neil --

Happy to answer.

1. If you're writing fiction, the True Secret Answer is "get an offer." If you've got an offer, you can get an agent. If you don't have an offer, you don't want the kind of agent you're likely to get.

a. If you're good enough to get published, having an agent may prove helpful. If you aren't (yet), you definitely don't want the kind of agent you're going to get.

i. There is no substitute for writing a book that people want to buy and read. If you can do that, you can get published. If you can't, no clever workaround will help, because we can't force people to buy and read books they don't like.

b. Some ways you might get an agent without getting an offer: Be obviously and extraordinarily good. Sell a lot of short stories. Have some other seriously hot credentials.

2. Don't start by looking for an agent. Do your research first. Start by learning about agents, submissions, publishing houses, the industry, et cetera. Note: This is a huge subject.

a. No matter how you think it works, the publishing industry doesn't work the way you think it does. This is true even for publishing professionals. They know how their part of the industry works, and they know a lot about adjacent areas, but the further afield they go, the less reliable their expertise will be. People who aren't in the
industry generally don't have a clue.

i. A phenomenal number of articles about how publishing works are written by people who don't know what they're talking about. This is partly because writing about writing, or writing about publishing, is what wanna-be authors do when they've given up on writing, but don't yet want to admit it. It's also because a made-up version of the publishing industry is going to be much simpler and more logical than the real thing, and thus is easier to write about.

ii. Look askance at articles that credit some industry practice to the stupidity of people working in the industry, who have failed to see the simple and obvious solution the author of the article is about to suggest.

3. There are easily as many scam agents, useless agents, and clueless agents as there are real ones. They all swap bad information with each other. The difference is that the scammers know it's bad information.

a. You can't research this subject just by getting online and looking. You have to stick to good sources.

4. Did I mention that any idiot can write a book about how to be a writer? When you see someone who's never sold a book, but who's written a book about how to get your book published, and said book was published by a vanity house, and said author is nevertheless accepted as an authority on the subject by a great many aspiring writers, you know you've wandered into strange territory.

a. The scary part is that I've just described more than one Authoritative Source of Advice about Writing and Publishing.

b. Any idiot can put up a website, too.

c. Check out your source's credentials.

i. It's always worth your while to assess the quality of the info you're getting, because bad advice can cost you such an inordinate amount of time and effort.


The Essential Resources:

The Association of Authors' Representatives

There are some legit agents that don't belong to the AAR, but not many; and if an agent belongs, they're legit.

Writer Beware:

Preditors & Editors is one site in two places, mirrored: mirrored:

Aspiring writers should read both Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. Reading them from start to finish wouldn't be a bad idea.


Further Agent-Specific Resources

Agent Research & Evaluation has a good reputation and a stern attitude:

Agent Query,, is an online database of agent info. I haven't used them. They've been casually recommended to me.


People who give reliable advice:

Victoria Strauss, who ought to get a Special Hugo or something. She has a collection of very good articles on her website, a couple of which are specifically about finding an agent:

Ann Crispin.

Jim Macdonald, sometimes known as Yog Sysop. He hangs out at AbsoluteWrite, fighting scammers in the Bewares Board, and teaching writing in Learn Novel Writing with Uncle Jim.

Me (she said, modestly) mostly, unless I'm feeling irresponsible. You can usually tell. Further down is a list of some of my Making Light posts about writing, publishing, and related subjects. I put it at the bottom because it's so long.

John Savage, a pseudonymous lawyer who specializes in law for writers. He does a weblog, Surreality Check:

C. E. Petit, a lawyer who specializes in law for writers, has a weblog called Scrivener's Error:

Michelle Sagara.

Kent Brewster, of Speculations/Rumor Mill, has overseen a great many discussions of publishing, editing, and agenting.

Andy Zack is a legit agent who answers questions online.

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