I’ve been blogging a lot lately about a scam publisher and warning people not to get suckered. But I think it would be a good thing to also talk about legitimate alternatives to small, insignificant rip off artists that will never amount to anything more in the publishing world than the worst joke told around the water cooler. You don’t have to fall for that.
For starters, I’ll talk about the options of seeking traditional publishing and a couple self publishing options. So let’s take a look.
There’s always the route of trying to get published by a traditional publisher. It’s not an easy market to break into, but it can be done.
Write a quality book.
That doesn’t mean hammering out your first draft and calling it a masterpiece. It’s called a first draft for a reason: because more drafts are supposed to follow.
Some writers like to start with an outline. I’m one of them. I like to know the story line from start to finish before I get started on the prose. I compare writing an outline and then adding the prose to building a trellis first, and then letting the flowers grow on it.
Other writers like to start writing with an idea and see where it goes. They let their characters decide what’s going to happen as they go along, just letting the story unfold. I call that daisy-tripping, and I find that it creates more work in the end, having to go back and fix daisy-paths that didn’t really go anywhere in retrospect.
But to each their own.
Do it. Never, ever think that you’ve sat down and written the next contemporary instant classic. You didn’t. That’s not an insult to your writing skill or talent. It’s simply a fact. No first draft in history was ever print worthy. So after you’ve written it, take a day or two to celebrate the effort – you deserve it. But then go back and read it. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll find mistakes. That’s not a bad thing. Everybody makes ’em.
I suggest copying and pasting the entire book into a new document for your rewrite. Keep the original, intact, for posterity. Later, you can look back and see how far you’ve come. With the new document, do your second draft. Then do your third. Be careful not to overthink yourself, but be honest about what needs to be changed.
Every name you see on the bookshelf at the store was edited by somebody other than the author. Stephen King has an editor. James Patterson and Nora Roberts have editors. You need one, too. A good one, not some inbred, hijacked author wannabe that’s no more qualified for the job than you are, unless you’re a professional. And even if you are, still hire somebody else to do it. Surgeons don’t operate on their own kids for a reason. Hire an editor. A good one. I can’t repeat that enough.
Even if you’re submitting to a traditional publisher, don’t think “Eh, they’ll do the editing.” Those people get hundreds, if not thousands of submissions a day. You want yours to be the one that stands out to them based on the quality of your work. Sure, they’ll probably have their own editors go over it, but only if it’s selected in the first place.
Once you think your manuscript is ready to submit, make sure it’s in the proper format. No fancy fonts, no cutesy squiggles around the page number. No colored paper, no handwritten notes in the margins, no illustrations of any kind on the cover. Use Courier font, size 12 with 1 inch margins printed on one side only, with the page number centered at the bottom. That’s it.
More daunting than writing the book itself is writing the query letter. A query is a letter introducing yourself and your work to whomever might read it. It’s usually just one page with a few paragraphs, and no more. The first paragraph introduces your book. Just one paragraph. That’s it. You need to be able to introduce your book in just a few short sentences. You should be able to break it down into one. And I don’t mean a huge, long run-on with fifteen commas.
Dorothy Gale is swept from Kansas to Oz by a twister and discovers that there’s no place like home. Simple. Concise.
The remaining paragraphs are for you to introduce yourself, who you are and what qualifies you to have written this book. If you’ve served in the military and your book is about fighter pilots, include it. If you’ve written a thriller, it might not be relevant to include that you won last year’s bake sale with aunt Martha’s cherry turnover recipe. Unless your villain is a pastry that eats people instead of the reverse. Don’t embellish to impress. Just say who you are.
Don’t ever include statements like “Everybody that’s read it LOVES it!” Nobody cares. And don’t say “It’s the next Harry Potter or Twilight. The publisher or agent will decide for him or herself whether or not they like it, and what it will become.
You can go ahead and describe your book in a little more detail with a synopsis, but don’t go crazy. This should fit on one page, too.
