Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure in Publishing!

What happens once you write a book? Well, there are a number of paths you can take, each with their own advantages and disadvantages depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish. Let’s start at the very beginning:

WRITE THE BOOK

You let your ideas flow through your fingers and onto the page. If you’re a traditionalist, you scribble away on a piece of paper, lovingly connected to your words through the touch of a pen, then later type it up in word. Otherwise, you clack away on a keyboard the whole time. Either way, you end up with a story in a word processing document. Now, before you even reach the end of your story, you
have options:

Finish the book on your own: Advantages – The satisfaction of a completed work that is entirely yours, regardless of what the world thinks. If you are writing primarily for yourself, then this is the way to go. Disadvantages – You invest time and energy into something that may need to be rewritten, which will further drain you of time and energy. If you choose this option, go to FINISH THE BOOK

Get feedback on your story: Advantages – Improve your writing and storytelling. If you’re looking to appeal to an audience, then getting feedback on the early chapters of your book can give you insight into how to continue before you invest in the rest of your manuscript. Disadvantages – Everyone has different opinions, and you can’t please them all. You could get hung up on the early chapters and never complete your story. If you choose this option, go to GET EARLY FEEDBACK

GET EARLY FEEDBACK

You send your opening chapters to your friends and family who said they’d be willing to read them. Meanwhile, you want as many opinions as you can get, so you also join a local writing group. Just for good measure, you do a google search of online writing communities and find places such as Wattpad and Authonomy. The online writing communities generally only read the first chapter or so of your book, so it doesn’t matter that your book isn’t finished yet.

Your friends, family, writing peers, and online buddies comment on and pick apart your opening chapters. Some people love it and rave about how you will be the next Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Jodi Picoult. Others tell you that they see potential in your characters and ideas, but that there are some issues to be addressed. Your sentence structures are a little off. You have made a few grammatical errors. Some of your content would be stronger if you were to revise it. Perhaps your opening few paragraphs need more of a hook. Wisely, you listen to these people. Those who rave let you know that you have something with real promise, and those who kindly critique let you know how you can take your book to the next level. Now, there are also a few who tell you that your book is no good. At first, they make you want to rip up the manuscript, hide under a bed, and never see the light of day again. But eventually, you learn to shake your head and move on.

Now, armed with knowledge from the critiques and confidence from the praise, you settle down to write the rest of your story. Go to FINISH THE BOOK.


FINISH THE BOOK

Your words tumble onto the page as your story reaches its final conclusion. Congratulations! You now have a completed novel. For some people, the adventure ends here, and the manuscript remains a part of a private collection, to be shared only with intimate friends and family. If this sounds like, you then go to RETURN TO YOUR LIFE.

However, if this isn't you, then that means you want your book to go places! So what do you do? Well you have a few choices...

Get feedback on the completed novel: Advantages – Learn what works and doesn’t work in your novel, which will help you perfect it. Disadvantages – Again, you can’t please everyone, and there will undoubtedly be some who will dislike your work. If you are very, very confident in your work, then proceed to one of the following steps. Otherwise, go to GET FEEDBACK ON THE COMPLETED NOVEL.

Post the book online: Advantages – Immediately reach your audience without the pressures of being officially “published.” Disadvantages – Your book will be visible to the world, and some unscrupulous knaves may steal it. Also, posting online may prevent you from submitting the book later if you change your mind. Some publishers require that a book never have been displayed publicly in its entirety. If you choose this option, go to POST THE BOOK ONLINE

Attend a writing conference: Advantages – Network with key industry people, including agents and publishers. There’s nothing quite like face-to-face time. Disadvantages – Writing conferences can be expensive and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything out of it. If you choose this option, go to FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT

Self-Publish: Advantages – No middleman, no gatekeeper. You are the master of your own fate. Disadvantages – You will have to invest your own time, energy, and money. If you choose this option, go to SELF-PUBLISH

Query the book in hopes of getting traditionally published: Advantages – The possibility of a publishing contract from a traditional house and all the bells and whistles aspiring authors dream of. Disadvantages – You can only submit to any place once. If you submit before you are ready, you could inadvertently close doors. If you choose this option, go to FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT.

