Book stores are structures so immense and imposing, they often anchor entire shopping centers of smaller stores around them. Some stores have multiple floors and levels, some have set aside tremendous floor space just for children, and some figure you are going to be there for so long, they might as well feed you. Book stores have restaurants, web access, sitting areas, restrooms, special events, and it is always hard to find a parking place. With all the enormity of a book store, and all the business and culture it seems to generate, surely there has to be room for your book, right? Yet so many aspiring authors feel as though they have hit that invisible but well known brick wall standing between your book, and the mysterious world of publishing.
What makes this process so difficult, and how can you possibly navigate the world of book publishing? It may help to remember one key truth: literary agents and publishers read all day, every day. They have to streamline the process, and they often know exactly what they want, and what they don’t want. Therefore, learning how to participate in this process properly is crucial if you are going to play ball with the big kids. Your book represents months, even years of planning, dedication and work, and it can be really frightening to throw it out there into the world of publishers and agents, for fear that they will not love it the way you love it. Gather your resolve, learn the system, and let’s see if we can get that book out in those huge stores.
Write Your Book (or Don’t)
Here is a perfect example of why the publishing process is so frustrating and so misunderstood. Should you write the book, or not? What most of the veterans say is for fiction: yes, for nonfiction: no. The difference being that most fiction publishers and agents will want to see a manuscript based on a book proposal you sent, whereas nonfiction publishers don’t need the manuscript, they just want the proposal before green-lighting you to write the book.
So depending on which type of book you are writing you might have a significant amount of work to do before you even begin looking for a publisher. Regardless of whether or not you have a completed manuscript, you should absolutely have a strong outline, and a set list of goals and objectives planned out before you jump in.
Identify Your Audience
This is a pretty important step, and one sometimes overlooked when a writer is caught up in the throes of inspiration. You have all these amazing characters, and plot twists and settings that appeal to you, personally, but do they translate to the wider market? One thing publishers will often roll their eyes at is the statement “This book defies genre,” or “This book redefines the genre”. While those books do come along once in a great while, if you plow into writing with this attitude, it may simply come off as you not understanding the genre you are writing in. Either your story is unrefined, or possibly unmarketable.
This is the point where understanding your audience comes in. Publishing is a business, and heartbreaking as it may seem to begin thinking about your heart’s work in terms of a marketable product, that is exactly what you have to do. Are you primarily hoping to catch the eye of the “true crime” readers? Does your book appeal to teens? Do you think your book will primarily resonate with women? Why? These are all questions you need to consider honestly, and once you have decided who you are looking to sell this book to, stick with that demographic.
Write Your Book Proposal
Cold calling agents, or dropping a manuscript into the mail with no context and no understanding is probably going to lead to repeated disappointment. Again, going back to the fact that publishers and agents read things all day, having a proper book proposal written is of tremendous importance. Unlike a resume, there are no points awarded, or considerations given for having a proposal that “stands out” in some way. There is a formulaic approach to book proposals, and you should stick to it. Let the story jump out at the agents and publishers, and not just the colorful paper.
When Submitting Your Work, Hold Up Your End of the Bargain
You Googled the address of a publisher, but what you got was actually the PO Box for their billing department, and your proposal was returned. You wanted your manuscript back, but failed to include an envelope large enough, and/or sufficient postage. You sent your manuscript on a disk, therefore requiring the parties on the other end to use their own paper to print it out. These are rookie mistakes, and can be easily avoided.
You want something from these publishers and agents, and in return, they want something from you. Namely that you take the necessary time to submit the proper materials in the proper way, and follow their clearly stated requests exactly as they are written. This is sometimes where aspiring authors mess up and it is easy to see why. For one thing, each publishing company or agent has different requirements. If you submit a proposal to Company B the exact same way you submitted it to Company A, you might have done it all wrong. Showing that you cared enough to research a bit before engaging in business with these companies lets them know that you are taking this seriously. It is all about first impressions, so don’t let your excitement at the prospect of getting your book into the hands of a publisher cloud your ability to behave professionally.
Find an Agent
This may come as a newsflash, but there are some publishers out there who will not even look at a book proposal unless it came from an agent. Again, this goes back to you doing your homework, but if you can follow the proper steps for submitting your proposal, you might gain an agent who will represent you.
An agent’s job is to take your proposal and submit it to publishers on your behalf. Since they know considerably more about the business than you do, be prepared to hear back from your agent with suggestions for changes to your book. This is a common part of the editing process, and one geared mainly towards making your book appeal to the widest audience possible. Implementing the changes they suggest will probably make your book more attractive to publishers, and more likely to win you a publishing deal.
Be Prepared to Wait
Publishers and agents are practically snowed under with reading material, and they do want to give each manuscript a fair chance. That being said, it could take months before hearing back about your submission. A timeline of six months or more is pretty standard. For this reason, it is often advised that you submit to several publishers at the same time. Make sure that none of these publishers have any kind of stipulation against “simultaneous submission” to other companies first, though.
Hopefully, this will allow for you to begin hearing back from publishers frequently, rather than waiting on each one to respond to you individually before proceeding. Often times, you will get those dreaded rejection letters, but don’t let them get to you too much. In fact, if any offer any constructive criticism, take it to heart, and consider what they say as a means of getting help from the pros. Sometimes, publishers might even agree to reread your manuscript if you implement the changes they suggest, to see if it fits better with their marketing plan.
Accept Your Best Offer
It is probably not best to think about writing in terms of an hourly rate. If you spent two years writing and editing a book, even an advance of $30,000 means you made $15,000 per year, which is right around minimum wage. Something to remember is that an advance is just that: advance payment on future sales. Once your sales climb past that point, you will continue to make money on any subsequent sales for years to come.
Still, it is in your best interest to go with the offer that provides you with the highest advance, because book publishing itself is expensive (for you), and recouping some of the costs associated with that process is important. Needless to say, if you receive only one offer for a publishing deal, then take it. The market changes so quickly that waiting on it might mean you lose your chance. Is it a gamble? Sure, a little bit, but getting your first book out there has value in and of itself. Your name is printed, your book is in stores, and you can begin building your personal brand from there.
Need that nudge to get started? Check out Udemy’s course called “How to Write Your Bestseller in a Day or Less“