A lot of people have thought about writing a book. The idea of being published, seeing your work in print, having your book in a bookstore, are all romantic ideas that illicit fantasies of grandeur. But few have really considered what it would take to accomplish that. What is required? What are the challenges? What do you even need to know to begin?
(TODAY’S POST IS A SNAPSHOT OF MY JOURNEY INTO HAVING MY FIRST BOOK PUBLISHED. IT IS LONG. I DID NOT BREAK IT UP. IT IS THE ENTIRE JOURNEY TOLD IN ONE POST)
Well, I have taken that journey over the past few months and thought I’d share a bit of how my experiences went. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to having your work published or to provide steps so you can fulfill some lifelong dream of becoming an author, however it is the path that I wandered down and perhaps some of the lessons learned along the way will prove to be useful to you as well.
Step One: Find your inspiration. This is probably the most important step of all. Some estimates state that about 1 million new books are published in the U.S. every year (Source: Chilkibo Publishing) which is more than 100 books every hour. Estimates for worldwide publishing range from 2 million to 4 million new books every year (Source: Wordsrated) which can equate to as many as 457 new books every hour. Consider those numbers carefully for just a brief moment. In the very best-case scenario, the moment you publish your new book you are already running a marathon against more than 100 other authors. And that is not counting the 100 that are ahead of you from the previous hour or the 100 that will join you in the next hour. You will literally be swimming in a sea of millions of other authors, and for that you had better have some strong inspiration.
What is it that you want to say and how are you going to say it in such a way that is different from the hundreds of others that are writing the exact same thing at the exact same time as you are? What is it that is going to set your work apart from the crowd? How are you going to distinguish your work from all of the others? All of this comes down to do you really have anything to say? And how important is it to you that you say it?
And note here we have not even addressed the audience yet. Everything up to this point is just you seriously coming to the conclusion that you must write a book. You have no choice. It is a desire, something within you that is a driving force that is not satisfied until you have put the thoughts and the words down on the page.
Inspiration is a funny thing. You may be inspired to write a book and once you have completed that task be totally fulfilled. You may not care that your new book is ever read by another throughout all of human history. Just the fact that you wrote and published your book may be all the satisfaction you will ever need.
However, your inspiration may drive you to reach an audience far and wide. And if that is the case, you should set your expectations tempered with reality. Of all the new books published every year, only about 1/2 of 1% (0.5%) make it to any kind of best sellers list. To make the New York Times Bestseller list you must sell between 1,000 to 10,000 copies per week (Wikipedia article). The wide variance is accounted for by type of work (historic, fiction, nonfiction) and category of work (religious, novel, science fiction, educational, novel). The reality is if you sell 2 books the very first week you are published it is because in your own excitement you went to Amazon and purchased your own book, or else you had friends and family purchase your book.
My publisher stated that it was an average of 2 years for most of their authors to break even on their works. If we assume that a new author would need to sell 5,000 copies in order to break even, that would average out to about 48 book sales per week.
So, my advice? Start a BLOG. Put up your own BLOG site. Invest the time and money to maintain a BLOG and watch the statistics to see if you can average 50 page views per week. And that should be an indicator to you. But in reality, you need much more than 50 page views per week because individuals are probably only going to buy one copy of your book. So, you would need 50 unique page views per week, which is a much harder statistic to reach.
If you feel inspired to write a book, then by all means do so. It is an exciting and rewarding journey. Just ensure your inspiration isn’t telling you that you are going to sell a million copies the first year your book is published. It is much more pleasant to be surprised if it happens than it is to be disappointed when it doesn’t.
Step Two: Writing your new book. So, how do you take all of that inspiration and put it into a format that anyone is going to read? You could get out pen and paper and sit down at your writing desk and begin the task of creating a book. Thousands of other authors are going to be entering the arena ahead of you every day though. So, while you could theoretically approach the problem in the same manner Benjamin Franklin used to publish his works, the reality of today’s world is that if you are not using the digital tools available to you, the world is probably going to pass you by and leave you sitting in the dust. So, you probably need a computer and some word processing software. And from here you have a lot of choices. However, before you just start with your favorite setup, you might want to consider your publishing method. We will get to publishing methods in just a bit, but for now, consider that different publishing methods only accept certain format files. And by far, the most common of these is Microsoft Word. And while you may be a fan of Pages, Page Maker, Open Office Writer, Frame Maker, or just want to use Notepad (or Notepad++) to capture the pages of your new book, at some point you are going to be required to provide the content in a specific format. And that format is most likely going to be Microsoft Word.
