How To Win The Publishing Game

By Susan Mary Malone

Publishing has always been a pretty bizarre business. But with the advent of POD, then the e-book revolution and Social Media Marketing, it’s crazier than a three-ring monkey circus. And for those folks trying to break in—via any of the avenues—it can just be plain big-bang chaotic.

I get emails almost every day from new writers, wanting their books published. Far and away these days, they have very little if any understanding of Traditional publishing, of how that works, or of what is required to break into the industry. “Publishing” to the masses is all sort of lumped into one big sea comprised of those three avenues above, and so often now new writers don’t know the differences.

Kinda makes you hearken sometimes to those days of yore when one way existed: hone your craft, find an agent, who hopefully sells your manuscript to Random House, etc., and a check comes to your mailbox. Now, before I get berated for keeping all those writers from getting their books out via the self-pubbing venues, I did say kinda.

Although Traditional publishing is still our gold standard, if you do the other two right, if you’re at the perfect place at the magic moment in time, you can still make a name for yourself, sell some books, and hopefully become successful. Everyone points these days to Amanda Hocking, et al (and the et al is a few very writers). But remember, what did Ms Hocking do when she became hugely successful? She sold her books to St. Martin’s Griffin. Plus, according to according to Bowker’s newest figures of books produced, last year there were 211,269 self-published titles (based on ISBNs) released, up from 133,036 in 2010. That’s a lot of books yours will be competing with, and that number will just continue to rise.

Did I mention the Traditional route is still the gold standard?

But the point is that coming in, new writers have no clue. And there’s an ocean of misinformation out there via writer’s groups on all of the social-media sites. I’ve perused those from time to time, and it truly is the blind leading the blind, with very few (if any) people there who have an actual clue of how the industry works. Much less, any understanding of the differences in a copy editor vs a developmental editor.

It’s sort of always been like this for writers. Trying to break in, not knowing where to turn, getting advice that seems sound, new writers have always gone down rocky roads that led to dead ends. But the good new for those in the past is that it took so long to get published (which only a fraction of a percent ever did), that usually folks did learn the ropes before tying up vast sums of dollars in production, marketing, editing (hopefully, although it’s far too enticing for most people to “get the book out” quickly, rather than to put out a great book) as they do now.

New writers used to spend their dollars going to writer’s conferences (which are hurting now, as who needs agents or publishers!), where enormous time was given to sessions on the “business” of the business, by agents. On learning the craft, from novel editors. On understanding what the genres consisted of, the categories and sub-categories within them. On learning what the heck publishing a book was all about.

Now, I hear from folks every day who have no understanding of this business, no clue as to the differences in editing (see my last blog! LOL), what constitutes ghostwriting, and worse, not really caring about the book itself, to the point of wanting the editor to input the changes. If you truly care about what you’re writing, would you want someone else to physically change/rewrite for you, to the point that you wouldn’t even approve the changes before they were keyed in? When I pointed out to one writer that what she was seeking was a ghostwriter, the going rate for which was 15-30K, she informed me that I was incorrect, and anyone charging that was a scam. And that she could get “real” editing for $1,000. She’d been reading articles and engaging in online groups.

I could only laugh. I know there’re a ton of scams out there. Lord knows, I know! But there are also a lot of actual industry professionals as well, who have been in the trenches, in the industry, know the business, and can at least help you sort the fact from the bs—of which an ocean roils to bury the truth.

Publishing is a very structured and complicated business, all the way around. It somewhat boggles the mind how truly ill-informed new writers are these days, compared to those who at least wanted to learn about book development, the industry, and how to succeed. While trying to explain the vast differences in getting a self-published book distributed, as opposed to a traditionally published one, to a new writer, I came upon pretty much the same brick wall. She had no clue what I was talking about in regard to book distribution, and told me that she’d been reading articles and a lot of people are making money on self-published books. I.e., she didn’t understand what I was even talking about, and rather than ask questions, she informed me how the business worked!

But in the end, these will all fail. Yikes, I said it. And it’s what the self-publishing houses know, and would never tell you. They count on you selling to your friends and family only, and the 100 copies you must initially buy makes these presses a lot of money.

Tried and true methods are still in place here, and new models for success emerging as well. The thing is, you have to learn about them, know how to use them, bring a great product (book) to the table.

Steven Lewis, a writer and blogger for the Taleist, produced its fascinating survey of more than 1,000 self-published authors last month. It shows that self-publishers who take the most professional approach to production – getting external help (editors, proofreaders, and cover designers) – make on average 34% more from their books.

In other words, new writers need guidance (from professionals) every bit as much as they did before the technological book revolution. And this guidance just has to come before they put the book out, if they want to have any hope of succeeding.

So, study. Learn the industry. Join a physical writers’ group. Attend conferences. Seek professional editing. Seek information from professionals in this business with credentials (again, see my last blog! Do all the things that all of the successful authors before you did to learn the craft and the business. Then learn the social-media marketing world, and how to work that, again, long before the book comes out.

Kinda looks as though succeeding in publishing takes every bit as long as it once did!. . .