The Road to Publishing: Choose Your Own Adventure

In the last few years, especially since the emergence of the Amazon’s Kindle Self-publishing and iBookstore self-publishing platforms, the road to getting your book published has become more flexible than ever.

But are more choices really what budding authors need?

The Traditional Publishing Road

As many of you have probably already learned, the road to traditional publishing is long and mostly dreary. You whittle your manuscript down to a 35-word hook, and a 3-paragraph synopsis. You research literary agents operating in your genre. You send query letter after query letter, receiving form letter rejections if you’re lucky–but usually, just silence.

Let’s say you have a decent hook and a writing style at least on par with Stephenie Meyer. You’ve sent out a hundred (or two) queries and a few agents have requested fulls or partials. (If you’re new to the world of fruitless searching for representation, a partial is when a literary agent requests a certain portion of your book–sometimes your “best chapter and your worst chapter”–and a full is when the agent requests the entire manuscript.) At this point, you’re likely to snag an agent. Now what?

The waiting game begins. I’ve heard anywhere from three months to three years after signing a contract for an agent to find an acquisitions editor willing to pick up a book. Just like you spend what feels like years of your life finding representation, your agent will spend at least a portion of that shopping your manuscript around to publishers.

Now let’s say your agent has a buddy over at Penguin, and he likes the look of your book. They have a catalog of [insert your genre here] to fill, and your manuscript is just what he needs. Fast-forward two years and your book sees the bookshelf: you had no say in the cover, no say in the marketing, and in the end, the publisher sells less than half of the first print run. The rest are locked in a closet and you get your last check five years after finishing your first draft.

Not everyone in traditional publishing has this experience. There are dozens of debut authors every year who rock the New York Times best-seller list. But before you commit to traditional publishing, it’s worth taking a look at your alternatives.

Small and Independent Publishers

I’m probably biased towards this method of taking your book to production, because it’s the road I’m traveling myself. However, I may not be biased in the way you think–working with small publishers is both a thrill and a bit of a disappointment.

For starters, small and independent book publishers rarely have a budget anywhere near those of Simon & Schuster, Penguin or HarperCollins. Your cover design may suffer. Editing may be less precise. Perhaps your book is only published in eBook format, and never even sees a physical bookshelf.

Regardless, working with a small or independent publisher cuts out many of the middle-men. I found my publisher at a convention, dropped off the first ten pages of my manuscript stapled to a business card, and a year later they’d decided to pick up my book series.

One great thing about working with small businesses is the level of informal, personal interaction you receive. With many of these publishers, authors can recommend artists for cover art, suggest titles, and in the case of a real blogger-tweeter-marketer guru, the author can even  take the reins of her own promotion.

At the same time, small publishers print smaller runs, and your book will see fewer shelves across the country–if any.

The New Journey: Self-publishing (eBook and Traditional)

There is, without a doubt, a stigma in the publishing industry towards self-publishing. As I see it, here are the reasons for this black sheep mindset:

1. Editing: Whether this is the reality of the situation or not, publishers, agents, authors and readers believe self-published books have not been professionally edited. They expect to find typos, grammar errors, and an overall lack of professional quality.

2. Content: Many self-published authors cite a failure to achieve traditional publishing success as their primary reason for “going rogue.” If an agent or a publisher didn’t want to pick up a book, then perhaps it just wasn’t any good.

3. Marketing and Distribution: Without the traditional publisher’s distribution channels,  self-published books have a harder time making a big splash. There’s only so much a one-man marketing team can accomplish.

As self-published authors flock to Amazon’s Kindle store and B&N’s Nook store, each of these reasons for avoiding self-publishing are being blown out of the water. Using Amazon’s publicity tools (KDP book rentals, tagging, rating), authors like David Kazzie are finding their self-published titles rocketed to the top of bestseller lists. Many authors are fronting the cash for professional editing (developmental and line-editing) to avoid the black sheep stigma. Lately I’ve even seen some truly excellent book covers cropping up on eBook stores, making a self-published book appear professional and legitimate in the eyes of readers.

With each of these possible paths to publishing your book, remember that each involves a cost. With traditional publishing, authors sacrifice time and, in some cases, control over their work. With small and independent publishers, authors may be disappointed in the small-scale release cycle. And with self-publishing, the monetary cost of professional editing, cover design and promotion may be crippling if the cost cannot be recouped by sales. When making your decision about how to publish your prize possession–your first novel–consider what kind of person you are. Would you prefer an experienced professional do the work for you, considering the sacrifices? Or are you the kind of person who can put yourself and you work out there, do the research, and be your own marketer?

At the same time, remember the benefits of any kind of publishing: readers will pick up your book, whether on the shelf or in an eBook store, and if they love it, they’ll tell their friends. And their friends will tell more friends, and someday you could become the next J.K. Rowling or Dean Koontz.


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4 Responses to The Road to Publishing: Choose Your Own Adventure

  1. Pingback: The Road to Publishing | The Prolific Novelista | My name is Kiersi. I write a lot. About everything.

  2. Magenta says:

    This was a vey informative post thank you

  3. Jon says:

    Awesome, as always, from Kiersi!

  4. Roxanne says:

    What a great article. Thank you for this, Kiersi.