So…you want to publish a book?
First off, congratulations, because that’s pretty freakin’ sweet. As The New York Times reported, 81% of people want to write a book, but only a slim margin of those hopefuls ever make it happen.
But you’re not about to be written into anyone’s margin. You’re ready to do this thing, and there’s nothing—no pestilence nor divine fury—that’s about to get in your way. This brings us, however, to a series of very important questions, most notably:
How the heck does publishing even work?
Where do I even start?
The answers to these questions are multifaceted, enigmatic, and often even malleable. Unless you’re a professional author familiar with the biz (or perhaps a burgeoning author hoping to get there), you probably aren’t too familiar with the process by which a story goes from a humble Word Document to Instagrammably gorgeous hardcover. And even with years of experience, a publishing professional’s education never ends. The book world is constantly changing and evolving.
If the literary industry sounds complicated and intimidating, that’s because it is. And that’s okay. There are oodles of resources out there to help you hunker down, train up, and expand your knowledge. Hopefully, this blog makes that process a little easier.
When delving into any niche industry, however, it can be hard to know where to start.
Put frankly, you simply don’t know what you don’t know.
If you aren’t familiar with the basic steps of the process, how are you supposed to know which option is right for you?
Bum, ba-bah-bum! (Yes, I write my own theme music.) Never fear. Pajama-clad editor is here!
If you know you have a beautiful book inside you, ready to burst forth, but don’t know what to do with it, this blog post is for you.
Like I mentioned, the publishing industry is complicated, multifaceted, and constantly evolving. By no means is this a complete, comprehensive manual of every single piece of information you’ll ever need. Consider this more of the SparkNotes, a cursory interview of a story’s journey from blank page to bookshelf.
Why the 3,000-foot view?
Because it’s going to give you a working understanding of some key elements of the publishing process—what these steps are, how they usually work, and the intention behind them.
What you do with this information is totally up to you. Every publishing story is different. Every publisher has their own in-house processes. But when you get a general idea of how things work, you can go deeper to discern what path is the best fit for you.
So, you want to publish a book… What happens first?
Step 1: Writing
Sounds pretty simple, mais non? But let’s think about this deeper. Are you going to sit down and pen a 50-150,000-word document all by yourself? Are you going to write multiple drafts if your first needs some polishing? Will you work from an outline or simply “pants” the darned thing? (To “pants” a manuscript is to work without any planning, plotting, or outlining. You “fly by the seat of your pants.”)
Some authors choose to hire a ghostwriter to get things down on paper for them. Others seek developmental editing with a professional to help them flesh out their ideas into a comprehensive outline before they start drafting, the same way you’d consult an architect before constructing a building. Lots of authors I work with simply sit down and start jamming on their own, knowing that they’ll work editing and refinement later.
How the book gets written is totally up to you. You just need to ensure it does get written.
Step 2: Editing
I could sit here and type until my fingers fall off about the need for editing, why “self-editing” is complete poppycock, and how a good editing process will make or break your book.
I could also sit here and bore your brains out of your eye sockets talking about the difference between developmental, content, and line editing (not to mention proofreading and beta critiques) and the roles they play in the bildungsroman of any great book.
I need my fingers for a myriad of activities both mundane and otherwise, and I would very much like for your brain to remain behind your eye sockets.
Without going into too much detail, let’s suffice it to say that your book should receive some sort of editorial work.
I’ll evangelize more in later blogs. I promise.
Step 3: Formatting
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t just upload your manuscript from the notes app on your phone or your word processor and get stunning, perfectly aligned text that looks as great on your Kindle as it does in a hardback. Formatting (ye modern term for “typesetting”) is a critical step in ensuring the professionalism of a product, and there will be slight variations depending on the book’s size, cover, and medium.
The text ultimately uploaded for an ebook is going to be different than a 6 x 9” paperback. A hardback is going to have a thicker spine than a paperback, which is going to affect the margins. Are we accounting for bleed? Orphans and widows? And why did no one ever tell us that odd pages go on the right side of the layout? Will you have both ebook and print versions? Hardback and paperback?
The answers to all these questions fall under the wide, wonderful umbrella of formatting. And unless you really, really like counting the spaces between individual letters, it might be worth outsourcing to a professional.
Step 4: Production
Now we get into the meat and potatoes. This stage should encompass everything you need to turn the file on your computer into a readable book. I’m talking cover art, copyright pages, ISBNs, bar codes…all the fun stuff.
If you see a part of a published book that’s not in your word processor, it probably falls into the production stage.
Step 5: Publication
FINALLY. The moment you’ve been waiting for. This is when you’re waltzing through the doors of Barnes & Noble to a crowd of cheering fans, popping the champagne, and working with your agent to set up an interview for Oprah’s book club. Right?
Don’t confuse publication with marketing. Over a million books are published every year in America alone, but that doesn’t mean that the fame, fortune, or even the bubbly goes to every one of those authors.
The publication stage is simply getting your book out there, whether that’s you lugging a box of copies to sell at your local street fair or a publisher shipping thousands of fresh tomes to bookstores all over the world.
No matter how big or small this reach ends up being, think about where you want your books to be. In bookstores? Online? In airports, specialty boutiques, or even on Audible? Once your book is printed, how will it be distributed?
This is also where we start talking about pricing and royalties. How much will it take to print a physical paperback? What about a hardback, and if you’re selling an ebook, do you need to subscribe to a platform in order to get in front of your readers? How much profit do you expect for every copy sold, and how should you price those copies to ensure an ROI?
I’m sure this is much less glamorous than any author imagines in their daydreams, but after all that production work, you’ve got to actually produce something for the readers to read.
Step 6: Launching and Marketing
If you’re hellbent on being Oprah’s next read or getting your champagne on, this is the step for you. While publication is getting the actual THING made, launching and marketing is getting your book in front of an audience. Sure, you can slap that bad boy up on Amazon and hope it takes off, but with millions of books uploaded every year, what are the chances yours is going to get noticed? Do you plan on doing any advertising for your book? With so much competition saturating the market, do you have a plan to catch your readers’ attention?
This is what I like to call the “now what” phase. So, you published a book. Now what?
There’s a lot that goes into publishing—and rightfully so. But when you’re thinking about how you’re going to get your book out there and comparing your publishing options, it helps to get an idea of the overall process in order to understand howto make your dreams a reality.
In order to choose the best path for your publishing journey (or at least get the best head start), you need to be aware of your own goals and vision and informed about how your publishing path can make the magic happen.
Not everyone is going to go through every single one of these steps the exact same way, and that’s completely fine.
So…you want to publish a book?
Having informative, open, and honest conversations is the first step to making it happen.
Photo credit to Maureen Porto Studios.