By: Ben Casey
You’ve written a book. It took months, years even. Let’s say it’s a mystery crime novel called The Mystery of Crimetown. You spent so many late nights typing out The Mystery of Crimetown, going to bed only to daydream about what happens next in your book. You drafted, then redrafted, then edited, then edited some more and now you’re done. The only thing left for you to do with your book is to get someone to read it.
So you google ‘book publishers’ and find a few. Penguin Group, Hachette Book Group, Random House, HarperCollins, etc. But for some reason, you can’t find a place on any of their websites to submit something. The few that do have open submissions get them by the thousands and take as much as a year to get back to you—if they read it at all.
Very few large publishers take submissions straight from the author. If you want The Mystery of Crimetown to get the respect it deserves, you’ll need to find yourself a literary agent. A literary agent represents a writer’s work to publishers in the hopes that one of those publishers picks up the book. They might represent only ten other authors or be part of a literary firm that represents hundreds of authors.
So you google ‘literary agent’ and find a few thousand. Wow. You see LinkedIn pages, Twitter accounts, websites, and blogs. You see promises of national distribution with “only 100 dollars down payment!” How can you tell the amateur from the professional, the scam from the real deal?
Here’s a tip: drive down to your local bookstore and look for a new release that is the same genre as your book. Look on the inside and see if the author thanks a literary agent in the beginning.
You wander into your local bookstore, Books-R-Cool, and stumble across a new mystery crime novel called The Crimes of Mystery City. You frown at the title being so close to the title of your book, but as you open the cover, you find a name written in the acknowledgments. “Special thanks to my literary agent Chad Chadson for getting this book published!”
A google search later and you’ve found a website for Chad Chadson, the literary agent who specializes in mystery crime novels. Chad Chadson, like most good literary agents, doesn’t charge you anything for his services. If Chad likes your story, he’ll shop it around to publishers and take 10 to 15 percent of whatever money that publisher gives to you.
You’re getting ready to send your book to Chad when you realize you don’t even know how to send it in. Should you give him the whole book? Should you give him a section or a summary of the book?
The process of sending your book to an agent or publisher is known as querying. A query for a fiction book involves a “hook” to get readers interested, followed by a short summary that includes information like the book’s length and reading level. Generally, these queries should be one page long. Rather than sending them your book, send them the query. If they’re interested, they’ll find you and ask you for your book.
It just so happens that Chad Chadson is interested in publishing another crime mystery novel! What luck! You send him your novel and wait in nervous anticipation.
It takes a few days for you to get an email back. Your heart drops. “Sorry, I don’t think this book is a good fit for me,” says Chad.
You hang your head dejectedly before an idea springs into your head. Why do you need a publisher at all? You can publish The Mystery of Crimetown online on your own and market it yourself!
You’ll have more creative control and get all the say in how your book is marketed. Plus you’ll be able to keep all the profits you earn off of the book! You wonder why anyone bothers with traditional publishing anymore.
You start marketing your book. It takes months, even years before you have a small reader base on the internet of a hundred or so who follow the consistent updates you put out for your Crimetown series. You spend late nights looking for ad space online, researching demographics, posting your book on social media, and going to bed only to wonder if boosting your Facebook posts is really worth it. You promote, you market, you promote some more, you keep promoting, and after that, you promote your book again. You find yourself exhausted. You find your bank account emptying as you take time off your day job to try to sell ad space on your blog.
Self-publishing seems to cost a lot of time with little reward. You wonder if you should send queries to booking agents or smaller publishers again.
Whether The Mystery of Crimetown would be more successful self-published or traditionally published, that’s on you—the author—to decide. No matter what path you take, it is no easy road. Self-publishing has you doing all the work of writing, promoting, and funding your book. That’s not a luxury everyone can afford. The traditional route of publishing involves the soul-crushing experience of getting rejected by multiple publishers and literary agents. That’s not a hardship everyone can withstand.
Both of these routes might seem like impossible hurdles to you. But if you have a story to tell, you can get over them. A good story and the drive to tell it will get your book out there, no matter what path you choose.