GET FEEDBACK ON THE COMPLETED NOVEL

You send the manuscript to your family and friends who are thrilled that you had the ambition to write a novel. They are your beta readers; they’re your way of testing how your story fares with regular folk. They give you their gut reactions to your story. Some things they love, others they dislike, others they are confused by. You pay special attention to the things that confuse them and edit your manuscript to make things clearer. Otherwise, you take their opinions of what they liked and disliked into account as you decide whether you want to make further changes.


Meanwhile, you also look for a local writing group to get opinions. Or you go online and find writing communities, like Wattpad or Authonomy. Either way, you get critiques from fellow writers. Most only read your opening chapters. You read their opening chapters in return and swap critiques. Now, you may have been through this step before during GET EARLY FEEDBACK, in which case, you have extra experience with handling how others view your yet-unborn book baby. Fellow writers often have more insights, but they also have stronger opinions. You tread carefully and take some of their critiques. Others, you choose to ignore due to fundamental creative differences. You run into a few people online who believe your book is garbage. If this is your first foray into the shark tank of peer critiques, you rage and cry and curl up under your bed and contemplate smashing your computer. If not, then you just grumble internally and maybe rant privately to a confidante. Either way, you eventually shake your head and move on.

After receiving feedback, you edit your manuscript. Some time has passed since you last laid eyes on it, which has done wonders for your perspective. You clarify things that readers found confusing, clean up your grammar, and revise. Some parts you even rewrite, for in your initial, creatively-possessed state, you didn’t realize how silly they sounded from an external point of view. Now, you may repeat the process of getting feedback as many times as you’d like. You may also repeat the process of setting your book aside and then returning to it with a fresher perspective.

Finally, you have perfected your manuscript to the best of your ability. There are likely still errors – nobody’s perfect – but it’s as close to a finished product as you can get on your own. Now, you’re ready for an audience. You have a few options:

Post the book online: Advantages – Immediate connection with readers without the pressure of being “published.” Disadvantages – Some unscrupulous knaves may steal your work. Also, posting online may prevent you from submitting the book later if you change your mind. Some publishers require that a book never have been displayed publicly in its entirety.

Attend a writing conference: Advantages – Network with key industry people, including agents and publishers. There’s nothing quite like face-to-face time. Disadvantages – Writing conferences can be expensive and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything out of it. If you choose this option, go to FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT

Self-Publish: Advantages – No middleman, no gatekeeper. You are the master of your own fate. Disadvantages – You will have to invest your own time, energy, and money. If you choose this option, go to SELF-PUBLISH

Query the book in hopes of getting traditionally published: Advantages – The possibility of a publishing contract from a traditional house and all the bells and whistles aspiring authors dream of. If you submit before you are ready, you could inadvertently close doors. If you choose this option, go to FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT.

POST THE BOOK ONLINE

You create a cover graphic for your book. You then upload your entire book onto an online reading website, such as Wattpad or Authonomy. You write out a back-of-the-book-type summary and post it on your book’s profile. You tell the community about your new book and send the links around to your family and friends. Readers – not fellow writers seeking read swaps – find your work and enjoy it because it’s entertaining and free. They point out some of your errors, but you don’t mind. After all, it’s not like you’re charging money. They rate your book, recommend it to their friends, and leave comments.

Your journey may end here. You now have a completed book available to the public. Readers seeking your type of book can find it, and because you’re not charging any money, they won’t hesitate to read it if it appeals to them. You’ve had your fun as a writer, and now you have both the closure that comes with completion and the freedom to return to your regular life. If you are satisfied, you can RETURN TO YOUR LIFE. But if you are not, choose one of the following options:

Write another book: Advantages – You had a blast, and you have more ideas for stories. Why not do it all again? After all, you’ve been through the process once, and you know better now. Perhaps your new book will be the next Hunger Games or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Disadvantages – Writing is time-consuming and energy-draining, not to mention it will do funny things to your head, as you recall from this last little adventure. If you’re ready to do it all again, go to WRITE A BOOK.

