I’ve written extensively in my column about the basic facts regarding publishing, but still I get the most amazing emails from aspiring writers. People asking me if I can help them with money to get published or saying that they come from a poor family but want to become a writer. What is that all about? I always ask- do you read my column? Yes, they say, though it is obvious that they don't. I thought it was time to put the simple facts in black and white.
If you read nothing else I will ever write, read this. Cut it out. Make copies, give them to friends. And then when you think of sending me a nonsensical email, read this column again, ...and move away from your laptop.
1. You do not pay a publisher to publish your book.
Publishers publish books that they feel can make them money. Writers submit their manuscripts to publishers. The publisher assesses the manuscripts and accepts the ones that they like. They edit, design, print, and market the book at their expense. The writer pays the publishers nothing, ever.
2. The publisher pays the writer.
The publisher distributes the books. The publisher collects the money from sales. Sales are divided between the publisher and writer, usually 90% for the publisher and 10% for the writer. These figures can be negotiated a bit, but 90/10 is about normal for print. Considering the expense the publisher has incurred on a book that may not sell at all, this is a fair deal as long as the publisher follows the terms of the contract. Only inexperienced writers who know nothing about the publishing business see this as an unfair arrangement.
3. Your manuscript needs to be good enough to get a publisher to make that type of investment
A proper, traditional publisher is a gate keeper. New writers complain that publishers are unfair because they rejected their manuscripts, and they very quickly resort to self publishing. Publishers reject manuscripts they believe they cannot make money from. It has nothing to do with justice, it is a business. They have no obligation to you. None. Your job is to take that manuscript back and work on it until it is absolutely as good as you can make it. That’s what writers do, that’s why the job is not so easy.
4. You find the right publisher by doing your research.
If you are a writer, you are, of course, a reader. (If you are a writer who does not read, please move along. I have no interest in you.) When you read books that are similar to your manuscript, check out who the publishers is. Then research that publisher on the internet. There you will find the submission guidelines. Follow the submission guidelines exactly.
5. Your first draft is a rough draft. No one should see it.
Good writing takes work. No one succeeds the first time through. Do not embarrass yourself or waste a publisher’s time by sending out your rough draft.
6. Agents are middle steps between the writer and the publisher. Writers do not pay money to an agent.
Agents accept clients that they think have manuscripts a publisher will buy. If you get an agent, she or he will shop your manuscript around to publishers on your behalf to find the best deal for you. When royalties are paid out, the agent gets 10-15% of your royalties from the publisher. If someone calling themselves a literary agent asks you for money, run away and do not look back.
7. Printers are not publishers.
A publisher prepares a book for the printer. A publisher markets and sells the book. A printer prints. They print lots of things; one of the things they might print is a book. They take the original designed book and make copies of it.
8. If you have paid money to have your book published, you are self publishing your book.
There are all sorts of “publishers” around who are looking for writers to give them money to publish their books. Most of these “publishers” accept every single manuscript that comes to them; they make no investment, so they care nothing about quality or if the book will sell. They occasionally offer editing services, which you pay for. But mostly they just layout the book and take it to the printer. They hand the books to the author who must now sell them to recoup the money they spent to get their book “published”.
9. Unless you want to look like an idiot, do not approach publishers or agents using SMS writing.
Really, people? You want to be a writer but you don’t capitalise I, you write mumbo-jumbo such as w8? Even a cover letter matters, it represents you, it tells the person who you are. Don’t mess it up looking unprofessional.
10. Self publishing has its place.
I do not discount self publishing. If you have a following of some sort, perhaps in a particular field, self publishing can be the best choice. It will cost you and you now assume all of the risks. You also get all of the money if the book sells well. On the other hand, if you are a fiction writer who has never managed to get even a short story published, you are wasting your money. Get in the game and learn how the industry works before making a knowledgeable choice to drop out.