I published my first novel on Amazon Kindle at Christmas time. This was the culmination of about five years’ work at some financial cost.
Most aspiring authors want to know how to get published, make money so they can live in the south of France or a tropical paradise and write books while sipping on margaritas. Hey, I’ll put my hand up for that!
Everyone should know that there’s a lot more to this game than that! I’m going to take you through the main steps of publishing a book, show the differences between commercial publishing and self-publishing, and look at the financial aspects – how much it costs and how much you can make. I want to inspire you to keep aiming for your dream.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll talk about novels. A novel is generally defined as a fictional story of about 70-100,000 words.
From idea to publisher
Here are the usual 10 steps from idea to publication:
1. You first need an idea for a story. Inspiration is everywhere. And it’s very personal. You can get ideas from your own life, or your family and extended family. Think of events in your life or your parents’ lives that were interesting or unusual, and create a ‘what if’ scenario.
2. Writing is a lot more than putting words on a page. With fiction it is creating a story with characters, a plot, beginning, middle, end, climax, resolution and much more. The key to writing fiction is to ‘show not tell’ the story. For example: He was an old man. V. He was hunched and frail, his face lined with wrinkles.
3. Find a mentor/developmental editor/writing group/course to help you write and stick to a word count per week or month. Getting a first draft is the goal. Your writing group or mentor can help read your work, review, comment and edit.
4. Once you have your fist draft, you can start self-editing and rewriting. For me, this is the hard part. It’s best to leave the work alone for a time to get distance from it. Go back and read it with new eyes. If you’re an editor as well as a writer – the more time you leave it the better. You can then view it as someone else’s work and be unemotional in your editing. You can delete the many redundancies, repetitive words or scenes, delete adjectives and adverbs (thats) and words that do not serve the story or move it forward. You will add details where necessary. Be ruthless with tightening your writing –if it doesn’t add to the story, it has to go.
5. Once you’ve done this a few times, it’s time to send it out to some intelligent readers. These can be friends or colleagues and associates who love reading and have a critical eye. It’s probably best to avoid family as they will tell you it’s wonderful no matter what! Take your readers’ feedback on board as much as possible and rewrite again.
6. Once you are happy with it, you can start preparing for publication. Find a manuscript assessor. They will advise on structure, characters, story, plot development, language, writing skills and all the big picture features. They generally give a report but do not mark up the manuscript. Take their feedback on board and rewrite again.
7. You are now ready to have your manuscript edited by a professional editor. The editor will advise on the same things as the assessor. The difference is that the editor will do a line edit/copy edit as well as a substantive/structural edit. The editor will comment on the use of language, copyright, defamation, fact-checking, double check research, authenticity of setting and story, timelines and character development, and give considered opinions on all aspects of the book. There may be several toings and froings at this stage.
8. Once you have finalised the edit, you are now ready to find a literary agent. An agent will take on work that suits their list and assess the author’s ability to write a product that sells. They will tout to their networks and find a publisher. They will negotiate contracts, advances and rights. They take about 12% of recommended retail price of every book you sell. There are 15 literary agents listed on the Australian literary agent website – only some of these will be appropriate for your book. You must prepare an email pitch, then wait eight weeks for them to get back to you. They are generally not interested if you have submitted your book pitch to publishers, or to other literary agents.
9. The next step is finding a publisher. Some publishers will only accept submissions via a literary agent. For the others, you do a publisher pitch email and wait three months for them to let you know if they are interested. They don’t like authors submitting to more than one at a time. Let’s assume the literary agent finds a publisher for your book. The publisher will take over the production – editing, layout, book cover, sometimes choose the title, print run, marketing, launch, and sales to booksellers. You will still need to do some marketing yourself. They take about 45% of the sale price. After distribution, you as author get about 10%.
Now for some statistics. For 2013 in Australia:
• The main 30 big publishers released 100 books
• 100 medium-sized publishers released 20-100 books
• Nearly 30,000 books were released which includes small presses/independent publishers who may only publish one or two books a year. This means that many people are now self-publishing
• One-third of all books are now eBooks
• About 2% of all manuscripts submitted are published by traditional publishers
The figures aren’t encouraging; hence:
10. If you can’t get an agent or publisher to take on your masterpiece, you can consider self-publishing.
Twenty or so years ago, if we talked about self-publishing, it meant ‘vanity publishing’. A writer would hand the book over to a vanity press and pay for them to do minimal work on it, print it, and do some minimal marketing. Writers might also just send their book to a printer, pay the money and in return get thousands of copies of their book to store in the garage or somehow try to get bookshops to buy it. Writers, in general as most creatives, are not good at promoting themselves. Hence, the books were badly designed and edited (or not edited at all) and looked amateurish. Self-published work had a reputation for being under par and poor quality. Self-publishing had a stigma.
I believe that has changed. Of course, there are still books out there that are not well written or look amateurish in their layout and covers – both self-published and traditionally published. But print-on-demand publishing has raised the standards for most self-publishers. These companies now offer subsidiary services such as editing and cover design so the opportunity to raise the standard of these books is now available.
Many traditionally published authors or also turning to self-publishing to get higher incomes, and to be able to take total control of their product.
Using Amazon and CreateSpace
After you’ve had the book edited, you can prepare it for release on Amazon Kindle as an eBook and a pBook.
This is the process I followed:
1. Have a final Word version ready
2. Design a cover – high resolution for print/low resolution for eBook, back cover blurb, author biography
3. Get an ISBN/barcode
4. Upload pBook first to Createspace (owned by Amazon) – inside text and cover
5. Approve and release
6. Then you do the Amazon Kindle process
7. Upload inside text and low-resolution cover to Amazon
8. Start promoting the book – send emails to your network, promote on social media, send press releases to writing organisations, newspapers, magazines, blogs, online news outlets
9. Get reviews
10. Keep promoting, keep writing
11. Give presentations
Costs to author
As a rough guide, writing and producing my book took about five years and cost about $5,000.
These were the rough costs:
• Mentor $2000
• Manuscript assessment $600
• Book cover $200
• Complimentary and proof copies $500
• Other bits and pieces
Income for author
• The bulk of authors make either nothing or less than $5,000.
• Mid-range authors $20-40,000
• A handful earn $100,000+
• Self-published authors’ median income $1-5,000
• Commercially published authors’ median income $5-10,000
• Hybrid authors’ median income $15-20,000
(Source: Graeme Shimmon, commercially published author, Quora)
Income for books on Amazon
Books sold for less than $2.99 have a 35% royalty payment.
Books above $2.99 have a 70% royalty payment.
But remember – the higher the price, the lower the sales
You need to sell at least 100 books a day to hit the charts and trigger Amazon’s recommendation system.
I’m testing the market with my first book and slowly building a platform and niche audience with online promotion and marketing. I’ve just started and it’s a long journey.
What’s the best piece of advice if you want to succeed? Never give up.