Attend a writing conference: Advantages – Network with key industry people, including agents and publishers. There’s nothing quite like face-to-face time. Disadvantages – Writing conferences can be expensive and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything out of it. If you choose this option, go to FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT

Self-Publish: Advantages – No middleman, no gatekeeper. You are the master of your own fate. Disadvantages – You will have to invest your own time, energy, and possibly money. If you choose this option, go to SELF-PUBLISH

Query the book in hopes of getting traditionally published: Advantages – The possibility of a publishing contract from a traditional house and all the bells and whistles aspiring authors dream of. If you submit before you are ready, you could inadvertently close doors. If you choose this option, go to FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT.

FORMAT THE MANUSCRIPT

You’re serious about getting published, so you put your book into proper manuscript format. No more pretty fonts or funny colors you added for your own sake. A properly formatted manuscript is meant to present the words, the whole words, and nothing but the words. After all, agents and editors must read thousands and thousands of words a day, and this can make them very grumpy. An improperly formatted manuscript could be taken as a sign of disrespect, as if you didn’t care, and your book will be tossed out before it’s even seen.


Well, you don’t want that. You double space your story, ensure that your font is a standard like Times New Roman, add page numbers, and put your name and title in the header. You create a cover page, which includes the title, your author name, address and contact information, and a word count rounded to the closest thousands. You also make sure to have page breaks between chapters, and to make sure that your chapter headings are bolded.

Now, you have a proper manuscript, ready for serious consideration. What are you going to do?

Attend a writing conference: Advantages – Network with key industry people, including agents and publishers. There’s nothing quite like face-to-face time. Disadvantages – Writing conferences can be expensive and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything out of it. If you choose this option, go to PREPARE A PITCH

Query the book in hopes of getting traditionally published: Advantages – The possibility of a publishing contract from a traditional house and all the bells and whistles aspiring authors dream of. Disadvantages – You can only submit to any place once. If you submit before you are ready, you could inadvertently close doors. If you choose this option, go to PREPARE A PITCH. 

PREPARE A PITCH

Your book is awesome, and you know it. You want to make sure agents and publishers – and readers – know it as well. Your pitch must be more than a simple back-of-the-book type of summary, since it’s going to be seen by experienced professionals. The most important part of your pitch is your query, as this is the most commonly seen part of your pitch. But it’s not all there is – some agents and publishers will also ask for a synopsis. Also, in case you run into an agent on the elevator, you want to be able to tell them how awesome your book is before they get off on their floor.

You start with the query, the bait. You’re not trying to tell people everything that happens in your book; you’re trying to get them to read the freaking thing. Your query opens with a respectful “Dear [Agent/Editor Name].” You mull over your story and distill its essence into a single sentence. This sentence, often compared to a movie logline, must answer the following: a) Who is the protagonist? b) Where/when does the story take place? c) What’s the conflict? Your first sentence also lets the agent/editor know what kind of story they’re in for, be it chick lit, horror, fantasy, memoir, literary fiction, etc.

Your first sentence is a paragraph by itself. Next comes the “description” part of your query. You start a new paragraph. This next paragraph provides more details about what’s going to happen. Again, you don’t want to tell people everything – you’re trying to tempt them. Tease them. You want to make them curious. You finish your paragraph with a cliffhanger of sorts, which will hopefully entice the reader to want the answers.

Your last paragraph, which is only a few sentences long, tells the reader point-blank what kind of book you’re submitting. You tell them your novel’s title, approximate word count, and genre. Just for good measure, you throw in a few descriptive adjectives, such as “suspenseful” or “quirky.” You may compare your book to others in your genre to give the reader an idea of what kind of market you're going for (if you do this, pick a book that was published within the last five years or so). You also write a sentence or two about yourself – who you are, what your background as a writer is (courses you took, awards you’ve won, things you’ve published in the past). You finish your query with an offer to send in the full manuscript if it is requested and a polite note thanking the agent/publisher for their consideration, then sign it with your name.

