While your professional editor finalizes your book manuscript, begin seeking possible publishers. Taking one afternoon to do the following simple steps will save you days and weeks of scattershot effort.
1. Find books similar to yours in your personal library, public library and bookstore, and write down the names of the publishers. Don't quit until you have at least 20 names (there are so many publishers nowadays!!).
2. Take this list and find each publisher's website to see whether the publisher is still in business, has a current catalog, and, under "Writers Guidelines" or "Submissions," read about what kinds of books or authors they are looking for; and YOU decide whether it looks like a publisher YOU would like to work with. Make a note of your best finds.
3. While you are on "Writers Guidelines," check whether the firm likes to correspond 1) by snail mail or 2) by email; and whether your first contact should be with a) a query letter b) a query letter with sample chapters, synopsis, or table of contents ("T of C"), or something else, or c) if they want you to send the full manuscript. Write down the editor's full name so you will have someone to address your correspondence to.
4. Having now narrowed your list of possible publishers, Google each to find any news, reports, reviews, complaints, or other material confirming the reputation or economic health of this publisher.
5. Browse amazon.com or the shelves for recent books similar to yours. Make note of any books strongly resembling your own. These are "competing titles," and your publisher will want to know how your book differs from the books already available. That will be an important selling point.
Last time I sent my latest book ms. out was February; the rejection (fourth) came in August. I sighed and let the manuscript rot. This past week I had lunch with a publisher. We weren't there to talk about my books, but the publisher described books the press was looking for, saying, "But who has a book like that?"
"I do," I boldly ventured for the first time in my life, "and it's finished, about 35,000 words; it has this, and this. . ." Mmmm, let me see it, said the publisher. I hate to think I almost said nothing -- out of misplaced modesty. It needed only to be printed out (pat myself on the back). Off it went into the mail today.
The B&N spokeswoman says that by pre-releasing the book through Amazon, the publisher did not allow "an even playing field -- which is common practice in book publishing." (Authors, if that statement leaves you speechless, place here an emoticon of your choice.)
But unless the publisher made a contractual agreement regarding the book's availability, it's just business.
-Professional copyediting and proofreading of the initial manuscript and final proof. Money spent on this is money well spent. Don't economize by trying this alone. Your readers will love finding the inevitable errors, and you will hate paying the self-publisher to correct and reprint your book.
-Professional layout or setup of the book's interior. This may be called "the setup fee" and is often included in the base price. The self-publisher has the proper software for this.
-Professional cover design. You may supply the photo or illustration, but don't insist on drawing or lettering your own cover. If you don't like what the publisher's graphic artist suggests, ask for another design.
-Register your book with the Library of Congress. It sounds easy: Fill out forms and write a check. But the forms are complicated, rather like patent applications, and with my first book only an 18-month correspondence straightened everything out. Save your mental health and pay $100 to get it done.
Don't waste your money on:
-Independently buying your own cut-rate ISBN number for your book. A self-publishing firm will not be able to use it.
-The pricey package allowing you "unlimited customization" of your book. Why pay your chosen self-publishing firm thousands of dollars just for the luxury of spurning its help and advice?
-Promotional or marketing packages that will compose press releases, send your books to reviewers, and so on. Self-published books do not benefit from these tactics.
If because Hemingway got advances, you think you should too, please know that for the past 15 years most books, records, and even Hollywood films have been officially profitless -- for the writers and artists. Publishers may give an advance, but creative accounting ensures that authors don't get royalties -- normally 10 to 15 percent of any profits. I co-authored a book that sold 6,000 English-language copies, plus a publisher in Lisbon bought the Portuguese rights and published and sold the book over there. Our publisher's advance was $3500 (you do the math); officially, our book came in $42 short of making back its advance. Figures like that will make you crazy. Hemingway was not a happy camper.
I'm all for simplifying; but more so I'm for joining the musicians in creating our own independent fair-trade imprints and beating Murdoch at his own game. If you have another idea, please share it! Transitional periods are great for seizing the advantage. We're the creative ones!
I've explored two reputable companies that do this: Lulu.com and LightningSource.com. Lulu is simpler. You do it all yourself, and you can choose to be your own publisher or let your publisher be Lulu.com. Lightning Source has district sales reps, support via E-mail, a bunch of manuals, and you should be set up as your own publisher already, and have bought your own ISBN.
