Advice and Assistance
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I could not count the number of conversations I'd have in the book store about publishing options. Even after, friends who had heard me go through the options for authors seeking publication would email me and ask me to talk to another friend. So, here is the break down. You have to choose the best option for you:
There are a few publishers that will take unsolicited manuscripts. They are few and far between. Unless you are willing to go digital with the later option on print, if they deem your sales good enough. These imprints have started with most major publishers in 2016 and look to be gaining in popularity.
Pay attention to what they look for and that you are a fit. An agent will take a percentage of what you make for finding you a publisher.
Once they find you a publisher, which takes time and patience, there will be further waiting while they proofread, edit, format, cover create, etc.
The whole process is 2-5 years.
Read your contract carefully. I'd even see a lawyer to make sure of what you are getting yourself into. I've yet to see a traditional publishing house that didn't have first right of refusal, which means they will get to read your next work before anyone else.
Make sure you don't have to pay back advances, I haven't seen this for about two years, but you want to make sure.
There are hundreds or thousands of small publishers out there, and there are as many differences as publishers.
Rule one! Don't pay them. If they are a real press, you don't pay, they do it! All you pay for is personal books for sale.
This is where you have to again get a lawyer or/and read that contract carefully.
How long is your book theirs?
Royalty payments and percentage?
Advertising? Media assistance?
I'd suggest writing a few of their authors, asking questions to see what their experience is like.
Yes you can do this all yourself!
Make sure someone reads over your novel. First for an opinion. I don't mean someone who is just supportive but someone who will really tell you what they think.
Hire an editor. Yes this can be costly but when people find blatant issues in your books that can cause them to not want more. I don't edit (I'm sure if you look around this site you can find why) at this time I don't have an editor to suggest.
Formatting, your book should be well formatted to industry standards.
Cover art. You can look around amazon, any writers group or do random searches and find some very horrible covers. I've made a few because that's what the author wanted, and they didn't want to listen to my advice. Those examples are typically not anywhere to be found on my portfolios (view these on pinterest).
There are lots of ways to get books:
Lulu (I find too expensive and hard to work with)
Amazon (now with hardcovers)
(and many many more)
Such as BookBaby that has recently popped up, still more expensive than Amazon, not as expensive as Lulu.
There are as many options as ways to download. The biggest at last check are still Amazon (kindle is the only ebook I currently format as they are 85-90% of the market).
Smashwords gives you several companies in one (but can be a pain). I haven't used Smashwords in years, they gained a reputation for erotica and books that should have never seen the light of day.
I'm currently using Kindle Select but can recommend Draft2Digital if you want more options.
There are also lots of companies and individuals that will help you, including me. You can email me what you need.
http://pred-ed.com/ (check out anyone you are going to do business with in the pubishing industry, or ask me. The database hasn't been updated in a while.)
http://absolutewrite.com/ (specifically the water cooler, truly like standing around talking to others and their experinces)