Many volumes have been written about getting published and becoming a
publisher, so here, I?ll give you an overview, with links to sources
for additional information.
VANITY PUBLISHING, SELF PUBLISHING, & TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING.
First, there?s a major difference between getting published the
traditional way and getting published by vanity or self publishing.
Vanity publishing is when an author pays someone to print up his or
her book; this entity takes a percentage of sales, too.
Self publishing is when the author becomes their own publisher; they
may hire someone to print up the books, but that organization or
individual does not get a percentage of sales.
In traditional publishing, the publisher fronts all costs of printing
the books, and usually pays the author an advance against royalties.
(An advance is money received before the book is in print; it?s money
the publisher anticipates you?ll earn in royalties for the book. When
the book starts to sell, you aren?t paid royalties until they?ve
exceeded the amount of the advance.) Once the advance has been paid
for via sales, the author continues to collect royalties until the
book is out of print.
PRINT ON DEMAND (POD).
Print on demand (POD) publishing is the most common sort of vanity
Almost all POD organizations are vanity presses; that is to say, the
author writes, edits, and designs the book and pays the organization
to produce their book. This can prove costly to the writer, and make
it difficult for them to earn any money off their work. Fees vary, but
here?s a site that compares a variety of POD presses:
http://www.booksandtales.com/podframeo.htm (Books and Tales, ?An
Incomplete Guide to Print-on-Demand Publishers?) Also check out:
http://dehanna.com/database.htm (Dehanna Bailee, ?Print on Demand
Database,? scroll down)
There are two well-thought-of POD ?publishers? that do *not* take any
fees up front, making it easier for writers to earn a little money
from their work. One is Lulu (
http://www.lulu.com/static/on-demand-books1.php ), the other is Café
Press (http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/sell/ )
(In addition, there?s at least one POD publisher that claims to work
like a traditional publisher: They screen books--not accepting all of
them, they claim, then design and prints the book, with the author
earning a royalty. However, this publisher has developed a bad
reputation in the industry for requiring writers to do their own book
designing, for paying a mere $1 royalty, and for being behind on
For those who?ve written a book that doesn?t have mass appeal (say, a
history of a small locale, or a how to book with a limited audience),
POD books may be a good option. Please note that there?s no reason to
use an agent with POD or vanity publishing.
More beneficial to many writers is the traditional publishing route.
Many writers get their books published without the help of an agent;
however, an agent is virtually a requirement when trying to break into
the major publishing houses (like Random House, Bantam, etc.).
To find an agent, the best resource is ?Jeff Herman's Guide to Book
Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents 2004?; this book should be
available at a good bookstore, but you can read about it at Amazon:
This book is unique in that it isn?t just a list of agents and their
contact information; it also gives you clues about what sort of books
the agents are passionate about?even what their hobbies are. This
makes it easier to connect with the right agent. You may also wish to
browse in the bookstore and find books similar to the one you want to
write or have written. Do the authors mention their agents on the
acknowledgement page? Then that agent might be right for you.
To get in touch with an agent, you?ll need to write a query letter and
include a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Do not call them on
the phone, unless you?re invited to do so. For tips on writing queries
to agents, check out
(So You Wanna, ?SoYouWanna write a query letter to a literary agent??)
If you decide to approach publishers without the help of an agent, you
can also use the above book to find the correct editor to address your
material to. Do not send material to ?to whom it concerns;? you need
to find the editor that specialized in the material you?re sending.
Another good resource for finding editors is ?The Writer?s Market;?
here?s the Amazon listing:
(Incidentally, it?s vital to have the latest issues of both these
books; they are updated periodically, to ensure that the contact
information is correct.)
If you?ve written a novel, the correct procedure for submitting your
work for consideration is to first write a query letter addressed to a
specific editor. Be sure to include a SASE; if the editor is
interested in your work, they?ll ask you to send the entire
manuscript, or part of it, along with a SASE big enough to send it all
back to you, if needed. Then they?ll decide whether or not to offer
you a contract. For advice on how to write a query letter for a novel,
check out http://www.steampunk.com/sfch/writing/ckilian/#15 (Steam
Punk, ?Writing A Query Letter About Your Novel?) Also be sure to read:
Factor, ?Writing A Killer Query Can be Simple?) and
http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/query.html (Fiction Factor,
?Writing the Perfect Query Letter?)
