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I Wrote a Thing. Now What?

I wrote a book. An entire book! It’s been revised and is currently in the hands of beloved beta readers before being subjected to another round of revisions. Once those are done, I’ll squeeze it through the gristmill of line editing and correct any irregularities that pop out. Separating the wordy wheat from the typo chaff, if you will. At that point, I’ll probably ask a couple friends to read through it again. You know, just in case. At this stage of the game, I can’t help but think ahead about what I’ll do with this book (!) when it’s as good as I can possibly make it.

  • Will I seek agent representation in hopes of selling the book to a major publishing house?

  • Will I approach indie- and small presses which do not require authors to have agents before considering their work?

  • Will I damn the torpedoes and forge ahead to self-publishing?

  • Will I cave to insecurities and shelve the entire thing?

  • Which option is best for me?

The Way It Was

In the past, traditional publishing was essentially the only game in town. And what a game it was! Authors submitted their work to publishers (usually with agent assistance but not always), were offered substantial advances, generous royalty terms, and tra-la-laad back home to their typewriters or hand-written notebooks to write again. Publishers took care, and bore the cost, of all editing, formatting, design, printing, marketing, promotion, and distribution expenses. Authors were responsible for writing – and check cashing. Talk about living a dream life…geez.

The Way It Is

For most authors, even successful ones, that’s not really how it works these days. Major publishing houses won’t open the door or an email for an unagented author. Large advances are rare and reserved for celebrities, famous athletes, politicians, and franchise authors. Royalties are negligible. Marketing and promotion budgets are often less than a middle-class mortgage payment. In recent years, even contracted authors are expected to bring an established “following” to the table along with their manuscript. This is a crop which can take years to cultivate. Years of personal salesmanship through online presence and activities, community engagement, and self-promotion. For many authors, these activities are an exhausting distraction from creative endeavors.

Still, the allure of validation and approval by one of the “Big 5” is very, very tempting. Likewise, the appeal of sidestepping the hassle and expense of design, formatting, and printing can be considered a godsend by some, even if it does mean sacrificing control of creative content.

On the Flip-Side

But what about self-publishing? Isn’t that just cheating your way onto a book-cover? The tides are turning on the thought that to be a “real” author you can’t self-publish. Many excellent books and truly talented authors are opting to self-publish instead of running the traditional gauntlet.

Self-pubbed authors retain complete control of creative content and presentation. And, in today’s digital market, there are more opportunities than ever before for putting together a truly top-shelf masterpiece without corporate interference. Platforms like Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble Press, Smashbox, and Kobo offer do-it-yourself ebook formatting and reach an incredible number of potential readers worldwide. Amazon and Barnes & Noble Press both offer print-on-demand physical books as well. (Want to learn more? Click here.) By self-publishing, authors retain all licensing rights, full-ownership of royalties, and never have to worry about being backlisted. Their books are always and forever available to potential readers.

Self-publishing requires the author to juggle all the Jell-O. Any of the work publishing houses do or expenses covered by the contract now fall directly into the author’s lap. Self-publishing authors not only write the books; they revise, edit, format, design, promote, and market them too. Any slip in professionalism or rookie mistake can (and probably will) reflect poorly on the author. This can be immensely stressful and disheartening. But, for those who choose this recipe, and execute it well, the rewards are immense.

So, back to my book. What will I do with it?

I can’t see myself shelving it without at least trying to publish. So that’s out.

Neither can I see myself leaping directly to self-publishing without trying the traditional route. I mean, you never know until you try, right? So, self-publishing is on hold.

Traditional publishing scares the bejezus out of me. I need to research and find agents to query. (Which could take years.) I have to cross my fingers the right agent, at the right time, offers representation. (Which may never happen.) I will burn sage and invoke the blessings of the gods that the agent is able to sell my manuscript to a publisher who offers favorable contract terms. (Which could also never happen.) And then I’d wait…wait for editing, wait for cover design, wait for formatting, wait for proofreading, wait for publication, wait, wait, wait. With any luck, my manuscript will not be shelved in favor of newer, trendier options along the way. This could prove to be a very long and anxious process. Am I patient enough for that? Will I be crushed by the passage of time? How will I maintain my confidence if all the answers are no’s? How much of this process is homogenous to small or indie-presses as well?

Hm. The more I think about it, self-publishing may be the way to go. If nothing else, any delays will be of my own making and all the rewards will be mine as well. I still have time to decide. You, dear reader, must make these choices for yourself. Believe in your stories. Believe in your writing. You might surprise yourself. I certainly did. After all, I wrote a book!

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