Most publishers won’t even read an unsolicited mms. It goes straight into the garbage or gets deleted without a single page being turned. The best way to break into the business is by getting signed by an agent. They have the contacts and stand the best chance of getting your book picked up by a trad publisher.
My suggestion for finding an agent is to pick up a copy of the Writer’s Market. It’s an invaluable source of information about agents and publishers, arranged by subject in the index. It’ll save you a lot of time, and a lot of postage. There’s no sense in sending a DIY gardening book to an agent that handles children’s picture books. Also, the agent listings in TWM tell you exactly what to send to each agent. Some want sample chapters while others only want to read your query. It can’t get more basic than that. Which agents represent what type of work, how to contact them and what to send. Get it. If you can’t afford it, they keep ’em in the resource section in the library. Sit down with a notebook and copy the listings you like, or plug a few nickles into the copy machine.
When you’ve written your book, gotten it properly edited, hammered out your query and sent your stuff out to agents, wait. Chances are you’ll get rejections. Everybody does. Stephen King did. He got rejections and threw Carrie in the trash. If his wife hadn’t fished it out of the garbage and made him press on, we might never have heard of him. Same thing will happen to you. Keep submitting your work. In the meantime, while you wait, you can be working on the next book. If the first doesn’t get picked up, the second might. Just don’t give up.
And no matter what you do, don’t be so eager or starry-eyed that you fall for the line of some scam small publisher that will promise you the moon but ends up doing you more harm than good. You can do much better, baby, on your own.
Traditional publishing is a tough racket to get into. Some authors get their start by self publishing. It’s tricky business and you need to be careful about how to approach it.
There are companies like iUniverse that offer publishing service packages for authors that want to go that route. They’ll get you an ISBN, barcode, format your book, create cover art and put your book on the market for you. These are all steps you’re going to have to take in publishing for yourself anyway, so consider carefully if you’re willing to pay the price to have it done for you this way. It’s one-stop shopping, and that convenience might be appealing on the surface, but think about it carefully. These places are expensive, and they’re not going to do any of your marketing for you. I’m not going to call vanity publishing a ripoff, but be very careful about what you’re getting and what you’re not.
See above. If you’re self-publishing, it’s even more important to get your work properly edited. This is not an area you want to skimp on. It might, in fact, be the most important thing you do for your book.
Your book is going to need a cover. You can slap one together yourself in any paint program with stock images from the web, or you can hire an artist to do it for you. Whichever you decide, remember that the cover is the public’s first impression of your book. That’s what they’re going to see first, and based on that, might choose to skip right over to the next if they don’t like what they see, without reading a single word. So make sure your cover is a good one.
Find out everything you need to know at Copyright.gov.
The International Standard Book Number is used to identify your book in the literary world. Every book needs one, and every version of a book needs its own. You can buy one, or a number of them, from Bowker.com.
Every book needs an individual bar code on the back cover. You can get those from Bowker too.
Any author can self publish on Amazon’s Createspace. They make it easy. Create a free account, upload your manuscript, throw together a cover using their handy little cover creator, and that’s it. They assign your book a number and a barcode, and before you know it, your book is on Amazon.com and Kindle. And it’s free. Can’t beat that price with a stick. For many self publishing authors, this is all you need. Have fun.
But here are also services you can make use of through Createspace, for a price, including editorial services, professional cover design, expanded distribution. It all depends on what your budget is for creating your book.
The down side to Createspace is that the book number they give you can only be used on Amazon and Kindle. You can’t take it to any other place or service. If you want a nook boo, you can’t use your kindle book number. It’s best, in my humble opinion, to go ahead and get your own number. That way, you can use it no matter where you go, and you own it for life. You can still use Createspace with your own number. You just plug your own ISBN when you’re setting up your project, that’s all.
There are a lot more options for writers striking out on their own, and I’ll investigate those in the days to come, as well as expanding upon some of the points I’ve brought up here today. But I think this is enough to start with. Probably more than enough, as long-winded as I am. I just wanted to show that there are alternatives to getting scammed. A lot of them. A bright-eyed, eager new author has options. So there’s no need to be suckered into falling for a scam. Just don’t.