Lately, there have been scores of advice rolling across Twitter in the writing community on what publishing is and how the process works. As a writer, you should always research everything you can pertaining to the type of publishing you want to do before taking someone’s advice at face value. This blog is to provide information to the different types of publishing and how each of them work. It will also explain the roles of agents, the differences between loglines, hooks, synopsis, beta-readers, and how marketing works. As always I urge you to double check the contents of what you read by researching. On a note, avoid using those sites where anyone can add or edit information, such as Wikipedia. Look for legitimate sources.
Let’s begin. First, there are three types of publishing.
Traditional publishing companies buy the rights to an author’s manuscript. This allows them to transform the manuscript into the final copy of a book, be it paperback or hardback and distribute it to the market in exchange for a fee. Publishing companies rely on agents to bring them aspiring authors. It is the agent who negotiates a deal with the publisher and if the deal is successful the agent receives a percentage of the sale. Often, an advanced payment is scheduled to secure the agreement between publisher, author, and an agent. Once the deal has been made the author has a set amount of time to finish their book; this means full-scale editing and any polishing the book may need. These set amounts of time are referred to as “deadlines.”
When the publication and distribution of the book are finalized, an author who has received an advance payment will not receive any royalties until the advance has been paid back in full by the sales. Only then will the author receive royalties. A percentage of sales goes between the publisher, the agent, the editor, book cover designer, and anyone else who was involved. After the advance has been paid the author will again receive royalties and again a percentage of the sales goes to all involved in the publication.
Traditional publishing is very hard to get into. Less than a percentage of authors compared to the percentage of submissions sent in receive a yes from an agent. And agents are not always successful in getting a deal with a publisher. When they are successful there is a process that goes into it. I like to refer to agents as bridges to traditional publishing companies. Why? Because these types of publishing companies will generally not accept an unagented author.
Marketing is mostly accomplished through the author unless the author hires a publicist to set up author signings and promotional advertising through a variety of sources. There are other ways to market a book, which will be explored more down below.
Self-publishing is easier than traditional publishing but there are drawbacks to it. Self-publishing is the act of publishing a book on your own merits, usually through a mediator such as Amazon KDP, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobe, etc. An author creates an account or uses their already established account, follows the prompts of the website by entering in data, and uploads their manuscript and book cover if they have one. If they do not have a book cover they can use the free book cover designer provided.
After the upload has been successfully completed, the author then selects how they want their book to be distributed. Distribution to websites generally take about two or three days but it can be faster or take longer, depending. When an author makes a sale it shows up in their records. They receive a percentage of that sale through royalties while the rest of the sale goes to the company they used. Generally, these companies receive a higher percentage than the author receives.
Self-publishing has its pros and cons. For one, an author is completely independent, yet they must work harder at getting their book out into the world through marketing. Marketing isn’t easy when an author is not familiar with it. Most marketing is done by word of mouth and other promotions via flyers, book-signings, interviews, and sales of merchandise. This is all handled by the author unless they hire a publicist to do the work for them. Self-publishing companies also provide services, such as editing and marketing at an extra fee.
Vanity publishing is completed through a publishing company who charge a fee, usually a great amount, to publish your work. They offer your book as Print on Demand (POD) and will generally charge you a storage fee for your book, even though it is POD. The vanity publishing does all of the work of the author who paid them for their services. The cost of vanity publishing can be very high depending on the company. The problem with vanity publishing is that once they’ve earned your money they are not interested in helping your book to sell unless you pay them more to do so. After you’ve used their services you are essentially on your own with less money than you first started out with. There are more cons than pros to vanity publishing. Always check the publishing company you decide to use before making your decision.
Agents are the bridge to a traditional publishing company like I said above. They do not charge an author an upfront fee to accept a manuscript and they are sold on how well they like a query. Queries are essentially meant to entice the agent into requesting your manuscript. Each agent has a typical selection of what they accept. Some agents accept only YALit while others accept only Romance. Some are multi-genre agents; agents who accept a variety of genres. Their websites will always have what genres they seek and you can find their submission guidelines on the same website.
An agent does not get paid until the publisher pays them, and this is typically when an author is paid, or when an advance to an author is paid back by the sales of the book. Agents work hard at their job and they know what publishers want and what they don’t want. There have been instances where an agent turned down an author but another agent picked that author up and there was a great success. Consider JK. Rowling who queried around 100 agents before she received that ultimate yes.
Many aspiring authors have questions about the length of time an agent takes to respond to a submission. Answers vary from agent to agent. Some agents respond within several minutes and others take anywhere from three months to eight months. I’ve seen times where it can go a year but this is very rare. When the amount of time passes and a response from the agent has not been received it is perfectly okay to send a follow-up letter. Agents really don’t like to be bombarded early on in the game, but a one-time follow-up is sufficient. However, at times a no response given is generally a no and you can and should move onto the next agent.
Queries are a complex thing that an aspiring author writes to entice representation from an agent. They begin with a salutation to the agent by name, followed up what they’re seeking representation for. The next paragraph begins with the hook, which is meant to grab the agent’s attention, followed by the concise synopsis paragraph on what the book is about. In this, the main character is introduced, the problem they’re facing, and an ending that is meant to yank the agent in. You can find examples online or simply look at the back cover of your favorite book.
What is the difference between loglines and hooks? Loglines and hooks are very similar in that they are a one-sentence summary designed to grab a producer’s or an agent’s attention. The difference between the two is that loglines are more complex than a simple hook. Loglines are used for screenwriting and is a well-known word among screenwriters. With screenwriting, more goes into it than writing a novel, seeking an agent, and trying to publish it. Screenwriting includes character sheets, a Bible on what the TV series or movie is about, episode list with details, and then some. The work involved is more strenuous than writing a book. In addition, multiple people in the movie and TV industry rely on screenwriters. The downfall about it? You’ll never see the screenwriter’s name on the film credits.
Beta-readers are helpful readers who are willing to look over your story for any inconsistencies. They seek out whether or not the characters, structure of the story, and overall plot, draws them in or pushes them away. They can be your friends, a relative, that stranger from the donut shop. They are not hired by agents to do a reading. It is not the job of a beta-reader to read and review a new book for an agent, but they help you better your story so that you can query an agent or self-publish it, or if you don’t mind, publishing through vanity publishers.
Marketing is the act of promoting a published book through promotional efforts. It is used to gain and keep customers. For some marketing is a hard process because of a lack of understanding the process. Marketing costs money when anything but word of mouth is used. Marketing concepts vary from author to author. When marketing is done correctly it pulls in buyers. The first step to marketing is to know how it’s done. There are classes and tutorials about marketing that you can use to your advantage. Because I am not well versed in marketing full-scale I urge you to take a look at these if you need to learn about marketing and how it works. For me, I use word of mouth and author tribes that I’ve found and adopted to help promote my work. Another way to get your book promoted is to cross-promote another author’s book. Sharing is caring after all.