You revise your query. You even solicit feedback on it. It’s your lure, after all, and the fate of your book could rest on this one short little letter.

Meanwhile, you also write your synopsis. Your synopsis, which is one or two pages in length, is written in present tense, and it summarizes what happens in the book. You don’t want to hold back on what happens; this is not a lure, but a presentation of the facts. You reveal any twists and end with the conclusion.

By the time you finish your query and synopsis, you have a pretty good idea as to what makes your book awesome. Using your query for inspiration, you find a way to tell others what your book’s about and why it’s awesome in about thirty seconds. You never know after all – you could run into Ms. Agent at the gym, and the last thing you want is to be caught tongue-tied.

Now, your pitch is ready. You can either:

Attend a writing conference: Advantages – Network with key industry people, including agents and publishers. There’s nothing quite like face-to-face time. Disadvantages – Writing conferences can be expensive and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything out of it. If you choose this option, go to ATTEND A CONFERENCE

Query the book in hopes of getting published: Advantages – The possibility of a publishing contract. Disadvantages – You can only submit to any place once. If you submit before you are ready, you could inadvertently close doors. If you choose this option, go to SUBMIT THE BOOK. If you're getting cold feet about your book's potential at this stage, then go back to GET FEEDBACK ON THE COMPLETED NOVEL.


ATTEND A CONFERENCE

You schedule your vacation days and book your tickets. Your manuscript and pitch are ready, and you’re prepared to be an author, not just a writer. This is going to be awesome.

You arrive at the conference. You attend a few workshops and a couple of networking events. You pitch your book to agents and editors, even other writers. After all, you never know who can help you out. You zero in on those who are interested in your kind of book. After all, there’s no point wasting your breath on a chick lit editor if you write graphic horror. You smile, shake hands, and collect contact information. Some agents or editors might think your book sounds awesome and ask that you send them the full manuscript. If this happens, then you do your best to contain your giddy grins as you politely tell them that it will be in their inbox a.s.a.p. Many may not think your story is quite their thing, but it’s okay. As you’ve been telling yourself from the beginning, you can’t please everyone.

You finish the conference. At this point, you've either charmed your way into the hearts and memories of a handful of key contacts, or you've had no bites. Flip a coin to see which happened to you.

Heads – Congrats! You were the belle of the ball, and at least one agent or editor wants to hear more about your book. You send off your manuscript to those who requested it. You then return home and wait for responses. At this point, you have two options. You can either continue to SUBMIT THE BOOK to others, or you can just wait to RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM AGENTS or RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM PUBLISHERS.

Tails – Sad day. If you still believe in your story, you can either GET FEEDBACK ON THE COMPLETED NOVEL again in hopes of figuring out why no one was interested, or you can decide that the conference's particular crowd wasn't your type, but others out there might still like your book. If you decide on the latter case, then go ahead and SUBMIT THE BOOK to others. However, if the lack of interest has discouraged and disillusioned you, then you always say "enough" to this whole writing thing and RETURN TO YOUR LIFE.

SUBMIT THE BOOK

You’re ready for your book to be considered for publication. However, many publishers won’t accept books without an agent. Those that do are small, independent publishers that are often new. You can either:

Submit to agents: Advantages – An agent is required if you want to go big. The right agent can land you in a top publishing house with a nice, fat advance. Disadvantages – There really are no disadvantages to querying agents, unless you dislike the idea of big publishers.

Submit to small publishers: Advantages – Small publishers are more open-minded about the kinds of books they accept. They’re more willing to go out on a limb if they believe in your book’s merits, and you’ll probably see your book in print sooner than if you go through an agent, who would have to take time to negotiate contracts with large publishers. Disadvantages – Opportunity cost. In your eagerness, you may accept a contract from a small publisher before your book has a chance to make the rounds in the big leagues.

SUBMIT TO AGENTS

You find a list of agents and filter them by the kinds of books they represent. You check their websites for submission guidelines and send them your query. If they ask for one, you also send them your synopsis. Possibly even your first chapter or so, depending on what they want. Knowing what’s what can be hard to keep track of, but agents sift through hundreds, even thousands, of queries on a regular basis. People who ignore their explicit directions make them grumpy and get ignored, so be sure to follow their instructions.

