Finishing the book…
A friend of a friend asked me the following questions:
I am writing a book. I have finished the first half and just need some editing and advice as to how to orient the story so I can complete the second part.
I would say, whatever else you do, finish writing the story. You can always go back and edit afterward. Don’t let editing hold you up.
If you want specific advice on how to clean up your manuscript, you can pay a freelance story editor. (You’re looking for someone to do story editing, not line editing.) You want to find someone who works on the kind of story that you’re telling. You also want to start small, because you want to be able to get a feel as to whether you can work together, without risking a big chunk of money. And you want to work with someone who is sympathetic to how you want to publish your book and can give you advice in that context. (See below.)
Alternatively, you can get free advice from online and offline writers’ groups. Online, there’s WritingForums.com and Forward Motion for Writers. There are also local, offline writers’ critique groups. Some of these you can find on meetup.com, on online writing forums, or by networking with other writers in your area. But remember that you get what you pay for. No one on a writers’ forum or in a writers’ critique group is going to read through your manuscript and critique it. They might be willing to critique a part of a chapter once in a while. And the quality of the critiques you get will vary; you’ll need to use your own judgment above all else.
Of course, you should use your own judgment anyhow, because this is your book, and you need to be comfortable with how its written. (Once you find a publisher, there are lots of war stories told about “negotiating” with the editor over the manuscript. But that’s a different topic.) The whole purpose of bringing someone else into the picture this early is to get experienced advice and ideas that you would not have thought of yourself. This helps you grow as a writer, but you still need to decide yourself whether to accept that advice. This becomes painfully obvious on online writing boards, where you may get three different critiques from three different people, each saying something completely at odds with the other two. You are the author. You need to choose. Because it’s your book, not theirs.
I should also add here that a mentor can be invaluable. Mentoring is a topic all its own. But one of the keys to maintaining a relationship with a mentor is not to overload her with questions. Your mentor is not your assistant. She is just there to help you understand conceptually where you might go. You need to do all the actual work, including finding and paying for a freelance editor, if that’s the path you want to take.
Publishing the book…
I would appreciate any help or information you could give me along the way as to how to get this book published.
There are basically 4 ways of publishing a book:
Sell your manuscript to a traditional, third-party publisher.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a big publisher. There are lots of boutique publishers that sell niche titles. The publisher will help you edit your manuscript, bring it to market, and work out a marketing plan. You yourself will still have to do most or all of the actual marketing–it’s not like they show it on TV.
In order to convince a publisher to buy your manuscript, you need to develop contacts inside the book-publishing industry. You may need to find an agent. And you may need to keep trying for many years before you can convince a publisher to bite. At that time, the publisher will also want to feel that you can turn out a second and third book, and more, if your first book succeeds.
Holly Lisle has some excellent advice on getting published in the “writers” area of her site: www.HollyLisle.com/fm/.
A third-party publisher is good if you can get one and don’t want to set up your own indie press (see #2 below). Sometimes, an author will use a subsidy press (#3) or value-added printing service (see #4) as a stepping stone to catching the attention of a third-party publisher. (Note that in these cases, it’s the marketing and persistence of the author that gives him some level of success after self-publishing with a subsidy press, and that success is what catches the eye of the traditional publisher.)
Start your own, independent publishing company.
This is what I did. This strategy is sometimes called “self-publishing,” but I don’t like to use that term anymore, because “self-publishing” can also refer to strategy 3 below. Also, the term “self-publishing” has taken on a negative connotation in some circles, even though there are numerous famous (and successful) books that were self-published. So on Bob Baker’s advice, I call it “independent publishing” (similar to “indie” music labels).
Starting your own publishing company can get your book to market faster than going with a third-party publisher, because you don’t have to sell it to the publisher first. But this option also means you and you alone are responsible for making sure it’s salable, for learning all about what it takes to bring it to market, and for making it succeed. You need to be a writer, a business wizard, and a marketing expert, all rolled into one. There will also be people and companies in the book industry who will look down on you for “self-publishing,” and they may refuse to do business with you. So you have to factor that into your marketing plans.
If you want to start your own company, I highly recommend the book Aiming at Amazon by Aaron Shepard, for the business and publishing end of things. (See Aaron Shepard’s publishing blog for information on the upcoming new edition.) His marketing approach, however, is incomplete, because “sell my book on Amazon” is not a marketing strategy. Even if Amazon is the biggest single book store in the world, Amazon should still be the smallest piece of your marketing effort, because Amazon’s philosophy (as far as I can tell) goes something like: “Please send us all your products and your web visitors, so we can make lots of money.” And that’s not going to do you much good.
