Getting your book from your brain to paper to book stores (online or off) is a step by step process. With the radical changes in how books are produced and sold these days, there is no single path for this process any more. In other words there are many different ways to get a book to market. Even though that is true, there are still some core tasks that authors need to accomplish in order to be successful (especially if they don’t go the traditional publishing route).
Define Your Category
If you don’t know where your book fits into the mix, you don’t really know who your target market is. Not knowing which category your book belongs to is also a problem for literary agents that you might be trying to work with.
You have to firm up what category your book belongs in before you move on to things like submitting it to publishing houses, doing design and cover art and marketing. For authors, defining a category can be tough. When you think about it, an author has spent more time than anyone else with their own work. When you spend that much time with something, you know it intimately. When you know something that well, it can be difficult to define it simply.
A good strategy is to let others help you with defining your category. This typically consists of people you know or work with. You could also find a patient literary agent to work with you or maybe even an editor but those could be rare and/or expensive proposition.
Finding a Market for Your Book
This should pretty much define itself once you have hammered out your category/genre. An important component of finding out about your market is where they spend most of their time. Buyers of cook books likely spend their time in different ways and places than those of science fiction fantasy novels.
A good strategy for finding where your audience is most active is to spend time listening on different websites and social networks. For example you can use search features on different platforms to see if there are posts related to the content of your work. If you can find a decent presence of those people who would be interested in your book, chances are you should be active there.
Self-publishing or Traditional Publishing?
The pros, cons, ins and outs of this decision could fill several volumes. Authors used to have one choice which was to submit their work to a publishing house or an agent. Today they can accomplish virtually every step of the process on the internet or by themselves. Just because they can do that though does not mean they should. Bringing a book to market is no easy task and it is also a task difficult to do well.
If you decide that the world of social media self-promotion, long hours, exciting break-throughs and the sometimes uphill battle of self-publishing is not for you, shopping your book to literary agents and/or publishing houses is what you’ll need to do. Here are some tips for doing that:
- Research publishers that fit the category your work is in: You defined your category earlier so you have to look for agents that work with authors who write in your genre. Ultimately you will have your work submitted to a publishing house however you need an agent to help you do that (most of the time). Check out sites like Writersmarket.com or agentquery.com to find curated lists of agents with member pages that you can reach out to.
- Get to know submission guidelines: Submitting your work to agents is a lot like submitting a resume for a job. Depending on who you are sending your resume to, there will be certain requirements that need to be met. Make sure you read submission guidelines that agents have laid out or they might not even glance at your work.
- Don’t get discouraged: Some authors have been rejected hundreds of times before they eventually found an agent to work with them. For example author JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame was rejected tons of times before she got her big break. The key is persistence and trying to learn from any feedback you get. If you give up after a dozen tries, you will never find an agent.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the process for getting matched up with a publishing house but finding an agent is your first step. Note that once you do find a good agent who has the connections to shop your manuscript around, (and you eventually go with a publisher), a lot of the heavy lifting will be done. Publishers (in exchange for a lot of control), take over the difficult and resource-intensive task of book design, editing, printing, marketing and distribution.
If you decide to go the self-publishing route, you can instantly bypass the harrowing, somewhat humiliating and often discouraging task of finding a literary agent. Be forewarned though that this route is not for the faint of heart and it has its own series of frustrations, road blocks and setbacks. Here’s a basic list of the tasks you’ll need to complete to get your book rolling on your own:
- Editing: you will want to find an editor to make sure your book is good to go to the masses. Editing services aren’t cheap (good ones anyway) so keep that in mind. In fact this could be one of most expensive parts of the whole process for self-publishers because it isn’t something with a lot of substitutes.
- Cover and book design: Unless you’re a graphic designer, you will need to find someone to do cover art and other design work for your book. You can generally find services that are affordable especially on sites like elance.com or fiver.com. Some authors even opt to do this themselves and can sometimes add a lot of character to their book.
- Printing: When working with a publisher, printing services are generally picked out for you. When you are driving the bus, you’ll have to find your own printing service. For this you want to try and find a printer that will do quality reliable work. Getting books fast and cheap won’t do you much good if they fall apart as soon as your customers buy them.
- Marketing: Authors need to draw some attention to their work in order to sell it. This is another things that would be taken care of for an author if they signed with a publisher. Self-published authors have to go it alone but it’s much easier to do these days. The internet and social media have taken down a lot of barriers to bringing a book to market.