Now, you’ve sent out your flurry of queries. You have two options:

Wait: You're dead set on going traditional traditional, with an agent and, hopefully, a big publisher. Advantages – A shot at going big and having someone to help manage your writing career. Disadvantages – A longer timeline, if you're planning to exhaust your agent options before trying other routes. If you choose this option, all you can do is wait to RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM AGENTS. 


Submit to small publishers simultaneously: Advantages – A shorter timeline than waiting to exhaust your agent options. Disadvantages – You're on your own to vet potential publishers. If you choose this option, go to SUBMIT TO SMALL PUBLISHERS.

SUBMIT TO SMALL PUBLISHERS

You find a list of small, independent publishers willing to take unsolicited submissions and filter them by genre to see which ones would be interested in your book. These publishers are very dedicated, but they likely won’t have the resources to offer you an advance. Also, they won’t have as much media clout, so you’ll have to do most of your own publicity. But you don’t mind; if they’re willing to take a risk on you, then you’re willing to take a risk on them.

You are careful, though, as some scammers that are actually vanity presses will pose as small presses. If a publisher asks for money for editing services or whatever, you immediately turn them away. You would be better off self-publishing. You vet these publishers by looking them up on Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write forums, etc. to make sure they're not vanity publishers in disguise.

After weeding out the scammers, you go to the small publishers’ websites, look over their submission guidelines, then send them exactly what they ask for. Some will ask only for a query, others will ask for a synopsis as well, and others will ask for a partial or full manuscript on top of that.

Having finished submitting, you wait to RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM PUBLISHERS.

RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM AGENTS

You wait. You hold your breath. You try not to get your hopes up, but can’t stop yourself from dreaming.

Then, the responses start rolling in. Most are generic copy-and-paste rejections. They’re plenty polite, and many remind you that publishing is a subjective industry and that you should try elsewhere. A tiny handful might find your query interesting and ask for a partial manuscript. Some might even ask for the whole thing. Flip a coin to see what happens to you.


Heads – Congrats! An agent loved your book! Go to YOU LAND AN AGENT

Tails  – Alas, the agents aren’t interested. Don’t take it personally. Agents are people, after all, and it’s hard to tell what people will like. Maybe you wrote a space opera, and they’re just not that into space operas. Maybe they really like your idea, but they just signed something very similar. It’s impossible to know for sure, so keep calm and carry on. You still have options. You can either:

Submit to small publishers: Advantages – Small publishers are awesome. They’re dedicated to you and truly believe in their projects. Disadvantages – Some small publishers won’t do much more for you than you could on your own. In fact, some may be scammers posing as small publishers. Tread carefully. If you choose this option, go to SUBMIT TO SMALL PUBLISHERS.

Self-Publish: Advantages – No middleman, no gatekeeper. You are the master of your own fate. Disadvantages – You will have to invest your own time, energy, and money. If you choose this option, go to SELF-PUBLISH

Of course, if you’ve had enough fun with this particular novel, you could either try again to WRITE A BOOK or simply RETURN TO YOUR LIFE.

YOU LAND AN AGENT

You beat out hundreds, maybe thousands of other writers for a coveted agent. You review the contract and sign on the dotted line. Ms. Agent will get a percentage of your advance and royalties – standard is 15% for domestic and 20% for foreign. So it’s in her best interests to get you the best possible deal, since she makes money when you make money.

But wait—you’re not quite finished yet. Ms. Agent has some revisions she’d like you to work into your manuscript. She may retitle your book to make it more marketable. You take her advice to heart. After all, she’s a professional who knows the industry. You work with her to rewrite and revise and whip your book into extra shiny shape.

Then you wait. Ms. Agent could take a year or more to find the right publisher for your book. All you can do, aside from work on any further revisions she asks for, is wait to RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM PUBLISHERS.

