Publishing – Part 1

Publishing your novel (and it goes for poetry and short stories as well, to some extent) presents challenges far beyond just finding acceptance with a publisher. For one thing, the state of the industry has changed dramatically since the days of the “big five” calling all the shots. Some of those changes spell good news for authors, others, not so much.

Ways to Publish
Contests
First of all, authors must decide if they want to simply publish their work or enter it in a contest. Most reputable writing contests require submission of unpublished pieces, and a significant number of contests cater to “unpublished authors” or to first novels or first books of poetry. While an author necessarily faces stiffer competition entering their work in one of these contests, consider that once you’ve chosen to publish your novel or your collection of short stories or book of poetry in some other way, you’ve excluded yourself from entering these debut-only contests forever.

Royalty-Free Online Publishing
Plenty of writers choose to simply publish to the web via blogs, message boards, closed groups or other online communities. Except in a very few cases, doing this means you’ll never be paid for your work. It’s 100% up to you if you’d like to publish in this way, but remember in all likelihood, it will forever exclude that piece from ever working for you.

Traditional & Self-Publishing
Outside of winning a contest, in order to be paid for their writing, authors must either turn the head of a traditional publisher or pay to publish their work through a publish-on-demand (POD) publisher. Amazon also offers the opportunity to self-publish through their platform for free; however, read Part 2 of this post to learn why it can be wise to choose to pay a third party with a contract protecting you and your work from Amazon’s business practices. You can still sell through Amazon whether you publish through them or not. Investing a few hundred dollars to self-publish with a reputable POD publisher can save authors headaches (and royalties!) down the line.

Both traditional and self-publishing come with pros and cons. The following table outlines some of these that catch many first-time publishing authors by surprise.

Traditional

Self

Pros

Cons

Pros

Cons

They take care of formatting Less control over your manuscript More control over your manuscript You must either format your manuscript yourself or pay someone else to do it for you.
You work with their editor whom they pay for. Smaller percentage of royalties from sales Greater percentage of royalties from sales You’ll need to find and hire your own editor.
You’ll know who you’re working with and their reputation Your book on the market probably more than a year after you sign. Your book on the market within months of signing. Need to thoroughly research and vet any POD publisher
They won’t try to sell you on expensive marketing packages You’ll almost certainly surrender more of your rights, such as distribution privileges, etc. Should make it easier to retain more of your rights over your work (though be wary of bad contracts!) All too many POD publishers will try to upsell you on USELESS “marketing packages.” Just DON’T do it!
You may receive a small advance when you sign. You’ll likely receive a low or no advance unless you’re a big name or previously published successfully One way or another, you’ll pay to publish your book.

That’s right, not everyone who signs a traditional contract gets an advance anymore. Those who do often receive little to no additional revenue in royalties as they must wait for book sales to pay back the publisher for the dollars advanced.

Editing
What about editing? Authors who do land traditional contracts have the blessing/curse of working with professional editors paid by the publisher. As the publisher is paying, they will also expect to have creative control. Should an editor want to alter the manuscript, even extensively and even at the expense of characters/scenes dear to the author’s heart, the publisher may give them license to do so. A writer who signed that publisher’s contract will have no veto-power and no legal recourse to prevent such evisceration of their work. If your book is your baby, imagine watching some other person remove that baby’s spleen while you’re locked in the next room, pounding on the sound-proof glass separating you from your helpless child!

Of course, it’s far from a perfect day in the coffee house for self-publishing authors either. While all too many unscrupulous POD publishers welcome even nonsensical, typo-ridden manuscripts (as long as the author’s willing to pay them enough), serious, self-respecting authors work with professional editors before publishing their work – NO EXCEPTIONS! How can you tell which editors are professionals? Ah, there’s the split infinitive! Beyond doing due diligence (looking for online reviews, asking to read other works they’ve edited) self-publishing authors have no way of knowing whether an editor will improve their manuscript and catch every error and inconsistency or fail to polish your manuscript properly. Worse, you’ll hear horror stories about unprofessional editors who actually introduced additional errors to author’s works. Again, if your book is your baby, this is like coming home to find the sitter passed out and your kid covered in chocolate syrup, dancing in the living room to whatever music video happens to be on MTV.

It’s all frustratingly true.  These days, authors can choose between many different roads to publishing; however, they’re all fraught with pot-holes, detours and confusing road signs that many find, at best, hard to decipher, and at worst , downright misleading.

Tune in for Part 2 of this post covering formatting, contacts and marketing your book.

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