I’ve recently moved to a new state, and while I was unpacking, I found a copy of my very first book. It was a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen. I’ve learned a lot writing and publishing since then, and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.
I published Anna’s Kitchen in 2005. I was such a smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything. I did have one advantage though. I’d been freelance graphic designer for years. Therefore, I already knew how to typeset and how to design an interesting book cover. Unfortunately, I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are the lessons I learned from self-publishing.
A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
You need to work with Ingram if you want your books distributed properly.
Looking back, I have no regrets. With Anna’s Kitchen I learned, firsthand, how much work goes into publishing a book. Good Oak Press later published a new edition of Anna’s Kitchen titledRosie’s Riveting Recipes, along with new, updated editions of the Luke and Jenny series. I’m also writing, and publishing, contemporary romance novels as Marina Martindale.
I enjoy talking with prospective authors. However, when a first-time author brags about all the rejection letters they’ve received, it gives me pause for thought. While they’re busy collecting rejection letters, their manuscripts sit around collecting dust. Months, even years may go by without them ever being read.
Don’t be a naive newbie
As stated in my article, The Author Myth, six-figure advances, and becoming famous, is more myth than fact. The is especially true for first time authors. About the only exception is if you already happen to be a famous a celebrity. Then the publisher will not only publish you, they’ll hire a ghostwriter to write your book for you. However, if you’re an unknown, you’re out of luck. The odds of a major publishing house buying your manuscript, and you becoming rich and famous, are about as good as going to Hollywood with no prior acting experience, walking into a motion picture studio, and landing a starring role in a feature film.
This is why I never bothered playing the rejection letter game. Life is simply too short for this kind of nonsense. I’ve also heard similar stories about trying to find an agent. While I’m sure there are plenty of good literary agents out there, far too many are full of more you-know-what than the Thanksgiving turkey. I hear the same story, over and over again. “I emailed a query to an agent. They got back with me right away and wanted to see my manuscript, but it’s been ages, and I haven’t heard from them since. So when will they get back with me?”
As I mentioned before, I have better things to do than waste my time playing games because I want to get my books in reader’s hands. So, when I first started out in the writing business, I began with partnership publishing.
What is partnership publishing?
Partnership publishing is when you take control and pay someone to publish your book. You may think it’s vanity publishing, but it’s actually not. It’s a business decision. It means you believe in your work enough that you’re willing to invest your own money into it. Most importantly, you retain the rights to your work instead of selling them to a publisher. With partnership publishing, the publisher does the formatting, cover design, printing and distribution, much like a traditional publisher. However, your book is usually published in weeks instead of years, and a publishing partner won’t drop you if your book fails to meet their expectations.
Please be aware that there are good and bad partnership publishing companies out there, so it’s best to do your homework first. Writer Beware is an excellent resource for finding out whose business practices are questionable. You’ll also want shop around for the best price and be sure to ask about distribution. If they’re not distributing through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, or both, you may have trouble getting your book into bookstores or libraries.
What about self publishing?
Self publishing is certainly a viable option. However, there is a lot of work involved. You, the author are responsible everything. Writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, the ISBN number, publishing, ebook formatting, distribution and marketing. If you know someone who knows the business and is willing to mentor you, great. Otherwise you really need to do your homework. I self published my very first book. I’d never done anything like it before, so let’s just say it was a very humbling experience. I used a partnership partner for my next book, and it was money well spent. Working with her taught me the business. Later on, when I was ready, I created my own publishing company.
A reputable partnership publisher probably won’t accept a poorly written book, so make sure you’re using proper grammar and punctuation, and that your story is well told. You’ll also need to have your book professionally edited.
So, it’s up to you. Do you spend the next few years collecting rejection letters? Or do you want to take control of your destiny and get your book into the hands of readers? The choice is yours.
So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work in reader’s hands. Your next task, if you haven’t done so already, is to determine how you want to publish your book. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This certainly is the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”
If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.
This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.
There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It’s up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.
For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I had to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, printing, and distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.
Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.
The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their in house self publishing tools. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.
I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. We both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. For me, this was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.
Marketing Your book
Please note that regardless of which option you choose, book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing your book your responsibility, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Book marketing can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.
Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’ve included it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort.Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.
“I don’t need an editor because I do my own editing.”
I often hear this comment from first time authors. It’s the voice of inexperience or an over inflated ego. Sometimes both. It also has a familiar ring to it, as I resemble this remark myself.
My very first book was a historic cookbook titled, Anna’s Kitchen. At the time I wrote it I too thought I didn’t need an editor. In fact, I was such a smart aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything. Never mind the fact that I had never written a book in my entire life. As far as I was concerned, the spell checker in my word processing software was all I needed. So how did I do? Well, you may want to refer to my post titled,Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate. Sure, I can laugh about it now, but it’s a splendid example of why all authors, especially newauthors, must have an editor.
Why every author needs an editor.
An editor is a fresh pair of eyes to go over your manuscript. They give it the added polish it needs to turn it into a great book. They’re not as much concerned about the content of your work as they are the structure. They look for things such as misspelled words, typos, and comma spliced sentences. They also look for dangling participles, incorrect homonyms, redundancy, and the dreaded passive voice. If you write fiction, they’ll look for inconsistencies in your story and character arcs. In other words, they fix all the gaffes that you, as a writer, may have overlooked. The reason why you’re not seeing them is because you’re too involved with your own work to see it objectively. This is normal. As human beings, we can’t be objective about ourselves. This is why it’s difficult for us to see our mistakes. It’s the same reason why doctors don’t treat themselves or members of their own families.
Some of you reading this may still be skeptical, or you may even think your writing skills are so superior that you simply don’t need an editor. If this is the case, then you’ll soon find out for yourselves that writing is a very humbling experience. There is nothing quite like having your readers point out all your errors for you, and then posting them on an Amazon review for the entire world to see. Once that happens, your credibility as an author is pretty much done, and you can kiss your writing career goodbye.
What do Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Dean Koontz all have in common? They all have editors. So if these famous authors all have editors, then what makes you think that you don’t need one? Just asking.
My very first book was a historic cookbook called Anna’s Kitchen. I produced it entirely on my own. I did my own writing and editing. I did my own proofreading. I did my own typesetting and cover design. (Okay, I had an advantage there. I was a professional graphic designer before I became an author.) I’ll admit that in hindsight, it was an incredible learning experience as I soon realized just how much hard work goes into producing a book. I also learned why teamwork is so necessary.
Lessons learned the hard way
Being a newbie, I used my spell checker as my editor and proofreader. At the time I honestly believed it was all I needed. Later on, realized I had made big mistake. It’s how I learned, the hard way, why every author must have an editor.
Before my book went to print I went over my manuscript many times. Everything looked fine, at least to me. However, once the book was printed, I found all kinds of errors. Murphy’s Law really is a thing. All those errors were well hidden, until the book was printed. Then they jumped off the page as it to shout, “Ha ha! You missed us! You missed us!”
As fate would have it
One of my friends came across something in a gravy recipe he found particularly amusing. It said, Add two tablespoons of fate. He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant that we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, it’s not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things much more than the big things. In this case, however, it was a typo the spell checker had missed. The word, fate, was spelled correctly, but what it should have read was, add two tablespoons of fat.
This is why every author needs an editor and a proofreader. We simply cannot be objective when it comes to critiquing our own work. Perhaps someday someone will invent an AI book editor, but even then, a machine cannot make a judgement call like a real person can.
Suffice to say that you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to writing and publishing a book, you may need to add two tablespoons of fate, along with a good editor and proofreader. Just saying.