I Wrote My Novel; Now What Do I Do with It?

A dear friend heard that I had finished the manuscript for my novel and immediately wanted to know when she can buy a copy, as if it would be on the shelves next week. It’s a bit longer process, I told her. But I did email her a PDF.

Self-Publish or Not?

Once you’ve written a novel, or any book of prose, and revised it until you’re sure you can’t revise any more, it’s time to think about publishing. Many people self-publish their books these days. I have done that. I have also had books purchased and published by traditional publishers. The latter is better. They handle design, printing, and distribution, going far beyond what I’m able to do alone from my home office. The imprint of a traditional publisher gives your book credibility, gets it reviewed in important places,and gets you publicity and at least a few promotional events that you don’t have to arrange. Also, instead of having to pay to publish, they pay you. Even in these days when you can put out e-books or publish through programs like Amazon’s CreateSpace for almost nothing, that matters.

There’s another thing about self-publishing. Too many authors rush their books into print before they’re ready. I have read too many self-published books that need copyediting and proofreading. The writing might be good, but a little more time and the help of professional editor would have made them so much better. With traditional publishing, you get that.

So I advise everyone to try getting a publisher to buy their books. If that fails, if you have limited time, or if you have a small, specialized audience waiting for your book, then go ahead and self-publish. You will have total responsibility for your book but also total control. You can get it out quickly and into the hands of your eager audience. You will also spend a lot of time on marketing, money and other non-writing concerns.

Otherwise, let’s try the traditional method first. What does that mean? Querying agents and/or editors.

Do You Need an Agent?

Here’s the deal. Agents help you polish your pitch and your book. Then they offer it to the publishing houses they think most likely to publish it. They handle all the submissions and let you know what happens. If/when they get a yes, they negotiate your contract. They also make sure you get paid your advance and royalties and help you negotiate future sales of foreign rights, movie rights, etc. Plus they support and encourage you while you focus on the writing part instead of the business part. For these services, they collect 15 percent of the profits. A good agent is worth every penny.

Yes, but do you need one? The big publishing houses will not consider books that are not pitched by agents. Even smaller houses prefer agents for fiction and creative nonfiction. With straight nonfiction, you have a little more leeway, and no agent will represent poetry books because there’s not enough money in them. You can pitch your novel to smaller houses yourself, and you can also enter many contests that promise publication to the winners, but I recommend trying to get an agent.

How Do I Approach an Agent?

With agents and editors, the process is the same. Most want a query letter–aka your pitch–and sample pages from the manuscript. Click here for my previous discussion about writing your pitch.  We hear tales of synopses, longer descriptions that describe what happens in every chapter. These are a pain to write, and most agents don’t want to read them. They just want a one-page pitch and a few pages (anywhere from five to fifty) from the book to  see whether the story grabs them. If it does, they’ll request more pages or the whole manuscript.

In the old days, authors had to put together a printed package which they sent by mail. Thank God we can do it all online these days, but that means before we click “send,” we need to be absolutely sure that what we’re sending is the best we can make it.

We’ll talk next week about how to decide which agents to pitch and what to send them. We’ll also look at pitching in person at conferences and other events. Meanwhile, go work on your pitch and take another look at your manuscript.

Now go write.

Advertisements

The Joys of Birthing a Book

(If you read my newsletter, you have already read this. If so, skip to the last paragraph and follow instructions.)

When all I can think about is the book I’m currently producing, it seems logical to write about the birth of that book.Childless by Marriage has been on my desk and in my heart for decades. I started interviewing and researching childlessness about four books ago. It has been so long that some of the people I talked to have died and others have had babies, making them no longer childless. Many of us have gone through menopause.

Why has it taken so long? Selling books is a crazy business. I have submitted variations of this manuscript to agents and editors by mail and e-mail and pitched it at numerous conferences. An agent took it on and offered it to all the major publishing companies. The result was always the same: She writes well and it’s an interesting topic, but I don’t see a market for it. To which I wanted to scream, BUT I DO. I know there are people out there who will read it, and I can tell you where they are.

When I started working on this book, e-books/aka electronic books did not exist. “Vanity” publishing was a shameful option and the fledgling print-on-demand industry, which would house your book as computer files that were only printed as books when orders came in, wasn’t much better. The type of self-publishing where you hired pros to set up and print your books cost too much for ordinary people.

