Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Basics of Publishing

So you want to get published. Let’s take a leap of faith right here and say that your novel has been written, rewritten, edited, beta-read, edited again, and polished. We’ll say that you have an original storyline with a compelling plot and likeable characters. You’ve got a few small publishing credits, and you’re ready for the big league.

I understand that. I’ve been there. Mind you, I’m not published yet. Someone with more expertise than I may spot some inconsistencies, but more or less, this is how it works. So you have a few different options:

1: Get an agent to find you a publisher

2: Find a publisher yourself

3: Self-publish

Once you decide on one of those, you have the additional option of going to a writer’s conference, which I’ll try to talk about later.  

What is an agent?

Agents are a sort of like lawyers. They represent you in all the business of publishing: from finding a publisher, to negotiating a deal, to getting you paid on time. In return, an agent asks for a commission, which ranges around 15%.

What does an agent do?

Once an agent signs on a client – you, potentially – they’ll look over their client’s novel and try to improve it. They might suggest a rewrite, a new ending, or an extensive edit. Once the edits are done, the agent will work on a query letter/proposal package. Then they’ll shop the novel around, targeting a publisher who buys similar novels. Once a publisher shows interest, the agent will negotiate the contract, make sure production runs smoothly, and make sure the client gets paid on time.

How do I get an agent?

Finding an agent is simple in theory. Check out websites like, Preditors & Editors, and books like The 2008 Guide to Literary Agents. You can also look for agencies onlines, such as BookEndsWordServeLiterary, NelsonAgency, or FinePrintLit. Find a bunch of agents that match your standards, represent your type of book, and seem like people you would enjoy working with. Send them your query letter. If they like it, they’ll ask for a synopsis and a partial – around 50 pages or the first 3 chapters of your manuscript. If they like that, they’ll ask for a full – your whole mss. If they like that, they’ll work up a contract.

Who publishes books?

While an agent represents your novel, a publisher is the one who actually makes things happen. Someone pointed out that they do not literally print your book, but they do arrange to have it printed, sold through a retailer, distributed, and marketed. Yay for publishers. 

How does it work?

Once you have signed a contract with a publisher, they’ll take your book and begin working on it. First comes the edits. They may want to do major plot edits or minor line edits. You can work with them on things, but only if you have an arguable reason for keeping something the same.  Once the bulk of edits are over, your book will go into pre-production, and then production. Different levels of editors will continue working on your book during this time. Depending on how interactive your publisher is, you may get sent templates for the cover art and interior design. Somewhere along the line you’ll receive an ARC, or an advanced reading copy of your novel. Finally, a few weeks before your pub date, they’ll send you the actual book, dust jacket and all.

How do I find a publisher?

Finding a publisher is similar in process to finding an agent. Use resources like the 2008 Writer’s Market to compile a list of publishers who fit your book length, genre, and who accept queries from un-agented writers. Small publishers are more likely to accept such queries, while big ones like working through an agent. Once you have a list, begin querying. If they like it they’ll ask for a synopsis and/or a partial. If they like that…

You get the idea.

What is self-publishing?

This is a term for publishing in a non-traditional way, and is broken into three separate methods; POD, and fee-based, and conventional self-publishing. 

Fee-based publishing is when you pay a group X amount of money to print your book Y number of times. The books are then shipped to you and are your responsibility to sell. More books are printed only if you buy them. 

POD, or publishing on demand, is when you pay a one-time cover charge to add your book to a group’s online listings. When someone buys the book, the group will have one copy printed and will ship it to them. A percentage of the earnings are sent to you. This involves a lot less hassle and an unlimited source of books. 

Conventional self-publishing is starting a small publishing business and using it to publish your own book. 

How does self-publishing work?

I don’t personally know much about self-publishing, but I do know that fee-based involves the most hassle and the worst loss of money. Marketing is completely up to you. You’ll need somewhere to store your books, and you’ll have to physically send it to whoever wants one. POD is a little better, since you don't have to store the books or ship them. The only marketing help you receive is that your book will be listed on the group’s website. And conventional self-publishing may, as a business, gain you more money than simply being published would. 

How do I self-publish?

Some better-known POD sites include’s program,,, and You choose a package – the more money you pay, the options or treatment you get – and then you’ll upload your novel to the site. After that you can design the cover and pick a template for the interior. Voila. You’re published.

It’s so simple, right? Why don’t more people self-publish? The problem is that it’s open to anyone, good or bad, worthwhile or not. There’s no guarantee of quality. For this reason, bookstores rarely stock self-published books. It’s doubtful you’ll make much because no one will know about your novel in the first place. However, POD is catching on. now has a POD program, and some POD sites have agreements with large bookstores to stock POD bestsellers.  


In her informative blog series on publishing, Adrienne Kress pointed out that you’re either going to get published doing all the right things, or doing all the wrong things, and getting lucky anyway. Half the authors I know got published by luck. There’s no guarantee. That can be maddening, but it’s also inspiring – who knows when you’ll get lucky?

I’m hoping of getting some guest-bloggers over here to expound upon this whole publishing thing. Until then, go ahead and share your publishing experiences. Or your lack of experience. What have you tried? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t? Let’s have it.


-Creative A


Creative A said...

Someone pointed out a few misconceptions in my post, and I wanted to let you all know that I've changed those items. Also I tried to clarify a few vague things I said so no one gets confused. I'm assuming there are going to be people who have not experienced things the way I detailed them. Really, it all depends, and this is only what I've experienced, or learned, or seen - nothing more and nothing less. Keep it in mind when reading the post.

- A

Anonymous said...

Self-publishing is an interesting topic. Though many say that iUniverse is self-publishing it technically isn't because iUniverse owns the ISBN number. Because of that, they are the publisher, not the writer. Hence, the writer isn't self-publishing.

I believe has an option where writers can purchase their own ISBN number. But I'm not positive since I'm not self-published.

Creative A said...

Interesting. I'm not sure how that works, though - what's the ISNB number actually do for you?

Anonymous said...

The ISBN number is like the social security number for a book. It's the number that is used to identify the book, the country in which it was published, and the publisher. An ISBN is the number that appears in Books in Print.

Also, the ISBN number is the number that is part of the bar code that is scanned to ring up the price for a book at the bookstore.

ISBN numbers are only provided to the publisher. That is why when someone goes through iUniverse, they are not technically self-publishing. Because the ISBN number is assigned to the publishing company (in this case iUniverse) not the writer.

When a writer self-publishes, he is responsible for getting the ISBN number and that number belongs to him (as the publisher).

Someone I know used iUniverse to "self-publish." A year later she decided to go to a printer and get one thousand books printed. At that time, she had to change the ISBN because the number didn't belong to her. It belong to iUniverse because they were the actual publisher on record.

Self-publishing is when the writer assumes all the risk and cost and receive 100% of monies generated.

Using iUniverse as an example, the author pays for the publishing services BUT iUniverse pays royalities and pocket most of the profit.

So the writer is assuming the financial risk but not getting 100%of the profits.

If you are curious, visit for more information.

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