You Just Wrote a Book. Now What?
I regularly receive calls or messages from folks in my networks that go something like this:
“My friend [or family member] has just finished her book. What should she do next to get a book deal from a publisher or self publish?”
Such a loaded question!
For those of you who are hoping to help your budding author friends or family members, please share this with them. If you’re the author (or "just asking for a friend"), I hope you’ll find this helpful and enlightening.
Normally, I suggest that authors figure out their purpose and audience for their books before writing them. But I'm guessing the darn thing is already written. So let's go from there.
Get Your %$#&(* Together
I have been stunned at the number of new authors who do not have their book manuscripts in electronic format. What I mean is that they don't have a manuscript in a Microsoft Word document, or a document created with one of the programs similar to Word such as Google Docs, OpenOffice, or even a raw text file (.txt). I even had one author who sent me .JPEG picture files of her book pages. I also received an inquiry about reviewing a binder of book material that was almost a thousand pages, none of which was available electronically. Grrrrr!
"But I don't like using computers for creative work." Then you're not going to like this either. As an author at this time in history, you will be expected to use word processing technology such as Word. Your editors and book layout designers will require your manuscript be submitted in Word, or a file type that is similar to it.
And your publishing partners, particularly editors, will not want to sift through your pile of random musings in order to create a book. If that's what you're expecting these people to do, you can also expect that they will probably want charge you handsomely for the service (conservatively, in the thousands) and may also expect some co-author rights and royalties.
So get used to it, get yourself some word processing training online or offline if you need it, and get your %$#&(* together.
What You Really Want
I’m guessing you want some money and recognition for writing your book. Go ahead, say you do. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be whining about your book to your family and friends, and looking to these non-publishing industry folks for advice or referrals for your book. You’d just be happy dumping your thoughts onto your computer or in a journal.
Now that you’ve come to grips with that, you have to switch gears from being a writer to being a *gasp* salesperson. Not comfortable with that? Quit right now. I mean it. Just write for fun or a hobby. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and headache and cash.
Not ready to quit yet? Okay, then you need to make a choice between pursuing a traditional publishing deal or self publishing. Neither is easy. But here’s what you can expect.
Path #1: Traditional Publishing
I usually hear “I want to get a book deal” from new authors who are completely clueless about how the traditional publishing industry works. Traditional publishing means that you get a book deal contract with a publishing company, large or small, who will handle the editing, printing, distribution, and a bit of marketing. Note that I said a "bit" of marketing.
Here’s the deal about book deals. Big or even smaller independent (indie) publishing houses probably don’t need or want your book. They are flooded with manuscripts and pitches from lots and lots of authors and agents. The big trade publishers may not even look at a manuscript from an author that isn’t represented by an agent.
What’s an Agent?
Agents are salespeople who represent authors to publishers in the hopes of getting the author a book deal contract, and a nice commission for themselves. Agents’ commissions come out of whatever payments you get from the publisher. Getting an agent requires you to sell the agent on selling you. Agents want authors and manuscripts that are an easy sale to a publisher. That means in addition to having a stellar manuscript, you should have a significant fan base eager to buy your book when it publishes.
How do you get an agent? Well, first you have to find one. They may not advertise themselves that much. I think you can understand why. They’d have every hopeful author knocking on their virtual door for consideration. (In a bit, I’ll offer a resource that might be helpful for locating one.)
Sure, some indies may consider first-time authors without an agent. But just because they’re smaller publishers doesn’t mean they want small-time authors. Like their big trade publisher competitors, they have limited budgets and resources to devote to any book project, and want easy book sales. So you better show them how you’re going to make them enough money to invest in your book and make a profit. That means you need to be able to tell them how many people are potential buyers, how you might already have those potential buyers lined up (as your fan base), how your book is similar to other successful books in your genre or market, and, paradoxically, how your book is unique compared to competing books.
Another word about working with agents and publishers. You should probably have your own attorney review book deal contracts and agent representation contracts prior to signing. Don’t be so eager to get a deal that you sign away your financial and publishing future. As well, publishing agents are for publishing and getting you a book deal. Then they're on to the next author and manuscript. They won't be managing your author career, public relations (PR), or book marketing.
It gets even more frustrating when you realize that it could take years to get a book deal or agent, if you get one at all. Very few authors actually do. And unless it’s an evergreen topic or genre, it could be outdated material by the time it actually gets traditionally published.
What Traditional Publishers Do
Many uninformed or misinformed authors believe that a traditional publisher will take care of “everything” once a book deal is done and the manuscripts are submitted. That’s not the case.
True, the publisher will probably handle the majority of the editing, proofreading, and production of the print or eBook. But that doesn’t mean it’s hands off for you. Chances are you might be asked to do some rewriting to meet their requirements. One author I know got very exasperated at this stage with the manuscript reworking she had to do. Also, you might not like the edits a publisher may insist upon.
Even more emotionally distressing for authors is that they may have zero input or control over the book’s cover design. Authors have a vision in their heads of how it should look. But a publisher will choose a design that will pump up sales, not an author’s ego.
