Purpose and Audience
Be clear about your purpose and your audience. This is the most important step. All the other decisions flow from this. Here are some examples.
- Trying to persuade people to a certain point of view or teach a skill? Write a blog and help build a platform for a book. Publishers may come to you.
- Able to sell your book as an adjunct to classes or lectures or a tour? Get it printed (by a local printer or an Espresso Book machine) and sell it yourself.
- Is your audience specific (hikers, historians, hard-boiled mystery fans)? Find a small publisher that knows how to reach that audience.
- Do you know how to reach your readers on the Internet? Print-on-demand publishing or e-publishing may work for you.
Most writers want to reach a large general audience and are hoping to sign with a major publisher, which means finding an agent. Agents and publishers are looking for books they know will sell and sell well. Only the most marketable concepts pass through the eye of this needle.
Find an Agent
For the author who has decided to find a major publisher, finding an agent is the first step.
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Agents provide detailed descriptions of agents and gives a flavor of their personality and a list of recent publications. Other publications also provide lists of agents like Literary Marketplace and Writer’s Market.
- The web site agentquery.com provides a way to filter out agents by the categories they represent.
- Look at the acknowledgments in similar books to see if the author mentions an agent’s name.
- Meet agents at writing conferences.
- Once you’ve identified agents, research them online. Know what books they’ve sold or what they like or their hobbies, and use this information to create a personalized query letter (see below).
- Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace (the online version costs $30/month) and note what agents are selling books similar to yours
- Set a quota, for instance, submitting to 50 agents. Remember rejections, especially if they are personalized, can offer valuable feedback that will help you refine your submission strategy.
- Send out queries in batches of 5 or 10. I know of one writer who developed a strategy of sorting agents into A, B and C lists and then sending out to agents in all three categories. She was able to refine her materials based on the feedback she got and did not blow through all the A list agents in her first attempts.
Find a Publisher
- Most major publishers will only look at manuscripts offered by agents, but small, niche and regional publishers are open to submissions.
- Look at similar books in a bookstore and note publishers who specialize in your type of book
- Use Amazon to do similar research by type of book.
- Research the publishers on the internet. Most provide guidelines on how they want writers to submit work. These are often buried deep in the site. Look under Contacts or About.
- Submit work that follows the guidelines for the publisher and personalize your cover letter based on what they publish, their mission statement, etc.
- Set a quota for how many publishers you will approach before decided to self-publish. This makes it more like a game. Each rejection gets you closer to your goal.
- Think outside the box. Is there a business or organization that would publish your book because they can give it away or it helps promote their message?
The first step in approaching an agent or publisher is usually a query letter. Sometimes this is the only chance you get, which means they will never get to see your writing (except in the query letter). Make it good. Get it critiqued.
Here’s a link to some query letters that worked: . http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/23-literary-agent-query-letters-that-worked_b76306
Develop a Platform
Publishers want to sell books. And so do you if get published or become a publisher. So start creating the community of readers that want to read your book.
- Write a blog
- Follow people on Twitter who are taste-makers in your field
- Comment on the blogs of others in your field
- Attend conferences
- Take classes and workshops
- Teach classes and workshops
- Collect names and email addresses
When you self-publish, you go into business for yourself and are responsible not just for writing, but also editing, design, production, marketing, distribution, and finances. I recommend joining a local group affiliated with the Independent Book Publishers Association. Important steps to make your self-published book a success:
- Good editing (hire an editor—make sure your book is at its best before you publish it—though print on demand does have the advantage of making it easy to make corrections)
- Great design, especially for the cover, but also for the interior pages (another place to hire someone)
- A great title (spend some time on this—your favorite may not be the one that conveys your message best)
There are many ways to self-publish, including print-on-demand, e-books, using a printer or an Espresso Book Machine. Each has advantages and disadvantages and each has a steep learning curve.
Print on Demand
With print on demand: you upload your book via the internet (each publisher has their own specifications) and all sales are usually handled on the internet as well. Aaron Shepard’s books on self-publishing, available on Amazon, are great resources. There are many print-on-demand companies. With Createspace your book will be set up for sale on Amazon as soon as it’s ready, because CreateSpace is owned by Amazon. With Lightning Source, you must be a publisher (have more than one title) but you also have more options. Bookstores are not likely to carry print-on-demand books, unless you have created a local demand for the book and it’s available for distribution from a wholesaler that bookstores use.
Espresso Book Machine
The Espresso Book Machine is a halfway-step between print-on-demand and using a traditional printer. Once your book is uploaded into the catalog, it can be ordered at any bookstore that has an Espresso Book Machine and will be printed while the customer waits. However, the machines are expensive and few bookstores have them. Also, your reader would have to know your book exists and then go to a store with an Espresso Book Machine to get the book.
Using a Printer
A traditional printer is probably also going to print your book using digital technology and, in fact, you may be able to submit it electronically. The major difference is that you will pick up the product and store it at your house. You will also be responsible for keeping track of sales and taxes owed. This is a great choice for someone who is going to hand-sell their book, for instance, teachers, lecturers, artists who tour. It can be really hard to get a bookstore to sell your book, as you will have to be the sales rep, the delivery person and the accounts receivable department (creating invoices and following up for payment). They would rather deal with a distributor or publisher that carries hundreds or thousands of books, than hundreds and thousands of individual authors.
This is the fastest growing segment of the publishing world. It’s great for readers who are impulse buyers or who read voraciously. The best-selling markets tend to be genre fiction, particularly YA, mystery, romance and science fiction. Because e-books are cheap, readers are more likely to take a chance on an unknown writer. Some authors offer their work for free at the start and leverage this into success. Bob Mayer suggests that you should write three novels before publishing any as an e-book. Having three books available reassures readers that you are a serious author and that they will be able to find more of your work if they enjoy it.
In response to the rapid changes in publishing, some new opportunities are showing up including self-publishing collectives and team-publishing platforms.
At the 2011 conference sponsored by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, Carol Fisher Saller talked about her publisher, Namelos, which offers critique services to authors of children’s books and young adult fiction but then offers publishing contracts to authors it finds through this service (and refunds their critique fees). Local Seattle publisher Book Trope pairs authors up with a team: an editor, a designer, a marketer and a project manager. No one gets paid up front, but once the book is published each member of the team gets a percentage of sales, with the author getting the biggest percentage, about 33% of the retail price.