Note to Mad Geniuses: yes, this is very simple, basic stuff, but it won’t hurt you to look at it, and there are many new readers who may be very interested. Also, I’m giving a talk today, at Chapters Books in Lebanon, OH, on this topic, and for those of you who will have seen me and I gave you the link, welcome!
There are, generally speaking, three roads to becoming a published author. The first one most people think of is the traditional way, where you write your manuscript, shop it around to agents, and then, if you are lucky enough to become agented, they shop it around to publishers until one decides they want the manuscript. Note I am not saying “like” because often the decision has nothing to do with the quality of the book, but more on that later. This whole traditional process can take, and likely will take, years. There are a few, very few, publishers who will take unagented manuscripts, but they are rare.
So, let’s say that years have passed, and you get that fateful email or phone call. Your book has been accepted. Hopefully, you continued writing and submitting during that time, so this may even happen more than once. Yes, you’re terribly excited, who wouldn’t be? But it’s time to take a deep breath, pick up that contract, and read it. If you can, get a lawyer who specializes in IP law and have him read it. Publishing contracts are often very unfair, and will take rights to your own work away from you, often for the lifetime of the work being in print, and with ebooks, it might never go out of print. Also, you can expect perhaps $1-2000 for an advance, and royalties are unlikely.
I’m painting a gloomy picture, but bear with me. It’s going to get darker, and then I will show you the light at the end of the tunnel. The second option for becoming published is vanity publishing, or what is still sometimes called self-publishing. This is where you pay a company hundreds, or thousands of dollars to get a book in print. Often, you the author will be required to buy hundreds of copies of your own books, which you must then find a way to sell. The products I have seen coming out of these companies, such as Publish America, are shoddily made, from their design to the physical print copies of the books.
There is a saying in the industry. Money (and control) flow to the author. If you are paying out this much money, then there had better be results showing for it. Professional-level editing, a great cover design, a well-formatted ebook… but that’s unlikely. Most places that want to sell you a ‘package deal’ are little better than scams. Before you do business with a company, google them, and look for reviews by former customers, BBB reports, anything at all. And if you type the company name into google and the autofill puts “scam” at the end of the search string without prompting, run!
Now, for the good stuff. You can get your work into the hands of your readers. You don’t have to wait for years, never knowing why it’s been rejected, and earning a pittance of what the actual sales of the book are. It’s no guarantee of success. Your book might only sell a few copies, at first. But you will be in control. Independent publishing means you are the publisher. Yes, this is more work than passively handing a manuscript over and going back to writing. But if you are wanting to become published in any way, you must realize you are also becoming a businessperson. If you do it on your own, or with a publisher, you will have to market your books, you will have to interact with fans, and so on. But as an independent, you have the control.
Most people don’t have the skills to do it all on their own. However, you can find people who will edit (know the difference between structural edits and copy edits, before you hire an editor. There is much more information on this elsewhere on the Mad Genius Club) and once you have references for a good one, you get to hire them, and tell them what to do. You get to have a cover suitable for your book designed (I do them, and trust me, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to a book cover). You get to decide how much or how little you do to market your book. There is a thriving network of indie authors growing up online, leaning on one another for help and advice, seek this out and jump on in.
One of the arguments I hear all the time against going the independent route is “Oh, I want to have a publisher tell me how great I am!” This is the gatekeeper fallacy. Here is the truth of it. Books are accepted by publishers all the time not because they are good, but because they filled the need of the moment. Books that are absolutely wonderful are rejected every day because the publisher didn’t have room to take them, or because they weren’t the latest sparkly witchy vampire hots story of the week. The only way to really know if readers will like your book is to put it out there and see if people will buy it.
It might start slowly, a few sales, a review here and there. Or it might hit with a splash that ripples outward for a long time. One thing is for sure, if someone is willing to pay their hard-earned money for it, they deserve the best product you can give them. Don’t skimp on making sure your book looks good, both in print and as an ebook. Then, rule second (or are we doing rules? nah) keep writing. The more books you have available, the more people will discover you. And then, who knows? I don’t. But I can tell you this. Then, my friend, you are a writer.
Second note: to those of you who are semi-local to Southern Ohio and would like to have me come give a free talk at your local library or independent bookstore, if you are willing to broach the topic with your friendly librarian or vendadora, I am willing to travel as long as I can do a signing after the talk with booksales.