I’ve owned and operated my own small press since early 2013. I have an editing partner and someone to handle marketing after publication, but mostly, I do a lot of the heavy lifting myself—reading the slush pile, managing the contracts, editing, layout, hiring the cover artist, writing up press releases, contacting reviewers . . . the list goes on. I’ve learned a few things over the years that I wish all writers knew. For example . . .
- Don’t submit your manuscript unless it’s in the best possible shape. I often advise writers not to submit until they’ve revised their manuscript a minimum of five times. Some authors think that it’s perfect after the first or second draft. I have never found that to be the case—ever. If you’re so sick of the story that you can’t bear to go through it again, find some beta readers. Have them go through it. Then revise it again. You want it as perfect as possible when you submit. As I said, I do a lot of the work myself, and I want my job to be as easy as possible. You can have an excellent story, but if the prose is riddled with typos, grammatical errors, changing character names, or extra chapters that have nothing to do with the main story, I’m going to reject it.
- If you don’t like the terms of the contract you’re being offered, don’t sign it. I want my authors to be happy. But my contract is written the way it is to protect my interests, too. You can ask me to change something small, like moving the publication date—if it’s something feasible, I’ll do it. But I’m not going to change things like the royalty split or that I have final say on the cover art. If you’re unhappy with the contract, then we’ll all feel better if you seek a different publisher. It’s business, not personal, and ultimately, I want everyone involved to be comfortable with the expectations and results.
- If your publisher is allowing you a lot of involvement as your book progresses, this is a privilege, not a right. Don’t abuse it. Again, I want my authors to be happy, so I’ll often keep them involved with their book’s progress. I’ve opened up discussions about cuts to the material that I feel need to be made. If the author can convince me the material I want to cut is vital to the story, I’ve been known to change my mind. (The one thing I do not negotiate about is proofreading—we strictly adhere to Chicago Manual of Style guidelines, period.) Occasionally, I’ll get a writer who will take advantage of this open relationship. One, for instance, wanted to make major storyline revisions three months prior to publication. The revisions were not needed, would introduce a significant secondary plotline that completely negated the purpose (and likability) of one of his characters, and simply couldn’t be edited in time to make our publication date. I had to point to the contract and say no. He pouted. He called me terrible names. He emailed me constantly. He ultimately apologized after the book came out, but I’ll never work with him again.
- Use your contacts. I mean this on many levels. If you’re a friend of mine and you reach out to ask if you can send a manuscript, even if I’m not open for submissions, I’m more likely to say yes. If we don’t know each other but we have a mutual friend, mention them in your query letter. And if you do get a book contract, start asking your author friends for favors: a blurb to go on the back of the cover, for instance. An online book review. An Amazon review. All of these things will help you.
- Your sales will be directly proportional to how much effort you, the author, put forth. I wish I could highlight that sentence with flashing red lights. You have to promote your own book if you want sales. Your publisher will help. But I can buy ads and send out press releases and submit your book for award consideration until I’m blue in the face, but if you don’t remind your audience that you have a book out, sales will not be strong.
I have two authors who are very different in their approach to this. One teased his book’s release for a month and a half, promoted it every day for a week when it came out, and continues to post reviews and interviews about his book (he’s dropped down to a few times a month, but he still mentions it regularly). He seeks out interview opportunities and attends author events where he sells his books. The other author mentioned his book’s release the day it came out. Not a peep since.
That first author continues to outsell the second author about three-to-one every month.
My advice to any would-be published author is this: get your manuscript as near to perfect as you can. Seek out a publisher that you’re happy with, and don’t settle for anything less. Work to foster the partnership between you and your publisher. And ultimately, sell yourself. After all, your publisher thought your writing was good enough to invest in. Now it’s up to both of you to tell the world.