Writing is not the same as publishing.
That may seem obvious to most. However, imagine a new writer, a hopeful author, with a lot to say – this person writes and writes, day after day. The diligent writer amasses 283,472 words exactly. This person then believes that everyone will want to read her story. Why not? The story is sent off to a literary agent – maybe two. Okay, the manuscript is sent off to five dozen literary agencies with query letters and synopsis. Our dear writer is no sloth; she has done her due diligence!
And then the wait commences. Six weeks, three months, six months, a year later… no replies. No responses. Nothing – not even a generic letter or automated email response. Not unreasonable—really— when one considers more than two million new works are created each year in the English language. We can tell you this: The slush pile takes no prisoners. Only the best of the best will be noticed.
Our author is crushed, heartbroken. Vows to never write again….
THERE IS A BETTER WAY! Below is a Quick Guide that outlines the crucial steps involved in successful publishing (read book sales). These mimic, for the most part, the tried and true methods of traditional publishing houses that work for Indie and Small Press authors—especially when the advantages of today’s new world of publishing are added into the mix.
Let’s back up a minute and examine what our aspiring author could have done to have a better chance at succeeding in today’s publishing market:
- Manuscript Overview. You’ve spent many hours writing your manuscript – It’s time to invest in a Manuscript Overview (MOV). What’s that? It’s a process whereby you send your work off to a trusted, experienced editor. This editor will read your work and give you professional, genre-specific feedback: tell you what’s good, what needs work, if your manuscript is ready to publish. If you have a literary agent or work with an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, you would send if off to them for feedback. If you don’t have one of these (yes, it is like trying to get a loan from a bank, the bank will loan you the money if you don’t need it…), then you may want to consider our manuscript evaluation service. It can be painful, but every author who has used it says that it is the only way to go. Most of our authors consider it like taking graduate courses in storytelling. A MOV really helps to hone a work.
- Build Your Online Digital Presence. At the same time as the Manuscript Overview is going on, begin strengthening your on-line presence through interactive social media. These days, even Fiction authors need a platform. Facebook is still a good way to do this, as is Instagram. If your book is science fiction, maybe you should try Reddit. Whatever you do, invite your targeted readership community into a relationship on the platform where they can be found. The thing to understand is publishers are looking for authors who already have a following who can be motivated to purchase books.
- Line Edit. After you’ve incorporated the suggestions from your Manuscript Overview into your work, and have had several trusted brutally truthful beta readers to thumbs up the story line and characters, it’s time to send it off to a Line Editor. What? Yes, you heard me. Your work will require a LINE EDIT that insures that each and every sentence makes the story move forward. Line Editing is defined as a thorough and focused reading of the manuscript on a line-by-line basis with suggestions, comments, and remarks noted for the author to consider. Take the extra time and send your work off to a professional, experienced editor who will examine your work to make sure you’ve hit all of the plot points, your characters are believable, your story is solid, that it doesn’t sag anywhere, and that the opening is a grabber. Take the time. Do this step.
- What’s next? While your work is with the Line Editor, we hope that you are developing the next work in your series or researching your next story idea. Every agent, every publisher will want to know what you are working on next. Series sell.
- Cover Concept. Begin developing cover concepts for your work in progress (WIP) by selecting key elements of it. Your cover should convey time period, location, genre, targeted audience, and story elements. These cover elements should be reflected in your marketing collateral (biz cards, website background, social media elements, etc.).
- Fresh Eyes. After incorporating the LINE EDITS that were suggested, we advise that you have another set of fresh eyes read the work. Perhaps, a second independent manuscript overview. This can also fall under the responsibility of your literary agent or publishing house’s acquisitions editor. If you don’t have either of these, then use an independent consultant. See Item 1 above. Professional Fresh Eyes are the Traditional Publishing Houses secret weapon.
- Copy Edit. Now that the story is solid, it is time for a COPY EDIT. Copyediting is a very technical read of a work for flaws in grammar, punctuation, syntax, consistency in spelling, numerals, hyphenation, etc.; flagging any inconsistencies that have made it past the Copy Edit such as eye color, name spelling, location, timing from point A to point B. Copy editing also tracks any internal inconsistencies in the story (conflicting abilities or inabilities, location inconsistencies), etc. This is where the story is held accountable to the publisher’s style guide and to the story’s individual world building construct.
