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124T – Understanding the Basics of Publishing

A friend of mine asked me to help her understand a little about publishing because her father had written a novel and she wanted to make sure he didn't get taken advantage of. This is some of the information I shared with her.

There are two main ways to publish a book – traditional publishing, and self-publishing (also called indie publishing). When sending your book to a traditional publisher, there are four things to consider.

  1. Ask a lot of questions of other authors, especially ones who are currently working with the publishing house(s) you are interested in. This is most helpful before you sign a contract.
  2. Remember that money flows to authors, not from them. A respectable traditional publisher doesn't charge authors for anything or ask them to pay for anything. The publisher is taking a calculated risk that your book will sell enough copies to reimburse them for the editing, cover design, interior design and formatting, etc. That's why an author only gets 5-25% royalties. If the publisher wants to charge the author for editing or other items, consider this a big red flag.
  3. Do a lot of research on companies you're submitting to (same with agents, if you pursue one). Do an Internet search for “ABC Publishing House reviews” and see what has been written about them. Keep in mind, some authors will be on a rant about something that is not the norm, so don't judge a company on just one review. However, a lot of angry authors should make you think twice. Be sure to check the dates of the posts you read to make sure what you're reading is current.
  4. If, after all of your research and submissions, you get an offer from a publishing house to publish your book – celebrate! After you've danced around a bit, take a deep breath and understand that the next part of the process will take some time. It can take months to finalize a contract and get the first check. (You don't generally get the full amount of your advance at once.) While the legal department is working on contract negotiations, your editor will have already started you on your edits. Don't be worried about doing a lot of work on your book without having the signed contract. Keep in touch about it, but don't worry. Again, an agent can help smooth over this process if you want to pursue an agent as well.

This is just a brief overview of the process, but I hope it helps you feel more confident about what to research, what questions to ask, and what to expect. Good luck!


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