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The Two Paths To Publishing
For lack of better terms, there are generally two paths:
• "The Established Publisher" Route
• "The Self-Publishing" Route
There are many possibilities within each, and some places where they can converge. This is what I have been able to gather thus far...
"The Established Publisher" Route
Option 1: Seek out publishers directly and pitch the novel idea to them (through a "query letter"). This can often be a "numbers game", but can be more successful depending on both the size and nature of the publisher. For example, if you are writing a fantasy novel and aim for a smaller publisher that specializes in the fantasy genre, then there will probably be a higher likelihood of interest and follow-through.
Option 2: Seek out a literary agent (i.e.: someone who already has connections to editors and other people within larger publishing companies) to pitch your novel for you. Most literary agents are not paid any sort of wage; instead, they take a percentage of the profits you make. They often function something like a manager for one's writing career, so it is important to choose them carefully and have good rapport with them. If they are honest, they will also let you know whenever your novel is declined and why so that you can make it better.
One can register for a copyright for a fee of ~$85. (They will probably ask you to send in a physical copy of the work.) It isn't wholly necessary to register a copyright in this manner as copyright is "automatic" as soon as a work is created and reliably dated in some manner. However, before doing any of this, you may want to do so. If someone tries to take off with your book idea it makes it easier to deal with legally. Some publishers will actually register a copyright on your behalf as part of your contract.
In either of these options, it is very important to have a clear contract (or to gain a full understanding of a contract by hiring an attorney to review it before signing it). It is very likely, especially with a larger publisher, that they will offer to buy the rights to the book itself if they like it (rather than hiring you as an author). If an author is not careful, they can lose complete control over that work, lose the ability to do any more books in the series, lose royalties if the intellectual property branches off into other media, etc. This can be especially heartbreaking if a publisher buys it and never even takes it to print. In this case, it is up to you whether the money you are offered "flat-out" is worth it.
One last thing, some publishers have certain criteria that must be met in order for them to even consider reviewing a work (e.g.: it cannot have been pitched to another company beforehand or made public in some way). Therefore, if you have already self-published somewhere online (such as on "Kindle Direct Publishing"), then you might be asked to remove it.
"The Self-Publishing" Route
Option 1: Go with a "self-publishing service". These are companies that offer packages at various price points that will guide you step-by-step through the publishing process. For example, depending on the service, they can help you to:
• Edit your book (as some have editors on staff, or will put you in contact with a professional editor)
• Design a cover for your book (which can range anywhere from hiring an artist/graphic designer to make it to your specifications, to putting together clip-art for you)
• Register for an ISBN ("International Standard Book Number”, the 13-digit number on the back of most books; they cost ~$125 for a single title in a particular format. So, if you wanted to have a book published as an ebook and a paperback, or in separate paperback and hardback editions, then it would be ~$250, even if it is the same title. This can be important as most booksellers will not agree to sell a title without an ISBN. The barcode is another thing.)
• Get your book printed (in various sizes, qualities, and quantities)
• Get your book reviewed (by newspapers, magazines, book award organizations, etc.)
• Get your book into various bookstores (either online and/or brick-and-mortar shops)
• Advertise your book (through online ads and/or print ads)
One must do some research to make sure that the company they go with is reliable though. For example, some self-published authors seem displeased with iUniverse.
Option 2: Do everything that a "self-publishing service" would offer yourself, and/or outsource it to people who can.
The perk of this option is that you are in control everything (incl. the copyright of your work). If you are frugal, you can also save a lot of money versus Option 1. However, the demand of time and attention may not be worth it to you. But, if you have something tangible in hand, sometimes a publishing company may express interest in reprinting it and promoting it on a larger scale for you. This is an example where the "Established Publisher" and "Self-Publishing" Routes can converge.
What I see most self-published authors do nowadays is write, edit, and do the cover design of their books themselves (or get their family, friends, and acquaintances to help wherever possible). Then, they release it as an ebook, and buy paperbacks of their work in bulk to try to sell them every which way they can. [Note: If you cannot buy in bulk, there are also Print-On-Demand publishing companies that will produce books for you every time someone buys one from you.]
They will often start up a website (with good ad copy and use of keywords) and various social media accounts (with lots of engagement towards their target demographic) to promote that work. And, depending on their lifestyle, go to conventions to steadily bring it more attention, network with other authors and artists, etc. They essentially become their own business.
Whenever we go to comic conventions to sell art, my friends and I often come across at least a few novelists (usually of the sci-fi or horror genres). A couple of examples:
• Dollie E. Williams
• Sarah Eriksen
Authors can be pretty friendly people who are more than willing to talk about their experiences in publishing. Some of them even run their own publishing companies of varying sizes. If getting published still interests you, then it might be worthwhile to contact a few people like this first.
I sincerely hope that all of this helps! Thank you for reading! ♥