If you are reading this blog, chances are you’ve written something, and you want to pursue publication. But here’s some advice: don’t jump in right away! If you are hoping to earn credibility as a writer, there’s a lot you can (and probably should) do before making reality out of your publishing dreams. Here are my top five pieces of advice!
1. Write your book. Then rewrite it. Then get feedback from test readers who aren’t afraid to tell you which parts suck. Then, rewrite or revise again.
The first part is obvious. Unless you’ve sold your book to a publisher based on a few sample chapters and an outline (this does happen with nonfiction), you’re going to have to rattle out those words. Know that 50,000 words is probably the minimum you want to go for any “grownup” book, and 120,000 words is probably the max, unless you are J.K. Rowling. When you’ve finished a draft, take a red pen to it yourself, then rewrite it from scratch while looking at the edited draft. You’ll be shocked at what can happen in this phase! It will help you tighten up plot points, themes, and general consistency. The feedback you’ll get from test readers after this step will be more valuable than if you sent them a first draft, because you’ll already have done your best to fix any flaws. Your test readers might see problems you didn’t, and they might raise questions you never thought of. Once you figure out which suggestions are worth heeding, you’ll have new tools to help subsequent revisions. After a few rounds of this, your manuscript will start to sparkle!
2. Read some of the great editor and agent blogs out there!
It may serve you well to do this concurrently with #1. Whether you want to pursue a traditional publishing deal or self-publish, your writing absolutely will improve if you learn what attracts industry bigwigs to a manuscript. The first agent blog I ever read “cover to cover” was that of Miss Snark, and it forever changed the way I think about writing and selling books. I also learned crazy amounts from Nathan Bransford, BookEnds LLC, and Kristin Nelson. You’ll learn how to gut your book into a single paragraph (which you’ll have to to do anyway for the back cover synopsis), how to grab readers on the first page, and how to blend passion with product. If you hope to release a book that sells, read these now! Note that some of these blogs are finished, and you’ll have to read backward through the archives.
3. Learn all you can about the publishing business!
When I decided to write my first book (which is still currently in its eleventh or twelfth draft), I knew nothing about the actual publishing business. I did my Googling, learned a hell of a lot by reading agent and editor blogs (see #2!), and thought I had a good idea what I was in for. When I decided to treat my fourth written novel The Breeders as an experiment and publish it independently, I realized just how much I still didn’t know. I almost worked myself into the ground learning how to design print and electronic books, how trade discounts and the returns system worked, and how to navigate the available options for international print and electronic distribution. Whether you publish traditionally or independently, learn about the business upfront! It will save you from surprises and disappointments down the line, and it’ll give you a leg up on figuring out your strategy.
4. Realize that the work is just beginning!
If you are aiming to gain respect and make a name for yourself, your work will go well beyond publishing. Selling your book will require people to know about it. If you don’t have a traditional publisher that offers help with marketing, you’ll have a lot to do: writing press releases, sending your book out for reviews, building a website, building and maintaining your social media presence, and creating custom graphics for business cards, flyers, or the web. This is before you try to sell in bookstores or seek out that miraculous celebrity who will promote your book and catapult you to fame. Sometime during all this, you may want to write another book. If you are balancing all this with a day job, it can quickly become overwhelming. (I learned this the hard way.) Just prepare for it before you publish, and set standards for yourself to maintain a life balance!
5. Gauge your options!
Gone are the days when your only option to publish is to wait for an agent or editor to love your book, all while you sit on your bum, craving validation and wondering if you’ll ever make anything of yourself. These days, if you are talented, driven, and can afford to hire editing and design help, you can independently publish a book that is just as good as anything coming out of New York. Even so, it can be extremely difficult, and you’ll probably have only a fraction of the marketing power a traditional publisher could offer. You probably won’t have the clout to shop around your book’s film and foreign publishing rights, and getting it into brick and mortar bookstores will also be difficult. So, as stated in #3, learn about the business. Figure out if you’d rather sit and wait for your big break or if you’d rather make it happen yourself. No route is set in stone, and it will be an adventure either way!
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Here is my official checklist/questionnaire for self-publishers at any stage of the game. Don’t let it overwhelm you! You don’t have to consider all these things at once, and you can simply use this as a roadmap. Having been through this crazy experience, however, I know that I would have loved to have a “to-do” list upfront so that I could have avoided any nasty surprises or forgotten steps along the way! Even when I was working for an small indie publisher in Minneapolis, I came across authors who had not been informed about all these steps. So…for your sake…here we go!
