Do You Want to Publish?

For a lot of writers, publishing their work is a dream come true. Sure, there are some who are perfectly content writing or journaling for fun without a single pair of eyes on their work, but for a lot we like to dream and venture into what it would be like to actually do this for a living and make money.

As I’m sure you’ve probably already figured out, writing the book or the short stories or the poems is the easy part. It’s the amount of time, dedication, and know-how in the next steps that are truly difficult. And yes, while some might find them fun, let’s be honest: it’s difficult.

So for new writers out there, there are two ways that you can publish: Traditional or Indie. Because Indie authors are still climbing the ranks in popularity (we’ve come a long way from the early 2000s), a lot of people tend to think that traditional is the make all and be all of publishing. I happened to have dabbled in both and gone the self-publishing wrote for reasons that I’ll disclose here. But for those of you interested in giving the traditional route a go, here’s the good news:

You’ve got nothing to lose.

Traditional Publishing

If you’re looking into a traditional publisher (Tor, Penguin, Bloomsbury, etc.), then it shouldn’t cost you a dime to get your work looked at. What this means is you (1) finish a novel (2) get it beta-read and/or edited, and (3) send it off to agents or editors that are accepting unsolicited work. And it’s the third step that’s the hardest.

To find and catch the interest of an agent or editor, you have to have a query letter. Like I posted in my previous blog, a query letter introduces you, your project, and the reasons why you’re approaching said agent (Do they represent the same genres you write? Do they represent an author you absolutely love? Do they watch the same television shows as you?) to the agent. The purpose of the letter is to pitch yourself and your story in one page or less, and cross your fingers it gets the agent’s attention. The hardest part of the query letter is capturing the essence of your book in just 250-350 words, and it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds. It’s not a summary of your book—it’s simply supposed to entice the reader to read more. There are a lot of websites you can visit to help you write one and get feedback on one (which is absolutely necessary).

1.) https://www.agentquery.com/
2.) https://queryshark.blogspot.com/
3.) https://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php

These are just three of the ones I used when I was in the querying trenches. There are so many more now that the publishing industry has gotten so big. Additionally, these are free websites, meaning you can post your query on there and have other people (not necessarily professionals) take a look at your query and give you feedback. There are other authors, agents, and editors that charge for services but might garner better results in the long run.

And I did that. A lot. I hired a handful of authors and agents to look at my different query letters and it NEVER WORKED. I don’t want to dash anyone’s dreams, but sometimes the reality is it’s not the query. It’s the story, the genre, whether it’s YA or not, whether you get lucky, whether you get looked at, whether the agent is in a bad mood, etc. The most frustrating part of all this was the amount of time and work I put into a manuscript or query letter and never getting a response. You spend hours researching agents, what they like, what kind of story they’re looking for, and just when you think you have it, you get a nice rejection letter in your inbox 🙂 The best response I ever got was for a partial request by Sara Megibow for my YA historical fantasy, SOMETHING TO REMEMBER. Unfortunately, the partial didn’t turn out either because historical anything is a niche and not very popular at the moment.

And that’s what traditional publishing is. A niche. Always think of the thousands of people who are querying right alongside you. And while having a rockstar query letter is a plus and will definitely get attention, at the end of the day, agents and editors are looking for stories to sell. They have to make money.

I gave up so many times. I felt so defeated by the system that I resigned myself to never publishing. I love writing—I do it nearly every minute of the day. And if I’m not typing, then I’m thinking of stories in my head. I know it’s my calling and passion and it’s what I see myself doing. So if traditional publishing isn’t going to work out…then how about giving self-publishing a try?

Self-Publishing

Okay, so self-publishing is a totally different deal than traditional publishing. Honestly, unless you’re deadset on doing it yourself, you’re better off trying your hand at traditional (unless the querying gets to you; and trust me, after sending out a hundred letters and researching agents endlessly, it does). But, if that doesn’t pan out, then you know you have to do it yourself.

And that’s no joke. You’re on your own. What does that mean? Editing, formatting, book cover, ARC, and marketing are just the preliminaries. Whereas in traditional publishing the publisher awards you an editor, now you have to look for one yourself. And there are some pretty bad ones out there.

