Every few months, someone or other (usually an expat in Germany) contacts me to explain that they too are keen to publish a book and would like to know about the process of getting it published. This post is for all those people – and for any others who haven’t yet got round to asking me!
First of all, a bit about the publishing business.
There are lots of different types of publishers, but the main ones you need to be aware of are:
– The big mainstream guys
– The specialists
– The self-publishing houses
In addition there are also online publishers (ebooks) – which is a smaller but rapidly growing niche. Each of these has a potential role, but only one will be right for YOUR book.
The big mainstream publishers
Obviously it would be great to be plucked from obscurity by the likes of Harpur Collins, Penguin or Bloomsbury… but let’s be realistic about the chances of this happening. For a previously unpublished author, it is very, very low. There is, however, one potential route to this (if you’re prepared to give it a go). Harpur Collins runs a portal for aspiring authors at: www.authonomy.com and usually picks out two or three new writers a year from the many thousands who submit manuscripts. Not only that, their competitors and various agents also trawl the site looking for new talent. It’s not a bad place to showcase yourself, but you will need to do plenty of reciprocal reading/commenting/arselicking in order to get your book up the rankings and into prominence.
This is the more realistic scenario for a first time author. Smaller publishers tend to have certain areas where they specialize (travel, cooking, history, gay writers, poetry, etc.). It takes quite a bit of online research to find which publisher would be the right one for your book… but if you do hit one who is looking for exactly what you have to offer, then you’re in with a chance.
For most first time authors, self publishing is the only realistic route to getting into print. The advantages are that you are guaranteed to have the printed books in your hand and on Amazon within a matter of weeks. If your book sells well, you will also make more money than you would through a mainstream or specialist publisher. The downside is that you have to fund the publication yourself and take on the commercial risk and the marketing. The bigger upside is that self publishing can be very inexpensive (remember – it’s a print-on-demand model rather than one which requires a large print run), and as the marketing support most of the mainstream publishers would give your book are negligible, you’re going to have to do that bit yourself anyway! The only real disadvantages to self publishing are actually that your book won’t physically be on the shelves of bricks and mortar bookshops (though booksellers will be able to order it for anyone who asks for it).
The economics of publishing a book
First time authors sometimes forget that publishing is a business. A publisher will look at your manuscript as a product and will be working out how many copies they can sell at what price and margin. They really don’t care much about your honeyed turns of phrase or how much you agonized over the title of Chapter 3. Publishers are risk averse (in an inherently risky business). Even some of the best (commercial and/or literary) manuscripts are rejected many times before someone spots their potential. The first Harry Potter book was rejected by more than one publisher before Bloomsbury picked it up. Teenage wizardry was an unproven concept and carried a degree of risk that some publishers wouldn’t accept.
Royalties on a paperback for a first-time author would normally be about 6% of the net price. So if the initial print run was 5000 (and all were sold) at €10 + VAT you would make €3000.
If you were to self publish (print on demand), you can spend anything from €300 – over €1000 upfront depending on what is included in the package (things to look out for are layout, cover design, editing, pr support, etc.). But you get around 20% of the net price as royalty (this is illustrative based on what most people charge – with self publishing you can choose the price point yourself).
If your self-published book sells for €10, you’ll make €2 per book sold. If it cost you €1000 to publish (assuming you went for a fairly full service package), you’d need to sell 500 copies to break even. If you sold 5000 copies (as in the publisher example above), you’d make €10,000 –less the €1000 initial outlay – so €9000.
The point is, if your book is likely to appeal to a fairly niche audience, first of all, no commercial publisher will look at it because it won’t shift the volumes they require. But self publishing offers you a route to getting into print economically at very low volumes. And if you do happen to publish something with a wider appeal, you’ll make a lot more money in the end.
Is my manuscript suitable?
Only you can decide whether your manuscript is suitable for publishing. A couple of important points though:
– If your text has already been published in any other form and is still available (e.g. online, as a blog or articles on a website) no commercial publisher will accept it
– Readers are far less likely to pay for something which they can get for free elsewhere
– Blogs, articles and unrelated snippets sometimes make good books… but usually don’t, either because the manuscript lacks cohesion/storyline/plot/structure or because some essential aspects (photos, videos, links, comments) are lacking – if your manuscript wasn’t written as a book initially, be very self critical. It might be better to start again and write something new. Remember – the planning is the most important stage in writing a book. You should spend at least as long on this as on the actual writing. (Editing is also critical).
When thinking about publishing a book, you need to ask yourself some key questions:
– Who is my target audience? (Hint: the answer can’t be “everybody” or “all parents” or “women” … it’s more likely to be “women in the UK aged 25-35 who are trying to juggle a job and a toddler” or “middle-aged women whose husbands are going through a mid-life crisis” … or whatever. But there must be a core target market who are the people absolutely pre-destined to buy your book. )
– How many people are there in my target audience? (You need to manage your own expectations here about how many copies you can sell – if your target audience is “rollerblade salesmen in Switzerland”, rethink your book.)
How do I get people to buy my book?
Your publisher (or self publisher) will sort out the mechanics of it all – ISBN number, sending copies of record to the appropriate libraries, getting the book listed on Amazon and other online bookseller sites. But the marketing will be mainly up to you. This is true, whether you are self publishing or with a mainstream publisher. You are the one who will need to publicise your work.
Here are some things you can do:
– Email all your friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances…. These people will buy your book without a second thought. They will also tell you it’s great, (even if it isn’t). When they do, make them put that thought into writing in the form of an Amazon review. Reviews on Amazon do help sell books, particularly if someone is dithering. Specific, detailed reviews are much better than “I enjoyed this book” – so if necessary get your family and friends to run their review past you first. Be shameless about this – it’s your single most important piece of advertising!
– Find out where your target audience is on the internet. Forums, Facebook groups, Twitter, blogs, communities etc. Join all of these, and become an active member. Don’t annoy people by “pushing” your book, just play an active role, get people to like you and eventually they’ll buy. Occasionally you can slip in some anecdote which alerts people to the fact you’ve got a book out… but don’t overdo it.
– Set up a blog on the same subject as your book, and advertise your book there (link to the Amazon page). By blogging regularly on the same subject, you’ll draw traffic from search engines – and they’ll be people with a specific interest in this subject
– Do some offline marketing – give readings, book signings, etc. to appropriate groups. You can buy copies cheaply straight from the publisher and make a far higher margin than normal.
– Send review copies to bloggers who blog on the same subject – they particularly like it if you give them an extra copy to give away via their blog
– Send review copies to any appropriate other media (newspapers, magazines, radio stations) – include a press-pack with biographical details, a photo and a summary of the book
– Donate copies of the book as prizes – the more people who read it and like it, the more they’ll recommend it to others
– Join sites like Librarything.com, shelfari and goodreads and ensure that your book is on there