- Have you completed your book manuscript?
- Have you written more than just one draft?
- Have you sought out honest feedback from test readers, then revised?
- Have you fixed up as many messy grammar and spelling mistakes as possible?
- Have you compared your book to all the other books in history that you love, and does it give you the same sense of satisfaction?
- Have you budgeted for an experienced copy editor?
- Have you budgeted for an experienced proofreader?
- Do your editors know the standard style guides typically used with your type of book?
- Have you given honest consideration to their suggestions?
- Have you done multiple rereads and absolutely finalized your content before sending it off to your designer and proofreader?
- Have you scoured your book for typos (homonym errors in particular!) and continuity mistakes that made it past the editors? (This can happen even if you hire the best editors. Even Harry Potter had mistakes!)
- Did you wait until your final, final version to convert to e-book format? (You don’t want to be correcting mistakes on two different versions of your book—I know this from experience!)
- Have you decided on publishing a print book, e-book, or both?
- Have you reviewed the reality of publishing a print book (POD vs. a print run, returnable vs. non-returnable, warehousing and distribution, and trade discount percentage)?
- Have you written your back cover/synopsis?
- Have you written your author biography?
- Have you purchased ISBNs from Bowker? (Buy a block of at least ten to save money! You will need one for each edition of your book.)
- Have you registered for an PCN (Preassigned Control Number from the Library of Congress) and included it on your copyright page?
- Have you sought out advance reviews/testimonials to quote on your book cover/marketing materials?
- Have you set a release date after you knew for sure when your book will be available through all its distribution channels? (It can sometimes take time for your book to become available on sites like Amazon.com.)
- Do you decided between Print-on-Demand (POD) or a print run?
- Have you figured out how wide you want your scope of distribution to be?
- Have you decided on a size for your book? (8.5” x 5.25” or 8.5” x 5.5” are great for trade paperbacks; 6” x 9” or 6.14” x 9.21” are great for hardcovers.)
- Have you decided on white vs. cream pages?
- Have you budgeted for a cover design?
- Have you budgeted for an interior design/typesetting?
- Do you want to incorporate any special photos or graphics?
- Has your designer justified your text?
- …and made sure word hyphenation is clean/logical?
- …and removed all widows/orphans?
- …and made sure all drop caps, small caps, headers, footers, and other unique design choices are consistently placed?
- Do you want to publish just an e-book?
- Do you have a professional, eye-catching cover that will look good as an internet thumbnail?
- Does your e-book contain design elements of the print book for a consistent reader experience?
- Is it free of coding/formatting errors (hard returns, font and type size inconsistencies, and images that run off the page?
- Does it work smoothly on different e-reading devices and, if it’s in Epub format, pass the current Epub validations (which is required to upload to most e-book retailers)?
- Have you considered working directly with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo? Have you considered further distribution though companies like Author Solutions or SmashWords?
- Have you created Author and Book pages for Facebook?
- Have you signed up for Twitter?
- Have you signed up for Goodreads and added your Author and Book pages?
- Have you signed up for Amazon Author Central?
- Have you signed up for the “Look Inside!” feature through Amazon Advantage so that potential buyers can preview your book?
- Have you bought a domain (“www.________.com”) for your website? (BlueHost is a great place to buy and host with.)
- Have you started a website and/or blog? (WordPress is a great option, and it integrates with BlueHost if you want to customize your theme.)
- Have you considered creating a book trailer or video to promote your book?
- Have considered a press release to announce/discuss your book, attract reviewers, and gain opportunities a blog tour or author interviews?
- Have you considered a targeted “pay-per-click” ad campaign through Facebook, Goodreads, or another website that will reach your intended audience?
- Have you signed up for Google Analytics and incorporated it into your website/blog?
- Have you printed business cards for your book (preferably with a QR code people can scan to reach your website)?
- Have you reached out to potential reviewers personally and in a professional manner?
- Have you sent free copies of your book to reviewers who ask for it?
- Have you searched out and built relationships with local/indie bookstores and offered to do readings/signings?
So, there you have it! Check back sometime, as I may be adding a few more items I forgot this time around!
Find my books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble or Kobo or on iTunes.
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