Skimming the Traditional Publishing Industry

The publishing industry seems a big, scary, and closed off business (at least, it did to me until I started researching). Many authors I have talked to about traditionally publishing have said “I knew a guy” when I asked how they got published. That’s disconcerting to many of us who don’t have those lifelines. But there is a way to get traditionally published…

First thing’s first, though – what it traditionally publishing? There are two general ways a writer could think to publish their book into society: Traditional, and self. Traditional, some people will tell you, it a much more authentic way of going about publishing. In this way, you are selling your book to a publishing house, and in turn, the publishing house will make your book ready for public display (designing the cover, mass producing, etc.) and then distribute your book as necessary to, ideally, big name book stores all over the world. So, basically,  you are offering your book up to someone in the publishing industry who wants it, they take it and pay you money for it (the amount and way you get the money depends on your contract), and then they try to sell it, because they make money off your book, too (therefore, the more books you sell, the more your “publishing person” gets, and the more you may get).

But it’s not that simple, you don’t just wave your manuscript around waiting for someone to throw money at you. There are more factors involved:

1. The first thing you do in trying to traditionally publish, is to get an agent. To get an agent, you have to send them a query letter. A query letter is a letter to a specific agent describing that you want their representation on your book, you will tell them the word count of your book, it’s genre and age group. I would also personalize my query letter (they always say they love it when that happens), talk about other authors they have represented, how your book would fit well with the agent, etc. Then you go on to a brief describing of what your book is about. End the letter with your name, and contact info. Some agents will want you to give them the first chapter, or five pages of your book. Paste that below the query, because they generally hate attachments. Many agents now a days prefer email queries.

With a query letter, you are asking the agent to represent you, so, naturally, they have the right to reject you. It is not an easy thing to get an agent. Agents are looking for books they can make money off of, so even if your book is a good one, if they don’t think they can sell it, they won’t take it. I would send my queries to agents in groups of five or six. Note: Big time sellers in the book world have taken tens (sometimes even hundreds) of tries querying an agent. Keep trying. In the end, if no agent ever emails you back and asks for more of your book to read, there’s probably something wrong with your query letter. Revise.

But what is an agent? An agent is the guy who has the hook ups. The agent will find you a publishing house and negotiate a deal with them about your book.

 Why do I need one? When I first read about agents, I said to myself, “what? I don’t need one, it’s just another step.” It’s not just another step, it’s something 99% of authors have. Agents are the people that know what they are doing. Most big publishing houses will never look at a manuscript unless an agent hands it to them. An agent should forever be your mentor in your writing career, they will find you good deals, give feedback, and represent you. Remember: Agents make money when your book sells, so they want you to succeed. If an agent ever asks for any of your money, they are a scam. Walk away. You will need an agent to get your book published.

2. Know your rights. Once an agent agrees to take on your book, they will present you with a big shiny contact talking about rights and money and stuff. Read it. Ask questions. In general, as a first time author, you won’t have many rights in the way your book is displayed to the pubic, but you should always know your rights to the book itself.  If it all goes south, can you get your book back from the agent, no questions asked? Make sure you have those rights, in case you want to jump ship and decide to publish with another agent, or you want to self publish.

3. Money. After you sign said shiny contract, you will be agreeing to various ways of getting paid (and how much you get paid, which differs greatly). As an author, you will not be reviving much of your book’s earnings in money (I know, how does that make sense?). But there are a ton of people involved with your book in getting it ready for the public. Some of the money will go to the publishing house, some to your agent, and lastly, some to you. There are three ways you could get paid:

Flat Fee – A set amount of money upfront that’s yours to keep. The amount of money you get will not change no matter how well, or how bad, your book sells. Ex: If your flat fee is $10,000, the amount you receive does not change if your books sells ten copies, or ten million. In flat fees, no part of that $10,000 goes to your agent or publishing house (they get to fight over the money from your book sales).

Royalties – A small amount of money paid to you every time your book sells a copy. If your book sells at $20, and you get fifteen percent of that, you will gain $3 every time your book sells. So, in in the end, you sell 30 copies, you will have gained $90. End of story.

Advance Against Royalties – A sum of money paid upfront to you, with more royalties to you should the book sell well. But, before more royalties can come, your book must pay off your advance first with the royalties you would be getting. Ex: Say a publishing house offers you an advance of $60,000 and royalties are $3 a book. Take note that the advance of $60,000 is not additional to the royalties, but as part of them. Meaning they’ve already given you the royalties for the first 20,000 books sold, so you won’t earn any more royalties until the 20,001 book is sold. Then, you will always have $3 for each book sold. Take another note: The $60,000 is a advance, meaning it is yours to keep forever, no matter how the book sells. If it sells bad, you will still keep the $60,000, just never get enough to earn more royalties.

              Remember: Being an author is never about the money.

4. Know what is negotiable. Being a first time author (and if you’re young then it’s even worse), you won’t have a lot of say in your book during it’s stages of being published. Editors will rip your book apart, cover design won’t care much about your input, agents won’t be looking to you for a business strategy. Which is why it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Know what you’re signing, what you’re talking about. Things to know and talk about:

a. What type of pay, how much, and when you get it.

b. How many free copies of your book you get.

c. What the publisher needs from you.

d. The best way to get a hold of you, and how much you are being told about the process.

e. Rights in general.

f. Cost for the author to buy copies of the book in the future.

g. The future.

There you have it, my guide to traditionally publishing. It’s totally plausible! *Nervous laughter.* But seriously, if you have enough determination, some good will come of it. Feel free to leave a comment about your publishing endeavors and contact me if you need to bring something about my blog to my attention.

 

 

 

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