But this is not to say you cannot use any product you want and then convert the resulting file to MS Word format, you can. However, the editor wants the format they specify for a reason, usually because they work with the printer in that format. And thus, all of the edits, revisions and reviews will be passed back and forth in that format. And if you do not choose a format they are willing to work with, then you are going to be caught in a never-ending cycle of translating files from one format to another, back and forth. And no matter how good you think your software is or how much faith you have in the format translation abilities, little nuances are always lost in translation. Especially when you start working with things like “Track Changes“.
I get the fact that some people can be extremely bigoted when it comes to the hardware and software products they choose to use, and that their biases can drive them to endure a lot of pain and jumping through hoops. But if you really want to write a book and get it published, you would do yourself a huge favor and just learn and adapt to the constraints placed upon you by the publisher. And if that means you are writing Nutshell Programming books for O’Reilly Media you might find yourself working with Gnu software, and if you are writing a plain text work and are not planning on registering the work with the Library of Congress (which publishers will do), applying for copyright or an ISBN (How to get an ISBN), and are going to provide for your own editing, formatting, and design and layout, you may very well be able to produce your work in VI (or VIM if you are not old-school), Emacs, Notepad, or any other text editor of your choice. However, the rest of us will probably just end up using MS Word.
The point here is that you are not constrained by what you do, but you may be constrained by the choices you make. There is a huge world out there with a lot of different options and possibilities. But depending on the path you take at any one point in the process, you may find yourself burdened with unnecessary and unwanted work. So, make sure you apply due diligence up front so that you fully understand the world you are entering and that there are no surprises.
You also have the option of taking a hybrid approach. I relied on a number of different people for advice and comments when I was writing my book. Some of those people did not have MS Word available to them (or did not want to invest in it simply to review my work) and so they took the MS Word document I sent them and translated it into Pages. So, the document (with their comments) that came back to me was a Pages document. But I also have Pages in addition to MS Word and had the ability to bring up both the Pages document and the MS Word document side-by-side. And while this approach may not be ideal for all people, it certainly worked for me.
If you are one of those people who feels very strongly about the computer and editing software you use, I would recommend skipping ahead to Step Three, and choosing your publishing method first. And in choosing your publishing method I would check to make sure the file format you intend to submit to them is accepted.
Another consideration in the tools category is writing helps. There are a number of options available here as well. When considering writing helps let me pass along what my publisher told me. Of the hundreds of new book submissions they receive every day, there are those that while they recognize there are words on a page, they have no idea what ideas or thoughts those words are trying to convey. In this case it might be really useful to work with a publisher as they will work with you to get to the root of what you want to put into your book and help you frame that properly. Then there are those who have a written work, and that work does tell a story, have a message, or present ideas. However, it is not a book. It is not written well or in a manner that will appeal to a wide audience. These works generally take a lot of editing. And then there are those works that present concise ideas and are well written. These works generally take a simple check for spelling and grammar.
No matter what your writing style or your level of expertise, you would be wise to just check your pride and ambition at the door. As a friend of mine once told me: “A good book isn’t written. It is re-written.” Even the best-selling authors rely on editors, proofreads, drafts, and re-writes in order to get to a polished and professional work that will appeal to many and end up a best seller.
And you would be wise to avail yourself to all the resources you can at all steps in the process. On this list of resources are both free and paid services. And this should be part of your consideration. Sources such as Author Solutions can point you to writing classes and self-help guides. They also will immerse you into the community of new and experienced authors that you can collaborate with and that will share hints, tips, and tradecraft knowledge. There are tools such as Grammarly, that will help take some of the heavy lifting out of writing a good work. There are a wide range of offerings out there just by searching for “Author helps” in your favorite browser. And depending on your chosen publishing method, some of these may be helpful or may not. Use caution here and explore all options before settling on the one right for you.
Spell checkers. The all-important spell checker is a necessity and a friend. However, not all spelling is equal. If you are using a publisher, you will want to check with them to understand their preferred spelling sources.
I had been using Dictionary.com as the authoritative spelling source for most of my BLOG posts. You will find multiple Dictionary.com links in past articles. There are many popular dictionaries out there. Such as the American Heritage Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Cambridge Dictionary, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to name some of the more popular ones. And while you may think that these are all equal when it comes to spelling, they are not. And depending on your choices, you may be constrained to one or another. The publisher I chose uses the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for all editorial content. And you can save yourself a lot of anguish during the editing process by knowing that up front. So, I have now made the switch to Merriam-Webster (even though you may still see links to Dictionary.com in my BLOG posts for convivence).
