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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Tiers (and Tears) of Publishing

This is the year you erase the phrase, "I'll never get published!" from your vocabulary.


It's not hard.

To publish a book you need a word document with something in it (words are good but really not necessary), a program for formatting a word document to an e-book (Calibre is free), cover art (any old picture will do really), and a place to sell the book (Amazon would like to take 70% of your profit so why not use them?)... Click. Click. Click. Load... and BOOM! You're a published author!

It's so easy, anyone could do it!

Doing it well is another matter.

And, for many authors, knowing how and where to publish their work is a major stumbling block on the road to success. Not all books thrive as self-published titles. Not all books will do well with a Big 5 publisher. If you know where I book belongs you'll have a much easier time publishing it, marketing it, and making money from it. And, let's be honest, all of us would like to pay the bills this month and if our beloved manuscript can add a few dollars to the Keep The Lights On fund, who's going to say no?

Here's a quick guide to help you determine where and how your book should be published:

Tier 1 - I Don't Want To Publish
... too many authors forget this an option. Sometimes you don't love a project enough to finish it. Sometimes you wrote the book because you needed to get an emotion out. No matter what anyone else says, remember that publishing is the choice of the author. If you don't want to see the book published: don't publish it.

A Word of Warning: If you really hate the manuscript I recommend destroying all copies of it. This prevents a fiasco like poor Harper Lee suffered last year with GO SET A WATCHMAN. She didn't want that book to see the light of day, and her lawyer wanted cash, while Ms. Less was in incapacitated in a nursing home the book was published with very dubious consent and it destroys the beloved character Atticus. Learn the lesson and don't leave bad manuscripts around.

Tier 2- Self-Publishing
... before you even consider this make sure you read THIS post on self-publishing and know you are ready to do this the right way. If you are ready to run a small business, not just write, than self-publishing might be the best path for you.

The books that flourish in the self-pub world are: series, romances, have likeable characters, fit a niche, and are published at short intervals.

Romance series do wonderful in the self-pub environment, especially if it's a niche that the other markets might consider over-saturated (vampires, werewolves, sexy cowboys). There are people who love those niches and they will pay good money for good books.

If you write picture books, mid-grade, most YA, or sci-fi you might want to consider another avenue. Those genres aren't making the jump to self-pub as easily.

Tier 3 - Small Press Publishing
... if you have a weird book, or a small book, or can't run your own business, or don't know how to hire an editor, or don't know anything about cover art this is a good place to look. There are pros and cons to small presses.
Pros: they accept shorter books and novellas, they live niche manuscripts, they love new authors, there's less competition, they'll provide an editor, they'll provide cover art, they'll give you decent royalties (usually 30-40%)

Cons: they aren't all good, they don't all have great editors, they don't always have marketing down to a science, they probably can't get you into cons, you probably won't get an advance payment

If your manuscript isn't novel-length, and you don't want to self-publish, you need to look at a small press. If your manuscript is novel-length you could also consider a big press. I like small presses, just be sure to do your research before you sign any contracts. Not every press is a good press.

Tier 4 - Big Press Publishing
... there are currently five major publishers in North America with a dozen imprints each and marketing money. Their editors have decades of experience, their cover art is determined by market analysis, and they can get you the visibility that will make you a bestseller. Or not. It depends on how much of the company budget is set aside for you. The lower your advance, the less marketing money you get, and the less advantages you have.

Big 5 looks a lot like Small Press with polish and influence. But it's harder to become a Big 5 author. Some imprints require an agent, some publishers host an open slush pile event a few times a year. So there are a few ways to get in, but staying in is another matter. Your writing needs to be consistent, and needs to sell well. Big Press is not forgiving of sluggish sales as small press, and no one is as forgiving as self-published because the only one who cares about sales there is you.

Consider Big Press is you have a really amazing manuscript, something original, or if you have something mainstream. There are niches at this tier, but every book published at this level is expected to have broad appeal. This isn't where books about local history are published, it's where the books about world history are published.

And, although this is considered Traditional Publishing, it's not the best place for everyone. Not every Big 5 book becomes a bestseller. Not every Big 5 author becomes a household name. This is just one way to publish. The advantages here are the marketing reach and the potential for an advance. For everything else, there's other ways to publish.

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