RECEIVE RESPONSES FROM PUBLISHERS

Your book is being considered by people who might invest money in your talents. They’re meeting to determine whether you’re worth it. You pace around your den as you wait, doing your best not to stew.

What happens next in your adventure is largely up to chance. Maybe your book is brilliant, but one of the big publishers just signed a celebrity author to write something similar, and nobody wants to compete with that. Maybe your genre isn’t that popular right now. Or maybe it falls into the hands of the right editor, one who loves all the same things as you do. Flip a coin to determine what happens next:

Heads – Holy cabooses! Someone wants your book baby! Go to YOU GET A PUBLISHING CONTRACT

Tails – Sorry, the publishers aren’t interested. It could be that your book doesn’t fit their tastes. Or maybe they like it but don’t think they can sell it. Or maybe it just wasn’t in good shape. In any case, the doors aren’t closed. If you really believe in your story, you could:

Self-Publish: Advantages – No middleman, no gatekeeper. You are the master of your own fate. Disadvantages – You will have to invest your own time, energy, and money.

If you don’t think the self-publishing journey is worth the investment, you can either try again and WRITE A BOOK or simply RETURN TO YOUR LIFE.

SELF-PUBLISH

You're are the captain of your own journey now. You get to control all the things. You have tons of options, and there's no one right answer. You can hire editors, proofreaders, artists, publicists, and more and basically turn yourself into a one-person publishing house. Or you can pick and choose just the ones you think you really need  – maybe just a proofreader because you're confident in your book's overall language and structure and are pretty handy with Photoshop. Maybe you're certain you've got the word stuff down but want someone else to make it look nice, so you hire an artist who specializes in book covers and formatting. Maybe you stick with Print-on-Demand because it's low risk, since you only buy wholesale books when you need them. Maybe you want more printing options than POD offers, so you choose to print a thousand copies at once from a more traditional printer and store them in your garage.

Fact is, self-publishing has so many options, it could be its own "Choose Your Own Adventure" game. Whichever options you end up choosing, you now have your book. It's out there for the world to discover. You'll have to work hard to market it of course, by having bookstore signings, or publicizing it online though blog tours, or writing "Choose Your Own Adventure" posts on your own blog in hopes of getting someone to notice your pretty covers in the sidebar.

This book is, for all intents and purposes, finished. You can either RETURN TO YOUR LIFE, or, if you're ready to do it all again  –  possibly pick different options this time, or just hope for better luck  – you can go back up to WRITE A BOOK. 

YOU GET A PUBLISHING CONTRACT

Cheers and cartwheels! You're going to be a published writer! Now that you've signed on the dotted line, it's time to get cracking.


Publishers come in all shapes and sizes, from the titans such as Random Penguins... err... Penguin Random House to micro-presses that put out three books a year. Editors also come in all shapes and sizes. Some will rip your book apart at the seams and then tell you to put it back together in a way that makes it better. Others will think it's good to go and just correct a few grammatical issues. Your level of input will vary based on publishers too. Some publishers, especially small presses, are very chummy with their authors and want you to be happy every step of the way. Others... less so.

The whole world behind the curtain of publishing has so many different facets and options that it could be a "Choose Your Own Adventure" game of its own. Whatever ends up happening, your book ultimately comes out. Congrats! You are now a published author.

You now have your book. It's out there for the world to discover. You'll have to work hard to market it of course, by having bookstore signings, or publicizing it online though blog tours, or writing "Choose Your Own Adventure" posts on your own blog in hopes of getting someone to notice your pretty covers in the sidebar.

This book is, for all intents and purposes, finished. You can either RETURN TO YOUR LIFE, or, if you're ready to do it all again  –  possibly pick different options this time, or just hope for better luck  – you can go back up to WRITE A BOOK.

RETURN TO YOUR LIFE

Your foray into writing is finished. It was fun while it lasted, but between your job and your family, you don’t have time to delve into it further. Smile and enjoy your blissful normalcy, you lucky duck.

But all good things must come to an end. The story bug bites you, and you once again find yourself unable to contain your ideas. Go to WRITE A BOOK.


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