How Do You Get Published?
Traditional, self-publish, small press?
I recently did a talk for the Women’s Institute on how to write a book. I covered tips on plotting or pantsing for writing fiction, explained how to structure a non-fiction book and also talked about finding time to write. At the end of the talk there was time for questions.
Guess what they were all about?
People asked about how to get published, how to self-publish and the cost of self-publishing.
Now I know to include this information in future talks!
And it struck me that you might be interested in this topic too.
Traditional publishing v’s Self-Publishing
A few years ago, self-publishing was a dirty word and the feeling was that only people who couldn’t get a ‘proper’ publisher resorted to it. This isn’t true, but self-publishers were looked down upon by the publishing trade as amateur.
In recent years this has changed. Many traditionally published authors have found themselves either dumped by their publishers or have been seriously dissatisfied with the support and financial deal from the publisher.
Print-on-demand services from Amazon and Ingram Spark have meant that you know longer have to do a print run of a few thousand books and have them sit, unsold, in your garage for many years. You can hire cover designers and editors who also work with traditional publishers. E-books and paperbacks can be uploaded, mainly for free, to the various book-selling channels.
These days, when you buy a book, particularly online, you can’t tell if it is with a mainstream publisher or self-published. Readers also don’t care, providing they like the story or the information provided.
I started researching self-publishing four years ago, when I was weighing up options for my own book. I came to the conclusion that the self-publishers were ahead of the curve, had more control over their product and could be nimbler in the face of an ever-changing landscape than those in the traditional world. I chose this route when I published Tales of the Countess in 2020.
This is when you seek out a literary agent who then uses their contacts to find a publisher for your book.
No up-front cost.
Validation of having your work accepted by “the industry”
You get to work with experts in the publishing trade.
Kudos of being with a ‘proper’ publisher
No control. You are signing away the rights to your work, possibly for future reading technologies that haven’t yet been invented. You also have no control on how much marketing budget your book receives or when they choose to stop marketing it and move on to the next big thing.
A lottery – agents and publishers receive hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts every week. Your manuscript might only get a cursory glance from a junior before it hits the slush pile. Typically, a literary agent will only take on one or two new authors a year, so the chance of that being you is very small.
Time frame – It can take months or years for a book, once accepted by a publisher, to be available.
Gone are the days when the publisher would take care of all marketing and promotion. You will still be expected to do most of this yourself.
Money – although there is no upfront cost you will earn less for each book sold. Most books don’t earn out their advance so the money you receive around on signing the deal then on publication might be all that you get. Royalties are also only paid once a year so even if sales are good, you won’t get your hands on that money quickly.
If you have a literary agent, they will take 10 to 15% of income from the book.
A subset of traditional publishing is to use a small, independent publisher. Some of these are happy to be approached directly so you don’t need a literary agent. They may have a higher vested interest in helping your book to succeed, but they also have smaller resources.
Control – you retain all the rights to your work and make the decisions as to how much time and money to invest in selling the book.
Timing – you can choose when your book is published. If you are a fast writer, you will get your books to market much quicker than in traditional publishing.
Editorial control – you have the final say on your story or content.
You can hire the same professionals that work in traditional publishing for editing, proof-reading and cover design.
Cost – you will have to pay for editing, cover design and possibly laying out the book if you don’t learn how to do it yourself. My 80,000 word novel cost £750 for editing, £500 for proof reading and the cover was around $400. You can shop around and probably get this cheaper but you have to deal with all of this yourself. If you don’t sell many copies, you will never recoup these costs.
Can be a steep learning curve. This is where you realise that you’re not just a writer, you are also in the publishing business. It can be an overwhelming experience when you realise everything you need to do.
It helps if you are comfortable with technology. It’s not hard to convert your book to e-book format or upload it to Amazon, but you will spend a lot of time figuring things out at your computer.
There are many services that will help you self-publish. The trick is knowing which ones are good and which are there just to rip you off.
It is an increasing competitive landscape, with thousands of books being published every day. Getting your book found by potential readers is a whole other set of skills.
You are unlikely to see your books in bookstores. Depending how you list your book, it will be available to order in bookstores (or on their internet site) but unless you are a HUGE best-seller, they are not going to reserve shelf space for it. The top 10 or top 30 slots that you see in the foyer of every book shop are paid for by the publishers. You are never going to have that clout.
Fellow Substack writer, Diane Hatz, wrote an excellent series of articles on the various publishing options:
I learnt everything I know about publishing from The Creative Penn podcast. I listen to it every week. The website is a treasure trove of resources and advice for learning how to self-publish.
I also did a course with Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula to learn the mechanics of how to publish my book.
Reedsy is a fabulous portal to find the professionals to help you publish your own book and it has a lot of information and courses about publishing and book marketing.
Ingram Spark are a print-on-demand company which will also enable your book to be available within global book retail.
It is relatively easy to list your book as an e-book and paperback on Amazon. Draft2Digital will help you list your e-book on other retailers globally and with library services.
If you’re based in the UK and want to go the traditional route: Agent Hunter is a comprehensive digital database of UK literary agents.
If you are based in the US, Substacker Elle Griffin has compiled a comprehensive list of literary agents who have a proven track record of selling books to Big Five publishing houses. You have to be a paid subscriber to access it.
However you decide to publish, don’t lose sight of the fact that the writing matters most. Keep writing, keep improving your craft, keep surmounting all the obstacles that try to stop you.
And keep reading Gentle Creative so that I can nudge you through all of this and offer you kind encouragement along the way!
Now I’d love to hear from you
What is your experiences with the publishing industry? If you have chosen a traditional or self-publishing route, what were the factors in your decision making? Leave a comment and share your wisdom. It might be just the thing that someone else needs to read.
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Now the app is available for both Android and iPhones.
However, iPhone users have a new feature called Chat where newsletter writers can set up chat groups with their subscribers. This isn’t available on Android yet so you won’t be getting an invite from me until it is! Once again, I have to be patient!
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