Career & Jobs

Getting your debut novel published: advice for first-time authors

 

For an aspiring author, who poured hundreds of hours into writing a book, getting their work published seems like the natural step to come, right? After all, you’ve sculpted your creation close to perfection, so how could a publishing house refuse you? 

Well, the publishing industry is quite a complex environment, and it’s not enough for a book to just be good in order to make the shelves of a bookstore. Publishing houses get hundreds or even thousands of submissions every week, and only a handful of those live to see the printer. If you want yours to have a chance at getting a reading from the publishers, your book needs to make a strong first impression. 

Before you even go on asking how to get your book published, go ahead and ask yourself why you want to get published. Is it because you want to see your book on the shelves at an important bookshop? Do you want to tell your important story to the world? Do you want to build a fortune and become the next J.K. Rowling? If the last one is your ultimate motive for getting published, then you need to stop and reconsider your options a bit. 

Reports show the average author earns less than $13,000 a year, so if wealth and fame is your ultimate goal for getting published, you may want to tame your horses a little. Yes, there are plenty of stories about successful authors that have built empires, but in a world where millions of books get published every year, it takes a lot of work for a good book to become a bestseller. 

Many successful authors, such as Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut, have written books about the art of writing, but not so many have bothered talking about the work it takes to get your work noticed by book publishing companies. This is what we want to discuss today, to help young authors get on the right track and maximize their chances of landing a publishing deal. 

Traditional publishing or self-publishing?

To put it simply, you have two options when it comes to getting your book published: traditional publishing and self-publishing. But which one is actually best for you? Well, that depends. To help you decide, here’s what to expect from each situation:

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishers have a lot on their hands because when it comes to getting a book on the shelves, they take the majority of risks. They pay for editing, proofreading, printing, cover art, advertising, and author royalties. Publishers don’t request money from the authors, which is the biggest advantage of traditional publishing, especially for a beginner author. You also get a team of professionals that are taking care of every aspect of launching a successful book. Another great benefit is the kind of exposure you are going to get, especially if we are talking about a big publishing house.

Because publishers have a lot at stake, landing a book deal is not an easy process, so it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to see your book come out, which can be somewhat of a disadvantage. But perhaps the biggest drawback of choosing the traditional publishing method is that, even though you have creative input, you will likely have little control over the entire process. Publishers are trying to make a profit as well, so they will be the ones who get the final say in almost every decision. Sure, they want to make you happy, and they will leave enough room to wiggle for some of these aspects, but others may be nonnegotiable. 

Self-publishing

With self-publishing, all decisions are yours to make. You will be the one handling finances, marketing, and all other aspects listed above. The term self-publishing, however, is somewhat of a misnomer, because you are not paying to get your book published, but rather printed.

We live in an era of connectivity, so the good news is anyone can now become a self-published author. Your end product can look just as professional as if you were to choose a traditional publishing model, and your price per book is now significantly more reasonable than it was 20 years ago. This is all thanks to print-on-demand technology, which is now accessible for those outside a publishing house as well.

If you choose to self-publish your book, you will be the one who sets the timeline, you control the editing process, and you set the price of the product. And, after you cover expenses, all profit is yours.

The downside of self-publishing is precisely this autonomy, as every small decision that needs to be made will go through you. Another disadvantage is you will get much less exposure through local bookstores, as they may not be exposing your book in every store. You can do your own advertising online, but that also requires time and funds. 

Making the big decision

We live interesting times in the publishing industry. In fact, some may call it the busiest era in the entire history of publishing. But as easy as it is to get printed now, it’s actually never been harder to be traditionally published, precisely because publishers have thousands of proposals to go through. When deciding whether to be a self-published author or go through with traditional publishing, take the following aspects into consideration:

Book genre: this will determine your audience and which publishers to pursue. Some genres may be more difficult to self-publish, while for others, it may be hard to find a publishing house, so do your research well.

Audience: when you put so much effort into writing a book, the natural thing to say is “who wouldn’t read it?”. It’s normal to have a good opinion about your work, but don’t believe it will appeal to all people. Publishers know that very well and will smell amateurism from a distance if you come in thinking your book is suited for everyone. 

Influence: if you have a platform to post your work on and grow your audience, publishers will want to know about it. Social media, forums, and writing apps are helping many aspiring authors now, and this gives you the opportunity to advertise your book better. If you already have a solid fanbase, you will have much higher chances of succeeding as a self-published author, for example.  

 

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