Let’s Talk Career Direction

Want to be published? Want your book out in the world to be read by a bunch of strangers? If you’re serious about writing, then the answer is probably, “Uh, yeah. Duh.” Sure we love the stories we craft and we love the act of writing itself, but the point (for most at least) is that other people read and enjoy that writing. *Okay, so how do you do it?

Well, there’s a tricky question. Back in the day, it used to be easy. Take it to a publisher. If it’s good they’d publish it. Then publishers got too busy and too big, they had too many submissions rolling in to address them all.  Enter agents. Gatekeepers of sorts. Today, most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts–meaning it has to come through an agent. If you look at the “Big Six,” Hachettte Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Random House all require a literary agent. MacMillan and Penguin do not. (It will be interesting to see which way Random Penguin goes–yes, I will always call it that). Smaller and indie presses, like Dalkey Archive PressPress 53, Entangled and Month9Books don’t require an agent, but having one can get your manuscript read sooner. There are also publishers like Angry Robot and it’s imprint Strange Chemistry that have open submission windows for unrepresented authors once a year (please note that AR and SC’s links go to last year’s open door. They haven’t announced one for 2013 yet).

So what does this mean? Basically, if you want to publish traditionally, you should look into getting an agent. If your dream, like mine, is to see your book on shelves in major stores, an agent is the way to go. It is almost impossible to get a store like Barnes and Noble to shelve your books if you self-publish or go with a tiny publisher.

But.

If you don’t care about that. If you just want your book published and out in the world, there are a lot of other options. Musa Publishing, for example, is an e-book only press if you still want the backing of a house. OnStage Publishing is a small press that produces both print and e-books. Or, you can self-publish. Amazon and Create Space are frequently used formats for self-publishing e-books. The problem with them, though, is the volume of self-pubbed books they have available. How do you make yours stand out? How do you ensure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle?

This can also be a matter of concern if you go to a small press. Small publishers may not have the time or money to market your book. You may have to do most, and in some cases all, of the legwork. This means literally going to stores and libraries and begging for your books to be shelved, school visits, blog tours, websites, tweets, Facebook–getting a presence online and in the real world. Online, obviously, is more important for e-books. For every self-published e-book that makes it big (I mean Amanda Hocking and, yes, E.L. James big), there are millions of others that are barely read.

There’s something else to think about if your long term goal is seeing your books on shelves in major stores. If you have already published on a small scale, low sales numbers could scare potential agents and big houses away. I’m not saying it definitely will, an excellent book is an excellent book, but there’s always that chance. So I caution you to think about that if your plan is to start small and go bigger.

It boils down to this: where do you want your career to go? There is no right or wrong way. Each person has their own path and what works for one may not work well for another. Timid and shy people (like me) may have a hard time self-promoting, they may need the marketing of publishing house, or an agent backing them. Outgoing folks may be able to market up a storm.

My recommendation? Imagine your book. Dream as big as you want. Do you see it on shelves in big stores? Do you see it on the top of Amazon’s e-book list? Do you see it in local libraries and in the hands of friends and family? Whatever it is, go do it. Query agents if that’s the route you want to go, or hire an editor and self-publish, or send it out to those small publishers. It doesn’t matter how big the dream is. Go make it happen.

I leave you with the song that’s been playing in my head as I wrote this post. Runnin’ Down a Dream. Now quit procrastinating on the internet and chase that dream!

*This is by no means an all inclusive guide to publishing, and doesn’t even come close to listing all the publishers out there. I intend this as something to get you thinking and maybe highlight some options or issues you hadn’t previously considered. Do your research. Google is your friend!