Tuesday, December 29

Finding Your Path to Publishing

By Beth Revis, @bethrevis

Part of the How They Do It Series

Just as there is no right way to write, there is no right way to publish. Every writer takes a slightly different path, with pros and con on each of them. To help us figure out the right path for us, bestselling author Beth Revis visits the lecture hall today with a fun publishing path diagnostic.  

Beth is the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, as well as The Body Electric, Paper Hearts, and the forthcoming A World Without You. She lives in the Appalachian mountains with her boys: one husband, one son, and two very large dogs.

If you never want to miss a thing and also get exclusive insider opportunities, sign up for her newsletter here. 

In the end, only you will be able to decide the best publishing path for your work. Perhaps the most important thing, though, is to decide. Sometimes you can jump from one path to another. Sometimes you can’t. And you’ll be much happier if you set a goal and follow it than if you settle for something you don’t really want.

Below is a general guide to common different paths of publishing. It is meant to be general. Remember: what you want to do with your writing is up to you.

Step One: How Far to Go in Publishing

Keep track of the number of “yes” and “no” answers you have for each question.

Does it matter to you if you’re published? Is it far more important to you that you just write the story, and you’re not really concerned about getting it to a wide audience?

Is your book in a very specific, very limited niche market? For example, is it a history of your family that mostly people in your family will want to read, but may not interest others?

Is your book very personal? Did you write it for yourself and yourself only, and you don’t really want other people to read it?

Is it “all or nothing” with this one, specific book? Do you want this one specific book out there—in any form—no matter what? Is dropping this one book non-negotiable to you?

Are you planning to go low-investment on editing? The book is done, you’ve checked the grammar, and you’re not going to do much more? (You plan to neither invest money in an outside editor nor are you willing to make significant changes to the structure of the novel based on critique partners and feedback. If the book was picked up by a traditional publisher, you absolutely would not make significant edits to your book.)

Are you more concerned about getting the book out there than about making money from the book? Are you 100% happy just putting the book out without earning a penny? (This doesn’t mean you wouldn’t take money if it was offered, but you’re not really concerned about getting the book in a position for it to be offered and doing the promotional work required for it—you’d rather just have it out there publicly.)

If you answered mostly “yes” to the above questions, then you may want to consider “soft” self publication. Publish your work online (such as Wattpad) for free, or even publish it on retailer sites for family and friends without investing too much in advertising or developing the book. Consider print on demand (POD) services to provide hard copies of the book for family and friends.

If you answered mostly "no” to the above questions—or just had a lot of “maybe, but only if X happened”—then you continue on to the next quiz.

Step Two: Publishing Paths Q&A

Number a page and keep track of your answers.

1. Are you determined to have this one book out, come hell or high water? Would you never consider trunking this novel?

2. Do you write in a very hot and trendy genre (such as New Adult, romance or erotica) and do you also write very fast (or very short) works? (By fast: could you have a new work ready to go within three months? By short: are your novels around 50k words or less, or do you write predominantly short stories and novellas?)

3. Do you have the financial means and time to do a full edit, professional cover, and distribution of an ebook yourself?

4. Which is more important to you: To be published quickly or to possibly be published far later in your career but with the financial and marketing background of a publisher?

5. How important is it to you to walk into a bookstore and see your book on the shelf?

6. Do you have the ability, skills, and time to invest in a lot of self promotion? Would you rather do a lot at once, or develop different strategies and try different things as you go?

7. How aware are you of the ideal market for your book?

8. Do you want a career in self publishing or traditional publishing?

Step Three: Answers and Analysis

1. If your #1 concern is one specific book, consider self publishing. Traditional publishing very often requires a novel to be “trunked”—put aside and never published. If you care passionately about one book, consider how you’ll feel if the book is rejected and whether or not trunking that book and moving on to the next is something you would feel comfortable doing.

2. Hot genres that can be generated quickly often do well in self publishing. Traditional publishing tends to move slowly—one book a year is considered fast. If you can get books out faster, particularly in a genre that’s very trendy right now, then it may behoove you to do it now.

3. This is not a deciding factor in whether you should self publish or not, but it is something you should consider. Can you viably self publish?

4. With self publication, you can put something out to the public in an extraordinarily short period of time. With traditional publication, you have to factor in the possibility that a book won’t sell for a long time or at all. It took me ten books and ten years to publish my first novel via a publisher. I could have self published some of the earlier novels, but that wasn’t the career I wanted. You need to make that decision for yourself.

5. If you self publish, the odds are phenomenally against you that you’ll be able to see your book on any random bookstore shelf. You will be able to consign copies to some local bookstores, and you can always donate copies to select libraries, but wide distribution is just not typical in self publishing. It’s also not a guarantee in traditional publishing—but you have a far greater chance of being in bookstores and libraries with traditional publishing than self publishing.

6. Whether you want to self publish or traditionally publish, you’re going to have to do some self promotion. With traditional publishing, be prepared to make your own website, design (or hire someone to design) and print promotional materials like bookmarks (no, they typically don’t come from the publisher), and find ways to promote, particularly during launch months. If you self publish, you’ll probably not want to invest in print materials, but you will invest in more online promotions, such as blog tours, paid advertisements, etc. Self publication will also be spread out more—while traditional publishing sees more promo in the three months before and after launch of a book, traditional publishing has a slower and longer burn, with periodic bursts of promo throughout the book’s life.

7. Whether you want to self or traditionally publish, you need to know the market of your book. Research the genre. There are differences between successful self published books in YA and successful traditionally published books in YA. Study what’s selling in each market, and how. Which style better suits your work? Either way, be aware of your genre in both self and traditional publishing. Learn. Become a better writer and a better salesman based on studying the success of others. I’m not saying imitate them: I’m saying understand the mechanics of how they work in the market. You might hate the current popular books, but you should attempt to understand why they are the current popular books. Know what the clich├ęs and common tropes are, and figure out whether you want to imitate them, subvert them, or avoid them. Read the market you want to be read in.

8. In the end, this is the only question that matters. What do you want? Whatever it is, go for it. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks; you know the career you want, so go for it.

About Paper Hearts

Your enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there's no wrong way to get words on paper. But it's not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won't make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical Advice Meets Real Experience

With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:
  • How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
  • What Common Advice You Should Ignore
  • What Advice Actually Helps
  • How to Develop a Novel
  • The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone 
  • Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
  • How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
  • How to Deal with Failure
  • And much more!

BONUS! More than 25 "What to do if" scenarios to help writers navigate problems in writing from a New York Times Bestselling author who's written more than 2 million words of fiction.

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  1. Thanks for this! I've been thinking a lot lately about which publishing path I want to take, and I appreciate you approaching the subject without trying to convince us that one way is better than the other- they're just different.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Beth! This is a timely & very helpful article for me. I'm planning to self-publish sometime next year and I want to do it right. Your tips are a big help!