For nonfiction, the procedure is similar. First, write a query letter
to a specific editor, being sure to include a SASE. If the editor
likes what he or she reads, they?ll ask for a proposal. A book
proposal is a marketing tool that explains to the editor what your
book is about, how you?ll write it, who wants to read it, and more.
It?s a good idea to have your proposal already written up *before* you
send out queries. The proposal should include at least two sample
chapters from your book; whole manuscripts are not necessary or
expected. If the editor likes what he or she reads, you?ll be offered
For tips on writing a nonfiction query letter, see
(Writer?s Digest, ?Advice on Writing Query Letters,? scroll down to
For advice on writing a nonfiction book proposal, check out
http://manuscriptediting.com/proposals.htm (Manuscript Editing, ?How
to Write Book Proposals and Query Letters,? which contains several
articles that will probably interest you) and
http://www.writing-world.com/publish/proposal.shtml (Writing World,
?The Nonfiction Book Proposal: Put Your Best Foot Forward?)
In addition, I highly recommend the book ?The Shortest Distance
Between You and a Published Book? by Susan Page; see the Amazon
listing here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0553061771/qid=1088436868/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-6380403-8211920?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
This book will teach you everything you need to know to properly
submit your work to publishers.
It is worth mentioning that it?s always a mistake to send a complete
manuscript for any type of book, before you?ve been asked to do so.
Sending the complete manuscript means you?re not sensitive to the
professional conduct of the industry, and therefore most editors will
automatically reject the book without even reading a single line. So
do be sure to submit a query first, and only send more information if
If you decide to self-publish, or if you choose to use a vanity press
and want to help increase sales by helping to distribute your book,
there are several important things you must do. First, to have your
book considered for bookstores and places like Amazon.com, it must
have an ISBN number. If you?ll notice, every book in the bookstore has
one of these on the back cover. Some POD publishers can provide you
with an ISBN; in cases where they don?t, you may wish to purchase one
yourself. If you are self publishing, you will certainly want to
obtain ISBNs. For information on how to do this, go to
http://www.isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/us/isbnqa.asp (ISBN, ?FAQ?).
Reference material listing all books with ISBNs are standard for book
sellers; only if your book has an ISBN can they order copies for their
customers. You might also find the following information helpful:
(Publishing Central, ?ISBN FAQ?)
As a self publisher, you?ll also need a business name. Contact your
local government for information on an ?assumed business name? and
what sort of filings and fees are required. (They vary from place to
As a self publisher, you?ll need someone to print your books, too.
Perhaps it will be the local Kinkos copy center, or perhaps it will be
a book packager. Check out the following list of packagers:
(Volta Net, ?Book Packagers?) Also check out
?Book Packagers?) Book packagers take a book you?ve written and
designed and print it out. They do not handle distribution or editing
and they do not charge a royalty or take a percentage of sales.
In addition, if you go the vanity or self publishing route, you?ll
want to be sure to register your book with the copyright office. (In
traditional publishing, the publisher does this for the author.) For
information on U.S. Copyright law be sure to read
http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#cr (U.S. Copyright Office,
?Circular 1?) For the correct forms, see
http://www.copyright.gov/forms/ (U.S. Copyright Office, ?Forms?)
Filing with the copyright office is the only want to legally protect
For an overview of the steps involved in self publishing, you might
also want to check out
http://money.howstuffworks.com/self-publishing2.htm (How Stuff Works,
?How Self-Publishing Works?).
MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION.
Getting your book distributed is the tricky part. Typically, vanity
books are the hardest to get into bookstores, because the feeling
persists among book sellers that vanity books are of poor quality.
Self published book can be similarly difficult to get into stores.
In all case, good marketing skills are required. Having an ISBN number
ensures that if a customer goes to any bookstore and requests your
book by name, the book seller can look it up and order a copy for
them. But first the customer needs to know about the book. For
information on marketing books, you might check out this Google
Answer: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=357392 (GA,
?Book Publicity?) and
?Atypical, successful marketing strategies for book marketing?)
In addition, I highly recommend ?The Writer?s Guide to Self-Promotion
and Publicity? by Elane Feldman; the Amazon listing is here:
This book will give you also the basics about marketing your books,
from writing press releases, to getting on tv and radio, and more.
With the links provided above, you should be able to learn all you
need to know in order to become a successfully published writer,
either in traditional, vanity, or self publishing. Good luck!
Researcher?s personal knowledge and experience
query letter agent
writing fiction query
writing nonfiction query