03 December, 2009

A Little Overview about publishing

As promised, I am starting a short series I’m calling “Getting There”. The assumption is that we all want to improve our craft, we want people to be affected by our work, and we want to see our work/name in print.

The bad news is that, to make money as an author, there are no short cuts in this business even if you decide to self-publish.

For avoidance of doubt, let’s do some background.

Self-publishing is whole different ball game and I will deal with that in a separate session. Right now, though, I’ll give an overview. Self-publishing means getting your work published, and undertaking all marketing and promotions at your own cost. There’s no competition between authors here, as long as you are willing to pay for the work, the publisher will get your book printed.There are various ways to go about it, but this will be dealt with later.

Self-publishing is one way to go, but there’s another. We will simply call it Publishing.

If you’re thinking, “Wait a minute. Is she saying I shouldn't pay to get my book published?” The answer is yes. Do you think Dan Brown pays for his books to get published? No, he doesn’t. Neither should you. You may not get the millions he’s receiving now, but I bet neither did he when he started out.

Here’s how it works. Most of the big names in publishing—Hachette, Harlequin, HarperCollins, Kensington, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster etc—do not demand a penny from the author. Rather they pay the author. Sounds good, doesn't it. 

Once you have a finished manuscript, you would query the editor of a publishing house, either directly or through an agent, to sell your story. Usually the query will be in the form of a letter that summarises your plot and includes a brief author bio. In some cases the publisher’s guidelines will also ask for a synopsis and/or a samples of the story in question—usually the first three chapters of your book. This enables them assess whether yours is a story they would be interested in. If they are, they will request for the full manuscript, upon which you might receive what, in the publishing world, we refer to as ‘the call’.

The Call is basically when an editor calls to inform you that the publishing house would like to buy your book. In cases involving the big publishers (like those mentioned above) the author will receive an Advance, which varies by publisher and author. The Advance is based on the projected sales the book is expected to generate. This means the more money the publisher believes the book will make, the higher the Advance. This is why a publisher would pay Dan Brown or Danielle Steele or Stephen King oodles of money for their books. The implications of the Advance is something I’d like to treat in a latter post, because it gets complicated. However, as I've learnt, every author should know a little something about everything to do with publishing.

Okay, to keep things simple, I’ll end here to let you chew on it; comment, ask questions etc., before I move on to what you need to do as an author before you even get to the querying and submission stage of your career.


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