They say that everyone has a book in them. And with the way that publishing has changed, it’s becoming ever easier for everyone to get that book into print.
But it isn’t as easy as putting pen to paper and then selling books by the millions. Publishing houses receive hundreds of submissions a day. Competition is fierce. So to stand out from the crowd, you first need to create an engaging proposal.
A proposal is essentially a summary of your idea, allowing a publisher to make a quick decision on whether your book is for them. This should include an elevator pitch, chapter breakdown, author bio, target audience and a sample of writing. It’s also helpful to include similar titles that have been published. To do this, look on Amazon and Waterstones or ask at your local bookshop and library. When looking, it’s also handy to see who has published the similar titles, as these publishing houses may well be interested in your own book.
You can find an example of a proposal I’ve previously submitted here: https://tinyurl.com/ybbwjq7h
It’s absolutely essential that any proposal is formatted correctly and free of any spelling or grammar mistakes. With publishing houses inundated with submissions, any error – no matter how small – can be enough to see your submission tossed to the side. To try and prevent this, it’s recommended that any submission is checked over with friends or family, who often provide useful feedback. Contacting other authors and running your ideas by them is also encouraged. Even though you’re essentially going to be competing against them for sales, I’ve found authors often go out of their way to help others.
Once you’ve written your proposal and are happy it shows your story in the best possible light, you need to decide how to publish your book. Broadly speaking, there are four options: mainstream, independent, crowdfunding, self-publishing.
There’s a well-known saying that ‘a week is along time in football.’ Well, I’ve found that a year is a short time in publishing. If you decide to pursue a mainstream publisher, expect long turnaround times. Before your proposal even reaches a mainstream publisher, however, it has to be vetted by a literary agent.
How do you get a literary agent? Well, it helps if you know someone. Publishing is quite old school in that connections can get you a very long way. But not everyone has a literary agent on speed dial. If you need a literary agent, the best thing to do is search for one online. When you’re searching through literary agencies, make sure that they’re accepting submissions in your genre. There’s no point in sending a book on Cuban history to an agent looking for science fiction.
Make a list of numerous agents. The reality is that even if you’ve written the next Harry Potter, most of them won’t reply. The greater the number of suitable agents you contact, the more likely your chance of success.
Once a literary agent likes your proposal, they’ll probably suggest a few changes. Remember, they know what publishers are most likely to want, so their advice is important. You can’t be too protective of your work.
A literary agent then takes your proposal to mainstream publishing houses. If any editors at these publishers like it, they’ll ask to meet you. This will allow them to find out a bit more about you and get a feel for a working relationship.
After this meeting, the editor takes the proposal to an acquisition meeting where the sales and marketing teams predict the likely success of the book, whether it’s commercially viable and if so how much to offer as an advance payment.
For the lucky few who get chosen, this long process is only the beginning of a much longer process. Publishing with a mainstream publisher will give you access to excellent editors and designers, allow your work to be stocked in bookshops up and down the country, help you develop links within the industry and pay you an advance upfront. However, you have less ownership over the work and the royalties are small. Many authors never receive payment beyond the advance.
Independent publishers are small companies that produce books. My new venture, Floodlit Dreams, is one such company. If a literary agent doesn’t receive an offer from a mainstream publisher, they’ll often then send the proposal to independent publishers.
However, you don’t always need a literary agent to be published by an independent company. Most will accept a proposal directly from an author. Though a literary agent provides advice, simplifies the entire publication process and gives your work validation, they do take 15% of any payment. And not everyone can get a literary agent.
Prospective authors should search for independent publishers that publish works similar to their own. After selecting appropriate publishers and submitting their proposal, they should expect a response within eight weeks. It is advisable to contact numerous independent publishers rather than wait for each to reply individually.
When they do reply, the journey to publication is much quicker then at mainstream publishers. If they like the proposal they’ll request a meeting, and if that goes well then a contract will soon be drawn up.
Expect to be involved in every aspect of publication with an independent publisher. The actual writing side of things is only a small part of creating a book. Ideas on cover design, launch parties and marketing techniques are all welcomed. As such, independent publishers allow much greater ownership over each project and also allocate a greater percentage of royalties to authors. However, advance payments are rare and not all independent publishers can get their authors’ books into shops up and down the country. To sell thousands of books with an independent publisher, authors need to be prepared to work hard at marketing their book, appear at talks and events and chase PR opportunities. The greater share of royalties available means that effort is often well rewarded.
Producing a book is a risk. Analysts at publishing houses can obsess over forecasting potential sales, but nobody really knows exactly how well each book will do – and whether it can pay back the money spent on its publication – until it’s actually out in the world. Crowdfunding takes away all of this risk for the publisher. The onus is on pledgers to fork out for the production costs of each book.
Working with a crowdfunder requires an author to think of different ways to incentivise pledgers. Methods include signed copies, first edition hardbacks and even lunches with the author. Though the crowdfunding website provides an audience to see an author’s project, raising the production costs is very much down to the author. Crowdfunding companies usually have multiple projects going on at once and therefore can’t give each individual project much time until it’s funded.
To crowdfund a book therefore requires plenty of energy on behalf of the author. As with independent publishers, proposals can be submitted directly to the crowdfunding companies for their consideration.
It’s never been easier to self-publish a book. Though some look down on self-publishing and dismiss books as ‘vanity projects’, the reality is that it can be a lucrative business.
Authors get total ownership over their work, choosing every aspect. Unfortunately, that also means it’s on them to fund each project. This means payment is needed for cover design, formatting, typesetting, editing and marketing. The risk is therefore solely on the author, but once production costs are paid off every sale gives good profit.
Turnaround times are quick, and choosing to self-publish means that authors can skip the proposal phase and go straight into production.
Authors should be aware that bookshops rarely take self-published works and it therefore lies on the author to promote their own book. However, the ability to have the final say on every aspect and turn each project around quickly is an attraction for some.
Writing a book is a fantastic achievement no matter which publishing option you choose. The connections you make and the people you come across can often lead to other interesting projects. And there’s no greater buzz than receiving a positive review from a reader.
Seek advice where you can, do your research and check your work over and over again.
And if you do have a proposal you’re working on, feel free to ask for our advice at Floodlit Dreams. We’ll be more than happy to provide feedback – and who knows what will come of it…