Publishing. The ugly part of the writing life.
We writers love what we do. We sleep, eat, breathe our characters and plot lines, our worlds and our words. We spend years mastering craft, and more years digging deeper to try and tell the best possible story in the best possible way.
And then, of course, we want to see our work out in the world. We want to inspire and amaze and confound. We want our books in bookstores, in libraries, in reader’s hands. And we also would love to be rewarded for our efforts with a few nice (or glorious) reviews, maybe being on some lists, maybe even winning some awards.
Being a writer is great, until it comes to hawking our wares, because getting a book published through a traditional house at the moment is not easy. Not. At. All.
Not Too Long Ago…
The way to get books into print was to find a publisher by submitting “over the transom” into a slush pile. When I started out, I attended conferences only to see editors posting pictures of themselves standing next to a pile of towering paper that made the editor look tiny. The deluge, spawned by the birth of the personal computer and the ease of printing multiple copies, had begun.
Soon after, publishers began to close their doors to unsolicited submissions and agents became the gatekeepers, until they, too, were overwhelmed with submissions and closed except to recommendations or requests.
At the Moment…
I’m hearing from industry experts that publishing is overwhelmed. A whole lot of people are writing, and a lot of those books are really good, and many are also justly serving under-represented voices, and many of these excellent books are getting published, and maybe everyone who wasn’t already writing wrote a pandemic book or two, and suddenly it’s really, really hard for a new author to break in. It’s even hard for a veteran author to sell a manuscript through their agent (take my word for it).
Further confounding new authors is the recent demise of #PitchWars and #PitMad, a Twitter forum allowing authors to pitch directly to agents, a practice that became a victim of its huge success.
What’s a New Author To Do?
First, persistence and determination are essential if you really want to land an agent and a major publisher. But there’s good news: the alternatives are actually getting better.
Again, when I started out, the only books being self-published were through “vanity presses” that charged an arm and a leg for a few copies that you might persuade your mom to buy, but they wouldn’t show up in libraries or bookstores. And usually those books were poorly written, badly edited, and sported icky covers.
Now self-publishing (“indie”) is not only acceptable, it’s a place where authors can find an audience and gain recognition. Companies have sprung up specializing in helping get books into the indie marketplace, do-it-yourself options are plentiful, and cover design has become very affordable.
And often overlooked smaller presses are still open to unsolicited submissions.
Here are some industry helpers that I can recommend:
- Smaller presses: Albert Whitman, Tanglewood Press, Charlesbridge, and Boyds Mills are 4 of the small presses that still accept submissions and also publish high quality work.
- Dedicated presses: Some presses are dedicated to particular genres and still accept submissions, such as Free Spirit Publishing, Chicken Scratch, Web of Life Children’s Books, and see this link for several spec fiction houses: https://www.mythosink.com/5-indie-publishers-that-accept-sci-fi-and-fantasy-submissions/
- Hybrid publishing: These publishers do vet the submissions, and will suggest further edits/coaching to strengthen a book’s chances in the marketplace. This is a viable option if the author can pay fairly hefty sums, has a book in a specific genre, and has a solid manuscript that may not appeal to a broad audience (examples: She Writes Press, Spark Press).
- Book covers: If you decide to self-publish, I recommend this resource for covers: https://100covers.com/
- Setting up for self-publishing: for Mac users, Vellum is an easy software to use (I’ve used it for my self-pubbed scifi ARK.)
- Copyediting: To find a qualified copyeditor, try this: https://aceseditors.org/resources/for-hire
- Help with self-publishing: Carla Green does everything from cover design to layout to setting up a book on Amazon. https://claritydesignworks.com/
- Book Coaching: To whip your manuscript into shape before you send it anywhere, hire a book coach. Here’s my resource: https://www.authoraccelerator.com/
If you have suggestions to add to my list, please let me know!