Speaking of sales, the biggest myth that new authors who get book deals believe is that the publisher will handle all the sales and marketing. Well, they might do some at the book launch. But unless specifically included in the contract, expect no continued marketing or sales help for your book beyond the launch, and maybe not even much then. It’s all on you. (This is why self publishing is appealing to many authors these days.)
Did you notice that I didn’t say a publisher would make sure your book will be on the shelves in a bookstore? Even if you do get a publisher book deal, the chances of your book being physically for sale in bookstores are slim.
And if you think that you're going to make a lot of money from your book deals with traditional publishers, here are the sobering statistics. The Author Guild 2017 survey (46% were traditionally published, 27% self publish only, and 26% do both) found that the median annual author income for books only, excluding other writing income, for full-time traditionally published authors was $12,400. That is not even minimum wage! And all authors—whether traditionally or self published, or both—earned $0.
What to Read If You Want to Pursue a Traditional Book Deal with a Publisher
Before you go down the traditional publishing path, get yourself a copy of the current edition of the Writer’s Market. It’s an annual directory published by Writer’s Digest Books that lists publications, publishers, and other writing opportunities. There are specialty editions of this directory for poetry, novels and short stories, agents, children’s books, songwriters, etc. Get all of them that apply to your work and educate yourself on the industry and your market before you ever step onto this path.
I’ve also found the articles in the Writer’s Market to be very helpful in understanding the traditional publishing world. Read them, too, in addition to the listings.
Path #2: Self Publishing
At this point, you might be thinking it’s just easier to go with self publishing. In many respects, that’s true. But not totally.
Before you go any further, you’ll need to do some editing and proofreading of your book, even if you edit it yourself. Hiring editors and beta readers could be a significant investment, depending on the condition of your manuscript.
You should consult an attorney to prepare necessary disclaimers to protect you and your work, especially if your book offers advice or is a memoir. An attorney that specializes in intellectual property can also be consulted to clarify any questions you might have about copyright protection and dealing with self publishing companies.
Formatting and Publishing Your Self Published Book
Once all the text of your book is final, then you’re ready to begin the formatting and publishing process. From a technical standpoint, self publishing is easier and faster than it’s ever been in history. In fact, now you can self publish for almost free on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) if you're willing to go the DIY (do it yourself) route. Other self publishing companies such as IngramSpark, Lulu, and BookBaby could also be considered, but may have fees for various services.
For authors using KDP, the Kindle Create eBook formatting tool now offers the capability to create the print edition and the Kindle eBook edition with the same file. This is an incredible development. But it’s still in beta mode and has some problems as of this post date, though I suggest you give it a test drive.
If you want it to look better than what you can get with the Kindle Create tool, you'll have to do the formatting manually in Microsoft Word, or a program that can save your manuscript in a .doc or .docx file format. See KDP's support documentation for specific file requirements, margins, etc.
For other non-KDP self publishing platforms (IngramSpark, Lulu, Bookbaby, etc.), see the company's website for manuscript and book cover requirements.
If your book is a more complex paperback or hardcover print job, you may have to invest in graphic design and formatting help which can easily run into hundreds or thousands of dollars, and a lot of time. Suggest doing simpler text-only print books in the beginning to avoid making expensive mistakes while you learn the self publishing process.
Then after your manuscript is formatted, you could get your print book or eBook published and listed for sale on Amazon in just days using KDP. If you’re using another self publishing company, see the company’s website for details on uploading, service times, etc. Whatever company you use, just make sure to proof your uploaded manuscript, as well as a physical printed proof for your print edition.
Marketing and Selling Your Self Published Book
But the effort and investment in writing, editing, and formatting the book pales when compared to the marketing you’ll need to do. Just having your book listed on Amazon doesn’t mean you’ll make sales.
Don’t be confused by any non-KDP self publishing company claims to help you with “promotion” of your book. Promotion often means the company will post a link to your book on their social media profiles at launch. Maybe they’ll offer a boilerplate press release that you will send to media outlets. Higher priced self publishing packages may include distributing your press release to the media. But unless noted otherwise, they will not do paid “advertising” for your book.
One thing you should do right now is start building your author platform, also known as your fan base. These fans will become your initial sales prospects for your books. So many authors wait until they have their book done before they begin to recruit fans. Then they wonder why no one wants to buy their books. You’ll need to build and maintain this fan base for as long as you plan to make sales of your book. You might even have to do some advertising on Amazon (Amazon Marketing Services) ads that appear on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to make sales beyond your fan base.
And here’s the worst part. In both my 2016 and 2018 Thorne Self Publishing Surveys of self published authors, around 73% of respondents who had at least 1 book published projected to make less than $1,000 a year in book sales and royalties. Statistically, there’s a good chance you won’t make much money in sales and royalties from your book. You might not recoup money you spent formatting and publishing your book right away, if ever.
Good to Go? Or No Go?
I’m guessing you might be a bit discouraged after reading this. If you realized it's not for you, that's okay. I just want you to look at your writing and publishing investment through a realistic lens.
If you’re someone who thinks that all of this doesn’t apply to you because you’re going to be the next breakout author star, I hope you’ll reconnect with me when you reach that level of success. I’d love to hear how you did it.
Good luck with your book adventure, wherever it takes you!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2019 Heidi Thorne