Any advice on where to start?
Go to your local government for self-publication.
Where to start depends on where you are in your publishing journey. The preparation is 80% of the journey, so, where exactly are you in terms of your manuscript and accessing publication services?
Hi there. I moved your thread to the Industry Insider as it’s best suited there. Thank you for understanding.
As for your question, it highly depends on what route you’d like to take and where you are in the process.
Before you start jumping down the rabbit hole, it’s best to make sure your writing is where it needs to be. The common mistake that many newbies make is wanting to get published (and trying to make it happen) so early in the game. Instead of focusing on getting published, focus your energy and time on improving your writing. Why? Well, the main reason is because a lot of writers aren’t ready to be published, and it’s one reason why they end up getting rejected. They may have good ideas, but their writing doesn’t execute it well enough. So spend a while honing your skills and making sure your writing is the best that it can be.
The average agent and publisher recommend writing at least three to four novels (all of which is revised properly) before writing a story that can be publishable. This is because the more you write, learn, and revise, the better you’ll become at writing.
Now, once you get to that point where you feel like the story is publishable, then you can start looking into what route you’d like to take. Of course, during the process of improving your writing, you should also look into the publishing industry—self-publishing and traditional publishing—as there is a lot to know about both of them. And, based on your own skills, capabilities, and resources, you can narrow down your decision.
But you also have to understand that there’s a lot of pros and cons to both publishing industries.
If you want to go the traditional route, here is how you can do that (on the basic scale):
- You need an agent.
You only need an agent when going traditional (well, mostly if you want to be published by a major publishing company). The agent is there to help you get noticed by a publisher. You can’t get published without an agent because publishers will not talk to you or look at your work without first seeing an agent.
Now, in order to get an agent, you first have to make sure your story is the best that it can be. There is no need to look for an editor (because the agency will provide an editor for you if they accept your work), but it should be revised nearly four to five times or more by yourself. So this means that you should look into critique partners, beta readers, etc. for improving your work as much as you can.
Once you have that settled, you can then start querying agents. Now, here’s what many writers end up doing wrong. They end up looking for any agent which you shouldn’t do. You need to do your homework on the agency and agent yourself because agents only accept specific stories. If you’re writing a YA fantasy and you query an agent that only accepts YA contemporary romance, you will instantly be rejected. So you have to make sure that the agent you’re looking for accepts stories within the target audience and genre your story is.
Here is some really good advice from Alexa Donne, a traditionally published AuthorTuber.
Another thing you need to know is that publishing traditionally is FREE. If a publisher or agent or an editor from the traditional side asks for money, it is a SCAM. Everyone makes their money when you make money because they take a percentage of the cut.
The problem with getting an agent, though, would be the fact that it can take a very long time to get accepted. And even when you do get accepted, it may not always pan out. Alexa, for example, had to go through two agents in order for her to get published. So, just because you have an agent, doesn’t always mean you are guaranteed to become published.
- The agent chooses an editor for you.
Now, let’s say you do get accepted by an agent. What happens after that is that they will hook you up with an editor (which will take more time to find) from a publishing company and the editor will do their best to help you revise your work to make it all polished for publishers to love.
When the professional edits are done, you then go on submission which means that the agent will take this new polished work and send it off to publishers that they are in contact with. This side takes a lot longer because publishers are looking for specific books, just like agents. However, agents look for particular books that they’re interested in, but it can be harder to get through a publisher. This is because publishers work off the market, and the market is what constantly changes.
If you have a YA fantasy, for example, and you’re on submission, most publishers or even agents may reject it because it isn’t what’s trending in the market. It could be, for example, YA contemporary which means that only YA contemporary is what most are looking for. What then happens is that it will take months to years to finally get through to it. This is why when you’re looking into traditional publishing, you want to focus on what is currently trending on the market. This doesn’t mean to write toward the market because even when you do that, it’ll change to a different genre. You also have to be aware of the dead genres that publishers aren’t going to publish because those trends are long gone. For example, if you want to publish a YA dystopian story, you can’t get traditionally with it because most publishers and agents will reject it because readers aren’t looking for dystopian stories… that ship sailed a few years ago during the Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent era. You can try to get published through that genre, but it may end up being a disappoint to you.
