I had no idea of how to publish a book so I reverted to where most people go to learn something about things they know nothing about – Dr Google.
The first thing I learned was that getting a book published is hard! Much harder than I’d envisaged. Trying to contact a publisher interested enough to take a call or consider reviewing your work as a first-time author seemed a bridge too far. I looked to author associations in the hope that there might be a simple cookie-cutter guide and there were some helpful sites, but nothing that had me convinced of a path I should follow. There were consultancy services available regarding book publishing that you can pay for, as well as advocacy groups, but I simply couldn’t find something that I felt comfortable with as a direction to pursue. Seeds of doubt were taking root.
My random stroll through the many sites offering publishing services led me to an interim step that I thought might just help me to gain the confidence needed to proceed or to step back and be satisfied with what I’d done. I discovered that there is a thing called an ‘evaluation edit,’ which promised to answer questions like:
· Is the manuscript actually worth publishing?
· Is it a quality manuscript?
· Does it need a major overhaul or is it ready for publishing after a basic proofread?
What immediately came to mind on this option was that this was the first time I’d thought of my work as a manuscript. It seemed like real ‘author speak’, which I didn’t yet feel applied to me. It involved a professional editor reviewing the entire manuscript and delivering a report that outlined strengths and weaknesses and what might be accomplished with revision in certain areas. This now seemed like such an obvious path to take. If it was found worthy of being published, I figured that the evaluation report would be an asset that I could refer to when approaching publishers. I paused when I read how much such a service costs. There were several hundred dollars required up front and for every word above 75,000 words, an additional charge. At that time, ‘The Shadow’, ran to over 250,000 words. So now I had to make a decision about applying funds to my ‘hobby’, which again had me questioning if this was a path I should take. So far, the only real costs I’d had were for printing. To take this next step was going to put my investment with an uncertain outcome, into a new stratosphere.
My wife and I had a chat about it. She was very supportive, making the point that I’d come too far and invested too much emotional energy and spent too many nights at the computer, not to have the story professionally assesses. So that’s what we did.
While waiting for that assessment to come in, I spoke with a bookshop owner (he was not aware that I was considering publishing) and he told me how hard it is in the industry. I learnt about the low margins available for authors through traditional publishing channels, particularly for first-timers. And of course, any margin at all only comes if one is able to find a publisher willing to take a risk on your book. There was also the issue that if I was able to convince a publisher to review my work and take it on, it seemed that an author had to largely hand control over how their work might be promoted and presented to the public. I needed somewhere to get advice and I now regret not signing on as a member of the Australian Authors Association earlier. I have since done that and will look to that forum for support in the future. Their website documents a wealth of information about their programs that seemed to provide the types of support that I needed while writing The Shadow. They can also guide the publishing steps. I’m unsure why I didn’t sign up earlier. I think I just didn’t have confidence that my work could survive the scrutiny that would be involved in sharing it with professionals to whom this stuff is second nature.
Coming back to the money that can be made (or not) from writing and publishing choices, I was horrified to learn that first-time authors of traditionally published books generally receive less than 10% (closer to 5%) of net revenue. The rest goes to the publishers and all of the people in their supply chain that take the work, ready it for publishing and then print and distribute. Of course, there are a lot of factors that make that amount variable, including book genre, the reputation of the author (I am starting from scratch there…) the publishing method and the number of books sold. Ebooks generally deliver a higher margin for obvious reasons. In my case, there wasn’t going to be any writer’s advance before publication, which will often be the case with authors that have demonstrated success in the past.
After 4 weeks, my evaluation report arrived in my inbox.