What do I need to do to get my novel published?

The most asked question this week is: “What do I need to do to get my novel published?”

And here’s my answer: It is a given that before sending off your manuscript your novel is as good as it can be. Don’t be in hurry. But when you are sure you are done, you can do one of four things.

You go down the traditional publishing route. This means you look for an agent to represent you. Once you’ve identified an agent, you send off a synopsis of your novel, the first three chapters and a letter about yourself. (We’ll talk more about what your synopsis should contain and query letters in a future blog.) Chances are the first agent you write to writes back, eventually, and says sorry, he/she is not interested. This makes you seriously depressed, but you carry on and write to another agent. And so on until an agent asks to look at your complete manuscript. This is a very good sign but it doesn’t necessarily mean the agent will take you on.  There are a number of reasons why an agent may like your book but chooses not to represent you eg: it may be the agent has no room to take on a new author, or it may be the agent represents an author who has written a book just like yours and the agent doesn’t want a conflict of interests. Don’t worry about it. Don’t give up. Eventually, one of those agents may well offer to represent you!

In a competitive world it helps get an agent’s attention if you have already had some short stories published somewhere, or won a competition or two, or perhaps have a university course in creative writing behind you. Anything which shows that while you are new to being published, you are not a totally inexperienced writer. That said, it doesn’t matter about any of that if your writing is fantastic, because all agents and publishers are looking for the next big thing. Unfortunately, all agents and publishers are also human beings and occasionally they don’t see that your novel is potentially the next big thing. This is normal. Do not be put off by a rejection or two or three or more!

If you do get an agent, he or she will find a suitable publisher for your novel and look after your best interests by getting the best possible deal (printed and e-book) for your book etc.

You can also try contacting publishers directly but don’t waste your time contacting a publisher unless they say they accept unsolicited manuscripts. It’s also a given that you do a bit of research and check that the agents and publishers you contact will be interested in the kind of book you have written ie: check their client lists.

Once a book has been accepted by a reputable publisher, in theory, the publisher will make your novel as good as it can be: it will be copy edited, proof read, given a fantastic cover and the publisher will promote and distribute your book in the UK and possibly further, and your book will sell lots of copies and you will sit back and smile, banking the royalty cheque when it comes while writing your next book. Happy days!

You can go down the POD route.
 POD services generally include printing and shipping a book each time one is ordered, handling royalties and getting listings in online bookstores, such as Amazon. The initial investment for POD services is usually less expensive for small quantities of books when compared with self-publishing that uses printing longer print run.  Often other services are offered as well: formatting, proof reading and editing, and so on. Such companies typically do not spend their own money on marketing, unlike traditional publishers. The benefits of POD publishing include editorial independence, speed to market, ability to revise content, and a greater share of royalties kept compared with traditional publishing.

However, be warned, as with any traditional publishing agreement, always read the fine print! When someone else publishes your book, the copyright of the book usually stays with the publishing  company while the book is in print. That was fine in the olden days. Nowadays, there are e-books and e-books never go out of print. Also the royalties for an e-book should be different from a printed book. You will need to negotiate. Also, if you are not happy with the finished product, you usually have no say over it being changed. I know of an author who went down the POD route and his book was published full off errors and with a totally inappropriate cover. He was helpless to do anything about it. I know of another author who went went with a traditional publisher and was shocked to discover the cover on her latest book was a generic cover and used on another book currently on the bookshelves in shops.

Also, while POD publishing usually means your book will be listed on an online site, this isn’t the same as marketing or selling it. You will have to consider marketing your book if you want to make sales.

You can self publish an e-book. Amazon makes it easy (and there are others). Again, your finished manuscript has to be as good as it can be, and again, you have to do all the online marketing/promoting if you want sales – the distributing is done. Famously, a man called John Locke and a young woman called Amanda Hocking are million kindle-airs, with e-books they self published on Amazon. If you go down the e-book way, promoting is done more indirectly, you will need to spend a lot of time blogging and going on readers’ forums etc and getting your name about – a skill in its own right! More on that in future blogs!

You can self publish a printed book (and find yourself a Marc!) When a publisher told me he was interested in publishing my book, The Blue Suitcase, but it would take at least a year to get back to me to confirm the interest and another year to publish, I went to my friend Marc. Marc has a long history of working in education publishing and set up Pilrig Press to publish The Blue Suitcase.  Marc spent a lot of time searching for the right printers and getting the manuscript and the cover right before publication. He also spent/spend a lot of time marketing the book. The success of The Blue Suitcase has been remarkable, and this has as much to do with it being “well published” as well written. Pilrig Press are going to publish my next novel, due out in September, and I an confident Pilrig Press will do another great job!

At the moment Pilrig Press is not taking on any new authors (although after September, Marc is considering doing so.). But Pilrig Press is just one of many small publishers that have sprung up to promote new writers. Some of these small publishers offer a half and half service – the writer helps subsidise the printing cost but in return you get a proper professional publishing package ie: editing and proofreading services and a royalty agreement too. These deals strike me as a good compromise.

 *Please note: I know lots of writers who have gone down the traditional agent/publisher route one and it is not always as plain sailing as one would hope. There is a general feeling among writers that agents and publishers see them only in terms of pound signs. In other words, unless your book is doing really, really, well, they are not interested in you. One writer friend was dropped by her publisher even though she had eight published books and her last book had sold over 20,000 copies. Another writer earned a mere £120.00 on sales of 12,000 copies of her last book as she was only getting royalties of one penny a book (the book was sold in a supermarket chain and that’s the sort of deal that you can end up getting) – and then she was dropped. Another writer colleague who had a publisher but not an agent found his book being sold for £1 within three months of it being launched because it was deemed not to be selling well enough so the price was slashed in an attempt to get sales (he should have got himself an agent as soon as he got the publisher!). Many writer friends also complain their agents/publishers do nothing to promote their book.

What seems to be a given is that whatever route you go down, you have to be prepared to promote your book in terms of attending book signings/events/lit festivals/going on Amazon and blogging. What you cannot do is sit back and wait for things to happen – and you always check the small print when you are asked to sign anything!

Oh yes, there is a fifth way: you go to parties in London where publishers and agents gather – this was the advice I was given by an editor who worked for Fourth Estate. Oh, and a sixth way:  you can become a celebrity and then everyone will want to publish your book ;o)

But before I depress you all there are many successful writers out there with good agents and good publishers, and there are also many successful writers who are self publishing both paper books and e-books. And, don’t forget, there are also hundreds of thousands of readers out there, who are always looking for a good read. So, although it’s harder than ever to get a traditional publisher behind you, in many ways it has never been easier to actually see your book published somewhere in the world!

Any questions? What has your experience of publishing been? Do you have anything you could add? Be great to hear from you!

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