Literary Q&A: Where Should I Publish My Unfinished Manuscript? (Series #6)

This week should be shorter, I have our weekly question, plus an announcement.

I am almost done with my book, where should I publish it?

This question has a roundabout answer. First of all, if you haven’t finished your book, you are looking too far ahead, in my opinion. Not only do you have time for it, my reason is that things change often in the literary world. Agents move to new agencies, or move to publishers, some leave the industry, and others begin their own businesses on occasion. If you did all the work of looking up your agents–putting them in a spreadsheet like I teach in this post, and preparing to query like I show in this post–before you’ve finished writing, by the time you are ready to query (if you’re going to go traditional) any amount of the information may have changed. Right now with COVID, it’s hard to say who is doing business. Most agents have other jobs that provide their income, and some are trying to work from home with children and aren’t taking submissions. Agents also change their wishlists at will, so you may query an agent who is no longer interested in your genre niche months later. You don’t want that.

You have time. Finish your book first. Make it great. If your book isn’t GREAT you aren’t getting a Top 5 publisher or imprint. It’s still possible to get a smaller publisher, but I talk often about not needing an agent for a small publisher (I explain why in this post). When you’re done writing your book, you’ll need to spend a few days at minimum–two weeks if you can or longer–away from your first draft before you start to edit. At this point, you can start setting up your spreadsheet and looking around if you are going traditional. Indies, start the marketing plan (in this post).

You may want to send out your first draft to beta readers (What’s a beta reader?), but I prefer to go through the manuscript at least once before showing it to others. You MUST have someone other than yourself, and preferably other than your mom, read your book before you try to query it–and certainly before you self-publish. If you can get several “someones,” go for it. Have them give you as thorough a critique as they will. It’s best to have a few of these and compare advice to one another, unless you hire an editor. In that case, take the professional’s advice over your peer in a writing chat. Not that editors don’t get things wrong–they do–and if someone is that upset about it, let them show you their reasons, or don’t. It’s ultimately up to you. It’s your book baby. Just have the ability to step back and look at it objectively when it’s complete.

Hopefully, by the time you have gone through a few rounds of self-editing, like we talked about in this self-editing post, and you aren’t finding mistakes anymore, you’re ready to start with publishing. Now hear this: 80% of the authors who queried me as an agent, just “weren’t there yet.” Meaning, I had to pass all the time, because there was still too much work to be done to take the manuscript on. I could see it had talent, I could see the potential, but as an agent, it wasn’t my job to fix manuscripts, it was to find the ones ready to publish. When you’ve only got one shot, people, take it wisely.

I have a very good author friend who is chronically unsure, they nearly-complete the book but won’t ever believe it’s ready to be sent in. Edit follows edit, and read after read shows more places to “tweak.” They get nervous about missing their chance with an agency, yet they can’t stop making tiny adjustments. You reach a point where if you mess with it any more, you’ll ruin it. It’s probably just an old saying, but many authors feel this way. Know when to quit nit-picking your manuscript.

If you plan to be an indie author, you aren’t looking up agents to query right now, but you’re making a very similar letter to send out to reviewers. You want 10 reviews right away. People balk at reading books with fewer than 10 reviews, and some sites require 10 or more reviews to purchase their ads. For a Mad-Libs version of how to write a great book review, click here.

So, to answer your question, “where do I get my book published?” That first depends on (1) your goals and desires, coupled with (2) how good your book is and (3), if it’s ready.

A lot of people still have an issue with self-publishing because many authors have the same thought process: they want to publish traditionally, with a Top 5 house and so they query a book that isn’t ready yet to the big publishers and get turned down, then they edit a few more times, now it’s pretty close, so they send to a few small publishers and, not receiving a contract there, they edit again and self-publish. Many people think this is the process. The Top 5 books are the best, everything else is okay, and self-publishing is a last resort for those who couldn’t make it elsewhere. That’s bunk. It is, unfortunately, also a reality. But not everyone’s. Self-publishing gives the author the greatest amount of control to market their books. Many authors are proud to be indie. I am. I started “traditional” but now I’m indie and that means I work dang hard to be where I am. And I’m proud of myself, and my hard work.

