Hey everyone! I’m back with part 2 of publishing 101. This is a long blog, so if you’re not interested, I get it. You’re free to move on. What I know is a tiny portion of what others know, but I’m here to do my part—either adding to the confusion or adding some clarity to the big job of getting a book published. If it is your dream to be a published author and it seems impossible, remember everyone has a chance to get a book published. Everyone on American Idol has a chance of winning, but there is only one winner. American Idol has given us a visual example of how much talent is out there, but how few actually make it to the “I’m making money doing this” stage. If you have a book idea, go for it, but know it might be only for your family and friends to enjoy and that’s okay. The many singers who don’t win American idol sing at their churches, for weddings, at family celebrations, the local talent show, and anywhere else they are able to use their talent. Your book might not be on a bestseller list, but it might bless your family, church family, friends, community and you.
To give you a little perspective, take this information in. As an editor I laid eyes on over a hundred manuscripts a year. As a company (Howard Publishing), we looked at nearly a thousand manuscripts a year. The bigger companies look at many more. Of the one thousand we looked at, we only published around 60-70 books per year. Doing the math tells you that the majority of manuscripts we received were sent a rejection letter.
The decision to publish or not publish a book was taken very seriously in our company and I’m sure it is with other companies as well. We were sad to tell anyone no. (Well, nearly anyone. We had our share of “what were they thinking” manuscripts.) So, the first thing you need to understand is just because your book isn’t chosen to be published doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Just like American Idol where the 20,000 people who don’t win are not necessarily bad singers, all authors whose books are not chosen are not bad writers. There are others reasons a manuscript isn’t chosen for publication. Sometimes the publishing company already has their limit for the year.
Another choice today is self-publishing. It’s a relatively easy way to get a book published. Googling will give you plenty of information about self-publishing. Years ago, self-publishing was costly and left users with a ton of books and no way to sell them. That can be avoided today as self-publishing companies can print smaller numbers of books. However, typically only a book published with a publishing company will get in a store such as Books A Million or Walmart. A publishing company has a dedicated sales team that a self-published book will not have. This is one of the pluses for going with a publishing company. That and the fact that a publishing company pays you instead of you having to pay it the work of getting your manuscript turned into a real book. Still, self-publishing is a great solution for us writers and, with the invention of Amazon books, there is a great place to sell your book.
But if you want to pursue a publishing company, here are a few things to consider:
1. Consider getting a literary agent. More and more, publishing houses want to work with an agent. During our publishing days, we took unsolicited manuscripts, but we probably would not today. Having said that, many small publishing houses still do, so it’s possible without an agent, but more difficult. An agent helps because he or she is familiar with what each publishing house will take and they will help you shape your proposal.
2. Writing and rewriting will make your book better. Only established authors can get away with only submitting an idea. New authors will have to prove they can write and complete the task of writing the whole book. You don’t have to have the entire book written, but you should have at least half of it done along with a summary and chapter titles for the rest of the book.
3. Do your homework on the publishing companies. Look to see what books are on the market similar to yours. Make a note of who the publisher is and when it was published. This is much easier now with the help of Amazon. Before Amazon, this job would take hours searching through bookstores and libraries. Once you find the companies you want to target, the ones that publish similar work, read their guidelines. Find out everything you can about their submission process. Then write a proposal according to their requests and submit your manuscript. This is typically done by email. Remember to find out if they require an agent. The next step is patience. Unless you’ve done something in the public eye that requires an immediate book (like you’re in politics or a pro athlete or you’ve just gotten a new reality show) realize the process is slow.
4. Once you have sent your manuscript off, there is nothing left to do. Your manuscript will land on an editor’s desk. That editor only cares about one thing—can you write and is this something his or her company can sell. That editor has a lot of power at this point. It is okay to email after a few weeks to check on the progress, but don’t expect miracles. They are considering many manuscripts at one time. If the editor likes your idea and sees potential in it, he or she will then pitch it to the entire editorial or publishing team (companies call this different things), who will either say yes or no. That team consists of people from sales and marketing as well as other editors. Together they will decide if this book is something other people will pay money to read—which is the goal of the publishing company. As much as we viewed what we did as ministry, we also had a responsibility to pay our employees and bills to pay at the company. Our books had to sell, that was the bottom line. If your book gets a yes from the publishing board, then you will be notified and a contract will be worked out.
5. If your manuscript passes the pub board, then the work really begins. You will be assigned an editor who will set your book on a schedule and tell you when your manuscript is due. It’s a little like having the most important term paper ever due. Once your manuscript is turned in, it will be time to wait once again. I have enclosed a picture that shows, from the publisher’s viewpoint, what will happen to your manuscript in order for it to become a published book. I hope some of this is helpful to you aspiring authors. There is so much information online if this makes you even more curious. As I said last week, I never dreamed I would end up in publishing. My little experience on the yearbook staff in high school wasn’t nearly enough training ground, but God doesn’t need much to do the impossible. He’s the best at impossible! Whatever your dream is, keep dreaming. And keep working at it. Set new goals as you conquer the old ones, but, mostly, trust God with your dreams.
Have a great week! Hugs, Chrys