PUBLISHING: IT TAKES A VILLAGE

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I was at a 4th of July party yesterday when a long-time friend mentioned that he new someone who was writing a book and needed help understanding the publishing process. I get this all the time, as you can imagine—people are always asking how to get published.

It’s not as easy as one might think to answer this question—especially at a backyard barbecue when burgers and brats and beer are so distracting. What’s the process? You write a manuscript, you get a publisher, you publish the book, you sell the book. I suppose that’s it in a nutshell, but there’s so much more to it and so many players involved. Publishing a book involves way more than just author and publisher. It takes a village.

Whether you hope to publish with a traditional house, plan to self-publish, or choose to go a hybrid route, you’ll work with a lot of people who will help you get from concept to publication and beyond. Let’s take a look at some of the people you’ll encounter and what they’ll do for you and with you.

Literary Agent
In some ways, a literary agent is among the first people you’ll meet on your path to publication. Finding the right literary agent (or any literary agent at all) can be fraught with anxiety, as you’ll likely receive way more rejections than interest in your manuscript. But an agent can help you achieve your dreams of publishing, primarily by pitching your project to editors and publishers, fielding interest, and negotiating a publishing agreement. Some agents will offer editorial assistance as well, perhaps by helping develop the outline or table of contents, editing or even writing the book proposal, critiquing the manuscript, and so on. But not all agents do all of these things. Some agents will, but many simply don’t have the time to be agent+editor all wrapped up in one; instead, they work with editors and writers who can help develop and polish your manuscript (for a fee). Note, too, that not all projects require agents. Although most publishers of fiction do require projects to be submitted through an agent, many publishers of nonfiction are perfectly happy to work without an agent, instead connecting directly to the author. Too, some publishers won’t work with agents at all, for fiction or nonfiction.

Editor
A professional editor is crucial to publishing a polished manuscript—not your sister-in-law, who earned her Master’s in English or your spouse, who reads all your work (and loves it, of course). Professional editors are trained to read your manuscript in a way that others are not, with a critical eye that goes beyond checking grammar and spelling. That said, editors come in all shapes and sizes, lending various levels of expertise to improve your manuscript. Acquisitions editors, copy editors, developmental editors, managing editors, production editors, sponsoring editors—each will work on your manuscript in different ways, but every editor will be working with you to help polish your text so that it is picture-perfect. What will each of these people do? It depends on the publisher, but there are some generalities that apply. An acquisitions editor or sponsoring editor, for instance, is the person who, appropriately, acquires the project. This is the person who will offer a publishing contract and champion the project all along the path to publication. An acquisitions editor might or might not actually edit your manuscript; some do and some don’t. Those who don’t often work with a dedicated associate editor or developmental editor who do the actual work of editing a manuscript, typically looking at big-picture issues. Managing editors, production editors, and copy editors tackle the next step in fine-tuning the manuscript, going over it with a fine-tooth comb and working with designers to get pages ready. But editors also are helpful even earlier in the process, helping writers polish their manuscripts well before they seek an agent and/or publisher. Some editors also will help authors develop book proposals, queries, and synopses that writers can use to pitch their project.

Designers & Creatives
Working hand in hand with your editors, designers and other creatives will work on the cover design as well as the interior design for your book. Whether you’re publishing through a traditional house or a self-publishing firm, getting the right cover is crucial. The internal design of your book shouldn’t be overlooked, either: It can make the difference between an easy, pleasurable read or a difficult read that exhausts your readers. Chapter openers, typeface, leading, kerning, paragraph breaks—there’s more to the design of your book than you might think, and working with professionals who know what they’re doing is important.

Marketers & Publicists
In the world of traditional publishing, marketers and publicists will work together to spread the work about your book through sell sheets, catalog copy, online copy, and press releases. They’ll work with you in the hopes of garnering interviews and book reviews. They’ll help coordinate book signings and other special events. But they’ll also look to you, the author, to fuel the fire. This is why platform and community is so important: You need to find your readers where they are. You can’t just hope they’ll find you because they saw an ad in a specialty publication or a review on a website somewhere. In fact, it can be helpful to hire an outside marketer and/or publicist even if you’re publishing with a traditional house, not least of which because in-house marketers and publicists are working not only with you on your book but likely with dozens of other authors and their books. Hiring a dedicated marketer or publicist on your own can be helpful in ensuring that even more avenues are explored.

Sales Team
As your manuscript winds its way through the production process at a traditional house, your team is working on building advance sales by getting pre-orders from bookstores and distributors. Others might be working on selling foreign language translation rights and crafting international distribution agreements. Still others might be negotiating the sale of excerpts, film rights, or other licensing deals. And still others might be working on securing bulk sales or book club deals. If you’re planning to self-publish, this is something to think long and hard about: Do you have the capacity and willingness to sell your book beyond Amazon?

These are but a few of the professionals who help get a book from concept to finished manuscript to page proofs to bound books to bookstore shelves and, finally, to readers. Key word here: professionals. Although you might find someone who can do all or most of these things, such as a book packager, it can be challenging to find someone who can wear all of these hats and do it all well. An agent, for example, might be able to suggest some ideas for marketing your book and recommend some outlets for promoting your book, but she likely won’t have all the contacts that a professional publicist will have. Likewise, a copy editor might be able to do some basic formatting on your manuscript, but he might not be up to par when it comes to typesetting and designing the interior of your book or the jacket for it.

The thing is that it takes more than a good idea or a well-written story to publish a successful book. Those who opt for the self-publishing route should take the time to consider all of the tasks it takes to get through the entire process and to think about who they need to work with to get it done. Those who publish with a traditional house should strive to develop positive working relationships with everyone on the team who’s working to publish your book and see it succeed.

No one can do it alone. In fact, when you think about it, “self-publishing” is something of a paradox because, if you do it well and correctly, you’re not going to be a one-man show who writes, edits, designs, produces, prints, sells, markets, promotes, reviews, buys, and reads your book all by yourself. Publishing is a team sport that involves a lot of players and—if you do it right—those players are professionals, each with expertise in their given area, each with a deep understanding of the publishing process. Together, they form a team, all of whom are dedicated to publishing a winning book that readers will love.

Who do you want on your team?

—Kelli
July 5, 2017

“Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”
—Sylvia Plath

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