  1. Editing.

The rates for some of these editors are jaw dropping. I spoke to a former agent who once wanted to charge me $10,000 for content editing my manuscript. That’s almost a pay check for me. And while it kinda makes sense, since editing is like a job on its own, it’s astronomical and a bit abusive when you’re a wee author trying to get your head above water. My honest opinion? Find beta readers. My best friend gave me more constructive feedback than the editor I went with, although the latter helped me with some grammar mistakes I overlooked. Remember that it’s not the same reading and editing your own writing, although I do try to take breaks and read the manuscript with fresh eyes every once in a while to cut back on the editing cost. Still, it isn’t the same, and I highly recommend an editor. The one I went with charged $600.

  1. Book cover.

Again, this is something traditional publishers give you. But when you’re self-publishing, you have to look for one on your own and do be forewarned: look for one months in advanced. I found Bookfly Covers—Kira and James are incredible—and I booked them in September for March. And last I heard, they were filled up for 2023 already. Either way, when you self-publish it shouldn’t be from one day to the next. Book the cover, and keep on editing until it’s ready. The cover cost me about $700.

  1. Book formatting.

Oh, man. This is the one no one tells you about because you just don’t have a clue until you realize that the chapters you were typing happily on Word have to be formatted to fit a little book page! I would have totally missed this one had I not googled page formatting late one night and realized there’s a whole profession to this, too. What’s the big deal with page formatting? Well…if your pages aren’t formatted, then your book size will be off. The pages will look weird. Unprofessional. And the idea is to get your self-published book to look as professional as possible.

I contacted Mayfly Design, who do not only the formatting, but walked me through the purchasing of the ISBN numbers, designing a map for my world, and teaching me how to work Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon as well as Ingram Spark, which is the largest book distributor out there. That alone cost me near $3,000. Yikes, right?

  1. ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy)

To be honest, I didn’t even know what an ARC was until I started writing reviews on Goodreads and kept seeing “Thank you NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.” ARCs are the not-quite-yet-finished version of your novel that’s in a bit of a strange limbo. At this stage, readers are expected to know that tweaks are to be made and that everything they read is not final. While this is great to have, it also needs to be done strategically. What I mean by that is the timing—ARCs should be sent out right after the beta-reading stage, when you want a broader audience to read your stuff. If you’re a new author, how do you get this audience?

Social media. Close friends.

I will be honest here: be wary of sites you have to pay to use. I’m talking about NetGalley. I watched a YouTuber who swore by NetGalley and said it was super important for authors to post their ARCs there for early reviews. While that might be true, and traditional publishers do post early copies of their authors’ works there, be careful of the…er…abusive reviews. I can’t speak for other platforms like Booksprout, but I didn’t see a lot of positive feedback from self-published authors who’ve used them. If you’re publishing for the first time and want to build a platform, it’s super important to get feedback from a circle or group of people you trust and can talk to—not leave it in the hands of reviewers who are raring to destroy your reputation. I’m in no way bashing NetGalley, especially if you’ve used it before and it’s worked for you, but I had to pay $700 for six months of feedback that really didn’t help me improve my writing all that much.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: for your ARC stage, make a PDF of your story, call it a day, and send it to people who are willing to read it and give you a fair and honest review.

I’ve learned this the hard way.

  1. Marketing

And now the fun part. Marketing. I hate social media. I never used it. I was happy in my own little bubble here at home, but no—I wanted to be an author. And if I want to make a living, people have to buy my books. And how are people going to buy my books if I don’t know who I am? While making a Facebook and Instagram account is free, if you google any other author out there you’ll see they have a website. A fancy one.

Check out Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse—you’ll see what I mean.

I tried my hand at Wix, but damn—I’m an author, not a website designer. So I went with Rocket Expansion, who have been incredible with this website. It cost me around $3,000, but again, if I’m going to do this I’m going to do it right…right?

Final Thoughts

The road to publication is long and hard no matter which route you choose to take and both are possible. I could have kept trying to query, but I was done being overlooked by agents and ready to share my story with the world. The question is: how badly do you want it?

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