A lot of people walk into publishing thinking it’s full of glamour and glitz. They dream of book signings, movie deals, and million dollar advances. However many are so caught up in the fantasy they don’t want to see the harsh realities in the quest to get published. So I’m giving the newbies some tips that will help them survive in the publishing world.
You are not all that, and your story is not that great. I run into a lot of first-time authors and quite a few full of themselves. They think because they've finished their first or second a manuscript they're the next great American novelist with a potential best seller which will sell a million copies and will be made into a blockbuster movie. And in a lot of cases their story is the worst thing to hit paper.
Just because an author has written their first book doesn't mean they know anything about publishing. Nor does it mean they know how to write. While a first-time writer may have talent, they need to be willing to learn what they have to do to hone their craft and sharpen their skills. That's going to require humility. A lot of humility.
Listen to people. A lot of first-time writers often dismiss anyone who tries to tell them about the pitfalls and roadblocks in the publishing industry. This hubris leads to many authors being taken advantage of by scammers like scam agents who charge reading fees, scam publishers like PublishAmerica, and paying for things like marketing packages who blitz people with spam.
When a seasoned publishing pro is trying to tell an author something it's for their own good. Seasoned publishing vets like those at Absolute Write and Writer Beware have seen it all and want to keep new writers from making costly mistakes.
Have an open mind. Until the book is in print, nothing is final. A writer has to have an open mind and be willing to make changes to their work if they want to sell to a trade publisher. Sure a writer's book is their baby, but in trade publishing, it's a product. And a product has to be packaged to target an audience.
Learn how to take criticism. Not everyone is going to like a writer's story. Don't take it personal. What one person doesn't like another may love.
Be prepared for rejection. Being a writer is fun on the creative side. But the business side it’s rough. A first-time writer will experience rejection. Lots of rejection. Get used to hearing no. And remember it takes a lot of Nos, to get to Yes if you want to publish a book with a trade publisher.
Write more than one book. Some newbies write one book and think they’re ready to get published. Big Mistake. Usually the first book a new writer finishes is absolute garbage.
Seriously take that first book, print it up, turn it sideways and shove it straight into a trunk in the attic. Then get to work on a second book. And a third one. And after that give those second and third books to some friends. Then a writer is ready to submit a title to trade publishers.
On another note, a writer needs more than one book if they’re going to submit to trade publishers.
Get some credits. A writer needs to get some credits under their belt if they’re going to submit books to trade publishers. Write a blog, or articles for websites, a local paper. Volunteer to contribute to a local paper. Do Something to show people that the writer has been published somewhere. Submitting cold with no credits is the fastest way to get rejected in this business.
Don’t quit your day job. Most writers, even best-selling ones have day jobs. It’s their primary source of income. Writing is creative but not very lucrative.
Save your money. Postage, paper, toner and internet access all cost money. Lots of Money. And a writer is going to need a lot of cash to pursue the road to publication with a trade publisher. Which is why a smart writer does not quit their day job to pursue writing.
You will not get rich. The average advance for a first-time writer is $5000. Most writers make most of their money from their day jobs. Others make their money from seminars and presentations. And with the publishing industry still recovering from the 2008 collapse the days of million dollar advances are over. Right now most writers make enough money from their books to supplement the salaries they get from their day jobs.
Follow the instructions. When querying publishers and literary agents follow the instructions. Do not send e-mail when they request snail mail. If they tell you to send them a one-page query letter DO IT. You are not impressing anyone by breaking the rules. Seasoned editors and agents have seen it all, and have rejected people bigger than you. Follow the instructions to the letter.
DO NOT CALL ANYONE! In publishing, calling people is a NO NO! People who call publishers and literary agents AUTOMATICALLY GET REJECTED! Agents and publishers want to see how strong the writing is. Writing is something that can’t be sold through cold calling. If it’s not on the page no one cares.