My own family believes the myth, however, and though I am doing fine with my books, I will query my next one to a publisher, because I want to show my family that I can do it–I am indie by choice. If one must do all their own marketing, like with a small publisher, you might as well have the control to make the necessary changes and tweaks needed, and see sales information to know if ad campaigns are working.

Marketing your book(s) is a full-time job. If you have a Top 5 house, with a marketing department and budget, they are mostly marketing for you, trying to make sales for you and the publisher. But if you do not have the backing of a knowing media person with connections and a budget, and the ability to put you in Barnes & Noble–if you have a small house, or are self-published–you are in charge of all your own marketing. Why would you want to be in charge of something that important and not have control over it?

So, once you make your decision on whether to go for traditional publishing or self-publishing, you’ve GOT to make sure you have a great book and that it’s ready. If you’ve planned, and done your research, if you’ve edited, had it edited by someone else, had beta readers, edited again, and again until you find no more mistakes, and you’re confident you couldn’t have done any more without ruining it, you’re ready.

If you are traditional you should research who published other books like yours in the Top 5, if that’s where you want to be. Things are strange right now, but normally I’d advise you to go to the bookstore and sit in your section with a big ol’ coffee and look at who published the books like yours. Then you want to find agents who publish with them. It may say the agent’s name in the “Acknowledgements” section at the back of the book.

Nowadays, I’d look up the books in your genre on Amazon, and click to see who their publishers are, then go to www.publishersmarketplace.com and pay $25 for a one-month subscription to see every deal made and recorded between every agent and publisher. You can see what agencies sell to Top 5 houses and which don’t. Trust and believe me when I say that not all agents can get you a Top 5 contract. Some go out of their way to appear like they do, and say they do, when they have no recorded contracts with any major house, or possibly one in total.

If the agency doesn’t have the contacts to make deals with Top 5 publishers, it won’t matter who you are or what your book is about, they don’t have the connections to get you the contract you want. So don’t query them. You’ve got one shot with each agent, and that means the whole agency in some circumstances, so make sure you’re ready and then edit once again. Lol. And send out to a targeted group of agents and/or publishers.

If you are not this interested, but still have a strong desire to be labelled “traditional,” skip the agents and go for a smaller publishers. Small publishers take author submissions (Many of the Top 5 will, too), so pitch your book to the publisher with the same query letter you would’ve written for an agent (How to write one here).

Reviews and author opinions of the Top 5 houses are pretty easy to find, but make sure to check out any potential small publishers as well. If you need to talk to a few of their authors first, they should be willing to give the names and emails of a couple of their authors that you can talk to. Go to the publisher that fits whatever preferences you have. I can’t begin to tell you all the different publishers and what may make them different. But there is a host of small publishers out there who are merely self-publishing authors that want to make more cash so they call themselves a “publisher,” and self-publish your book, then charge you 60-70% of your sales–and they do no marketing. You are at the mercy of whatever skill they do/do not have. Please be aware of who is publishing your book–they will OWN your copyright and your book. Don’t get so frustrated or desperate that you settle.

If things aren’t working out, go back, get another beta reader set, edit again. Perhaps you need to shelf the book and write your next one instead. Tell yourself you’ll come back to it when you need something new. I wrote five books in the last two or three years that I didn’t publish. And that’s okay, too. If you are learning fast and each book gets better when you write them, as they seem to, and you want to turn in the very best version you’ve written, that’s fine.

It’s your journey and no one has the right to tell you how to travel it.

As for indies, I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I know they are a big bully in the consumer world, and that they buy smaller companies out of business, so as a seller, they scare me. Amazon will one day rule the world. Mark my words. But as a customer, I adore Amazon and having prime with zero shipping. I don’t even go to Target or Walmart anymore, I just order it on Amazon and it comes in 2 days. My husband jokes that my daily Amazon package is here… Lol.

