Folks frequently say to me “Holy crap. Helen! I just finished my first book!… Now I am lost. What do I do next?” And yeah, it’s a terrifying, beautiful moment, the first time you see your paper baby whole and intact. So let’s take it from the first rough draft. You just put an ending on this bad boy.
Step One: Rip it open yourself. And what I mean by putting that violent image in your head is, edit it. Shut your back page, and start over on the title page. You need to read it through at least once, and then go back and edit your book, after you’ve read it for the first time in its entirety. Repeat the editing phase “until it’s done.” this may take a few months to a few years.
Step Two: Bring others in on it. This is the part where you show it to your best friend, a beta reader, find a sensitivity reader, find an editor, etc. Let’s go through these roles and what they should be doing [to my understanding.]
Best friend: Gives support. Tells you the truth about your story even when it doesn’t please you. Provides you with encouragement.
Beta reader: I learned the hard way, you should probably let them see it before an editor. Which, make sure they’re cool with it not being super-polished yet. You’re going to have bad grammar still. They, like your best friend, read it and give you feedback, but with more detail.
Sensitivity reader: Makes sure you didn’t accidently write something racist, sexist, homo/transphobic, ablest, etc. It’s usually like, you wrote someone in a wheelchair, so you get your friend who uses a wheelchair, to give their opinion about how you portrayed that character in a wheelchair. Sometimes you don’t need one, but it’s still nice to think about. No one wants to accidently perpetuate harmful stereotypes. It’s easier to change your manuscript in order to change society, than to ask society to change so you can write that.
Editor: Makes sure you don’t look like an idiot in public. However, you need to figure out if you need a content editor (edits your content. Makes sure your characters eyes are blue on all of the pages, not just blue on page three, and brown on page six.), or if you need a line editor (edits the way you wrote things. I.e. “Helen, no one speaks red-neck this fluently. Complete sentences, please.”) You need an editor. I don’t care if you are an editor. I don’t care if you’re the grand-master English professor! (I don’t know how academia works! There’s definitely one English professor to rule them all! I’m sure!) I don’t care if you’ve written 70 books! You need an editor. And you need an editor that has the same mother tongue as the language you wrote the book in. It helps if you can find someone local so they speak with the same regional dialect as you. *nods at non-American followers* You cannot read your own manuscript, and get it polished to the point it needs to be polished. You will always know what you meant, and what you actually wanted to say will never appear on the page without help. Editors take all the ugly out of your baby books. These editors are also different than the editors of a press.
Step three: Decide if you’re traditionally publishing or self-publishing. I could write an entire blog post on comparing the two alone. In fact, I’ve wrote myself a sticky note that says I need to now. The two sects of the industry are very different, and are going to have very different effects on your book. Here are some comments I’ve written on that in the past (1), (2), (3).
Step four if you traditionally publish: Look for an agent. This is the site CJ Box recommended during a book signing. An agent is someone who will find publishing houses that might like your book. They cost 20% of your royalties. Since my last royalty check was $8.53, they’re kinda hard to convince to work with you.
Step four point five if you traditionally publish and give up on finding an agent: Go find a tiny publishing house. This publishing house will be ran by a max of five people but they’ll all be super enthusiastic about it! Which is fun! You get to work with people who love art more than money… But also money! This may be your best option if you’re trying to get your debut novel published. Try out this website. It’s how I found Ink Smith. Submittable has an awesome website for finding places to submit work to in recent years. If you’ve written a fantasy novel, let me save you some time: Go talk to Grant Smith at Drakarium Publishing.
Step four if you decide to self publish: Line up your freelancers. Go find your cover artist, figure out if you want or need a social media manager, get a formatter, pick which platform and where you’re going to self publish on. (Pst… Jennapiper does cover art, editing, and formatting!)
Step five if you traditionally publish: Get that contract in your hot little hand. Theydies and gentlefolk, this has never failed me. For my country girls out there: Getting the contract is like getting the ring before you give him the baby. Don’t give your baby up without the binding vows, my dudes.
