The three roads a writer takes towards publication
Getting a book published has been a lifelong dream for me. Ever since I was ten years old I’ve always wanted to get one of my stories published and in print on a bookstore shelf. From my experiences on this journey I’ve learned there are three roads a writer can go on in their quest for publication:
Print on Demand/self publishing. This is where the author spends their own money to publish their work. It works best for poetry, family memoirs and niche stories with small markets like my first book Isis. The goal is to get the author’s work on the market and introduces their writing to the audience. With decent promotion can come enough sales to cover the costs publishing POD novel if a writer spends a couple of hundred dollars on the project. Master salespeople like Michael Baisden, Mary B. Morrison and Teri Woods can sell thousands of books. I’m working on becoming like them.
Shawn’s advice on Print on Demand Publishing: This can be a profitable venture if a writer understands what they are getting into. The writer must understand THEY will be responsible for the editing, cover design, and the overall finished product. There will be no support from bookstores and no distribution outside of online retailers. The writer will have to spend money to find customers and target their audience. The writer will have to get the word out for their book. On the journey down this road prepare to lose a lot of sleep. This is a second job.
Sending Query letters and submitting manuscripts to the New York and California Literary agents. This is the process of trying to get representation by one of the well-connected agents who network with the big publishers. Querying is where a writer submits a one-page letter and detailing their book’s premise, audience and a short biography to an agent in the hopes they’ll read part of the book it or the whole manuscript. For a response, the author must include a self-addressed stamped envelope with enough postage to cover the return of materials.
Let me state this clearly: having representation by an agent doesn’t guarantee publication. Having a good agent only increases a writer’s odds of getting their work read by an editor at a publishing house. Going down this path is a crapshoot with 90% of the odds against the author.
On this road authors must look out for pitfalls like scam agents. These predators promise easy access and charge fees. More often, they participate in kickback schemes with “editorial services”, “book doctors” and “subsidy publishers” that swindle writers out of thousands of dollars. To paraphrase the late Johnnie Cochran: If an agent charges any fee the author has to flee!
Shawn’s advice on traveling down the road to getting an agent: DON’T quit your day job. DON’T expect anything to happen quickly. Lotto tickets will probably pay off before most writers get an agent. Most agents get more work than they can handle, so just submit that query letter and SASE and forget about it.
Query and submission to the New York and California Publishers. There are a ton of small publishers out there looking for stories. Writers can submit their partials (first three chapters and synopsis) to small publishers like Genesis Press, Harlequin Books and Dorchester Publishing and have them reviewed by editors. Fantasy writers can submit manuscripts electronically to Baen Books and Tor/Forge books. Shawn’s advice for travelers down this road: DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB! Lotto tickets will probably pay off before these publishers contact you. It usually takes 8-12 months for them to respond to a submission of any kind.
Each of these roads sounds bleak doesn’t it? Not really. A lot of writers beat the odds. But it’s mostly due to an individual author’s hard work and determination to succeed. They have realistic expectations and understand they get what they put into the experience. Writing the story is one thing, selling it is another. So a writer must not only be adept at their storytelling craft, but a savvy businessperson as well.