Publishing a Book: A Guide to Becoming an Author

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Publishing a Book: A Guide to Becoming an Author

     Groundwork to Getting Published

          Get Published

          Know the Industry

          Identify the Genre

          Identify Your Goals

          Consider a Literary Agent

          Create Your Book Proposal

Getting a Book Published Through a Traditional Publishing Company

     Find an Agent

     Non-Fiction Writers

     Fiction Writers

How to Get Self-Published

     Subsidy

     Hybrid Publishing

     Complete Self-Publishing

     Print on Demand

How Do I Know If Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing is Best for Me?

     Traditional Publishing

     Self-Publishing

     Hybrid Publishing

     Vanity/Subsidy Publishing

     Publish on Demand (POD)

Publishing a Book: A Guide to Becoming an Author

In an age with more options for self-publishing than ever before, it may be tempting to think that getting your work published is the easiest part of being an author. However, although there are more options than there were previously, determining which one is right for your book (and getting it done) remain huge challenges. 

There are several advisable steps you can take to prepare your book for publishing, before, during, and after the process of writing it. 

Get Published

It is usually helpful to have existing published works. Submit short stories or other writing to publications and contests. This will both demonstrate your writing chops to prospective publishers and help boost your reputation. 

Know the Industry

As in any field, it will strongly benefit an aspiring author to understand the market they are trying to enter. Knowing what to expect and how publishing companies operate will help you avoid getting manipulated. 

Identify the Genre

Identifying the genre of your book will give you a leg up in several ways. Knowing what the genre of your book is will help you understand how to market your book, how to approach the publisher, and which publishers would be best to approach. Some publishers have reputations for publishing certain types and genres of books. For example, Shadow Work Publishing specializes in horror novels, and Ragnarok Publications specializes in science fiction and fantasy. 

The following is a list of some of the biggest players in the publishing industry and what they specialize in:

  • Penguin Random House: General

  • HarperCollins: General

  • Simon & Schuster: General

  • Hachette Book Group: Trade and education

  • Macmillan: General

  • Scholastic: Children’s books

  • Disney Publishing Worldwide: Material owned by Disney

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Primarily textbooks and educational material

  • Workman: Non-fiction

  • Sterling: Generalized special interest

  • John Wiley and Sons: Academic and instructional materials

  • Abrams: Illustrated books and children’s books

  • Dover: Reissues

  • Candlewick: Children’s books

  • W.W. Norton: General and Anthologies

  • Kensington: General

  • Chronicle: General and Children’s

  • Sourcebooks: General

  • B&H Publishing: Christian

  • Tyndale House: Christian

Identify Your Goals

Not every author is writing for the same reason. You may want to break into the writing world and garner the largest audience possible; you may want to attract a certain audience; you may just be writing for fun, and so on. This will inform what type of publisher would be best to approach, or if you would like to approach one at all. 

For example, someone who is just writing for their own personal enjoyment or just to establish a published presence, may benefit the most from self-publishing online, due to the potential ease and cost-effectiveness of that method.

Consider a Literary Agent

Getting a literary agent is often helpful if you are trying to get published in the traditional way, especially if you intend to deal with a large publishing company. They will take a cut of the proceeds from your book, but this can actually be helpful because they are incentivized to ensure the book’s success to the best of their ability.

Create Your Book Proposal

A book proposal is essentially your pitch to the publishing company. It will include elements such as an overview of the book, as well as excerpts from it. This is an expected part of the process for traditional publishing, and a publishing company should not be approached until the proposal is prepared. Ensure that this is thorough, and professional. Additionally, in the case of proposals for non-fiction, the information and documents are often provided to prospective publishing companies before the book is finished being written.

Getting a Book Published Through a Traditional Publishing Company

In the modern-day, an important decision every author must make is whether to self-publish or pursue a more traditional publishing route. An obvious benefit of self-publishing is (usually) increased autonomy on the author’s part, but at the cost of the publishing and marketing work that a publishing company can provide. Despite how many imagine self-publishing, that method also often involves getting assistance from other parties — but this is on the writer’s terms and on a case-by-case basis. 

