We Can Be Writers (Just For One Day?)

We live in amazing era in that we can all be writers.  If you want to write, the only thing stopping you is you.  Seriously.

I get asked quite often how one goes about getting published.  There are so many different avenues to getting published, it’s always difficult to answer the question succinctly.

The first thing you need to determine is your end goal.  If you seek traditional publishing, you really do need to go about things differently.  If you want only an audience for your writing and don’t necessarily care how you acquire one, the field is wide open.

Let’s talk about the traditional publishing world first.

Before I do, though, know that there is an exception to every rule.  I’m speaking in generalities.

Typically, in order to break into the traditional publishing world you do one of two things.  You research publishers who may want your work, you send a cover letter or query letter, you wait to hear back, and at that point they may reject you or ask for the actual work.  From that moment on, you may have an editor assigned to you, you make changes requested by the editor, and you negotiate terms.  That’s a simplified version, of course.

The second option is that you send a cover or query letter to a literary agent and wait to hear back.  They may reject you, or they may want to see more.  If they take you on, you negotiate terms and then they sell your book on your behalf.  Of course, they take a percentage of the sale.  Again, this is a very simplistic explanation, but basically the core of the matter.

There are several different kinds of terms you need to negotiate, but chief among them are copyright issues.  Do you still retain the right to your work, or are you selling the rights?  If you sell the rights outright, the work is no longer yours.  You may receive royalties, but you no longer have any claim to the work from a business standpoint.  What are your film option rights?  Is there an expectation for future books?

There are many ways to circumnavigate this process.  For example, some authors submit to small magazines and anthologies and eventually get noticed by a literary agent or publishing house and are wooed.  This is rare, but even if it doesn’t result in a  book deal, it’s also a great way to build an audience and build credibility in the publishing world.

The Writer’s Market is a fantastic way to figure out what publishers or literary agents may want your work.  Be aware though, that everyone uses this book, and so the houses and agents listed are probably overrun with material.

If you’re thinking to yourself that this all sounds incredibly time consuming, you’re absolutely right.  A single book or short story can take years to sell.  Many have given up due to impatience alone.  For the dedicated, though, that eventual approval from the traditional publishing world can be incredibly gratifying.

In the old days, this was about your only option.  Some self-published – Walt Whitman is a famous example, but this wasn’t necessarily an easy avenue to pursue, either.

But here we are, 2014, and if you want to share your writing, you can do so right now.  Seriously, like right now.  As in before the end of the day.

Let’s run through your possibilities.

If you want to self-publish, there are many companies to help you do just that.  Though similar to a vanity press, it’s not exactly the same.  Self-publishing companies are often print-on-demand and will take as much or as little money as you’re willing to pay.  For a hefty amount, you can get all kinds of services, the same services you get from a traditional publisher.  However, if you’re on a budget, you’ll get very basic services that are still quite nice, but leave a lot of room for error on the author’s part.  For example, editing cost extra.  If you’re confident you don’t need an editor, you don’t need to pay for the service, but let me tell you, everyone needs an editor.  Find one.

Most companies will provide a cover artist, a bar code, typesetting, and listing with all the major online retailers.  You should retain all rights to your work, and you can often buy your own book at a 40% (or better) discount.  The print-on-demand feature means that the book is published on an individual basis with each order.  This eliminates warehousing costs.  The print-on-demand self-publishing company will often pay royalties as well.  But here’s the thing – unless you pay exorbitant amounts of money, the advertising, the promotion, the book tour, etc. all falls squarely on your own shoulders.  You may have this beautifully written book, but if you don’t seek an audience, you will be a writer for only one day.  The topic of promotion is an entirely different conversation, and one I’m happy to have, but not in this post.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that traditional publishers often want first-time publishing rights.  This means that if your book has appeared anywhere in the market in any format, you’ve eliminated your chances with the traditional market.  There are exceptions to this rule, of course, especially if a traditional publisher thinks there is money to be made, but more often than not it’s a deal-breaker.

Also, realize that there are many, many publishers out there posing as traditional publishing houses that subcontract your book through a print-on-demand company.  Do your research.  Don’t get caught off guard.  Protect yourself.

Let’s say you don’t want to pay any money at all – you just want to share your work.  Well, this is easier than ever before.

Both the Nook and the Kindle allow for digital self-publishing.  You typically get around twenty-five cents on the dollar, and, once more, you do all the editing, etc, but if you feel confident with this platform, it can be tremendously effective.  Be aware, though, that they will require a bank account and social security number.  This is purely for royalty purposes and I’ve never heard of any nefarious practices, but some aren’t comfortable with sharing this kind of information.  You can always open a separate checking account if you’re worried.

Another option are blogs.  Blogs allow you to publish for free online.  For example, my website is a blog.  I pay for a domain name (which costs less than $20 a year), but I don’t even have to do that.  I use WordPress.  Blogs are capable of doing more and more with each passing year.  I’m amazed at all the functions WordPress utilizes.  You could absolutely publish your story chapter by chapter or as a whole on a blog, and it would cost you nothing.  However, the editing, the promotion, etc. all falls on you.  Plus, once your work is out there for free, it’s out there.  Think long and hard before you publish online.

Maybe you don’t even want to go to that much trouble.  If you have a Facebook page, there is an option for “notes,” which is basically a blog feature.  It functions much the same and, because you can secure it, only your contacts can view it.

Finally, don’t discount your good old word processor.  Software provides you some amazing format and font choices, so you could create your book, print it, run copies, and hand it out by hand.  You could even email it as an attachment.  Worried about people stealing it if you send it electronically?  You probably don’t need to concern yourself with that, but some word processor programs such as Microsoft Word allows you to publish your document as a PDF, and this can restrict any sort of electronic edits (such as changing the author’s name).

There are so many more possibilities, but these are some of the major choices.  Just be aware, and I can’t emphasize it enough, once your work is out there, it’s out there, and when this happens the first-time publishing rights are exhausted.  If there is any part of you that thinks you want to seek traditional publishing, be patient, put in the time, and play the waiting game.  Traditional publishers want to maximize their profit, and that’s very hard to do if the work is already out there for free.

So for better or worse, we can be writers. Whether it’s just for one day is entirely up to you.


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