- The publishers do nearly everything for you.
The upside to traditionally publishing is that the publishers will do just about everything on the business side for you. The cover, the format, etc. is all set for them. Of course, there are things that you need to do such as marketing. You will need to market your story no matter what because most publishers will not lend you a marketing team. Their teams are mostly for the big authors who are successful or their teams goes out to the authors who have amazing books and great potential in becoming successful. But unfortunately, about 90% of all traditionally published writers have to market themselves. This means to put money aside for marketing, to get into social media, and more.
This is a reason why a lot of publishers and agents accept mostly specific people who have established platforms. If you make it big on Wattpad, if you’re a successful self-published writer, if you have a successful BookTube or AuthorTube channel, if you have a successful blog, or something of that sort… they are more prone to accept you because you will help them make money. Having an audience in some way will tell these publishers and agents that you have people who will instantly read your story. This is why celebrities (such as actors like Hilary Duff and Julie Andrews), YouTube personalities (like TheOdd1sOut, Tyler Oakley, John Green, and Rosanna Pansino), and BookTubers (like Christine Riccio and Sasha Alsberg) who can get published without much effort because they have an established platform.
- Traditional publishing isn’t what it seems.
The main problem with traditional publishing is that you aren’t in charge of mostly anything as you only get the “final say” in what the publishers will do. And if you’re interested in making decent money, you won’t find that in traditional publishing.
When you get accepted, you are given an advance which is money that the publishers give you as a way to kick-start your payment. The advance basically means how much your book is worth (or in other words, how much they believe your book will make). This doesn’t mean anything bad because most writers get very low advances and then make it big (like J.K Rowling where she had, I think, a little over 2,000 dollars?—and then became a billionaire later on).
Advances are typically low (between 1,000-10,000 dollars) and it sounds like a lot, but this money is split into multiple payments through multiple years. For example, if you’re only publishing a single book, you will get an advance that will take around two years to fully get paid. If your advance is say, 2,000 dollars, you may get 1,000 dollars for the first year and then 1,000 dollars the next year. This is just a basic example but the amount you get (and how much during that gap of time) depends solely on the publishers.
Now, the problem with this is that once your book is on the shelf, you’re not gonna make any money whatsoever. Your book has to make as much money you made with your advance in sales. For example, let’s say you get a 4,000 dollar advance. Once you get published and everything, your book has to make 4,000 dollars in sales which will take forever because of the small percentage, so technically, you only make a few dollars (not even that) off each sale. But once you earn out your advance (breaking even), you will then get royalties which is the small percentage you can make. Unfortunately, even once you start earning royalties, you still won’t make much. The average author who has made royalties makes only around 6,000 dollars a year.
That is exactly why agents and publishers will tell you not to quit your day job because hitting it big to where you’re a full-time author is extremely difficult to do.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, self-publishing can work, but it does have its challenges.
- You need a professional editor.
When you’re looking to self-publish, you need to look for freelance editors so your book can be polished and the best it can be to be put out on the market. If your book isn’t professionally edited, you won’t make much money from sales as those who will read it, may end up hating it, then give bad reviews which then tells potential readers to not purchase it.
The downside to self-publishing is that it’s extremely expensive and your editor is one of those reasons why. Editors can typically cost a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. It all depends on the service they’re doing (line edits, developmental, copy editing, etc.), the type of editor (as different ones come with different costs), and if they have bundles (like an editor may do copy editing and developmental editing for a specific cost which can help you because the cost for both separately can be more than the cost for the bundle). Now, typically, editors will do their service for about 1-2 cents per word. It sounds very cheap, but that adds up quickly. Let’s say you have an 80,000 word manuscript and you found an editor whom costs around a penny per word for a specific service. That adds up to 800 dollars. Or, on the higher end, you may found a wonderful editor but they cost about 5 cents per word and your manuscript is 110,000 words. That’s 5,500 dollars.
What you want to do is find an editor who is around your budget and is also a great editor, so be sure to look into the editor you are about to hire. See what works they’ve done to understand if they are a good fit for you.