Meanwhile, in the case of traditional publishing, a contract is written up which specifically outlines the terms of publishing, and must be agreed upon by both writer and publisher until the process can move forward. There are many avenues for self-publishing (including just posting the .pdf on Amazon), but the process for traditional publishing is much more static.

However, one aspect of traditional publishing that is not static is the length of the publishing process. Depending on factors such as the length of the book, the style of the book, and the resources of the publisher, the publishing process can take up to two years. 

Find an Agent

Finding and hiring a literary agent is one of the first steps you will want to take if you are pursuing traditional publishing:

  • Find agents who work with your genre. Like publishers, literary agents often specialize in certain genres.

  • Research carefully. Some agents may try and take advantage of inexperienced authors or may even be frauds running a scam. 

  • Reach out to multiple people. It’s a good idea to give yourself options, and to compare what different people are willing to offer. 

Questions to Ask:

  • Do you have any thoughts on which publishers may be ideal to reach out to about my book? Why? This establishes how much thought they have put into this offer. They should have specific, detailed answers. 

  • Will I be consulted at every step of the process, such as if there are any changes of contract? The publishing process is long and confusing. It can be easy for agents and publishers to take advantage of that fact to add stipulations that the author would not normally agree to.

  • Will I be working with you directly? It is important to know who you will be working with and how seriously they are taking your query.

  • What is your estimated time frame for this publishing process? Publishing takes a long time, and that is something to keep in mind, but an agent should have an idea of how long they expect it to take.

  • Do you charge “reading fees?” Reading fees are considered unethical in the industry.

  • What will the duration of our contract be? Contracts should always have an explicit time frame for termination. 

Negotiating Rate:

An average agent’s commission rate for domestic publishing is 15% of the author’s gross profit. This may be up to 20% for foreign publishing deals. 

Avoiding Scams:

  • Do not pay a literary agent any upfront costs, even if they offer to reimburse you.

  • Do not pay any reading or printing fees. 

  • Do not sign off on an “interminable clause.”

  • Do not trust unsolicited queries from someone that you did not contact. 

  • Research the reputation of the agent. 

Non-Fiction Writers

The first consideration an aspiring non-fiction author should take into account is that your credentials on the topic on which you are writing will heavily play into both the success in securing a publisher, and of your book as a whole. People are unlikely to be impressed by a short history of nuclear physics by Every-Man-Dan who doesn’t have formal education or experience in anything of the sort. Furthermore, as far as traditional school textbooks go, the process rarely begins with the writer. Publishing companies usually identify demand in the market, and the work is then contracted out to writers. 

A major way in which non-fiction publishing differs from fiction publishing is the fact that non-fiction authors often submit proposals to publishers during the writing process rather than after. This is done in order to determine the marketability of their project, whereas publishers don’t want to sift through a million half-baked ideas for fictional work. However, for a handful of non-fiction genres, such as memoirs, the publishing process will be more similar to the publishing process for fictional work.

While big-name fictional authors such as J.K. Rowling and Stephen King may dominate the game in terms of sales, there is huge demand for textbooks and reference materials, as demonstrated by the representation of textbook publishers among the most successful publishing companies. Non-fiction books produced in bulk can be extremely lucrative when crafted to fulfill a gap in the market. 

Fiction Writers

In the case of fiction writers, of course, publishers likely won’t care much about your educational credentials as long as the work is promising. Although, educational credentials certainly will help your case in some instances, such as for a historical fiction novel. 

Other than that, you usually just need to prove to the publisher that your work is marketable, and that you will behave professionally in your dealings with them. This is why proposals for fictional work are usually provided after the book is already finished. It gives the publisher a thorough idea of what to expect from the story, and provides them with the reassurance that they can produce a finished product in a timely fashion. 

Another route you can take is to identify a significant market gap for a certain type of literature. For example, there could be an unfulfilled demand in Christian private schools for children’s books based on Bible stories. Much in the way that one might meet industry demand by producing necessary textbooks, entities such as schools and churches may also have a bulk demand for fictional work

How to Get Self-Published

The definition of self-publishing depends on who you ask. However, the general consensus is that if an author is independently paying out-of-pocket for tasks such as editing, formatting, and cover design, then they are self-published. 