I recently discovered Bob Baker, and I’m turning into a huge fan of his indie-book marketing materials, because his mindset is almost identical to my own (which was honed on the teachings of Perry Marshall, Dan Kennedy, Ted Nicholas, and other direct-marketing gurus). Bob Baker’s “Full Time Author” site is an excellent place to start: FullTimeAuthor.com.
If you plan on publishing more than one book, and you plan on doing it yourself, then go this route. Take the time to learn the ropes and start your own company. If you only plan on publishing one book, such as if you’re publishing a memoir primarily for friends and family, consider using a subsidy press (#3) or value-added printing service (#4).
Hire a subsidy press to publish your book.
This is a compromise between options 1 and 2 above. It’s also a form of “self-publishing,” but not indie publishing, as I’ve used the term.
Subsidy presses used to be called “vanity presses,” and going with a vanity press used to immediately brand your book as worthless in the industry. That attitude has softened a bit. Still, as it is when you start an indie press, many people in the industry will look down on you and may refuse to do business with you if you hire a subsidy press.
Here’s how it works: You plop down a couple thousand dollars, and they provide a bundle of services. They might help you design a cover, for example, and go through the mechanics of manufacturing the book and getting it on Amazon and BN.com. They’ll also charge you a higher per-unit cost for copies your book than you could get using option 2, because the subsidy press is actually the publisher of record, and they’re the middle-man between the printing company and you.
A subsidy press will probably NOT be able to help you with marketing. Don’t do business with any company that makes wild marketing claims, such as saying your book will be in every bookstore in the country, in return for a few thousand bucks. In fact, be very careful with subsidy presses in general, because there are still a number of unscrupulous ones out there, who promise desperate writers the world and then can’t deliver, leaving the writers despondent and broke. Realize that hiring a subsidy press is not “getting your book published” in the traditional sense. With a traditional publisher, the publisher pays you to publish your book. (That’s what advances and royalties are.) With a subsidy press, you pay them (and then the two of you split the profits). Hiring a subsidy press is just that: you’re outsourcing part of the self-publishing process to a company who can do it cheaper and easier than you can. But you and you alone are the one responsible for the success or failure of your book.
Some people advise that you avoid subsidy presses completely, because (they say) the subsidy press is going to take your money and not provide you with anything you couldn’t do yourself. But that’s not necessarily true, because not all of us are business whizzes who have time to learn the ins and outs of the book industry. The subsidy press can handle the mechanics of many of these issues for you, which can be extremely valuable to someone who can’t do it himself but still wants to go the self-publishing route.
For a comparison between setting up an indie press and hiring a subsidy press, see the post “How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book?”
A subsidy press is best if you plan on publishing a limited number of titles. For example, if you’re publishing your memoirs for friends and family or for vanity’s sake. Or if you want to publish a book to give out as a freebie at seminars you give or some such. A subsidy press can also be an option if you plan on building up a fan base in order to attract the attention of a traditional publisher.
Use Lulu.com (or some other value-added printing service).
Lulu is a strange animal in the book industry, strange enough to deserve its own entry. It’s a little like a subsidy press in that you pay them money for services. They even have a “distribution” service via which they’ll buy you an ISBN and get your book on Amazon. And you can even publish it under your own name. (That is, your company can be listed in the space under “publisher,” instead of the publisher being listed as “Lulu.”)
But Lulu provides fewer services than a subsidy press. They’re more like a print-on-demand printing company, except they do business with authors directly (not with publishers, as most printers do), and as a result, they provide a slightly different service model. Their per-unit prices are also substantially higher than a print-on-demand printer, for the same reasons a subsidy press charges you more for copies of your book.
Amazon’s CreateSpace is similar to Lulu, but offers a slightly different set of services. They’re also an alternative if you want to go this route to publishing.
As with a subsidy publisher, you and you alone are responsible for the quality, marketing, and success or failure of your book. You’re just outsourcing part of the process to a third party. Except that with Lulu and CreateSpace, you’re outsourcing less of the process than with a subsidy publisher.
And like a subsidy press, value-added printing services are best if you plan on publishing only a limited number of titles, because it’s more expensive in the long run to publish with Lulu or CreateSpace than it is to start your own indie press. And like a subsidy press, you can also use these services to build up a fan base in order to attract the attention of a traditional publisher.
I hope this gives you some idea of what book publishing is like. Of course, this just scratches the surface. For even more information, check out the the podcast episodes and articles at The Writing Show (WritingShow.com).
Good luck in whatever you decide to do.