Major Publisher versus Self-Publishing: How Best to Get Your Book out There

There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s best to try for a publishing deal with one of the big houses . . . or go with self-publishing (sometimes called independent publishing). Many authors I work with still yearn for the prestige of being published by one of the Big 6—Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Georg von Holtzbrinck/Macmillan (soon to be the Big 5 because Penguin and Random House are merging).

But are emerging authors yearning for what they’ll get from these big houses, or for what they would have gotten some twenty years ago? Just as everything on the planet is in constant change, so is the face of publishing. Big advances, book tours, publicity? If you’re a celebrity maybe.

The thing is, whether you self-publish or get picked up by a publisher, the responsible party for getting your book out there is . . . YOU (or your publicist if you hire one, and I recommend you do). Whichever route you choose, you are the one who has to set up your book tour, your author page, and any other publicity that will help the world know you’ve written a book. Oh, and don’t forget your platform (that thing you’ve got to stand on to reach a publisher in the first place! . . . or to sell your book to all those followers you’ve cultivated).

What is a platform? It’s your visibility and authority to reach your chosen audience. Platform includes: your web presence, your engaged blog or Twitter following, your email list, your speaking circuit, your media appearances, and so on. In a nutshell, it’s the readership you’ve cultivated for your book before you’ve finished (or, even better, before you’ve started) writing it.

Overwhelming? Not if you take it one step at a time. . . . Just like writing a book!

Still not sure whether you should try for a publisher or go the route of self-publishing? Renowned ghostwriter Michael Levin has a very definite opinion about this in his July 16 blog post. One benefit to self-publishing is that you don’t have to write a book proposal.

I invite you to share your own experiences and opinions about publishing (or self-publishing). Just leave a comment!

 

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Writing a Query Letter for Your Novel

 

Back in the day, a writer could drop the full manuscript of his or her novel over a publisher’s transom (thus the term “over-the-transom,” or unsolicited, submission). . . . The prospective editor would then read the manuscript, love it (or hate it), and a novel would be born (or die). Publishing was simple. Life was simple.

Life is not as simple these days, and neither is publishing. Editors at the publishing houses get so many submissions now, if they were still to accept over-the-transom manuscripts, they wouldn’t be able to push open the door to their building in the morning, let alone read all the manuscripts blocking their passage.

Today the proper route to take is to first find an agent (unless, of course, you’re planning to self-publish, but that’s for another blog post entirely). And don’t even think about sending a full manuscript off to an agent unsolicited.

But how does a manuscript get solicited?

The simple answer is: the query letter.

There are many styles of query letters and numerous how-to books telling you how to write one. But if you find yourself overwhelmed and unsure where to start, try getting your feet wet with some simple guidelines laid out by my colleague at the L.A. Editors and Writers Group: Kristen Weber on How to Write a Perfect Query Letter.

Good luck and keep the faith!

Do You Have to Write a Book Proposal?

 

Many new writers are daunted by the prospect of writing a book proposal. And not without reason. A good proposal requires a substantial amount of work. But if you do it right, you’ve also done some of the hard work of writing the book itself. You’ll end up with a solid, detailed outline, a polished chapter or two, and a clear sense of what your book will look and feel like, as well as who your audience is. You’ll even have an idea of what you need to do to sell your book.

Sell your book? Won’t the publisher do that? Yes and no. Even if you do get a publisher, rather than publishing your book on your own, you will need to do a lot of the promotion. And much of that promotion will begin long before your book is published. In fact, the promotion should begin even before you approach an agent; this early “promotion” is called building a platform.

Are there ways around writing a book proposal? Well, first of all, book proposals are primarily for nonfiction (though many agents are now requesting query letters, which are a sort of mini-proposal, for fiction as well). The only way around writing a proposal for a nonfiction book is to independently publish, which is now a viable and respectable alternative (but is itself a lot of work, since you’ll be the sole promoter).

To find out more about writing a proposal, including what kinds of information you need to include, check out this article by my colleague Christina Blackett Schlank.