In the previous five installments we have discussed how to write your novel. Now we turn to the really hard work: how to get it into bookstores and onto e-book platforms, and how to help sell books.
Unquestionably, this is a tough process and the odds are long for two basic reasons. The first is that you are competing with so many other authors seeking the same goal. The second is that the book business is in an economic slump with some publishers going out of business and others suffering. Nevertheless, some books are being published and yours can be one of them.
- complete your novel
- try to get an agent
- attend writer’s conventions
- consider self-publishing
- market your book aggressively
- expect anything to move quickly
- expect publishers to do marketing
- expect to make lots of money
- be discouraged
Do complete your novel
We have all heard stories about a new author who gave a publisher an outline or the first chapter and received a contract. Perhaps these did occur when the business was different. Now that will almost certainly be a waste of time and could preclude you from returning to those same publishing contacts when you have finished the novel.
To be sure, completing the book is difficult, but with a complete novel you give yourself the best chance of getting an agent and a publisher. Not only complete the story, but polish it as well. Remember, you get one chance to make a first impression.
Do try to get an agent
Some authors try to bypass agents and submit directly to editors. Twenty or so years ago, this was a possibility. Now, unless you have a close relationship with an editor, this is a mistake and a waste of time. Most editors won’t read manuscripts unless they come from agents.
The search for an agent will be difficult because good agents receive a multitude of submissions. Try to find an agent who sells books in your genre. One way to do this is utilizing the Literary Market Place, which has a good directory of agents and in most cases identify their genre and give information about contacting them.
Do attend writer’s conventions
Most genres such as thrillers, romance, and mystery, have annual conventions. Writers in the genre attend. Though the costs are significant, these can be useful for the beginning writer in that genre.
At these conventions you can make valuable contacts with agents, who are regularly in attendance and looking for new writers. Often there are courses in craft and you may obtain valuable tips to improve your manuscript. Finally, you may gain useful information about marketing from other writers in informal discussions.
Do consider self-publishing
All authors would like representation by a top agent and publication by one of the big publishers. However, even after a major effort, you may not succeed in doing that. If that occurs, thanks to modern technology, you have another option: self-publishing. It’s not as favorable, but you will be able to get your novel published.
There are firms which specialize in self-publishing — both paper books and e-books. You will have to pay to have your book published. However, you will be able to control the marketing once you have a book.
Do market your book aggressively
Regardless of whether one of the giants in the industry publishes your book, or whether you have to self-publish, be prepared to aggressively market your novel. It’s your book, and you can do a great deal to push sales.
This means arranging book signings at stores, social gatherings, and charity events. It means arranging notices in publications. It means sending out email blasts to friends, family, and business associates. Get notices into alumni magazines from schools you attend. Your goal should be to create a buzz for your book. And you must establish a website and use social media to market your book.
Do not expect anything to move quickly
Everything in publishing takes a great deal of time. If an agent agrees to read your manuscript, it is likely to go to the back of a pile of other manuscripts to be read and edited.
Assume that the agent reads and likes you manuscript, they will then submit it to editors. Generally, there will be multiple submissions. Do not expect to hear anything soon. Editors have huge piles of manuscripts to read, often at night. During the day, they deal with published authors’ issues, marketing matters, and attend meetings. Try to forget about the book and go on with your life. Out of the blue, your agent may call to say a publisher wants to buy your book. Usually good news comes by phone; bad news by mail. No news is no news.
Do not expect publishers to do marketing
Once you have signed a contract with a publisher, you and your editor will meet with the marketing person in the house assigned to your book to discuss their marketing plan for your book. You will be excited by what you hear. Temper your enthusiasm Some of what were promised will happen; most won’t.
Your marketing person will probably be someone well-meaning and well intentioned. However, they will be limited in what they can do. The reality is that publishers now are straining financially. This means they are understaffed and lack the funds to commit as much as you and your editor would like for your book.
Do not expect to make lots of money
Periodically, stories appear in the press about million dollar advances paid for a book. These days large financial advances almost never happen for authors without a best-selling record. Most advances of a few thousand dollars are the rule. Indeed, there is a tendency to eliminate advances because most books don’t earn their advance — even if modest.
Of course, the advance is just that. An advance against royalties. But isn’t that where the real money is, you’re wondering? Sadly, very few books sell more than 5,000 copies, even including e-books. When you do the math, that means that unless your book inexplicably takes off like Fifty Shades of Gray, you will be lucky to earn $5,000 for all your effort. So you must realize going in that you’re doing this for lots of good reasons, including pride, prestige, and a sense of accomplishment, but you are not doing it for money. Or if you are, you are likely to be disappointed.
Do not be discouraged
It is a great feeling to see your book on the shelf of a book store or to find it up on Kindle or Nook. It is wonderful to have friends tell you they read and enjoyed your book. Even better to receive emails from strangers to this effect.
But getting to this point, as you’ve seen from this series, involves lots of hard work and overcoming numerous obstacles. And new ones keep popping up. One of the most important rules for becoming an author is don’t be discouraged. Simply keep going in the face of adversity. This is your dream. Fight to achieve it.
Writing a good novel is a tremendous accomplishment. Hopefully, you will have created a real page turner with memorable characters, compelling locales, and fast moving action scenes. However, once you have that final polished product in hand, or on your computer, you face the hard task of marketing the product of your labors.
You will begin by finding an agent. Hopefully, the agent will lead you to a good editor. Then you will assist in marketing. After all of this, you will see your book in stores and on e-book platforms.