Picking a Publishing Path

Publishing in general is a very scary next step for any writer and their story. Whether you are aiming for Traditional or Self Publishing, there is a mountain of things that have to be done before you are ready for this step. Before allowing yourself to even think about publishing in any shape or form, be sure to have your manuscript well edited and polished. It doesn’t matter if you plan on pitching it to an agent, publisher or self publish; you need a strong, clean, well-written story before stepping into this next phase.

  Four things that you will want to have for either option:

  1. Finished Manuscript – Clean, well-written, and as errorless as possible.
  2. Social Media presence – That’s right, you need to have some sort of online presence.
  3. Copyright – Often in Traditional publishing contracts they can do this for you. Be aware that you can put an “estimated” release date and digitally apply for one for only $35.00 with the US Copyright Office. Read how here…
  4. PATIENCE – Lots of it since these things takes lots of time to achieve.

Note that I did not say you needed money. Though I suggest dropping the cash for the Copyright office, there are other ways to confirm you rights. Be mindful that the certificate would prove most effective and leave no room for a fight.

Now, we will dive into the different elements of Traditional Publishing versus Self-Publishing in the sections below. This is meant to solidify the different expectations and experiences to expect in both spectrums. Each will have pros and cons, but you will have to decide which of these elements belong to these labels.

 Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing was my initial aim as a new writer to the idea of publishing my stories. Instantly I discovered a plethora of new vocabulary which immediately shut down my confidence. It wasn’t the fact I didn’t know what I needed, I failed to realize how unique and special this Tragic Opera was played and how ugly it could seem at first. But, there are many misconceptions as to what a Rejection or Pass truly means.

For example, when I first braved my very first pitches to agents with the original version of Rebirth, I found out very fast how much more work it needed. Most of my queries had no responses, but a few agents and publishers were kind and let me know I had a lot more work to do. My writing was the central issue with comments like “your writing is under-developed”, “need a stronger writing style”, and “this needs to be cleaner”. At first I wasn’t sure what I was being told, but as I wisened up, joined writer’s communities and read more about creative writing as a profession it became crystal clear; I had a great story idea, but my writing was a trainwreck filled with rookie mistakes, redundancy, vagueness, and every taboo in existence.

 What did I do?

I did research and then started a totally different story to help me build my writing style into a stronger form. Here is where Cedric the Demonic Knight comes into the equation. Once more, I cracked my knuckles, wrote my query letter, dug through a massive list of agents and publishers and let over 150+ proposals leave the nest in hopes of piquing someone’s interest. My end result was 90+ rejections, 6 personal responses with advice, and the rest no response. No contract offered, but this was still a very positive result. First off, being politely acknowledged and denied means you caught their attention with your writing and you are moving in a good direction. A lot of these rejections even had added segments asking if I happen to have something written in a different genre! As for the 6 agents with advice, they explained why Cedric was being rejected; My story dabbled too much into different genres and did not fit any core marketing/publishing needs and that’s when I realized why so many had asked for my writing style but in a devoted genre was my largest response this time around.

 Agents versus Publisher

You will hear these two forces batted back and forth a lot and each are different from the other. Agents are like picking a personal manager/editor/coach to help you pitch yourself and your story. Publishers sometimes do this or at least appoint you an editor to work with, which limits your control of choosing who your partner in getting it from you to the printhouse. Just be sure to take your time and research the agents and publishers you are adding to your list. Often reading other writer’s experiences and complaints can help you choose someone who will be a good fit for you. Please take the time to read the little bios on ALL the agents and editors so you can get an understanding of whether they even like the genre or style your book is written in. Why would you send an Epic Fantasy to someone who strictly represents or leans heavily towards non-fiction work? READ, LOTS OF READING ON THE WEBSITES FOR BOTH AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS!

 Query Letters & Submission Guidelines

I recommend you make a spreadsheet to help you track agents, materials sent, email addresses, current status and so forth. If I can find where the one I made went I will be sure to add a link here for you to see or even use. There are sites that can help you find and track progress as well. One of my personal favorites is QueryTracker.

FAILING TO FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES EXACTLY AS REQUESTED WILL ALWAYS RESULT IN AN AUTOMATIC PASS – REJECTION – NO RESPONSE.

Do not take this statement lightly, it’s the cold hard truth. Ask any agent or publisher and they will tell you this is the first wave of weeding out queries without even reading them. The point to this insane ritual of each of them having a slightly different format or word count or list of things to include is to see how well you take instruction. If you can’t take what they ask of you and turn it into the correct thing, then how will you possibly be able to work together on a novel?

As for help on developing your Query letter, which is a proposal for them to consider representing you and your story, then I suggest you look at successful examples, read articles written by the agents, and often there among the submission guidelines they often suggest a site for advice on what they expect. Do not hesitate to customize and adjust your base query letter to be more appealing to the agent’s genre, interest, specialties, and so forth.

Rejections versus No Response

A “No Response” or NR is usually a result of a few scenarios: horribly written (Rebirth was proof of this before fixing it), you failed to follow the Submission Guidelines, your email landed in nowhere-interwebs-land or the agent is flat out swamped with query letters and can’t possibly respond to the 100+ emails flooding her inbox each day. Regardless, getting a ton of these should be a sign that you need to take a long hard look at your writing and make it stronger and more appealing.

