Here is the scenario: My manuscript is nearing completion of the first draft. I have just begun considering my options. I’ve heard great things about conventional publishing and I have heard equally awesome stories from people who have self-published. But I have also heard horrific accounts of both being nailed to the wall. So how do I decide?
Let’s first look at conventional methods of publishing. I will no doubt need representation – a Literary Agent, at least that’s what all my writer friends tell me. The Lit., Agent may cost you up to 15% of your income, but unless you know contractual law, are a good negotiator, and have an understanding of what publishers expect (what’s usual and acceptable in each publication), the Agent will prove beneficial.
Another aspect of the Agents expectations, getting paid! Yep, sometimes, “The check is in the mail”, is a publishers favorite quote and an authors nightmare. In addition, the Agent must see to it that payments made correspond to sales. A good Agent will also plug you in – give you the connections within your genre.
Negotiations are not my game, I am a writer; however, the Agent (if he or she is worth their weight in salt) is a born and bred negotiator. Sounds greedy, but I want the best contract I can possibly get and Publishers are not willing to sign million dollar contracts based on my word alone. Publishers can be vile. Agents fight the battles with Publishers and Editors, leaving the writer to do what he or she does best – write. And on another note, Agents have a far better chance at succeeding in negotiations when it comes to foreign law and translation rights, which adds to the bottom dollar.
Heading directly to the Publisher without Agent representation is not advised unless you are prepared to do a great deal of self-promotion. From editing your manuscript to perfection, to the query letters, to searching for the right fit can prove to be tedious. And forget about submitting to the top publishers, they are reserved for Agent submissions, yes they do have a monopoly on the industry. Settle for one of the smaller more obscure publishers.
Before submitting your manuscript, know what the publisher prints – do your homework – make sure your manuscript is a good fit. Know the publishers submission guidelines; submit a manuscript outside the guidelines and it will find its way to the black hole of Calcutta. Submit and wait patiently. If, and I do stress “if”, you get a call, now begins the negotiation process. Remember Publishers are in it to make money, they will want the best deal for themselves and they have been publishing much longer than you have been writing. You want to be published and they know you are desperate to see your book in print!
Now you have a contract in hand. Remember, you are your own Agent and legal department, spend the next several weeks at the legal library mulling over the legal jargon with the latest edition of law guides and publishers vs. authors rights cases making sure you do not get a raw deal.
Contract signed. Good! Now hand over your baby (the manuscript you just poured your life into), sit back for a year. Experience the angst over the changes the Editor has made, the atrocious cover art the Publisher decided to go with, and perhaps you may see a royalty check somewhere down the line.
Let me take this opportunity to point out, if you decided to go with an Agent, after the Agent takes 15% and the Publisher takes their cut, the majority – and I do mean the majority – You may make enough to pay the electric bill. I have a friend who published via conventional methods and the Publisher charges $25.00 a copy for his book, when all was said and done he netted $1.50 a book. I am not saying this is the norm; he was a beginning author with Agent representation who decided to go the conventional route.
Now as far as self-publishing. Ah, the joys of creation! All mine. All the creative license in the universe and all the money. Well, not quite. Sure, with self-publishing you control your destiny. And with your destiny in the palm of your hands, you get all the headaches and hardships. You are now your own Agent, Art Designer, Editor, Lawyer, Marketing Department, Publicist, and worst critic. You may be saying, “What’s the upside?”
Near 100% of the proceeds of the sale of your book are unshared – it all belongs to you! You will have to front the initial money – a pittance at best – to get your book off the desk and on the market. The market for self-published books is growing; however, it is small as the Publishers have a monopoly on distribution rights in nationwide bookseller chains. Best bet; eBooks is the current rave. A quick internet search will reveal the best sites for publishing eBooks, and it will show which site to exercise caution over.
Personally, I have recently sent a manuscript to an Agent, which has been accepted by a conventional publisher, and I have considered the possibility of self-publishing my second manuscript because I want to see what the experience is like. I know a ton of authors, they seem to be split down the middle on conventional vs. self-publishing. The turn-off for me about self-publishing – all the extra work. I am a writer. I want to invest my time writing. I have a friend who self-published a trilogy and he spends every weekend for the past several years promoting his books. Time away from family and time away from writing. He has sold less than 200 books in three years and he considered an excellent writer. I cannot justify those results based on the sacrifices made.
Whether conventional publishing or independent self-publishing, there are too many factors to consider before you have a solid grasp on your manuscript. My recommendation would be to talk to authors, they are approachable – although some look like they will just as soon rip your head off and feed it to their three-headed-dragon, and they really are struggling artist. The local library will have current resources available, such as, guides to Agent’s and Publisher’s. Writer’s groups and online chat rooms are great resources if you are in need of assistance with query letters. Make sure you know what the Publisher and/or the independent self-publisher desires regarding formatting before you send your manuscript. Lastly, do not quit your day job the first day you see your name on a book cover!
This has been a… View From My Loft