Last week I had a great sit-down with my friend @courtneyengle.
Among other things, we talked about what it takes to be an author–a published author–in today’s climate of digital printing and immediate release.
Anybody can be “published” today. You just have to look at the proliferation of self-publishing companies like Lulu and Create Space to see this is true. And there is nothing wring with self-publishing your work. In fact, for many writers, self-publishing is an excellent choice. Despite the negative connotation that “self-publishing” (or “vanity publishing”) tends to carry, what can show an author’s commitment to what they’ve written more than being willing to put their own money behind their work?
With this, many writers wonder why they need a publisher to begin with. Some writer’s don’t. But some do. How do you know if you do?
The short answer? It depends. (I know, not very helpful!)
First, what category are you writing in? Fiction? Nonfiction? Religion? Biography? History? Or some other category? (Here is a pretty extensive list of the categories that bookstores use to classify books.) Once you know what category your book falls into, you’re off to a decent start.
Second, think about promotion. Yes, we all think of this as “the publisher’s job,” but more often publishers aren’t simply asking authors to be involved in promotion, they are requiring it. Why? Because today readers want to be connected to the writers of the books they crave. And who better than to engage the reader where they are at than the author?
This isn’t just for authors of the latest tell-all about the politician-of-the-moment or the latest self-help craze, either. It’s something that every author has to consider.
As a writer, if you’re not willing to go pound the pavement, create a Facebook page, or promote your own book, why should a publisher (who is likely risking significant dollars on putting your book in stores) be willing to do what you are not?
If you’re writing fiction, attend readings. Post chapters on the internet on any of the myriad writing forums. Hone your craft. Take criticism seriously. Seek out professional editors. And if you’re looking for a publisher? Try to match your manuscript to a publisher that works with the kind of book you have written. Don’t pursue Harlequin to publish your science fiction action adventure. TOR will likely be less than ecstatic about your historical romance novel.
In the case of nonfiction, most publishers will be looking for someone who already has some kind of authority in their field, or the ability/willingness/possibility of becoming that.
Approaching a “big” publishing house can be scary. Many publishers won’t even talk directly to authors, hence the concept of the “literary agent”. Think of a literary agent as a real estate agent, but for your book. In the same way that most people don’t want to deal with the vagaries of selling a house, many publishers would rather deal with an agent who knows the ins and outs of publishing than with an author whom they have to teach about publishing.
Now, there are some publishers who will take what’s called an “unsolicited manuscript,” which is just a polite term for “something we didn’t ask for.” How do you know if the publisher you have your heart set on will talk to you or requires you to have an agent? Look them up and find out. Go the publisher’s web site, send them an e-mail, or even call them. In general, EVERYONE in a publishing company knows what their company’s policy is on manuscript submissions. Everyone.
Okay, so I really didn’t get into “What kind of author are you?” in this post. I guess that means there will be a Part 2.