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!

 

What Do Literary Agents Want?

So, you’ve written your book manuscript and you think it’s amazing. Or maybe you just have an idea for a book that you think is amazing. What do you do next?

Back in the day of the renowned editor Max Perkins, you could throw your rough pile of brilliance over the transom of the publishing house, and your in-house editor would make it into an equally brilliant published book.

Times are different. Now your brilliant manuscript (or proposal) has to be polished-perfect to even be considered. And . . . if you want to get anywhere near one of the big publishers, you have to go through a literary agent.

So, once you’ve gotten the feedback and guidance of a professional freelance editor or writing coach and you’ve rewritten your manuscript and/or proposal (as many times as necessary), the next step is to search for potential agents. (Where and how to search is for another post.)  But once you are ready to make your submission, what do agents want to see?

This article in the online Writer’s Digest does a pretty good job of covering the basics.  (The one important piece that’s not covered, other than a passing mention, is how to prepare a proposal. But there are plenty of other resources for that online.)

Also, be sure to read each agent’s submission guidelines on their website.  Every agent has a different set of requirements for what they’d like to receive from you (e.g., query letter first, synopsis, first ten pages, first fifty pages, etc.). And be sure you’re pitching to an agent who has interest in the type of work you’ve written.

I invite any of you to share your own wisdom and experiences (or pitfalls and pratfalls) in submitting work to a literary agent.  Just add a comment!

How to Write Your First Book

Check out this great interview with twenty-one successful authors about the experience of writing their first book—from how they made a living before they sold their first book to the nuts and bolts of getting the words onto the page.

How to Write Your First Book

Calling All Writers (read this article before you say yes to writing for free)

If you’re being asked to write—anything—for free, I just hope the person asking is your mother or your kid (or the person who shares your bed). Because if the asker doesn’t fit into one of these categories, he or she is no different from someone in a dental chair saying to the dentist: “Oh, and I just want to confirm that you’re not going to charge for this crown, right? I’ll show it to everyone; it’ll give you great exposure.”

Tim Kreider has published an exceptional essay in the New York Times that tells why it’s wrong to write for nothing: Slaves of the Internet, Unite!

You owe it to yourself (and to every writer who ever hopes to make a living writing) to read this article.

 

What Your Favorite Book Looks Like in Colors | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

British artist Jaz Parkinson has created an image for each book based on the tally of times the author has mentioned various colors. Check out what some famous books look like in colors:

What Your Favorite Book Looks Like in Colors | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine.

Writing and Failure

Last month, I wrote a blog post on the writer and rejection (If You Get Rejected, Should You Quit Writing?).

Here are some further thoughts on rejection by several oft-published writers, including the likes of Margaret Atwood: Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure.

Are You a Good (Enough) Writer?

I just read a lovely piece in the L.A. Times by writer and book reviewer Héctor Tobar. If you have doubts about whether you’re a good (or good enough) writer, read his article: In defense of ‘bad’ writers.

Drawing Inspiration from Nature

My second office

For as long as I can remember I have craved deep greens and muddy browns. I’ve often escaped to natural environments to write, or to read over my writing. I am soothed by trees, bolstered by the earth, and draw inspiration from breathing clean, fresh, mulchy air.

I have favorite spots I escape to, places where the phone won’t ring (sometimes there’s not even cell reception) and where piles of papers won’t grab at my attention.

I once fled to Palomar Mountain in San Diego County, pitched my tent, and promised myself I wouldn’t leave until I’d gotten the upper hand on the chapter I was struggling with. (I stayed a week, but I descended the mountain triumphant, the completed chapter tucked under my arm.) Yes . . . I wrote longhand for a week in that campground void of electricity.

Now I sometimes escape to nature to take a break from writing. But, still, it raises the water table of my creative juices, keeps the well from running dry.

I’ve come to call these spots my “Second Office.” They’re free of rent, and they free my mind.

(Also check out these earlier posts: Go on a Writing Retreat to Kick Your Writing into High Gear and Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat.)

I invite you to share some stories or images of your own writing (or creative-well replenishing) escapes.

My other second office

If You Get Rejected, Should You Quit Writing?

How many times should you send out a manuscript—and get rejected—before you put that one on the shelf?  And if you deem one manuscript a failure, should you push forward to write another?

There is no pat response because no one can answer these questions but you.

The more accurate questions, perhaps, are these:

  • How many times can you withstand rejection without losing the faith to carry on?
  • How burning is your passion to write and share it with the world?
  • How open are you to getting qualified feedback on your manuscript?
  • How many times are you willing to rewrite until you get it right?

I wish I had those wonderful stats and stories to pull from a hat: X sent out Y manuscript Z number of times before it finally was accepted and published. I know those stories, but I just can’t remember the names of the writers they’re about. You know the ones: some fifty rejections before going on to finally be accepted and become a bestselling classic. (If you know any of those stories please share some with us!)

Succeeding as a writer does not necessarily mean succeeding easily and gracefully. Not everyone gets to sail effortlessly across the finish line. Some will limp across that frontier (from unpublished to published and paid) with plenty of bruises and scrapes from a harrowing journey.

But those who persevere have a chance of getting there.  And those who are willing to rewrite—as many times as it takes—have an even better chance.