The reason I say this has never failed me was because the first time I got one of my books under contract, they had two years before the book was forfeit and the contract was void. The publishing house came up with this themselves! I got impatient and held them to that. If you have no enthusiasm for my work now, what’s it going to be like once you produce it? The second time I waited months for a contract, but it sounds like the press went belly up in covid. Heart breaking! Nice folks! Third time was the charm, and the publisher’s editor completely understood my rigidity in wanting a contract once I explained my past experiences.
Contracts also help keep you from a lotta damn hurt feelings in business. Both parties know what to expect from each other, and then you have it, in writing, what is expected from the both of you. You get to make sure you’re doing right, they get to make sure they’re doing right. There’s no room for “But you said…” “But Steve told me…” No. That’s it. So it is written, so it shall be done.
Step six if you traditionally publish: Decide, with your publisher, which freelancers you need. You are traditionally published. You are now working on a team. Your book is now a collaboration. The people at the publishing house do not work for you, they work with you. If you pay them [for anything aside from copies of your books], you are not traditionally publishing, you are being scammed.
By the time I came on to Drakarium Publishing, I came with my own editor, my own cover artist, and I learned to do my own marketing. However, I still got Poor Richard and Grant to chat and approve the cover art. Grant and I were both over the moon with what Richard brought to the table. Because my favorite Richard wasn’t able to do the text, Drakarium Publishing hired another graphic design team to do all of the text on the cover. That being the title, my name, the back of the book, and suchlike. Because I didn’t find a formatter Drakarium Publishing did! It’s all about teamwork, and you need to communicate with the team. Yes, if you are self publishing and reading this paragraph anyway, you will be making all these calls yourself.
Step five if you decide to self publish: Mash the go button and be stressed. It is time to pray and chain smoke. Hopefully, [the publishing outlet of your choice] will accept your cover, and you’ll have measured the dimensions right, and they don’t find too many type-os, and they’ll actually produce your book. For me it was Amazon.
Step seven if you decide to traditionally publish: Mash the go button and be stressed. Buy yourself a cigar. That way your system will be too flooded with tobacco to actually function properly. At least you’ll have a small publishing house filled with people feeling the exact same thing.
Final step for either: Oh sweet Mary Mother of God, we did it. Get with your people and celebrate like you just put a dude on the moon, burn your cigarettes so you don’t raise your insurance, collapse in a heap for 12-24 hours.
Bamboozled again! Now you actually have to sell copies. That is a whole other blog post. The journey with publishing a book doesn’t end with it actually getting published. Unfortunately. There is no rest for the wicked. Now the real hard part begins. Get out there and be proud of all the work you’ve done!
A ton of people have asked me about publishing children’s books. I have both traditionally published books, and self-published through Amazon. I am a fantasy writer who favors YA, although I have written and published outside of my genre. I’ve reviewed tons of children’s [picture] books but I’ve never published one, and unfortunately, I think children’s books authors need to find someone more authoritative than me on that subject. I do recommend traditionally publishing your children’s book, however. Children’s picture books are possibly the hardest genre to get published in because the vetting is so intense. I feel in order to create a successful children’s book, you do need the manuscript to go through that vetting. Self-publishing will not do that for you.
You may not write similar books, and thus will have a different experience. For example: I have no idea what the romance novel market is doing, because most days I’d rather dig my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, than read perfectly lovely books I’d never shame others for enjoying. Go ask my ex, I am a cold, dead, fish.
Make sure your book isn’t anywhere on the internet for free. Many places consider that “published” because no one is going to buy something they can get for free. If you hope to traditionally publish, they need to be able to turn a profit from your book. We’re running out of rich hobbyists, people!
That’s pretty much what happens after you make an entire book, and actually want to show it to other people. I double dog dare you to go forth and learn much more than me, then come back and rub it in my face so I can learn from you.