- Consider the rest.
The other things you’ll need to pay for are the little nit-picky stuff such as the platform you’re using, the cover design, and the format you’ll use (hard cover, e-book, paper-back), and other things. Problem is that it adds up.
If you want your story to be distributed across many main websites and other places, you may want to choose a place like Ingramspark where it’s accessible for libraries, bookstores, etc. To have it both in print and e-book, it’s about 50 dollars a month to use.
As for the cover design, you can hire someone who is both a photographer and graphic designer or you can look up specific cover design websites and pay for a cover which can cost as little as like 50-100 dollars to more than 800 dollars. Jenna Moreci had used Eight Little Pages for her novel the Savior’s Champion and Eight Little Pages (for a package of both cover and interior design) is about 718 dollars. But if all you want is a custom cover from them, then it’s about 300-500 dollars (depending on the format), or if you only want a custom interior design, it’ll be from 200-400 dollars (again, depending on the format).
A lot of writers who are on a tight budget also tend to only place their book in ebook and or paperback because the rates are cheaper for those depending on the platform you use. Honestly, I can’t really get much into it because I’m still learning as I go. xD
Overall, you can spend as low as 1,000 dollars on self-publishing, or you can spend as much as 30,000 dollars on self-publishing.
- Self-publishing also isn’t what it seems.
When you’re self-publishing, you’re basically making your own company because you are both the publisher and writer. You have to deal with everything on the business side of things, so this does mean that you need to understand that side of publishing. This is why it’s hard for some people to choose which industry to go with because there’s many pros and cons with either or. If you don’t know the business side of it and don’t really know what the heck you’re doing, traditional publishing may be the route you may want to take. If you want full control (creative and business related), then self-publishing may be the best option for you.
You can also weigh in the other pros and cons of both industries to finalize your decision. With either route you take, you’d have to do your homework and understand the industry before you start publishing. Some questions to ask yourself:
Do I want to make more money with the revenue?
Do I want to have full control?
Can I afford it? —On the other hand, you can always save up money for self-publishing.
Do I want to publish my story within the next couple years or spend 5-10+ years on waiting for traditional publishing?
Of course, there’s always being able to become a hybrid author where you’re both self-published and traditionally published, so you still have time to be both. It just depends on what to do for your debut novel.
Another thing to think about when self-publishing is having an established fan-base before you full publish your book. This is one mistake that many newbie authors make because when it comes down to marketing, you need to hype readers up and then have a pre-order sale, and then make it available for full-on purchase. The story can’t be published and then you go to market it. You have to market it beforehand so when it’s released to the public, the sales are better. This is why you’ll hear self-published writers who announce to their potential audience that they have a book coming out on a specific date. This way their audience is informed and can pre-order it or buy it when it’s available.
Overall, I recommend watching these AuthorTubers who give really good advice on both industries:
Alexa Donne—traditionally published author of Brightly Burning and her upcoming novel the Stars We Steal.
Meg LaTorre—former literary agent and upcoming self-published author of an adult space opera novel.
Jenna Moreci—self-published author of Eve: the Awakening, the Savior’s Champion, and her upcoming novel the Savior’s Sister.
Vivien Reis—self-published author of the Elysian Prophecy.
Start with a finished, polished manuscript that is as good as anything the traditional publishing industry sells. This is very, very, very hard.
Decide whether you want to attempt traditional publishing or if you want to self publish. The former is uber competitive. Of the manuscripts that are actively queried, about 1:10K will be published. The latter requires a ton of knowledge and a budget. To self publish without either of those is a waste of effort.
This is all fantastic and very thorough advice. Getting critique partners is something I want to highlight because so many writers skip this step and it’s so important. Fresh eyes are needed to spot the issues the writer can’t see. Querying is unbelievably competitive and you should do everything you can to put your best work forward. Even if you decide to self-publish instead those fresh eyes will help you put better work out.
Especially for self-pubbed authors this step is vital. I got my editor from my publisher. She’s got a legal background and she absolutely SHREDDED my manuscript. A very useful, even if slightly painful exercise.