When it comes to publishing a novel, modern authors have unprecedented access. In the majority of the 20th century, publishing meant getting noticed by a publisher or agent. Once a fiction writer overcame this most difficult hurdle, all that remained (such as negotiating an advance as well as any changes to the manuscript) seemed easily surmountable by comparison. But how time has turned the pages on the publishing industry, in just the last few decades!
Today, anyone with a manuscript can pay to self-publish his or her work. However, this exciting prospect turns out to be both the best and the worst news for the industry. Unlike authors of the past, today’s novelists face a far more drawn-out, uphill battle. The challenges have shifted from turning an agent’s or publisher’s head to catching (and keeping!) the attention of each individual making up an ever-more-jaded reading public.
Whether an author chooses to pursue traditional or self-publishing, the truth about who will promote the book remains one of the industry’s best-kept and dirtiest secrets. A first-time author finding success in traditional publishing will likely receive a very small advance, if any. And, no matter the size of the advance, authors should expect to promote their work themselves. Only household names, mostly those known internationally, will receive any effective, sustained promotion of their books by their publishers.
The same rings true for self-published authors. Many, if not most, publish-on-demand (P.O.D.) publishing companies will try to peddle additional services to their authors. From editing and graphic design to press releases, book-signings and promotional packages, “value-added services” cost uninitiated writers thousands of dollars for value they’ll most likely never see. Plenty of disgruntled writers report receiving extremely poor editing work from their P.O.D. publishers, to the point of mistakes being added to their manuscript! And sadly, most self-published authors who paid their P.O.D. publisher for advertising find the techniques employed far less effective than promised, if they’re even carried out at all.
So what are the industry secrets to successful publishing? While much of the advice seems obvious, an astonishing number of writers fail to recognize what it takes to actually publish successfully with a decent return on the investments of time and money.
Firstly, writers should come to the table with a well-revised, well-edited manuscript. Because self-publishing has opened the door for so many authors to be published (and because the average P.O.D. publisher cares only about receiving compensation from their authors, not about book sales) modern readers must slog through a glut of available fiction. When reading an excerpt to decide whether to purchase or not, most readers will pass on paying money for something containing too many errors. Worse still, disappointed readers will hardly ever give an author a second chance and most likely will spread the word to their friends and family, discouraging them from purchasing something poorly written or edited.
Secondly, authors should spend nearly as much time educating themselves about the state of the publishing industry as they spend crafting their work. The industry continues to change drastically, as online bookstore giants, in pursuit of their own profits, flex their muscles more and more to find out just how far they can push authors and readers. Writers would do well to work with publishers who will protect them, their work and their royalties from common practices such as price-fixing and book returns. To find a reputable publisher, authors should search for publishers that don’t try to upsell them on additional services. If a P.O.D. publisher does business under more than one name, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask why. Googling and searching on Facebook and elsewhere for reviews from past clients should be common practice.
Finally, to be successful, wise novelists should plan from the very beginning to advertise and promote their own work. In modern terms, this means producing a website for the novel and engaging in both traditional and online promotions including writing press releases, blogging, and creating email and internet marketing initiatives. Never underestimate the power of grassroots and word-of-mouth promotion as well. A savvy author will expect to put as much energy into advertising his or her book as writing and editing it.
No wonder successful authors compare the process of producing and publishing a novel to birthing a child. Creating the manuscript merely compares to the nine months of pregnancy, while revision, editing, publishing and promoting the work equate more closely to the immeasurable effort it takes to raise that child through the following decades.
The labor of love and dedication continues through the processes of publishing and tirelessly promoting the novel to earn the coveted status of a successful published author.