If you read our last post, you already know that choosing your method for publishing and getting your manuscript edited both pose challenges many first-time publishing authors wouldn’t have foreseen.
Book formatting trips up many authors as well, especially as it’s a process unique to publishing. While most writers have some experience working with people editing their manuscript, the majority won’t run into the need to apply any specific format to their work until they decide to publish.
Similar to editing, authors winning traditional publishing contracts can leave this work to professionals hired by the publisher. And just like editing, that can be both a blessing and a curse. The publisher’s formatting choices may look nothing like what the author had in mind for how their work would meet the world, but that’s not of any concern to a publishing house as long as they have the author’s signature on a contract. When they pay to publish your book, they choose how it gets edited, formatted and distributed, end of story.
Conversely, if you choose to self-publish, you’ll retain more control over your manuscript; however, all the work will fall in your lap or on your pocketbook. That is to say, prior to sending your finished, edited manuscript to the Publish on Demand (POD) publisher of your choice, you’ll have to properly format the manuscript yourself or pay someone else to do so. What is book formatting? For one example of some basic requirements check out this post at The Editor’s Blog and this post at Writing World. Some POD publishers offer several different book formats for authors to choose from. You can see how something you may never have considered before can add up to many hours in which you’ll have to invest either your time or your money (or both).
Authors determined to publish traditionally should be sending their book queries to agents not directly to publishing houses. (What’s a book query? Stay tuned. We’ll get to that next.) A good literary agent won’t charge an author anything up front. Anyone identifying themselves as an agent, but asking for money from the author to represent their book is running a scam of some kind – again, no exceptions. Reputable literary agents make money from commissions paid by the publisher upon signing the contract. Writers find agents for their books in many ways including attending writers’ conferences large and small, but the main way to turn the head of an agent is to send them a well-crafted book query.
Like many sections of this post, book queries really deserve two or more posts all unto themselves. Learning to effectively query your book to publishers could fill several college semesters. If you’re querying agents about your book in pursuit of traditional publishing, you’ll probably spend at least that long, and probably much longer, sending out queries, getting rejections (with useful feedback if you’re very lucky), revising your query and sending it out again.
What goes into a book query, and how should you put it together? Read more about that here and here.
Self-pub authors won’t have to worry about queries at all, but with all the editing/formatting work they’ll have on their plates, that’s a very good thing.
Oh the pitfalls of publishing contracts! They’re all different, every single one! And properly formatted contracts will touch on more than just your print/ebook royalties. Publishing contracts should cover the disposition of the rights of every different format your published work can take including audio books and Amazon’s Kindle Select just to name a few. It takes years in the industry to become an expert on publishing contracts which is one more reason why those looking to publish traditionally do need an agent for their books.
Self-publishing authors should bone up on what to expect from a contract, read every word and have someone else (preferably a lawyer, optimally someone who knows a thing or two about the publishing industry, but at the very least, your best friend) review it as well. Copyright, distribution rights, subsidiary rights… a first-time publishing author can feel their head spinning!
Especially if you’re self-publishing, make sure the contract has a termination clause detailing the terms under which you may cancel your contract. Keep your eyes wide open for troublesome clauses such as this one in an old Book Baby contract. Clauses like that could leave your book languishing in a legal prison cell of sorts, un-publishable and/or non-distributable should you or your publisher choose to terminate the contract or if that particular publisher goes out of business. While this Writer’s Digest article is from 2009, much of the information is still relevant. It’s good place to start if you don’t know much about publishing contracts.
On the other hand, a good POD or traditional publisher’s contract can protect you from crooked industry practices such as retailer book returns and Amazon’s ethically questionable Kindle Select that pays authors not by the number of ebooks sold, but by how many pages get read (yes, really!), especially when exploited through a loophole in the company’s Kindle Unlimited program.
And you thought the challenge of finishing your manuscript felt daunting. Still, look at all the books on shelves and available online today. Keep in mind, every author standing behind those works went through some sort of publishing process. The publishing industry will continue to change, but you can navigate those changes. You brought a story that didn’t exist before out of the ether, through yourself and onto the page. Now, the time has come to bring it to your readers. You can do it!