- Cover Design. If you are indie-publishing or even hybrid publishing, you will need to seriously consider investing in your cover design. Your book has less than 3 seconds – that’s THREE seconds to attract a potential buyer. If you have the chops to do this yourself, that’s awesome. But most authors don’t. Think about it. You have an awesome book. You’ve spent time and money making certain of it. Why wouldn’t you want to put as much time and attention into a cover that will work for you instead of against you? A good cover doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars, but you do need to hire a professional cover designer who understands your genre. The cover will sell your first book. Your content will sell the second the book.
- Author Brand. Create your bio’s. You will need a 100-word, a 200-word, and a 500-word biography to send to agents and publishers, to slap on your sell sheets, to place on the back of your book. The three bio’s will work for different applications. Have these ready to go. You will need professional head shots that reflect your author brand. Get it done.
- Proofing. Proofreading is the final step of the writing process. It looks for purely grammatical errors, typos, and spelling errors only.
- ISBN Designation. BISAC CODES. Meta Data. The “alphabet soup’ part is extremely important in getting your books into the hands of booksellers and into libraries — more on this in a later post.
- Professional Formatting. This is a mystical process that takes your manuscript and transforms it into a book, digital and print. Lack of professional formatting is the reason booksellers can spot a self-published book (besides the cover). They can spot it at a hundred paces. It is best left to professionals—in our not-so-humble-opinion.
- ARCs. Advanced Reader Copies for Publishing Industry Professionals and for your Beta Readers. These are needed for launch reviews and for regional independent bookseller trade shows (SIBA, PNBA, NCBA, MPIPA, GLIBA, —more alphabet soup). Use your ARCs to start lining up book-signings, author events, promotional tours, and to create book buzz.
- Advance Reviews – make sure that you have professional publishing industry reviews ready to go for the launch (press releases, industry news, etc.) and for the cover blurbs (front and back!).
Before you hit the publish button, send your work off for a professional, unbiased review. Traditional publishing houses know that advance professional reviews set the tone for consumer reviews. Reviews are considered to be the cornerstone of any book’s marketing strategy.
- Trade Shows & Distribution – Do you want your book to be available to independent book stores across the nation? Then it must be available in traditional distribution channels and on display at the regional independent bookseller tradeshows. This cannot wait until the last minute. Shelf space is hard to come by and shows are not inexpensive.
- Proof and Edit again! Formatting issues discovered in the ARCs taken care of?
- Publish and Launch- Digital and Print! Do you have your promotional events on the calendar? Your social media postings calendar ready to go? See item 13. How is that website looking? That is the first place any publishing professional (read literary agents, acquisition editors, etc.) will check if you garner their interest. What will they find when they google your name and the title of the book? Will they find a flurry of posts or will your info be on the eighth page down on a Google search?
Imagine the polish that following these tried and true methods of traditional publishing will bring to your published work!
Honestly, there are even more things an author can do to ensure that her book has the best chances for publishing success. Enter a writing contest, go to book events for other authors, arrange a signing at some place other than a bookstore, talk to people, take workshops, participate. It may feel overwhelming when you start, but when the connections and preparations start compounding and spreading, it can be life—and career—changing! You will be thankful that you took the extra effort. And your work will be ready for whatever may come its way!
Chanticleer Editorial Services (CES) is proud to have some of the best line editors, copy editors, proof readers, world construct editors, indexers, book formatting professionals, and others in the publishing business on our team. We have secured some of the best from the Big 5. All CES editorial work must start with a manuscript overview. It is the only way that our professional editors will proceed to edit a manuscript (that is how important they believe manuscript overviews are to a work’s commercial and literary success).
Sharon E. Anderson is an award-winning author and Chief Reviews Editor for Chanticleer Reviews and International Book Awards. Creating and editing content – as well as editing/writing reviews – and outreach are just a few skills she brings to the table. She writes dark comedy, horror, short stories, articles, and essays whenever she gets the chance. She lives in Skagit Valley with her husband, two children, two dogs, a couple of cats, and a sketchy Guinea pig. We are so fortunate to have someone with her talent and experience on the Chanticleer Team! Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kiffer Brown, founder of Chanticleer Reviews, is also founding partner in SillanPaceBrown Publishing + Production + Agency, LLC. SPB uses these tried and true traditional publishing methods to prepare intellectual properties to become fully actualized in the extremely competitive entertainment industry.