The tools that you use may also narrow your choices of computers and word editors as well. For example, while Grammarly list MS Word and Google Docs as supported word processors, you may not be able to use it with products such as Pages or Open Office Writer.
Another consideration in writing your book is style. And here, your audience is just as important as your own personal literary license. You may choose to write a work in a Southern drawl, and depending on the work, that may be perfectly fine. However, if you are working with a publisher you need to remember that they are working with a wide range of different authors and styles. And they cannot cater to the masses. So, publishers will generally adhere to one particular guide or another. For example, the publisher I worked with to put my book out uses the Chicago Manual of Style as their writing style guideline. And you may rest assured that the Chicago Manual of Style is not going to account for Southern drawl. So “y’all” or “yall” is probably going to be flagged every single time.
The good news here is that the author always has control over their own content, and you may sometimes override the rules. The controls do not prevent you from writing in your own style, rather they take your style of writing and add polish and professionalism that will make it great.
The one thing you should always keep in mind about publisher rules and guidelines is that they are there to maintain a certain level of consistency across all of the works the publisher puts out. Publishers have standards because they are in business to sell books, and in doing so they establish a reputation in the industry for delivering quality products. Their standards help them maintain those levels of quality.
And if you cannot, or do not wish to meet the standards imposed by a particular publisher, then you could choose to use another publisher, or not use a publisher all together.
Step Three: Now that you have been inspired and invested a lot of time and effort writing your new book, you need to make it available to others to read. And just like every other step in this business, there are a multitude of options available to you. And they all have their pros and cons, and the sheer number of them would take you multiple weeks of full-time investment to research. So, what do you do? To begin with, there are three very basic publishing arenas you might fall into. So, you probably want to decide which avenue or path you want to take:
(1) The first of these is the publisher pays you for your work. This happens if you are a former President of a country, a very famous sports personality, a Rock Star, or the richest person in the world. It will also happen if you are already a proven best-selling author. Publishers are willing to take the risk on Stephen King because he is a proven commodity. The chances of a new Stephen King novel becoming a best seller are pretty good. Publishers are also willing to take some risk on very famous personalities because the likely interest from the public resulting in high sales of their books is generally very good. Sometimes publishers are willing to gamble so much they will pay an author for unwritten works. And if the person is famous enough, multiple publishers may enter bidding wars trying to get the person to sign with them. Unless you meet one of these conditions however, you are very, very unlikely to find a publisher that just “shows up at your door” and just pays you outright in order to be able to publish your work.
(2) The second method is to simply buy publishing services. There may be as many publishers to choose from as there are writing tools you could use. There are tiny publishers, small publishers, medium publishers, and large publishers. And they provide just as wide a range of services.
To begin with, even though you are purchasing publishing services, this method is still considered “self publishing”. And because it is considered “self publishing” do not make the mistake of thinking the publisher is your partner in this venture. They are simply going to provide the services specified that you are paying for. Sometimes to a bare minimum level.
The costs for these services vary by publisher but can range from $1,000.00 to $16,000.00 depending on level of services. The larger publishers will generally offer packages with various book design and marketing options.
The publishers make their money off of selling these packages and through the sheer number of new publications out there. Recall that there are as many as 1 million new books published in the U.S. every year? Most of those are going to be self-published through a publisher. If we are very conservative and calculate the number at just 70% (it is probably above 90%), then 700,000 authors are purchasing a publishing package. And if all of those spend a bare minimum of $1,000.00 then we are talking about a $700,000,000.00 industry. And if we just take a median price of $8,000.00, then we are talking about a $5,600,000,000.00 industry. And indeed, we find the $5 billion figure to be a little closer to reality when we look at book sales.
But the publisher’s income does not stop there. They also make money off the sale of your new book. And this is not insignificant. First of all, let’s look at an example book sale. You have written a new 150 page book that you purchased publishing services for. Your new book will be available in 3 formats: hardcover, softcover, and eBook (digital). Pricing is set at $4.99 for the eBook, $13.99 for the softcover and $30.00 for the hardcover editions. Your new book will be sold through multiple outlets. It will be available on the publisher’s online store, through Amazon book sales, from Barnes & Nobel, and book distributors who buy for smaller “mom & pop” book stores. You will receive 25% royalties from hardcover and softcover sales made from the publisher. And you will receive 10% royalties from hardcover and softcover sales through all other outlets. You will receive 100% royalties of any eBook sale.
