How do I get published?

Before you put pen to paper, or more likely finger to keyboard, it is crucial to think about the publishing options. In fact, ‘what are your thoughts on publishing’ is one of the first questions Teena Lyons will ask prospective authors. The purpose is to steer the conversation around to ‘what next’. Writing a book is (or should be) an hugely enjoyable exercise for both author and ghost, but there is more to it than that: people need to read the fruits of their labours.

There are two main options to consider when it comes to publishing; traditional and self publishing. Here, we will go through the key aspects of both. Let’s begin with traditional publishing.

The number one priority of publishing houses is sales. Publishers are looking for audiences, not authors. They want to find books that readers have to have. They also need to believe that the author behind any book is credible and has the relevant experience/credentials to be able to deliver a potential bestseller.

So, how do you get in front of a traditional publisher to convince them that you’ve got the bestseller-in-waiting? In days gone by, publishers would only ever accept submissions via an agent, but some are a little more flexible today. To check, go through their websites to view their submission guidelines which show whether or not they will accept a direct approach from authors. As a general rule, finding an agent to go through this process might be a better bet for a first time author, since they will guide you through the submission. Agents know what publishers want and don’t want, and how authors often sabotage their chances of landing a deal. You might also take the attitude that if a book is not good enough to excite an agent, it is unlikely to set the world of publishing on fire. To search for the agent of a particular book that is perhaps similar to the one you have in mind (which is a good starting point), look through the acknowledgement section; most authors thank their agents. You can do all of this from the comfort of your own home using Amazon and its ‘Look Inside’ feature.

Many agents require a one-page query letter and, in they are interested, will follow-up with a request for more information and possibly even a sample of your work. Initial submissions to publishers (and some agents) can often be more complex, requiring chapter-by-chapter breakdowns of the book, marketing information, target readership and more. They’ll also want sample chapters. It is important to follow the submission guidelines published online to the letter and your ghostwriter will help with this. If a publisher says they want three chapters and a blurb, send three chapters and a blurb. Not five chapters. Or two. Accuracy is key.

Your campaign to attract a publisher can and indeed should begin at the same time as you start writing. It is never too early. It doesn’t matter how traditional, or old school, you see yourself as a writer, there is one fact of modern authorship you cannot ignore: social media. You need to step up your online game. If a publisher gets to the stage of seriously checking out your credentials, they will look you up online to see what sort of following you have. This is not something that can be left until you start pitching the book. Build up your online presence while the book is being written. Choose your channels carefully according to the ones your target customers are likely to use. If you are not quite sure whether Insta, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn would work best for you, try a few platforms with different campaigns and watch the response. Focus your energies on the one that works best, publishing regular, engaging content, but don’t completely neglect the rest. They may be a slow-burn source of success. Don’t, however, start publishing content from the book as a teaser. The publisher will want something new and original.

Authors don’t need to wait until the book is fully completed before they begin approaching agents and publishers. It is possible to start part-way through the writing process, say three chapters in. It’s worth getting going with it too because this can be a very slow process and you might as well keep yourself (and your ghost) occupied writing the rest of the book while you wait weeks for a response.
And so to the other option; self publishing. There is still a perspective in some quarters that self publishing is somehow second best; something that you do when you can’t get a traditional firm involved. If this is your view, I would point you in the direction of Fifty Shades, The Martian and Still Alice which were all bestsellers and all initially self published. They were all subsequently made into movies too.

Self publishing gives you the advantage in terms of time and flexibility. Pitching to traditional publishers takes time, a lot of time, a considerable amount of patience and a stern constitution. An author may need to pitch to several publishers before their idea gets picked up (if at all) and etiquette dictates that they can generally only send their manuscript out to one publisher at a time. With each publishing house often taking months to respond, it is likely to be quite a while before the book gets onto the shelves. Even if a publisher does agree to take an author on, the actual publishing process can take a fiendishly long time, particularly with fictional works. (Topical non-fiction is often put through the system more quickly to take advantage of news flow). In the alternative universe of self publishing, it is possible to get a physical book out into the market within three to six months, once a manuscript is complete. An eBook can be released even sooner.

There are a number of options when it comes to the self publishing process. It is possible to take a do-it-yourself approach, commissioning a designer for a front cover and then uploading it onto self publishing services which will set the internal pages and publish the book for you. Alternatively, dedicated self publishing agencies can shoulder the task, taking on the whole job, from receiving the manuscript to editing it, to producing and distributing the finished article. Both DIY and bespoke options mean an author will be paying out upfront, which needs to be added onto the book budget sheet.

There are, as you can see, many aspects to consider and, in reality, this piece only touches the surface. Professional Ghost will give a full breakdown of the options and their suitability for particular authors during the initial engagement phase.