Both companies will distribute your book through the normal channels and also online bookstores such as amazon.com. Both let you keep all your rights to the material.
With that kind of control the writer now has certain responsibilities. To wit:
1) You have to have a finished manuscript and the confidence that you can do this.
2) There's an initial outlay of money to publish such a book. But not a lot. Can you scrape up $100?
3) You have to follow directions and certain rules, and there's some legal stuff, and tax stuff if you make any money.
4) You can't publish just anything. Porn, for example, or pirated material, is not allowed.
5) You must proofread the copy, lay it out in book-style pages (some cheap or free software programs can help you do this), for Lulu.com turn the file into a distilled pdf (using Adobe software). And you provide the cover, unless that's a job you want to farm out to a graphics professional.
6) If you catch a mistake in the book after it's gone into distribution, and you want to fix it and reprint, that'll cost you mucho dinaro, or, as the Serbs say, mlogo slan, which literally means "much salt."
7) Your publishers make the book available, but they don't market or promote it. You do. A lot. There's a saying I hate that's painfully truthful: "Success is an ongoing effort." (spit-spit-phewie!)
8) Your publishers and distributors take their percentages, just as in the real world, and what's left belongs to you.
9) You have the "self-published" stigma, at least for now. The only way around it is to have kick-booty material! A darned good and worthwhile book that people will want to buy! Ah! That was what those old-fashioned publishers wanted! Does your book have what it takes?
I'll jump in first, and tell you how the water is.
1. Thanking everyone would have been a book in itself.
2. Many people helped me and all of it was important, so I couldn't list only a few select people.
3. Those unlikely to see the book must still be acknowledged.
4. One wants to give sincere thanks regarding that particular book, not favor other writers who used one's name in THEIR acknowledgements.
5. Using famous names looks like fawning.
6. There's a temptation to get even by making grossly obvious omissions.
7. There's a besetting "f--- you" fantasy: listing idiots, enemies, and thwarters, and concluding with "No thanks to you." There's a reason why that must stay a fantasy.
8. Thanks are due, and one can't withhold acknowledgments just because the whole issue is touchy.
9. How does one order the selected names? Alphabetically? Most-to-least? Least-to-most (leaving the best for last)? (Then how do I set it up so no one can decode this?)
Just another barbed-wire fence in this artificially difficult profession!
Final count: 23 names, 1 group name (covers 7 people) = 30 people, listed in the chronological order that I met them.
That number, for a book of prose, is about average.
I said to her, "What good are they in your file drawer? How about self-publishing?"
She found this idea distasteful. Self-published books are "not legitimate." But then she complained that a poet friend whose book was accepted three years ago by the "legitimate" LSU Press now hears it is scheduled to come out in 2010.
I said, "The system is broken. We all moan about how the publishing world is insane. We have to do things differently. Look," I said, "a book is a book. If you self-publish at least you'll have a book. It'll have an ISBN so people can find it. You can give it to libraries. You can give it away. Somebody somewhere will read your book."
My friend says it isn't legitimate. She wants to be legitimate more than she wants to publish. And she is getting what she wants.
Me? I'm publishing another book! It's essays this time. I am happy that my illegitimate books get bought and sold, and are in print, and in libraries, and on amazon.com, and not in my file drawer. I'm a happy little cheat who beat the system.
Once in a while, after a tiring day, as a sort of nightcap I might pluck from the shelf one of my books and page through, and soon it all comes back: the joy and stress involved in the book’s creation and completion; the tussle with the universe to extract from it a fitting title; the stories behind word choices, stories only I will ever know; the people who freely gave me their most fragile possession: their trust. My thoughts might run: “That thought was inspired and it reads like it,” or I hunt for flaws. “That middle initial should be G, not J; how did I not catch it?” “Shouldn’t have tinkered with that." Last-minute rewrites of my work, even half a sentence, feel and look to me like crudely sewn knee patches on jeans. Musician Les Paul said after a recording session, “Leave the mistakes in there; let them know we’re human.” That’s a great concept, especially when paired with Miles Davis saying about his art, “Don’t worry about mistakes. There are none."