Why publish at all? Most people write because they love it. But if they’re honest, they’d all like as many people as possible to read what they’ve written. To share your work is to allow others into the world you’ve created with words.
That means finding a way to get your book to the public that matches your budget and your aspirations for it.
The traditional route – pitching to agents and publishers, contracts, advances and the whole paraphernalia of marketing, publicity and distribution teams – was never easy. In today’s crowded market a newcomer has a better chance of winning the Lottery. But more of that anon…
So the default choice for many is self-publishing.
In 2012 I helped an elderly friend self-publish a diary of his time working on the Great Northern Railway. The story of the book, Ghosts of Steam, our aspirations for it and how we got it out there, is told here. We used one route. There are others. The WikiHow guide How to Self-Publish a Book is a good starting point.
When looking on the net for guidance, you’ll find the majority of sites are a) American and/or b) thinly-disguised ads for companies that want to ‘help’ you publish your book. For an impartial UK view The Society of Authors has a Quick Guide to Self-Publishing and Print-on-Demand for £7.50 and there’s a useful starter summary on its website.
This must be the way to go for many new and aspiring writers, but my direct experience (with two mega-publishing houses and one small one, so far) is with the traditional route.
If you can get a mainstream publisher – even a small one – there are significant advantages:
- They pay you to produce your book, not the other way round.
- A professional team of editors, graphic designers, proofers, marketeers and publicists is at your service.
- You’ll learn a lot through the attentions of a good editor.
- In due course your book will appear as if by magic in your local Waterstones.
There are downsides:
- Although you have copyright, they will retain many of the rights that will restrict what you can do with your own work.
- You have input but ultimately they will choose the title, cover, look, extent (length), print-run and publication date.
- They will decide how – and to what extent – it is marketed.
- Your editor can be a delight. Or not.
Not all publishers are equal, just as not all books are best-sellers. They can do a great job for you or a disappointing one. This may depend on how much faith they have in your book’s sales potential. The editor who commissioned it may love it, but if the marketing team don’t get behind it, it won’t get the push it needs to be noticed in a crowded market.
Want to try the time-honoured route to putting your book before the public?
To get a publisher, first you really need an agent.