As for rejections, most of these are often auto-responses but on occasion you get something added beyond the obvious generic message at the start. You should see these as a moment of them saying “Yes, I see you there, but no thank you on this story you are offering.” It’s not a bad thing to get these, and it should be very exciting if you get a lot. With Cedric I was flooded with these and on occasion I would get a rejection from an intern or the agent/publisher that wasn’t a generic rejection(GR). Any advice or comments on your work should be duly noted as a sign of what you are doing right and wrong. Don’t be shocked if you are asked about other stories or genre specific work. There have been times where other writers have been asked to resubmit their piece at a later time. If this happens, you better be taking a fine toothed comb through it and tighten up shoddy writing. It’s like getting a second chance to clean yourself up and retry for that dream job interview.

Contests, #PitMad & Other Events

Contests and events are held often and throughout the year for a chance to win a contract with a publisher or agent. Once more, read the submission details and the fine print on these to make sure that you meet the listed requirements and expectations. Don’t see this as an easy way around writing the scary Query letter or pitching yourself to the world. You are still required to do these things as well as do some leg work after winning in most cases. If you are on Twitter, there is an awesome event called PitMad that is held often throughout the year. It’s a chance to pitch your plot and see instant interest in your story. Once more, be prepared with a finished manuscript (polished), Query Letter, summary and anything else the agent’s site or message requests of you.

 What about Independent or Indie Publishers?

These tend to be smaller and more intimate companies who specialize in specific genres or markets. It’s a great option that falls between the two worlds in a few ways. They still provide cover and editing support for their Authors as well as help drive promotions on a smaller scale. The authors are still encouraged or obligated to do a lot of legwork alongside these companies, but often have more voice in their work. Again, I cannot repeat enough about looking over your contracts, make it clear who is responsible for what tasks, and understand these are often individuals that are in this for heart and soul. Look over their current and previous releases to double check quality of work ahead of time, since many of these were often Self-Publishers (like myself) who are now branching out.

My personal favorite group is Kristell Ink, Tenebris, and Grimbold Books. This team is devoted and hardworking to the point of self-sacrificing. But, don’t take my word for it. KNow that they started 2016 with SEVERAL of their books listed or nominated in many Speculative Fiction Awards for the year!

Self Publish

Now we’ve hit a subject I am better experienced with, since my amazing response and encouragements led me to choose the path of Self-Publishing. This doesn’t mean I have stopped my wish for landing a piece with an agent or publisher. In fact, I have learned that my next piece has to be a more devoted genre work than what I normally enjoy writing. But, we are here to explain to you what to expect: Blood, Sweat, and Tears. No joke, you are all alone and things only get done if you take the necessary steps, time and effort to make it happen. You don’t need money to Self Publish your book in digital or paperback formats. Here is a list of site I know off the top of my head:

Ebook sites – KDP (Kindle), nookpress, kobo, smashwords, GooglePlay and lulu.

Paperback – CreateSpace (Amazon), nookpress, and lulu

What do I use? I am strictly KDP for eBooks and CreateSpace for paperback format. Each site has its own appeal and it really takes reading and looking into each site to see which fits you best. My experience with KDP/CreateSpace has been super positive and I love the wide markets they push my books to as well as the ability to run Promotions with KDP. I also use Smashwords and follow the guidelines to make my book available to Barnes & Noble and in EPUB format or so NOOK readers can digitally read my work.

Editing & Formatting

After finishing all your editing on your manuscript you should pick a book size. I recommend choosing something that compliments your genre and/or a size you are fond of in your own collection. My personal choices are 5.25 in x 8 in OR 6 in x 9 in. but each site will offer a different selection and you should pay attention to cost or stipulations they might have with these.

Some have an app or service to help you format your manuscript to match the book size. My advice is to please take that extra painful step to learn what to do to format it manually. You can get the look and feel that best compliments your story. It also prevents weird conversion debacles and visually (eBook & Paperback) looks smoother than those converted.

After formatting the manuscript, you will now know the page count and be able to adjust options and make better decisions towards the book’s cover design and overall look.

In short, I will be writing a post on how to put together a book for CreateSpace and KDP later and will add the link here!

Marketing & Online Presence

The biggest challenge for self published or independent authors is making their work known. There are several ways to make a presence for yourself. Here is a list of things you may want to consider having, starting, and staying active on to help build Online Presence:

  1. Official Author Website – Lots of free sites! I use wix.com for mine: http://willisartist.wix.com/author
  2. A blog site – try to set a goal to post once a week/every 2 weeks/Once a month. Staying active is super important for gathering a following and a themed series goes a long way and easier to promote.
  3. Social media – Setup Author accounts/pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, tumblr and wherever you enjoy posting at the most or know the most people who can assist in spreading the word about you and your work! Even make Facebook Pages for your books or series!
  4. Join Groups & Forums – Network with fellow writers! Give advice, ask for advice, and see what’s going on in the Author community both in your area, genre, and more!

It takes some time to break out of your shell and talk and push your own stories, but this is how you get everyone’s curiosity up! As for marketing, you are going to need to use these to make it happen. Talk about your book, your process, build excitement, give away a copy, announce Author Book Signing events, meet and greets, submit articles announcing your book release to the newspapers or pr.com, and a mountain more sites.

There is so much more I want to discuss on this subject, but for now these are 4 things that have helped me a ton. Later I will write a post on Marketing and dive into what I have found in my own adventures in this not-so-fun aspect of being a IndieAuthor!
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