Below is a broad-brush summary of the business side of writing, including LITERARY AGENTS, PUBLISHERS and SELF PUBLISHING.
If you’ve read every word on this page and still want more tips on getting published—including how to get an agent—check out my posts on HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.
Not all published authors have an agent. I had NO ONE when I sold my first book to a publisher. That was a while ago though… These days, most publishers ONLY accept submissions from agents, UNLESS they request a manuscript directly from an author. This is what publishers mean when they say they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.
Aside from being able to sneak you in the back door of a publishing house, agents will also be able to get you the BEST deal possible and—perhaps even more important—the BEST contract possible. I was amazed by the to-ing and fro-ing between my agent and the publisher for my young adult novel: put this clause in and take that clause out. I thought this was GREAT, considering I get confused just filling out a form.
Also, before you start worrying that agents will be hard on your hip pocket—they only make money if you make money. This is why the querying process is SUCH an ordeal, because you have to find an agent who believes in your manuscript as much as YOU—or MORE, given most authors—me included—suffer ENORMOUS self doubt.
If you decide not to get an agent, you can still submit to many publishers. FIRST—check the submission guidelines on their websites. They may not accept unsolicited manuscripts (most bigger publishers either NEVER accept unsolicited manuscripts or do so only once a month, or even once a YEAR).
IF you have a FABULOUS manuscript and an editor falls head over heels in love with it, it will go through the acquisitions process—the process through which an editor convinces the rest of the publishing house to purchase YOUR book.
If a publisher DOES buy your book, they will normally pay you an ADVANCE AGAINST EARNINGS (commonly known as an advance).
When you land a publishing deal, take the time to jump up and down and then GET BACK TO WORK! The publisher will take you through a multi-step editing process, which I will cover in more detail in the blog. This is one of the reasons why it can take around a year to eighteen months to see your book in print. The other reason is that the publisher has to slot you into their schedule. HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MANY BOOKS ARE RELEASED EACH MONTH? A LOT.
There are various reasons why authors decide to self-publish, ranging from finding the traditional route too daunting to wanting to have complete creative control over their novel.
The advent of ebooks has opened up the world of self-publishing to even the most computer illiterate authors amongst us. Electronic publishing platforms like Amazon and Smashwords make it REALLY easy to get your books into the hands of readers. My personal preference is a platform called Pressbooks, which I have used a number of times to get my ebooks into the hands of readers.
There are many authors who have made a fortune out of self-publishing, but—BE WARNED—there are many more who have barely made a cent (or a dime for my American friends – a penny for my British friends – a paise for my Indian friends – and the list goes on).
There are downsides to not going with a publisher which should be considered—including the long list of things that YOU will become solely responsible for, such as: editing, formatting, design (including cover) and marketing.
There are benefits too. As I mentioned above—you will have COMPLETE creative control. For me, this meant keeping elements the publisher preferred to take out (an epilogue and prologue). It’s important, however, that you retain as much professionalism as possible when self-publishing (e.g. I would advise against publishing your book ALL IN CAPITALS, even if your caps lock button is stuck), as you want your book to be able to compete as much as possible with traditionally published products.