So you have a manuscript. You have a critique group and they’re awesome. They’ve given you loads of suggestions and you’ve revised at least ten times. Maybe you’ve even hired an editor and your manuscript has never looked better. It’s finally time, you think. Time to approach agents. Or publishers. Or maybe you should self-publish, you think, because that’s definitely a thing right now.
You stare at your manuscript, uncertain. What’s the best thing for your project?
1.) Step back and take a look at your manuscript as if you are not the author.
This is a tough thing to do. You’ve spent months, maybe years, developing the characters and plot. You’ve become a part of this story and it’s your baby. But the hard truth is this: it’s no one else’s baby.
Publishing is a business. It’s a creative business, yes, but still a business. After the sales of my first few books, I started to realize that I could love my stories while still being able to see them the way a future editor or prospective reader might. I developed the ability to detach myself while still being the story’s biggest fan. It helped get me into the business mindset, and that mindset will help you make the best decisions for your project.
2.) What kind of story is it?
Have you written a category romance or a young adult novel? Is it a contemporary new adult or a sweeping historical drama?
It’s not the biggest news that new adult has become the “It” thing for self-publishing, but traditional publishers—especially digital-first imprints—are also taking on new authors in this category. So are agents. If you can write two or three solid new adult or adult romance manuscripts every year, self-publishing could be a successful and lucrative option. Keep in mind that romance readers are fast readers, and to stay on their radar, releasing more than one novel a year is important.
Then there are some other categories, like young adult, that don’t generally do as well when self-published. The latest numbers say that mostly adults are purchasing and reading YA—not young adults. But we still don’t hear about a lot of indie YA titles going crazy in the ratings, right? The data also says YA e-book sales are down. Because of that, the best thing for your YA manuscript might be the traditional sales route.
Doing research on comparable projects to see how they were published and how well they seem to be doing is vital.
3.) What do you want your role to be?
There are pros and cons to both traditional publishing and self-publishing. These days, authors cannot just sit in their writing caves, closed off to the rest of the world while they create. There are always exceptions to the rule, but social media presence is a must. Even traditionally published authors are required to do a lot of promotion for their books, online and in-person. That being said, traditional publishing does offer some perks: an advance against royalties is probably the best one.
Advances can range from four figures to six, and they depend on many factors. But even a small advance is something to help fund your writing career—even if it doesn’t pay all the bills. Cover design, formatting, copyediting, and proofreading are of no cost to you, and there might even be a marketing budget for your book. Selling copies into brick and mortar stores across the country, and being pitched for book festivals and conferences are other perks.
Then again, many Indie authors I know love being able to design their own covers and release their books when they want to. They have total control over the book from start to finish. They may have to do all the marketing and in-store selling, but even traditionally published authors are being tasked with organizing their own blog tours and signings. Plus, the Indie scene is full of supportive self-starters these days. It’s a real community.
What is most important to you? Are you capable of handling (and funding) all aspects of publishing? Do you want control of your product and pricing? Or do you think you’d rather have those helping hands, even if it means giving up a portion of control over your book? Or maybe you want both. Hybrid publishing is also taking off, and many well-known traditional authors are leaping into the Indie scene.
4.) Do I need a literary agent, or can I send my project to editors?
If you’ve decided on the traditional route, yes, I’d highly recommend a literary agent. I do know of a few un-agented authors who are multi-published, but generally speaking, agents are a necessity. The benefits of having an agent far outweigh the disadvantages. For example:
- Agents can negotiate for better advances and contract details.
- Most editors at major publishing houses will only accept agented submissions, though there are some smaller publishers and imprints, and digital-first lines, that accept unagented submissions.
- Agents usually know what editors are looking for and are better able to target a submission.
- If problems arise, your agent can mediate.
- Agents often help their clients develop a clearer trajectory for their writing career.
The only downside? They take 12% to 15% of all royalties. But for what an agent does to help advance your career, it is a small price to pay.
Some Indie authors are also searching for agents in order to branch out and go hybrid. Having an agent is like having a business partner. I can’t say enough great things about teaming up with an agent. I’ll write another post soon about querying for agents, and another on how to help make the agent-author relationship work for you.
The publishing scene is always changing, and as writers, we have to be willing to change, too. However, knowing your goals and strengths as a writer is going to help you make the best decisions for your current project and ultimately, your career.