I’ve written a book [for a Christian audience], and know that although you’re probably busy with a zillion things, any guidance or advice with how to begin the publishing process would be very appreciated. Feeling unsure of where to begin…
Dear new author
Well done for taking the plunge into the writing life. Well, I’m guessing that you’ve probably been writing for many years, but now you’ve penned your first book, which is wonderful. Getting the words on the page is a huge accomplishment. Where to begin with the publishing process? Here are a few tips, gleaned from my many years in the business of creating books.
1. Make your manuscript as best as it can be
Whether you land a publisher or choose to go indie, the more you can hone and shape your manuscript, the better. Yours is fiction, which I don’t have as much direct experience with as an editor (although I read voraciously), so I’m not the best person to advise in terms of creating and refining a novel. But aspects of good fiction strike me to focus on, such as strong characters, believable plots, an appropriate amount of tension, and so on. For non-fiction writers, how’s the argument in your book – does it flow? Is it engaging? Life-changing? Are you meeting a felt need in the market (marketing speak, I know)? Are you perceived as an expert in this field?
Whether fiction or nonfiction, your book will benefit from an outside perspective, preferably an editor. With my first book, I spent a chunk of change in engaging an editor to help me craft my proposal and sample chapters. She helped me see what I was blind to and brought clarity and polish. That book never got published, and never will, I think (thankfully!), but that’s another story and not at all related to her role in the acquisitions/commissioning process. I recommend you spend money on an editor.
2. Develop your platform
These days getting commissioned feels like it’s all about platform. How many Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc followers do you have? How often do you blog? Who are your peeps? Publishers receive proposals for wonderful books all the time, and although the publisher may love your concept and execution, you don’t have a following, they may have to turn down your project. “Have to” you ask? Well, of course they could spend a lot of money launching new authors, but resources are limited and with margins becoming more and more squeezed in the industry, investing in this way simply isn’t as possible as it used to be. I should add, however, that nonfiction can demand a more defined platform than fiction.
How to develop your platform? It’s not something that appears overnight, so taking a long view is the best approach. Try to arrange for speaking gigs or magazine articles or blog posts in your chosen field. Blog regularly, if you don’t, and set up a mailing list (advice I need to implement!). Build your community.
3. Determine which publisher you’d love to work with
If you going for a traditional publisher, do some research. Go to a bookstore and look online for other books that are similar to yours. What’s the competition (you’ll need this for your book proposal anyway)? Who is publishing those books? Research and research some more, finding out as much as you can about who the publisher is and what they like to publish, and who their audience is. With so much information online, this is so much easier than it used to be.
If you’d rather go indie, find out who is who. Or maybe you’d like to keep control and set up your own house. Again, there is a lot of information online about how to self-publish (just please, please, please pay for an editor, proofreader, and designer!). In the UK, many of the members of the Association of Christian Writers have experience with indie publishing – if you check out their daily blog, you’ll get a sense of who to approach for advice.
4. Put together your book proposal
You’ll need a book proposal for your work. Novels are different than nonfiction – for fiction, you can write a synopsis, outline, and sample chapters (I believe – as I said earlier, not my specialty!). For nonfiction you’ll need much more. For my first book proposal I included:
- Paragraph summary of the book
- Author bio
- Target audience
- Marketing (what I would be willing to do and what would be natural for me with my platform)
- Annotated chapter outline
- Sample chapters
I recommend you research this topic more fully, for your book proposal is probably the most important thing to getting published (unless, say, you’re a relative of a publisher!). I used as a guide Michael Hyatt’s how-to create a book proposal (before he created the ebooks he now has available). I’d also recommend perusing Jane Friedman’s website, for she has a lot of resources available, including where to get started on a book proposal.
Yes, we need to work hard to try to land a publisher. But I believe we need to pray hard too, trying to discern God’s nudges and leading. After all, he’s our Author, Publisher – and our Commissioning Editor! May we collaborate with him on works that will spread his kingdom of love and light.
Let me know how you do in your publishing journey!