Wonder how to get a book published? Don’t do THIS.

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

Are you a beginning writer, thinking about self-publishing? Please wait:

Ready Wait computer image by Photo by Stuart Miles FDPh net

Lately I’ve wanted to pull my hair out, seeing many aspiring but not-yet-professional writers, talking (especially on Twitter) about flinging themselves headlong into self-publishing. Yikes.There are so many things wrong with this picture that I will try to calm down and attempt to explain a few things.

I want you to know:

Traditional, royalty publishing is still alive and well.

They pay you, you don’t pay them. That includes NOT being required to buy copies of your own book (often at an exorbitant price) to be “accepted for publication”.  Yes, it is competitive. But there are ways to break into royalty publishing if you take time to learn how the industry works, connect with people in the writing field, hone great writing skills, create a marketable topic or story, and build an audience (before publication). All that takes time, patience, and not letting rejections get you down, because no manuscript is a one-size-fits-all. It can take diligence to find a good fit for your work.

Self-publication goes by various names, and many self-publishing companies prey on writers.

Many have no real interest in promoting books as long as they get money up front from the authors. They often make promises they don’t keep, leaving authors stuck with stacks of unprofessionally written/produced books that don’t sell.

A more honest type of publishing has emerged recently, called hybrid, or partner publishing, where the publisher and writer share costs. However, the level of professionalism is higher, on both sides. This type of publisher can be a  good fit for an already-professional writer who clearly understands how the book industry works and how critical editing is. That writer will already have a large reader audience, funds set aside for editing and marketing, plus a well-developed marketing plan. (But look out — unscrupulous groups posing as hybrid publishers are sure to follow.) Yet even with a good company, any author who rushes into a contract to pay for book printing with nothing left for editing or marketing is shooting themselves in the foot from the start.

It takes time and energy to learn the craft and the industry.

I compare this to earning a bachelor’s degree vs. taking a one-day community college workshop. There are so many facets to both learning the craft of writing and all the in-and-outs of the business of writing. That’s not to say any highly motivated writer can’t learn both! But know too it is a continuous journey. There is always more to learn. You learn from books on writing (try Writer’s Digest books and magazine, even at your library), writing workshops and conferences, and critique groups. You write like crazy AND you develop an author platform. (More on that, later.)

Editing is a MUST.

And I mean professional editing. If you go with a traditional publisher, they provide both content (organizational) and copy editors (to make sure text fits style manuals) but you still must be able to send them writing that is as clean as possible of grammatical errors/misspellings/punctuation errors. I have been truly horrified by self-published books that are not just disorganized but also sloppy in ways any Word spelling/grammar checker would catch. Often I will see errors within the first two pages of a book and I just can’t bear to go on unless that writer is paying me to edit it and truly wants feedback.

But quite frankly, you can also teach yourself how to do that kind of basic self-editing — websites abound with free lessons on improving grammar, spelling and punctuation. (For example, I had a brain glitch and forgot whether I should use vs. or Vs, and found a tip online.) There is really no excuse to sending manuscripts with common errors to editors, let alone publishing them. Of course, typos happen. You may even spot a few in this article! (Perhaps I’m rushing too quickly to get this online 🙂 )  But typos should obviously be the exception, not the norm.

By the way, I’m begging you not to ask people to “BETA” read your book and expect it to replace professional editing. Friends, even fellow authors, might be nice about reading your book, yet hesitant to say what they really think, or be fine writers in their own genre yet not have the best editing skills. It may be awkward or terribly time-consuming for them to write down comments. And professional editors will have no patience being expected to go through your story with a fine-toothed comb (which can take hours, including writing review comments) for free. It can be particularly agonizing when it’s clear the writer never took time to learn to write well.

BETA readers are appropriate if you have already had highly professional editing done and you have close friends who would love to read your book and let you know if they spot a rare error while reading for pleasure. If they say no to that, it may be an indication previous works of yours were not their cup of tea or your friends may simply lack time, so take a “no” graciously. Same goes for reviews you hope friends will write for you.

Don’t ask readers to pay you to learn.

I also will have no hair left if I see many more writers on the web asking potential readers to fund their writing projects.  It’s critical for writers to put in the time and energy to learn the craft and industry well. This is especially aggravating to writers who have taken years to do that.

OK, enough of my ranting. I don’t mean to frustrate you if you are eager for step-by-step how-to in getting started. I promise I will give you more nuts and bolts on working toward book publishing, just as I have in my magazine article writing/marketing series. If you don’t want to miss any posts, sign up for blog update notices. I usually post updates about once a month. But if you read the magazine writing advice in Laurie’s Lessons you will find much of that also applies to book publishing.

l will also share a bit more in the future about my own path to publication, in case that is helpful to you. But as a teaser, let it be known that I never nursed my babies or took a long car ride without having a book in my hand teaching me how to write, or edit, or market my writing.

From the start I set out to be a professional, learning everything I could about query and proposal writing, professional formatting, and appropriate ways to contact people in the writing industry —  in addition to practicing all aspects of the craft of writing. I also learned to start small — so although I was selling my writing within a year of getting serious about it, I began by selling short stuff — articles and personal experience stories to national magazines. It paid well, and I was able to build my reputation as a professional writer, so when it came time to writing my books, publishers were already aware of my work.

Don’t rush, but don’t give up!

For now, I’m simply pleading with you to STOP THE TRAIN if you are rushing headlong into self-publication, especially if you are paying to have books produced, then have no funds for editing. Asking others to volunteer free editing time because you have overextended yourself financially is discouraging to those who have pinched pennies themselves to learn how to write and edit well.

Writers have a wonderful opportunity in this day and age to be able to create beautiful websites for free, place excellent writing on it, and connect directly with readers and potential readers! Rejoice in that! But don’t let all that lead you to take shortcuts professionally, including rushing to publication.

If you love to write, and consistently get good feedback on your writing, you can indeed learn how to do it professionally.

Write on!


[Image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

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