Writing the book is not the end state. Going from concept to draft is really only the halfway point. It takes a daunting amount of hard work and skills to get published.
Genre/Audience. I touched briefly on the need to have genre-specific readers give you feedback. But how do you know what genre you’re in? Genre is your best friend and a little bit frenemy. A genre like cozy crime books helps you target a specific audience of readers. You can look at what people are reading and why, you can emulate their pitches and reach out to their fans. Imagine trying to sell a sports car to a family of 5. Knowing you have a sports car and what sports car fans love gives you a lot to focus on. And even if you have what seems like a broad genre, the book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing is an excellent resource on pitfalls to avoid.
Self-Publish, Crowdfund or Agent. So many options. Self-publishing is great if you like control, want to publish quickly and don’t mind if the book doesn’t make it to many physical stores. It has a stigma because there’s zero quality control. Crowdfunding is now an option thanks to Inkshares and Unbound – you still have to hustle for readers but they help with things like editing and distribution and you have proof people wanted your book. And finally the agent. The gatekeeper to the big publishing houses, agents can make sure your book gets past the slush pile (mileage may vary.) If you want a smash hit, the agent is far more likely to get you there than the other options.
Pitch. No matter how you go, you’ll need to craft a compelling tagline (1 sentence) that describes your book, like Twilight meets Star Trek or heartbroken animal trainer is Earth’s last hope for survival. Then you need a pitch, 2-4 paragraphs succinctly describing your book, who would like it and why. You don’t describe every character like someone’s third cousin Lizzie or that gas station attendant.
Proposal. As if writing your book once was not enough work, many agents and publishers require a proposal with an outline of your book and the market possibilities. The outline is 1 page of the essential events, so they can see that your book is structured well and doesn’t have major plot holes. The proposal includes a lot. It’s a good idea to do this even if self-publishing, so you can get an idea of where to market your book (more on that later).
Cover Letter. Even on a crowdfunding site, you need to convince people why they should buy a book from you. A short, professional letter with your basic details and any special qualifications you have. Being a hard worker does not qualify you, sadly. Reading a ton of books also does not qualify you. Having a degree in mathematics when writing a kids book on learning math is worth calling out.
Publisher. Still with me? Great. Now you need to identify which agent or publisher or self-publishing or crowdfunding option is right for you. The vast majority of publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts – they are often barely making ends meet and cannot meet the demand of writers seeking a publisher. The few that do must be hunted out and located through lots of research. Agents can get your work through the front door and help make sure you get a good contract, but you have to research to find a great agent. Crowdfunding gets your book idea out there quickly, but you have to do almost all the work of hustling readers, convincing people to buy the book and generally being shameless (see the marketing post). Self-publishing lets you do a whole bunch of other fun stuff before you get to the point of having to hustle, but that hustle is still waiting for you.
Developmental Editing. Developmental editing is when someone looks at your work to figure out plot holes, places you could strengthen the story, gaps, character behaviours that don’t match their psychology, all sorts of big picture things. A publisher pays for this, but for self-publishing you have to pay.
(You did a bunch of revisions in the earlier stage, why edit again? You really need to get your book edited by a professional editor who went to school for this and does it for a living. Having your friend who was an English school teacher is not enough if your goal is to get your book on physical shelves and in a best seller’s list. Why is editing expensive? It is really time consuming.)
Copyediting. There are types of editing?! Yikes – just like there are so many vaccines, you can’t just get one kind and be done with it. The copy editor helps improve your writing so that it follows good conventions, called style guides. They make your writing more readable and help improve flow.
Cover. This is the fun part, right? It is, but it is also the difference between getting into a best seller’s list and selling a few copies to friends. In general, homemade covers tend to be easily spotted and people believe they reflect the quality of the writing. Homemade covers don’t look polished and compelling like a professional cover, because unless you are also a graphic designer, you don’t have the experience and training to make something that resonates aesthetically. If you need to do it yourself for budget reasons, start with these tips. If you’re looking to hire someone, start here.
Fonts. Have you ever looked at a book cover and just felt that something was off? Something didn’t seem quite done somehow? Fonts make a huge difference. Each font can convey a very different atmosphere for your book, just like the creepy, sad or uplifting music can make a movie scene powerful. Scarlett Rugers has a great guide to fonts for the self-published.
Layout. I was reading the other day that a single line in a book should be 8-10 words long. A paragraph that looks okay in your word processor might be way too long once the book is printed. The margins for the pages need to be much bigger on the inside of the book because of the room needed to open the book. Even if a publisher handles this for you, you should be aware of how long this process takes. For a self-publishing author, there are some templates but it’s not a foolproof process.
Proofreading. Wait, wait… how many kinds of editing are there?! I think this might be the last one. Proofreading is typically done on a physical proof copy. Someone who is not the first two editors will go through your book with a fine tooth comb and look for any typos, spelling errors, incorrect formatting, etc. They aren’t reading for quality or enjoyment, but solely to help make you look as good as you can.
Okay, now you’re done, right? No, no … sadly, we’re not done. Your book may be published, but if you want to actually sell copies you have some marketing to do.