I published with Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and things have run smoothly. I recommend them if you are going indie. They set up everything you need with Amazon and they’re easy to make changes with. (Most small publishers are now using KDP to publish their authors, too.) They’re always willing to work things out with me. I get mad at the algorithm sometimes, too, but there’s nothing we can do about it. You just have to learn how to play the game and keep your cards close to your chest. Follow all the rules and market the best way you can. If you want to know how I got from ranking in the seven millions to where I am today, read this post.

So, where you publish is up to you and depends on if you choose trade or indie. But focusing on having a GREAT book is your number one priority until you do. Then, shoot for the moon. Send out to the right agents and go for that Top 5 house, or send out to small publishers who will do the self-publish part for you (which is only a half-hour process but takes more than half of your sales), or publish it yourself–as I said, it may take you 30 minutes to fill out the forms to self-publish, granted you have already looked up on Amazon to see how they want you to format your pages.

Still, you can begin to self-publish, and save your work to come back to. You don’t have to lock yourself into publishing right away. Take your time, be comfortable, there’s no rush. Plan, think smart, then do.

Okay. For the rest of today’s message– new covers! Yes, again! As you’ll notice from that marketing post I have linked above, having a cover that readers of your genre love is ESSENTIAL to making sales. Amazon likes to group items together. Unfortunately, since my first book’s title was The Key of F, I wasn’t even being listed with the other books, but in home repair, with key fobs and lock and key items. Sometimes with home improvement books or lock fixing tutorials. Nothing about that title screams YA or fantasy or romance (my genres and age group). And though my subtitle is literally my genre, and my description was full of keywords, my title was throwing off my sales. So was my cover. I tried to go with the current trade books and do the “dark background with spot-lighted single object and scrollies” design, but it really didn’t convert. I am glad I had my covers branded, though, to look like the same series.

I discovered I can change my ebook title, however, if I were to change my paperback title, it would require getting a new ISBN, and thus I would lose 37 reviews and start over at 0. No thank you. So I decided to have new ebook covers made with a new title for Book One: Princess of the Blood Mages. Like it? Much more “fantasy romance.” So, this week I will be going through my social media and changing the title, cover and description for book one and the ebook covers for books two and three to go with it. The paperbacks will retain the spot-lighted objects and go together, while the ebooks will have a different design and go together, as well.

I’d love your opinions! Tell me, is this better than what I’ve had before? You guys have been through several covers with me already, so you might be tired of it, but I enjoy looking at new covers. In these, to go along with the YA trend of “dark background and lone female in fancy dress, lit by colorful magic,” I had my designer do just that. The cool thing is both my paperbacks and ebooks have the same color schemes: Blue for one, purple for two, and red for three. First, here are the paperbacks again:

And here are the new ones:

Secrets from Fale’s past haunt her—and visions of the future might hold the key to her legacy. 

Having vivid premonitions that come true is unusual, but for Fale it’s part of her routine once she turns eighteen. She has no idea why.

When one of those premonitions allows her to save Keron—the guy she loves—their destiny is sealed, and their lives are in great danger. 

She suspects it has something to do with the sacred key her father entrusted to her as he lay dying. She was eight when she found him brutally beaten and watched him succumb to the injuries.

Now hunted by thugs who want to steal the Key of Effailya, Fale and Keron must rely on themselves until two mysterious benefactors offer them protection and answers.

Fale needs to protect the Key of Effailya at all costs, but she needs to know who is behind the plot against her. The enemy is powerful and ruthless, and holding the sacred key might kill her like it killed her father–unless she accepts the magic that courses through her veins and learns how to use it.

Before the triumph of evil forces, can Fale rise to the occasion and perform a duty she never knew was hers to carry out?

A fast-paced YA fantasy that will have readers racing headfirst through the pages.

★Are you ready to embark on this adventure? One-click, today!★

Tell me what you think, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, go read them for free! That’s it for today. Just remember, It’s okay to be a glowstick; sometimes we need to break before we shine. Have a great week!

~jenn

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