How does a book get published in this day and age? Part I
I would like to share with you the practical steps required for one method of making it happen. I call this ‘the business method’, although it is not the only possible way. First, however, we must be clear that we are talking here about the fiction genre. This is by far the hardest type to get into print. (If you have written a non-fiction how-to manual based on real experience in any given subject, you already have an audience and usually a path to it via dedicated sites and magazines, even clubs/groups and other communal activities.)
Before we get into how A Crying in the Wind came about, let’s just quickly look at some other possible ways:
- You know someone in the publishing industry. This is totally unfair, but experience tells us that ‘who you know’ is still the most likely way to get a publisher’s attention. But – how many of us actually know someone in that industry? And don’t think that going to a book fair or writer’s festival and hoping to catch the eye of an agent or publisher counts as ‘knowing them’ – they are all so swamped with hopefuls that for most part, they simply ‘turn off’. There are better ways to spend your time and money!
- Just go ahead and pay for self-publishing, and hope that someone of importance in the publishing hierarchy might notice it. Yes, this has led to success for a few, but it is only a very few indeed, and it is a very long shot with a lot of your money spent, and, quite possibly, no return on it at all. But, if certain steps are followed, you can increase your chances considerably.
- Send in your manuscript to the various publishers (usually by email). Many of them have guidelines on their websites, which you must follow precisely. Again, this is incredibly unlikely to get you noticed – there are simply too many submissions. For most part, all you’ll do is break your heart over the unrelenting non-response. By all means try it, but I would say it’s likely to be a waste of your precious time.
- Find a literary agent. This is commonly believed to be a requirement today, and for some, it is. Many a now-established writer is grateful to have someone doing their negotiating for them, pitching their next manuscript to the right place, and it is correctly understood that seriously professional agents have the ear of publishers. They do – but how do you get to one? Again, unless you already know one, the agents are just as swamped as publishers and thus most are simply no longer accessible.
- Join a Writers Fellowship – all states have at least one – these are generally the most reasonably priced, providing also editing services and general manuscript preparation. They can help you prepare for publisher-sponsored workshops or even into the prestigious Varuna Writer’s Fellowship that runs a couple of times a year. This is a thorough method and one I would recommend in any case, especially if you are a beginning writer. It does have some practical difficulties, such as high demand for their services, no guarantee of excellence among their editors, and a long lead-time. Often these fellowships are dependent on state funding, generally never enough to meet the demand, and – as with all groups – there will be a certain amount of insider favouritism. Nevertheless, if you are intending to be a serious long-term author, this path can give you an inexpensive and very solid, if slow, start.
Be aware that most publishers are seriously hard-nosed and looking for the big $$$ return. No longer will they spend on editors who patiently see an unknown author through a manuscript preparation process – for most part, they want a publication-ready product with the promise of financial return written all over it. And if you should get that far with them, then they will want the main bulk of that income, too. You won’t be getting much of it! The big advantage of becoming a (say) Random House author is their world-wide publicity machine that opens many other doors.
In part II we will look at another way – a way that is more democratic and reflective of the future. If you’ve written something worthwhile that the world will be better for knowing about, then with a combination of certain business insights and some clever new technology, it is entirely possible to get it out there. You can remain in control, get what income is possible, and do all a publishing house can do for you – but it takes a multitude of skills of which writing is only one part. As J F Kennedy correctly said: “Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
Meanwhile, happy writing and I’ll see you next week!