Around 150,000 books are published each year in the UK. How can you make your ‘book’ stand out and succeed? What options are available to you? Where do you begin?
Publishing is about a series of ‘judgement calls’. Experienced publishers, agents and editors have a good sense of what works and what will sell. You just know when you hit upon something ‘really special’. This is exactly how we felt when the first few stories of Five Lives arrived in our inbox.
What followed was eleven months of editing, refining, designing, illustrating and marketing in order to make sure that the ‘finished product’ was as good as it possibly could be. In order to achieve this, we worked in partnership with the five writers, so that they were involved in every decision regarding “their” book.
Please note that this isn’t the way most publishers operate – but this book is different. From the outset, it was about much more than the end ‘published product’, the process of getting the book ready to be published was equally important.
Not every story will end with a publishing deal. Many people write just for themselves. However, if this is something you would like to pursue, we’ve pulled together our ten tips to help you along the way.
- Decide on the route you want to take. So much has changed in the publishing world in recent years. No longer is the publishing industry solely dependent on agents and traditional publishers. Self-publishing can be a way to get your book published – and many authors choose to take this path. However, it is not difficult to produce a book – the hard bit is selling it. You may also wish to consider publishing your work as an e-book (and this, too, is something you can do yourself without the need for a ‘traditional’ publisher or agent). High street book stores are no longer the only way for authors to connect with readers.
- Start small and build a name for yourself. It will help you find a publisher if you have a track record in writing. (Although this isn’t necessarily the case, as our Five Lives authors discovered). You might like to think about entering short story contests, writing for magazines or submitting a story to Shortbread Stories. Perhaps there are also guest blogs you could write, articles for newsletters or websites.
- Approach the right publisher in the first place. More often than not, publishers will specialise in particular areas. They build up lists of titles that are targeted towards specific markets. Do your research and find out what other books they have published. Always check to see if publishers require you to go through an agent – otherwise if you send them an unsolicited manuscript, it will be automatically rejected.
- The big publishing houses almost always work exclusively through agents (so that will be your first step if it’s the route you want to take). Good agents will work hard at finding your book a good home and helping you to get a good deal (although this is in return for a commission). Finding an agent isn’t easy either. A leading agent will probably receive 2000 manuscripts a year and take on a maximum of two new authors. That’s a success rate of less than 0.1%!
- Make sure you always read the submission guidelines of any publisher. If they request the first three chapters of your book – then make sure that’s what you send them. You may wish to send out a one-page ‘query letter’ in the first instance, in order to create interest in your book idea. Make sure you detail the contents of your manuscript, as well as the market for your book.
- You must have a clear idea of who will buy your book – and how your book will satisfy the needs of readers and make a difference to them. It is a good idea to check out the competition. How will your book differ and be better? Is the market already too over-crowded? Why is now the right time to bring out your book? Make sure you set your book apart from the rest.
- Think about the 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place, promotion. The ‘place’ (or placement) of your book is really important. How will you ensure that your book reaches its readers? Initially, it was envisaged that Five Lives would be sold through bookstores – but a much better idea was to target organisations supporting vulnerable people, and make copies available through their settings and services.
- Be prepared to promote your book. The author is the publisher’s best marketing tool! You should consider attending book launches, book signings, press interviews and social media campaigns, to name but a few.
- Think about the other ‘spin-offs’ from the publication. For the Five Lives publication, we have created free ‘Notes for Tutors’ to help others set up therapeutic writing groups, the Five Lives website and we are considering launching our own ‘Writing for Therapy’ awareness day.
- Have a little patience! Although Southgate Publishers always endeavours to respond to initial ‘query letters’ and emails straight away, not all publishers do! Infact, it may take up to 6 months before you hear back from a publisher. Don’t forget … If at first you don’t succeed, then do keep going and try not to be discouraged by rejection.