Times have changed. Now readers are walking around with Kindles and iPads, and you can publish an e-book for free. That’s right, free. All it takes is a little time. And, with the advances in digital technology, most of us can afford to publish a print book, either through one of many print-on-demand companies such as Authorhouse, Lulu or CreateSpace, or working with a printer on our own. We can download programs to format our books at our own computers. It’s not free, but it’s doable.

Publishing your own work does not have the same stigma it had even 10 years ago.A little over a century ago, self-publishing was common. With the industrial era, big companies took over publishing books to make a profit, and they became the only acceptable option. But now, with the big publishers refusing to take on anything except guaranteed blockbusters and with so many other options, we can take our careers back into our own hands.

That doesn’t mean we all should. Publishing a book does take a lot of effort—they should have Lamaze classes for author-publishers. Trying to get page numbers where they belong makes me crave an epidural for the brain. If a traditional publishing house wanted to take this job away from me, I’d be happy to let them.

Also, the reason self-publishing has had such a negative reputation for so long is that if anybody can publish a book, there’s no guarantee it’s any good. You have to weed through the garbage to find the good books. But if your book is good and you can get people to read it, the word will spread.

Let me be blunt about self-publishing. If your book isn’t well-written and professionally edited, with an eye-catching cover, and professional-quality layout, don’t do it. If you have no idea where or how to sell it, don’t do it. If you’re not ready to put in a lot of work with details such as headers and footers, ISBNs and platform-building, don’t do it. If you are not sure you can trust the company you’re thinking about working with,  don’t do it.

If you’ve never published anything else before, don’t do it, at least not yet. Spend some time building your career first. I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing a book if I didn’t have a long track record.

That said, if you feel that you’re ready, you can publish your own book.

The publishing world is full of advice for self-publishers these days. I’m not going to repeat it all. Visit the writersdigest.com website. Jane Friedman’s No Rules blog,  is loaded with practical self-publishing advice. There’s more at The Writer and Poets & Writers. Google self-publishing and prepare to be overwhelmed with information.

Or, you can purchase a skinny book that tells it all in plain English. I won Katie Salidas’ Go Publish Yourself! last month in a Goodreads giveaway (www.goodreads.com). It wasn’t the book I really wanted, but it turned out to be the book I really needed. I’ve got a shelf full of fat self-publishing books, but they’re complicated and go out of date before I can read them. Everything I need is in Go Publish Yourself!, with lots of practical advice and links to resources that will help you produce either an e-book or a print book.

Which should you do, e-book or print book? Well, I think one should do both. I don’t plan to publish any more books without making an electronic version available. Amazon is selling more Kindle books than print books these days. Why should we leave out all those readers who have stopped going to bookstores because they’d rather read on the Kindle? Or the Nook? Or their iPad or smartphone?

But what about those people who prefer traditional books? And what are you going to sell at book-signings, talks, festivals, in the stores, or out of the trunk of your car? In my opinion, it’s best to have both. Remember, producing the e-book is free. Also, you can take it offline and revise it anytime you want. So, if nothing else, do that and see what happens.

Again, I don’t want to repeat the advice you can find all over cyberspace and the print world. I’m just saying that with the changing times and countless revisions, I can now present Childless by Marriage to the world. Ten years ago, it wasn’t ready. I’m glad those editors said no. The e-book came out on Mother’s Day. You can get it for $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle reading app on whatever you do have.

Three of my previous books, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, and Stories Grandma Never Told, are also available as Kindle e-books you can download and read today. How cool is that?

The print version of Childless by Marriage is getting a pretty new cover, and I’m almost done wrestling with page numbers, headers, typefaces and such for the inside. I’m thinking it will be out in July, August at the latest.

Come back here for weekly discussions on the various aspects of this book-birthing process and other topics for writers. You can keep up with the latest on the new book at http:/childlessbymarriageblog.com. Blogging is another thing I never dreamed of when this book first started. Who knew? It’s a great new world.

But, beware. All this talk of publishing can distract us from the most important thing. Without the writing, there’s nothing to publish. So, go write. Write now.