Typical book sales in America today are from either Amazon or a bookstore like Barnes & Nobel. Most are going to be softcopy editions. A single sale of your new book under this scenario is going to make $13.99 of which you will receive $1.40. In this scenario the book seller (either Amazon or Barnes & Nobel) needs to make a profit. The book seller typically buys the book at 40% off retail price from the publisher. So, lets estimate your book costs them $8.39 (and they are expecting a $5.60 profit). The publisher also has to pay the printer. Printing prices vary greatly by number of books printed, format, and features (such as included photos or pictures). But I crudely estimate that to print one copy of your book is going to cost the publisher about $3.00 (it would cost you $6.00 if you were printing on your own). And the publisher also has to pay distribution costs. Which is another variable cost but we’ll estimate 2% or about $0.28. So, the publisher is selling your new book at $13.99 and it costs them ($1.40 royalties + $5.60 40% discount + $3.00 printing + $0.28 distribution = $10.28). So the publisher makes about $3.71 on the sale of your book. So, if each new book sold just one copy we could add another $2,597,000.00 onto the industry total (however, based on about 800 million books sold each year, each new book probably sells closer to 300 – 500 copies which conservatively drives the revenue from new book sales that publishers make closer to $1 billion across the industry).
The point here is that once you have purchased a publishing package from a publisher, they have made their money. They have made money off of the sale of services, and they will make money off the sale of the book. Even if you only sell a single copy. The publisher knows new authors are not likely to sell a high quantity of books, but when there are more than 100 new books published every hour, they are happy with just a single copy sold of each of them.
In a very real sense, the publisher is motivated to provide their services and move on to the next author as it is a numbers game for them. And while the statistics show that authors do publish multiple books over time (there are fewer authors than books published), typically authors only publish 1 to 2 books every 3 to 5 years (Source: Self Publishing Hub). So, from the publisher’s perspective, unless you are a really successful author, the more time they invest in you, the more it is cutting into their profits. They want to provide the services and move on, they’ll probably see you again in about 3 years and the cycle will start all over again.
The services that you purchase through publishing packages are varied. And you need to check the package carefully as there may be upcharges (or additional charges later on). For example – consider these publishing packages: WestBow Press. What you do not see available in any of the packages (from the cheapest to the most expensive) is Editing. This is because editing is usually charged on a per word basis. Anywhere from $0.02 to $0.04 per word. And this charge cannot be assessed until your book is ready for editing (usually after several drafts). And there other things that don’t show up in the publishing package that are either upsells or addons later on in the process. So, you may purchase a publishing package that covers most things in the publishing process, however you should just expect additional expenses.
The publisher may also guide you to, or recommend, other services that come at a cost. These services may, or may not be available commercially, however it is likely that whether they are or not, they will come with some sort of discount when acquired through the publisher.
(3) The third method is to do everything on your own. You can do some of the things (perhaps a lot of the things) a publisher does on your own. And there are (once again) a ton of resources out there to help guide you through the process. Amazon Books has probably done more to encourage the growth of these resources and the increase in new (first time) authors than any other single business in modern times. Online bookstores (as well as digital eBooks) coupled with modern methods of content production (such as this very BLOG), have made it possible for just about anyone alive today to publish whatever content they want to just about anyone in the world.
When choosing this method of self-publishing, you typically have everything under your control, but it also means you bear the responsibility for ensuring everything is done correctly. However, if you have the time, patience, and initative to learn and carry through with the process, you may save yourself quite a bit of money during the publishing process through this method. Furthermore, you will have more control over how and where you spend your money for various pieces of the project. A very cheap and loose analogy for comparison between purchasing a publishing package and just doing everything on your own might be considering a publishing package as buying furniture requiring some assembly. All the parts are there, and the more complicated pieces may already be put together, you just need to assemble everything into the final product. Whereas when you strike out on your own, you are more of a craftsman and you are making the furniture parts, as well as putting them together. You require the tools and the knowledge, and in some cases, the skill and expertise to create and make furniture.
You will still end up spending some money though. Somewhere between $300.00 to $600.00 is probably typical (this is just an estimate on my part, I did not research this statistic). But you will end up spending some money. But it will be less than the $2,000.00 – $6,000.00 usually spent with publishers on publishing packages.