Make sure to enclose a Self-Addressed-Stamped envelope with any correspondence. If a writer is lucky enough to get a request for a manuscript or a partial from an agent or a publisher, they should send a self-addressed-stamped envelope so they can respond to you. If submitting paritals, a writer should send enough postage to get the materials back. Agents and editiors will appreciate this
Learn how to be patient. It takes a LONG time for some agents and publishers to get back to a writer after requesting material. Some take a week. Others take several months. And I’ve had a few that took a year or more to get back to me! Publishing is a long-haul business that requires someone to have tremendous patience. Nothing in this industry happens overnight.
It’ll be a while before you get published with a trade publisher. Publishing is a process that takes YEARS. If a writer is working towards a trade publication, the query process to literary agents can take a two years or more of. And that’s if the writer has publishing credits. If the writer is a first-time author with no credits, then it’s going to be longer than that. And if an author is lucky enough to get picked up by a trade publisher there’s still the process of editing, proofreading, page layout cover design and marketing before the book reaches the market.
Most publishers don’t support first-time authors. Publishers primarily focus on promoting two parts of their catalogs. The Frontlist- which consists of best-selling authors and the Backlist- Books that are proven sellers like literary classics and refrences like dictionaries and thesauruses.
Those new writers who are lucky enough to get a book published, are in the middle of the list. Midlist books get no support in terms of promotion or advertising from the publishing house. They don’t get the big displays in the front of the store or the book signings at the Barnes & Noble. Usually, a first-time author is lucky if they can find their book in a bookstore. Most times their titles are just listings on Amazon.
When it comes to promotion it’s usually up to the author to spend their time (and their advance money) to get the word out to readers about their new book.
Publishing a book is just the start. Promotion is the real work. A lot of first-time writers think their work is done when the first book is published WRONG! The work is just getting started. When a first book is published a writer has to work harder than they did before. That means hustling to local bookstores to get them to stock the book, trying to arrange book signings and trying to get reviews, and sales. And a writer has to do all this while putting together their second and third books.
Ninety percent of books fail. Close to two million titles were published last year. Most were taken out of print in six months. Others in the remaining ten percent that survived were out of print in five years.
Reviews are hard to get. Many writers dream of getting their books reviewed in places like the New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly. In reality, it’s impossible for even the most established writer to get a review in these venues. In most cases, a writer will get reviews from book clubs, local papers and bloggers.
Reviews don’t sell books. A book review may make a writer feel good, but overall it has next to no impact on sales. Why? Because many reviews are in places where they aren’t read. Most Book reviews in major newspapers and magazines are in the sections of the Sunday paper that’s ignored by readers.And that’s if those papers and Magazines still have book sections.
A Book review is when part of a press kit can persuade a bookstore to stock a book, but on its own it has no impact on the sales of a first-time writer.
Books by first-time books don’t get top priorty at bookstores. The bulk of sales at bookstores are Classics, Nonfiction, and frontlist titles from best-selling authors. Books by midlist authors are usually displayed on the bookshelves spine out in alphabetical order. A writer has to make their titles known in the marketplace so customers can find them.
Awards don’t sell books. Many National Book award winners and critically acclaimed books only sold 200 copies. A first-time writer’s focus should be sales. Sales are going to get an author a second book contract, if an author can build enough of an audience they can actually make enough money to equal a day job salary.
No one famous wants to read your book. Celebrities, best-selling authors, don’t read unsolicited material. Many fear lawsuits and won’t read anything unless it’s given to them by their agent. And they won’t touch anything without a signed written release.
Your chances of a movie deal are slim to none. In order for a book to get a deal for a movie adaptation, it has to sell a million or more copies. The average trade book barely sells its initial 5,000 print run and the average self-published book is barely 100 copies. So the chances of a book getting a film deal are very low. If a book sells out its print run, it’s considered a success.
There is no fast track to success. In publishing, no one becomes an overnight sensation. And when they usually are, they’re found out to be a fraud like James Frey or Kavvya Vishwanthan. Anyone who promises an author a faster way to success like paid reviews, paid awards, e-mail blitzes to top people in the media and chances to be read by a best-selling author is usually out to swindle a writer out of their money. Don’t let anyone fool you, publishing is a long hard journey. A savvy writer has to watch out for the potholes, pitfalls and obstacles on the road if they’re going to be successful.
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