So you’ve determined that your heart’s in the right place and you still want to publish a book even though you know you won’t make a lot of money and you won’t please everyone. Good for you! That part, at least, was pretty easy. Now comes the part where you curl up in the fetal position and breathe into a paper bag because OMG HOW DO I PUBLISH A BOOK?!
Okay, nutso- calm down. The good news is that you really only have two choices: the traditional publishing method and self-publishing. There are pros and cons for each, so you need to consider both carefully.
1) The traditional publishing method- This involves getting yourself an agent/editor who will help you get a contract with a publisher. It’s a very competitive venture because there are way more authors who want to publish than there are agents, editors, or publishers. It’s dog-eat-dog and only those writers who are able to convince the suits to stand behind them will likely ever make it very far. (Notice I didn’t say the best writers; being talented is certainly a big key but you also need a great capacity to promote yourself as well as collaborate with others.) Everybody wants to make money and big publishers are looking to publish writers who will help them do just that. Remember that talk we had about money not being important to you? Yeah well, publishers aren’t like that.
But I know of more than a few writers who can’t seem to get over the starry-eyed romance of finding an agent, working with an editor, signing a contract, going on book tours at Barnes & Noble, etc. That’s all well and good. If that’s your dream, go for it. But don’t delude yourself- unless you’re delivering a genius, innovative, pristinely-edited product that’s hot right now and everyone in the world wants to read, you’re gonna have a hard time. If you’re a novice writer, if you’re still getting the hang of the publishing game, if you’re in a niche market, or if you have trouble accepting people changing your work, you’re gonna find it near impossible to get the suits to take a chance on you. It’s nothing personal, but nobody wants to risk losing money for something they don’t believe in.
Not to mention that it can take forever and a day to get anything done. Looking for an agent or editor can take upwards of a few months to a year or more, since most want at least several weeks to read over your work before making a decision. Same with publishers. Then if you actually succeed at winning these people over, the publishing time is lengthy and involved. Do you have two or three years to go through that process?
Now, I’m not saying the traditional publishing method is bad. It’s actually very efficient in preserving the quality of published books that we as readers enjoy. No one wants to go to the bookstore and spend $20 on a book to find typos, bad writing, ugly covers, and generic, overdone stories. Traditional publishing ensures that whatever’s released to the public is in tip-top shape. That’s part of why it takes so long. Again, I’m not saying this is true in ALL cases- occasionally some awesome writing gets overlooked just as occasionally some sucky writing gets published. It’s all part of the money game. If you’re willing to play that game, (and probably invest a chunk of your own as well,) then by all means, go for it.
2) Self-Publishing– This method bypasses the need for a third-party publisher by allowing you to publish your work yourself. Obviously you probably don’t have a printing press in your home so you will need to work with a self-publishing company, but they leave the entire publishing process up to you until you tell them what to print. Some charge an upfront fee, others take a cut of the royalty check. But by all accounts it ends up being cheaper and more time-efficient and you get more say in how your book is produced. Actually, you get all the say. That’s the point.
The drawback here is that you don’t have experts on your side. Everything that needs to be done, from text formatting to cover design to proofreading to setting up distribution channels to marketing, has to be done by you. (Unless you want to shell out some serious dough for these independent services; that’s also an option.) And since you’re on your own as far as marketing, it’s a lot harder to get your book noticed, i.e. make any money.
Another drawback is that there’s a potent stigma surrounding self-publishing. The fact that the average didn’t-pass-eighth-grade Joe can publish a book just as easily as you can tends to be discouraging for a lot of writers. There’s an extra bit of glory, a little bit of pomp to be earned if you succeed in publishing the traditional way that you just can’t get by self-publishing. This isn’t the fault of the all-powerful publishing industry, either. It’s just what happens when you give everyone their fair shot. We’ve all seen our share of shoddy self-published books, most of them with a stock photo of flowers or a waterfall on the cover with the author’s name in fancy, unreadable cursive. You know what I’m talking about.
But if your goal is simply to release the book you want to release and maybe sell a few copies, to learn as much as you can about the process and feel proud of your accomplishments, this may be the choice for you. It was definitely the choice for me.
As stated in yesterday’s blog, Part 1: Determining Your Motivation, I never really cared about the money. But I couldn’t stand the thought of releasing something that wasn’t completely done my way. I didn’t think I could handle being told that my niche poetry wouldn’t sell in big bookstore chains. Um yeah, duh. The lack of marketing help didn’t really scare me because I’d been slowly building up a following of readers for a year beforehand. And I was hungry to figure out as much as I could about publishing in general (that’s my nerdy librarian streak showing.) So for me, self-publishing was the way to go.
Ok, so now you’ve got a choice: traditional publishing or self-publishing? That’s up to you. If you’re into traditional publishing, well I can’t really help you there because I haven’t tried it. But if you’re seriously considering self-publishing, stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog, Part 3: Getting Started With The Self-Publishing Process.
Blessings and happy reading,