Joseph Epstein is often quoted for noting that around eighty percent of Americans feel they have a book in them that they should write. A far, far fewer percentage actually end up writing a book. Of those who finish a book, the chances of that book’s success are slim to none. If this sort of self-defeating psychological torture sounds like fun, welcome to the world of wanting to be a writer. To even have a chance at “success” in some measure means taking a stab at determining your book publishing goals. Of course, goals can and should change, but without them is to be directionless.
This year I will be covering dealing with rejection, formatting mistakes to avoid, doing a print run, knowing comp titles, and blogging a book. Feel free to explore Word Bank’s archive of publishing posts. In particular, you might find 5 Reasons to Submit Work to Publications with Editorial Discretion of interest.
Determining Your Book Publishing Goals
There is no right or wrong way to go about publishing a book, but any choice an author arrives at is bound to be a better choice if it’s an informed choice. The sections below provide a viable starting point when it comes to charting one’s writing path–a path that will inevitably change. The writing life is equal parts exhilarating and scary much of the time.
What will your path to publication be?
Given how easy it is to publish a book these days, the numbers of hobbyist and legacy writers has exploded. Making money is generally not a huge motivator if this is a path taken in determining your book publishing goals. People take up countless hobbies that they spend money on, so writing a book or two can work beautifully as a way to pass the time. To leave behind a family legacy for future generations is another motivator that drives many amateur authors to record their family history, pen Grandpa Joe’s biography, or write their own memoirs.
On the other hand, chances are you hope to make some sort of profit from sharing your words with others. Whether you make a living part-time or full-time from writing, an array of publishing models exist. If you’re written a fiction series in a popular genre or the purpose of your book is to help grow your business and act as a calling card that can be handed out in conjunction with speaking engagements or workshop materials, pursuing self-publishing may be the best route. In this model, the author goes it alone and can hire help along the way. Assistance can also be gained in the form of a hybrid or partner-publisher who will work with an author (for a fee) to publish and market their book. This is not to be confused with vanity publishing or subsidy presses, which prey upon authors for financial gain, have no criteria for selection, and do next to nothing to help distribute and promote work.
Perhaps you have a hankering to jump through the hoops of traditional publication. Go you! There’s much to be admired about the desire for one’s work to pass muster by literary gatekeepers (who are also, alas, running a business). Not to mention, working with an established team of professionals can be a worthy experience as well. Aside from the Big 5 publishing houses, a number of small, independent publishers and university presses exist. Advances may likely be small and the amount or marketing assistance will vary, but these publishers can provide far greater distribution and some semblance of a respectable book launch. If you truly believe in your story and want the widest readership possible and are not an impatient person, by all means, go for it.
Who is your target audience?
Don’t even think of proclaiming, “My book is for everyone!” No, it most definitely is not. There is no such thing as a general reader. While you may or may not write with genre in mind, at some point a book is finished and needs to find its place on a real or virtual bookshelf. For marketing purposes, a book will only appear in one section of a store or be placed in the most applicable genre categories at an online retailer. Genre impacts the choice of cover design, trim size, and applicable keywords. Wise marketing and advertising toward your ideal reader will go a long way. Self-publishing affords much more flexibility than the traditional model in this area as books placed in bookstores get limited time to make an impact.
What is your budget?
With enough time and resources, any publication goal is possible. However, the reality of life is we have to pick and choose wisely where we spend our money. Even if you intend to submit for traditional publication, it’s worthwhile to hire an editor for content or copyediting (preferably both). Competition is fierce and in-house editing budgets continue to shrink. Even in the case of hobby publishing, it’s in the writer’s best interest to not let a manuscript loose into the world with a ton of typos and characters of questionable motivation. Beyond hiring professional help to get a book in tip-top shape, funds will be necessary for cover design, formatting, as well as marketing and advertising.
Where will you sell your book?
If visions of book displays at stores across the land are dancing through your head, it will behoove you to pursue traditional publication. Print distribution to bookstores is a tough gig for self-published authors. Far more titles can typically be sold online. If self-publishing, ask yourself if it’s worth the time needed to approach stores to place a few copies on consignment. If you’ve narrowed down your audience enough, this will help determine where to sell your book. If you’ve written a guide to California’s wine country, it makes sense to approach regional stores to take on handfuls of books. If organic cooking or whole foods recipes are your niche, consider setting up a table at farmers’ markets. Invest in advertising and freebies such as bookmarks.
What hybrid considerations make sense?
If your heart is set on traditional publication, it’s possible to consider releasing a short stand-alone title (or titles) or a collection of writing as a way to grow your author platform. However, once you’ve self-published a novel, an agent will no longer be able to redeem the marketing potential of a debut or first-time novelist. On the other hand, self-published titles that rack up thousands of sales do catch the attention of literary agents on occasion. On the other hand, traditionally published authors sometimes self-publish short titles that are not part of their traditional publishing contract.
Determining your book publishing goals just goes to show the choices are many in the early twenty-first century and will continue to evolve. In any case, it’s better to take some form of action than none at all. Adjustments can always be made. But writing is the way to get the writing done!
What else comes to mind when it comes to determining your book publishing goals?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018. Post may contain affiliate links. Image credit: Ink and Quill.