There are many positives to being a writer in 2020, one of them being the opportunities open to authors to get their books out there in the hands of readers.
An aspiring writer living in 1990 had one option for getting published: submit to an agent and hope that they could secure a publishing contract for their book.
Fast forward thirty years, (I can’t believe it either!), and the internet has changed the publishing landscape. Now, publishing a book isn’t only for the chosen ones. Almost anyone can do it, or at least consider the options.
There are so many different options ranging from online communities such as Wattpad through to traditional publishing and indie publishing. Today I’m going to cover what I see as the three main options for mainstream authors.
Although undergoing changes in recent years (lower advances, smaller book contracts) traditional publishing remains the most well-known form of publishing your book.
To be taken on by a traditional publisher you have to either submit a pitch/query to them directly or via a literary agent. (More and more publishers accept direct submissions these days eliminating the need to secure an agent first.)
Once your book has been written, edited and proofread, you will need to research the publisher best suited to pitch your novel to. Do they publish books in your genre? Are they currently accepting submissions? These are just two of the things to research before pitching.
Then, you prepare your query letter which consists of an introduction of yourself, your writing history, and why you feel your novel will be suited to their publishing house (hint: cite comparative titles and authors to your novel). You will also need to submit a synopsis of your story.
Be sure to follow the submission guidelines of the publisher or agent to the nth degree, as if you don’t, your submission will likely go straight to the ‘thanks but no thanks‘ pile without a further look.
Once you’ve submitted, you wait. Get on to writing something else while you do, as the wait can be looooong!
Hopefully, within 3-6 months the publisher gets back to you with an answer which will be either, ‘thanks, but no thanks’, or ‘we’d like to read more’. Often though, you will hear nothing so after a quick follow up, I suggest accepting the rejection and moving onward.
If you are lucky enough to reach the stage of being offered a contract there will be many things ahead for you. Firstly you need to get the contract looked over to make sure what you are signing is a good deal. Then, the editing process will begin. From here you will work with your assigned editor to make sure your book is the best it can be. Then comes final proofing, cover consultations, and finally a publication date. You will be offered a short period of marketing support which may or may not include a book tour, but you will also be required to heavily market your book yourself.
All going well, your book will reach the expected sales and your contact renewed or you will be required to submit your next book.
Pros: Validation and status, advice and access to excellent editors and professionals, high-level exposure, marketing support (limited), a possible opportunity for ongoing contracts.
Cons: Slow process, contracts are hard to come by, advances are smaller than they used to be, low royalty share, you usually give up the rights to your work (depending on what is negotiated in your contract), you’re likely to get dropped if your book doesn’t sell, additional marketing and promotion still required by author.
Indie or Self Publishing
This method of publishing requires the author to wear all the hats of a publisher on top of writing the book.
You need to write the book, have it professionally edited, proofread and formated (both for print and digital), engage a professional cover designer, handle the distribution process to online sales platforms such as Amazon, Kobo, GooglePlay, Apple Books, etc., and then undertake all of the marketing and promotion. Additionally, you will need to put on your business hat as you are running a small business. You will need to budget, work out your income vs expenses, keep track of sales and other accounting and business requirements.
Indie publishing is perfect those writers who love doing it all and want full control of their writing careers. You need to be motivated, driven, and be willing to invest time and money into your writing. With all publishing, it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Pros: You can do it all yourself, you have full control over your story, covers, and marketing, you retain full rights to your work, quicker turnaround process than trad publishing, better royalty options (usually can retain up to 70% of sales on most platforms), myriad ways to get your book out there particularly online.
Cons: You have to do it all yourself and wear many hats, less validation/status (unfortunately the stigma around self-publishing still remains, although is lessening), paid marketing and promotion is essential, hard to get noticed in a world full of books and authors demanding attention, hard to get your book in traditional book stores, writing series is often required for best sales results, business acumen essential.
A hybrid author is an author who is both traditionally and independently published. Some would say it’s the best of both worlds. All the pros and cons to each apply here but there are also others to consider.
The main disadvantage of being hybrid is the juggle. The traditional publisher will be setting their deadlines for you and you must fit your self-publishing in around your trad deal. You will also need to be clear about your brand and marketing strategies for both your traditional and self-published books. As hybrid authors usually publish different genres (eg. they might have a trad deal for their thrillers, and self-publish romance), these strategies will be very different. This can be time-consuming. And hybrid authors won’t always benefit from cross-marketing strategies.
But, if you are up to the challenge, being hybrid does indeed offer the author the best of both worlds and is becoming a more widely considered choice for many authors.
Publishing in 2020 may allow you many opportunities, but this doesn’t always make the decision easy. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to publish (no matter what anyone tells you). The key is to do your research and weigh up the pros and cons in order to make an informed decision.
What I love about publishing in 2020, is that its fluid. If you’re lucky, it’s possible to move between publishing online, trad publishing and indie publishing. And by dipping your toes in all the waters, you will get a feel for what suits you and your books best. There’s no ‘one fits all’ scenario, so go for it!
Note on vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is different from independent or self-publishing. Vanity publishers ask for money upfront to help you publish your book. Do your research and enter into those agreements with hesitancy and caution.