Over the weekend, I finished the rough draft of my first novel and immediately started working on my second novel. It’s general knowledge that for any serious writer, a rough draft is not what the world sees.
However, there’s a lot more than editing that stands between a finished manuscript and the light of day.
Getting a book published is the five-ton elephant in the room.
There are multiple options here, but they boil down to two routes:
- Publish the book with the help of an agent.
- Self-publish your book.
Today, we’re mostly going to look at self-publishing. I have experience with self-publishing games, and it’s also a more complicated process.
If you wanted to look for an agent, your best bet would be to use something like MS Wish List, which features a bunch of different tools to find agents seeking manuscripts.
Going directly to publishers is rare, and many publishers will not accept an unrepresented manuscript.
Self-publishing varies from platform to platform. Places like Amazon will let you directly list a book with them, but there are also solutions that permit you to have more flexibility regarding where you publish and can manage your text across multiple storefronts.
The downside of self-publishing is that publishers often serve as a sign of quality and they will market your books for you so you don’t have to deal with a lot of the non-writing work. Going with self-publishing platforms that offer more features often has a fee.
It’s common wisdom to avoid any self-publishing platform that wants significant money up-front, especially if they’re selling you a print run of your own book. Many of these “publishers” are more interested in getting paid than in distributing your book. They may make it available for sale, but they may offer no more than other self-publishing platforms at a greater cost.
Editing a full-length manuscript is nearly impossible for an author to do on their own. Hiring an editor is a great time-saver and can improve the quality of your work because they catch things that you should have caught (especially if you have problems “killing your darlings”).
If you edit your work yourself, I highly recommend having some experience doing editing and using a manual like Self-Editing for Fiction Authors by Browne and King.
Software support can bolster your efforts. I use a piece of software called ProWritingAid, but there are alternatives. Even the best software can only approximate certain parts of the editing process. It’s an extra step that catches obvious errors that you might overlook. You also need to use it, not just sit on it.
Sending a manuscript off for professional editing will cost a good chunk of money (in the four-figure range). Editors should tell you their turnaround times in advance.
The next expense is on a cover. A suitable cover sells your book. A bad cover lingers on shelves until a book with a better cover takes its place.
You can find cover artists easily by searching through their portfolios until you find something you like.
Think about the conventions and styles of the genre you’re writing in and how the cover appeals to your prospective audience. Color, font style, imagery, and more serve as an unspoken language. The person working on your cover needs to speak it fluently.
As with editing, check with your freelancer for a turnaround time. My experience with hiring artists for games has always been that you get what you pay for in terms of timeliness. In a best-case scenario, you can pick two options from the list of quality, speed, or low cost.
There are exceptions. One excellent freelancer I worked with on multiple occasions could fit into my strained budget and was highly professional, but that was one of several people I worked with.
Digital e-reader formats and print both require special preparation. The standard word processor layout works for letter-sized pages, but not for paperback and mobile formats.
Fortunately, digital marketplaces often offer formatting help. The problem here is that they’ll offer you formatting for standard texts and you can typically only use their platform if you take them up on the offer.
Translation: No experimental poetry, and a limited market.
This is a trade-off. People doing the layout may also do a better job than the automated process with things like hyphenations and awkward line-breaks. They’d also catch any mistakes in the original manuscript, unlike an automated system.
Typography is both an art and a science. Getting it wrong can make your book frustrating to read and deter potential sales, especially in print. Many e-readers let people tailor their experience. Even in this case, mistakes can break immersion and cause some angst for a reader.
If you write the greatest book on earth and nobody reads it, you’ve got a problem.
The greatest asset a publisher has for writers is probably marketing.
Expect to have some responsibilities in marketing even if you have a publisher, but for self-publishing you have a whole separate bunch of concerns.
It’s crucial to reach a market, which involves getting information out there. Paid advertisements can be of dubious value, but setting up a network of people who are interested in your work is valuable. Places like Goodreads and Wattpad exist to give authors and readers a space to find books.
The broader world of social media can also be a great place to find people sharing and engaging with stories.
While there’s a time cost to this grassroots marketing, the actual platforms themselves are usually free to use.
Going from a draft to a finished work on the market involves editing, finding a cover, and doing final layout, which can incur significant expenses. After that, you still need to market your book.Going from a draft to a finished work on the market involves editing, finding a cover, and doing final layout, which can incur significant expenses. Click To Tweet
Expect to spend a few thousand dollars and a significant chunk of time on getting your book out to the market even once the writing itself is done.
Fortunately, you can save on some of these costs if you have the right skill set. If you fit into a use-case where automated formatting works well, you can save money on layout. A background in graphic design can be helpful. Low-cost options provide access to these skills, and you can find communities of people willing to give feedback both on text and visual elements to let yourself know if you’ve done a good job.