The amount of money you end up spending depends upon the amount of work you are willing to do on your own.
The (very) important thing to remember here is that a publisher will take care of a lot of things behind your back when you purchase a publishing package. Things like preparing copyrights, filing for ISBN and Library of Congress Control numbers, as well as bringing a whole host of other services to the table. And indeed, you may choose to either do all of these things on your own, buy some subset of them, or not have any of them at all. This BLOG, in and of itself, is a publication. And it does not have an ISBN or a Library of Congress Control Number. And your book is not required to have them either, but they help.
Probably the key to doing everything on your own, or having things done in parts, if educating yourself on the process and all of the various options available to you. And there are a lot of resources to help you do that. Here are a few that I’ve found that may help get you started:
Step Four: How do you choose? So, as you can possibly surmise by now, there are far more options in book publishing than there are in purchasing a new car. How in the world do you navigate those waters? Here are a few obvious pointers:
Budget: Decide up front how much of your own hard-earned money you are willing to risk on this venture. If you are not willing to invest $2,500.00 or more, traditional publishers along with their publishing packages are probably not for you. If you want to enter the authoring world really, really cheap ($500.00 or less), then using the smaller services and doing more on your own is the way to go. But planning up front and knowing what you are about to embark upon is key.
Research: Don’t just pick the first thing that comes along. Carefully look at multiple options and educate yourself on each.
Considerations: When making your choices, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each. For example, if you are writing a new book on the programming language Python, consider all of the strength that O’Rilley Books would afford you. The same is true if you are writing a romance novel, in that case Harper Collins should probably be at the top of your list to talk to. These publishers built their reputations on publishing and selling quality technical books and fictional romance novels respectively. They have developed marketing and outreach networks worldwide, and they can offer far more expertise than the local writers club down the street or on the Internet.
Listen: Publishers are not necessarily your friend. Publishers want to make money off of your book just as much, if not more, than you do. And they will be honest with you. If they tell you they find no value in your book, they are speaking from vast experience and they most likely have a very valid reason for telling you that. Listen to those around you, usually the best advice comes from the most unlikely places.
Step Five: Now that you have a book, you need to distribute it to the world. Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. Marketing is key (and marketing is king). This is the best thing that a reputable publisher can bring to the table. And in reality, it is probably what most of their expensive package fees are going towards. Marketing is the one thing you do not have when you go it on your own or choose the smaller services, writing clubs, and cheaper options.
Sure, you can just put your new book up on Amazon. You can develop your own Author’s Page. But you will most likely end up in the noise along with all of the other hundreds of new books reaching the site every hour.
Another thing you could do is go to work for FOX News. Apparently these days, almost every single personality on FOX News has written a book:
I could probably list many more but I believe you get the picture. You go to work for FOX News, write a book, and all of your co-workers promote your book on air. This is the kind of marketing any author would crawl across a dessert of broken glass for. But this is how important marketing is. It is vital. And if you watch FOX News you will notice that they just don’t mention a new book once and then move on. No, they mention it over and over again and on nearly every show. They introduce the person as: “Kat Timpf, author of the new book You Can’t Joke About That“. And why do they do that? Marketing.
Most of us are not going to get that type of marketing for our new books, so how we treat marketing is going to be key to our success or failure. And you should never underestimate the value of spending a little money on the correct marketing.
Step Six: Prepare for the unknowns. There are a lot of scams out there. Once you publish a new book they will start crawling out of the woodwork. Even if you are an unknown. You would be surprised at how quickly they act. Your very first book will hit the market, no one in the world knows who you are, and suddenly you will get a call from someone who is going to put you on a nationally syndicated TV show or POD CAST. But only after you pay them $2,000.00.
You could look at that as paying $2,000.00 for some marketing, or you could look at that as risking $2,000.00 and getting nothing in return. And if someone just calls you out of the blue, and is struggling to even describe the service you are going to receive, chances are it is a scam.
So, just be prepared for anything and everything. And once again this is where a reputable and established publisher can help you. This is one of the things that you are paying for in those expensive publishing packages. Protection from some of the unknowns. It is amazing how quickly those people crawling out of the woodwork will hang up once they hear the words “You will have to contact my publisher to work that out.”
Well this have been a very, very long post (for me anyways), but that is a synopsis of my journey to publish my very first book: The Greatest Pleas Ever Made (which I hope you will check out). Hopefully some of my journey will provide some insight to others aspiring to be the world’s next great author.