Therefore, while self-publishing may seem like the more autonomous option, the author is still often very reliant on other people for successful publishing. Furthermore, the author will have to put in a lot of work in terms of networking that would be handled by the publisher in a traditional publishing scenario.

An exception to this definition is the option of posting a .pdf of the book online for free. In this case, it is possible for the author to not pay anything except for a service fee, although this is often not an advisable option from a marketing standpoint, unless the author in question has a pre-existing audience. 

Subsidy

Subsidy publishing (also called “vanity publishing”) is a controversial publishing method. They are not traditional publishers, nor are they true assisted self-publishing companies (although they may market themselves as much). 

Subsidy publishers charge a fee (or “contribution,” as they often call it) to publish a book. They are usually not as selective as traditional publishers, and do not have as much incentive to market books well because much of their profit comes from the upfront “contributions” they receive. They largely do not have a good reputation in the publishing industry, and many bookstores even refuse to carry products from vanity publishers

Hybrid Publishing

As the name implies, hybrid publishing could be described as the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. Other terms for this method include: “author-assisted publishing,” “independent publishing,” “partnership publishing,” “copublishing,” and “entrepreneurial publishing.” 

This method involves paying an upfront fee for publishing, just as you would with a vanity publisher; however, hybrid publishers are more discerning with the work they will take on, more like traditional publishing. As such, much of the initial fee goes directly toward publishing and marketing costs, hybrid publishing is often much higher quality than one could expect from a vanity publisher, and the author can negotiate higher royalties in return for their investment. 

Trying to get a hybrid publishing deal can be difficult due to both the fact that subsidy publishers sometimes falsely market themselves as hybrid publishers, and traditional publishers who offer hybrid deals often do so quietly due to an industry-wide stigma of hybrid publishing

Complete Self-Publishing

In the case of complete self-publishing, the author pays for all facets of production. This includes hiring an editor and a designer, as well as paying the cost of materials and distribution. Additionally, they will be responsible for promoting their own book. It is possible to fully self-publish either hardcopy or digital versions of a book, although it may be difficult to convince many physical bookstores and some online platforms to carry the book without the reputation of a publisher to vouch for the quality of the work. 

It is also certainly possible to self-publish a book on Amazon for a small fee, but although this is one of the simplest options, it is often not a very effective method for someone who doesn’t already have a substantial following. 

Print on Demand

Print on Demand (POD) is a system by which an author pays a company to print their book per copy. This method can be useful for someone who only wants to produce a small amount of copies, or who wants to test the sales potential before producing the book in bulk.

How Do I Know If Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing is Best for Me?

How to decide whether self-publishing, traditional publishing, or another method is the best option is highly dependent on the individual, their work, and what their goals are. There are benefits and drawbacks for every option.

Traditional Publishing

Pros:

  • Publisher covers production and marketing fees;

  • Advantages of publisher reputation and industry relationships.

Cons:

  • Less independence for the author;

  • Publisher takes a significant cut of the royalties.

Both:

  • Highly competitive.

Self-Publishing

Pros:

  • Author autonomy;

  • Low barrier to entry.

Cons:

  • Must pay for publishing costs out-of-pocket;

  • Difficult to sell well without an existing following.

Hybrid Publishing

Pros: 

  • Reputable publishing practices;

  • High royalties for the author.

Cons:

  • May be difficult to find a legitimate hybrid publisher;

  • Industry stigma.

Vanity/Subsidy Publishing

Pros: 

  • Low barrier to entry;

  • Don’t have to pay publishing costs.

Cons:

  • Poor reputation;

  • Poor publishing practices.

Publish on Demand (POD)

Pros:

  • Cheaper for limited production;

  • Avoids excess production.

Cons:

  • Cost will be higher for large-scale or bulk production.

Before you approach a publisher, and ideally before you even start writing a book, it is important to understand the options and expectations involved in getting a book published. This will not only improve your chances of successful publication, but also protect you from any predatory publishing practices.