If there is one thing that I wish I could go back and tell my younger self about publishing, it would be ‘take your time’. With my newest book ramping up for release, I have received a number of emails/IMs/Facebook messages from aspiring authors asking questions about how to get published (or If I can help them get published some of the time). While the answer the second question is “I can help tell you about the publishers with whom I have worked, but no, I can’t go and tell them to publish you”, my general advice is to slow down.
As far as answering questions, I am always happy to help just about anyone who asks for it. Far too often I read posts from new writers stating it’s “impossible” to get a book published. Unfortunately, this sentiment is often what has authors fall into the trap of working with a vanity press (a press which charges authors to put their books out). It makes sense why many new writers fall into that trap (and at least enough do to support all the vanity presses around) but being in that much of a rush only leads to problems later down the line.
Recently, I received a question from an author who had published their first book with a vanity press which shall remain nameless and was unhappy with how sales were going. After having paid over a thousand dollars in “start-up costs” (something no reputable publisher will ask for) she hadn’t made even half of it up in sales over the year. She asked if I thought she should now try to find an agent to go with traditional publishing with the hopes that the time/rejection that meant would lead to better sales.
While I would recommend anything over vanity presses (either self-publishing through a platform like Createspace or Lulu) or pursuing traditional publishing (through a large or small press), that ship has sadly most likely sailed. While it is true that some previously self-published books are picked up by traditional publishers later on in their careers, most publishers contract “first publication rights”. What this means is publishers are buying the right to make your book available to the public before anyone else. Once your book as been published (be it through a self-publisher, vanity press, or public novel blog) those rights have been used up and publishers won’t contract the book outside of it being an independent commercial success. The likelihood of them picking it up from a vanity press, especially with the book not selling particularly well, is slim to nil. It’s just not worth their time, effort, or money.
All is not lost for the question asker, of course, she is not forever blacklisted somewhere. Any new book she writes she can either self-publish through a non-vanity press platform or attempt to traditionally publish. This first book is just a bit of a costly mistake.
And so, never be in a rush to publish. Is pursuing traditional publishing confusing sometimes when you’re starting out? Definitely. Does it mean a lot of rejection/effort? More than likely. Is it better than paying someone to publish your book for you? You can bet your socks.
This is not to say that self publishing is also a bad. There are several writers who have found success through self-publishing. Not, however, by rushing. Authors chose to self publish for a number of reasons, amongst them more creative control or writing something that would have a hard time finding a traditional outlet. “I want it published now” should not be the main reason for pursuing self-publishing either, however. Some self-published books are as good, if not better, than traditionally published books with amazing quality. It is up to the author however to make it that way which can take a fair chunk of time and effort, especially when it comes to paying for editors/cover artists/etc. (in self publishing you will be paying upfront for publishing, but namely for freelancers, not a package from a company. Combined with a platform that lets you post books for free, such as the ones mentioned above, this is almost always cheaper than a vanity press without tying yourself to a less-than-reputable company). Self-publishing will likely be a quicker route to publishing than traditional publishing (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who find a publisher on their first query) but to make a quality product it still takes time. You control the release date, but there is no reason taking another six months or a year to make your book the best it can be will make or break the project.
Especially because, as an author, your name is your product. And the internet has a very long memory. If you pay to have a vanity press produce a book (especially a vanity press that doesn’t do a good job editing) people will end up finding that press and book tied to your name even after you’ve moved one to bigger and better things. If you rush a self-published book that just isn’t ready (one with typos and bad cover art) you might later be able to remove it from print, but copies/traces of it online won’t magically disappear.
As an author you will always be improving. Even now, with my third novel just about to come out and over five years of editing under my belt, I don’t pretend I’m a perfect writer. Each new book that comes out will likely be a little better than the last (I would hope) simply because the more you do something the better you tend to get at it. There is no need to chase perfection, but there is also no need to rush. Do your best to only put things out that your future writer self will be proud to have their name on. True, that’s sometimes easier said than done, but truly, there’s no rush. Take your time to make a brilliant product. After all, as an author, your name is your brand.