7 Things I Have Learned About Publishing

Joining the discussion on publishing alternatives today is Theresa Rice. She answered the call out to talk about options available to fiction writers. She initially sent a very thoughtful email on the subject and agreed to put it together as a guest post. She is currently working on completing her first novel and finds herself wanting to learn as much about publishing as she can. I can relate. In her words...

Guest Post by Theresa Rice
Learning The Biz

I recently attended a writing conference and had the chance to meet and mingle with people involved in and knowledgeable about the industry of writing, and publishing books. I wrote a more inspirational piece about it here: http://www.sassinboots.com/?p=78 but for a less fluffy and more boiled down version of the information here is a summary of the information I took away from the conference. Take it as information to add to your arsenal, if someone tells you I’m wrong and they work for a large publishing company or have data to disprove what I heard, then by all means, listen to them.

1. I’m writing my story, when do I pitch my idea and get my advance?

Excuse me, let me catch my breath from laughing. Very few authors are receiving advances anymore. I think I heard Amy Schumer received an $8M dollar advance, but she’s Amy Schumer, and her book would sell if she just breathed a crass joke or two into it. As a largely unknown or unpublished writer, you can expect that you will need to have your entire manuscript (MS) written and ready for submission when you are ready to find a publisher.

2. How to I find a publisher?

If you are looking for a small-scale independent press, search the internet. Two small publishers I met while at the conference were Pronghorn Press and Two Dot Publishing. On their websites you can get a feel for what they publish by previewing their catalog. They also will list instructions for submitting an email query on their website and should also indicate what they are looking for (women’s fiction, commercial fiction, historic fiction, poetry, etc.)

3. But I want the fame, the money, the big city lights…

If you are looking to shoot for the stars (and you should try) and get published with a large publishing company (Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins) you will need to find an agent. Again, the internet is your friend here. Search for agents and then review what they are looking for (similar to the small-scale publisher process above) and submit a query following their instructions. I cannot stress enough to FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. I heard at least two stories from agents rolling their eyes at would-be authors who randomly send emails that clearly demonstrate their inability to read and follow instructions. There are 4500 new titles being published DAILY. Don’t get shut out before you’ve even had a chance to get your query or first few chapters read.

4. How many times do I need to edit my manuscript?

There’s not a right answer here, but the sense is the more the better. One publisher indicated she would be excited by a writer who told her he/she was on his/her eighth revision. They don’t think of it as obsessive, but rather committed to presenting the best version of their work as possible. Before you send any queries and submit your chapters, your story should be in the best possible shape. Zero spelling errors, no grammar issues, no big leaps in time that don’t make sense. There is a great post about this topic right here: http://goo.gl/4wBK0n (via Janet Reid)

5. Using the internet and randomly sending emails seems really impersonal, anything else I could do?

Attending the writing conference is one of the THE BEST things I did for myself. If you are writing about the west check out Women Writing the West. They are a very supportive and informative group. Whatever your genre, find a writers association and see if there is a writing conference that relates to your genre that you can attend. Some associations require that you be published before joining. (I’m looking at you Western Writers of America). During the conference you generally will have the opportunity to meet with agents, consultants, editors and publishers to pitch your story and see if it’s something they might be interested in. Having a One Sheet will help you think about your story in new ways and better articulate the theme and unique experience you have to tell the story.

6. I’m thinking of self-publishing, what do you think of that?

That’s great! You must be a real go-getter. I might end up going that route, but I’d like to get someone else to do some of the work for me. Even though your MS should be in tip top shape when submitted, the editor will still likely work with you on awkward spots or various changes. And the publisher will design the cover and work with you on advertising and getting your precious baby, I mean book, onto retail shelves. Be aware that the general feeling right now in traditional retail stores is that self-published books don’t belong. Unless you have a great relationship with the owner of Small Town Books down the street from your house, most retail bookstores are apparently reticent to stock self-published books, if they do at all.

7. Maybe I’ll go with the small scale publisher…

There are a few items to keep in mind if you choose to go for a small scale publisher. A small scale publisher is just that: small. Their presence in the market is small. They generally are going to print books on demand. Large brick & mortar retailers can be resistant to print-on-demand books, making it harder to get your book out there and in front of readers. So if your book is harder to discover, and not as visible, you can imagine it’s going to be harder to make very many sales. 1000 books was the average number of books sold by an author working with one small publisher I spoke to. Not per week, per month or per year. Total. When you consider you will be receiving 8-15% of the wholesale price (.80 to $1.50 on a $10 wholesale price) you realize you can’t be in this business for the money. And that lofty 15% is for proven authors who are previously published. Additionally, as an unproven or new author, you can expect to help with some of the upfront costs of publishing with a small publisher. I was quoted about $1500. The publisher is taking a risk on you, putting work into editing your manuscript and designing your cover. They want you to help mitigate some of that risk. If you have a dog in the fight you’re more likely to help make sure your book sells at least enough to break even for the publisher.

So, did I take the wind out of your sails a little bit? I know. Sorry to be a buzz kill. The great thing is that this is knowledge, and every piece of information you can get your hands on will only help you on your journey to getting published. You do not know unless you try. So if you’re going to try, then get as much information as you can to make informed decisions around the process. I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors.

Theresa has been writing for most of her life, starting with her high school newspaper, also with the debate team, then later in college in creative writing courses. She would “journal home” via email about her exploits working on a ranch in Arizona, a fishing lodge in Alaska and at a missionary hospital in Ethiopia. Most recently she is working on her first novel, a work of fiction inspired by her experiences at the ranch in Arizona.