This isn't a course about how to write a good book; it's about everything after that - what you need to know to get your book on its best possible course to readers. The good news is, you have more options than at any other time in history. Bad news? You have so many options that it can get really confusing. This course will help you make a well informed choice about how best to proceed.
Plot Your Own Best Path to Publishing Your Book
Empower Yourself With the Knowledge You Need to Succeed as an Author
There was a time when authors could succeed without knowing very much about publishing. That time has passed. We're in the midst of a great disruption of the publishing industry, and where once there was one path to publishing, now there are many, with new paths being cut through the wilderness all the time.
It's an exciting time, with many new ways to share what you have to say. But authors can no longer type away in blissful ignorance of the publishing process. You need to come to publishing empowered with knowledge about the process… about the many processes that can successfully bring your book to readers.
Contents and Overview
How do publishers decide which books to publish? How can you best pitch your book to publishers? How can you succeed at self-publishing your book? How do editors work with authors, and what do they add to the book? How are books designed? How are they printed, if they are printed? How are e-books created? Where are books warehoused? How are they sold to retailers? How are they distributed? How do books make it onto the shelves of your local bookstore? How do they show up on Amazon and other online retailers? How do book critics find out about books and choose which ones to review? How do bloggers and other influential people end up recommending books to their followers?
In this course, we'll answer these questions and many more. And we'll help you clarify for yourself what kind of success you're seeking and what type of publishing process will be a good fit for you. When you complete the course, you won't walk away with a one-size-fits-all, step-by-step instruction sheet for publishing. Rather, with a deep understanding of the many possibilities, you'll have the power to make your own best choices to get your book to your readers.
What You Will Not Get Out of This Course
This is not a course about how to write. The success that this course can help you achieve depends on you writing well, and writing well is not something we teach in this course.
It's also not a course about how to come up with a good idea for a book, whether “good” means to you “critically acclaimed,” “instant classic,” or “I can now buy my own island and Scarlett Johansson or George Clooney will play me in the movie.” None of what you learn in this course will make a success of a bad book idea. This course may, however, help you assess whether your book idea is likely to be successful.
What You Will Get Out of This Course
What this course offers you is knowledge, and the power to succeed that comes with it: the power to succeed on your own terms, by making a well informed decision about what path to publishing is best suited to you and to your book.
The modern landscape of the publishing industry is vast, complex, and rapidly changing. This course will give you the map and the compass you need to navigate your way through it to the particular kind of success you're seeking for you and your book. It's an exhilarating age in which to be a writer. We think you're going to enjoy the journey.
There's lots of work that happens between the writing of a book and the reading of it. All that happens in between those two endpoints is what we mean by “publishing” a book. That work includes:
There is more than one way to “succeed” at publishing. And there is more than one way to go about the process of publishing. Only you can decide what a good publishing process and success means to you.
Long-form stories have been shared in many ways throughout the history and pre-history of human civilization. How we share stories is changing again today, and that has implications not only on the art of storytelling but on the business of publishing. But the essence of it -- sharing our stories -- remains the same.
The English-language publishing industry is dominated by five major companies, often known as “The Big Five.”
There are both advantages and disadvantages to pursuing publication with one of The Big Five.
University presses are driven primarily by mission rather than profit, willing to publish books that may have little chance of commercial success but that will make an important contribution to the fields in which the press publishes. While authors published with university presses are unlikely to make a lot of money, publication with these presses often carries considerable prestige.
Indie and small presses are driven by the particular passions of their founders and editors. They are often willing to take risks that The Big Five might avoid. Though some are profitable, many get by on shoestring budgets. They make up for sparse resources with the dedication of their staff.
Amazon is a category all unto itself in publishing, with disruptive businesses in many area of publishing. Though Amazon is best known as an online retailer of books, it is also a publisher of books. Some people in publishing love Amazon, and some hate it. But, as an author, you certainly can't ignore it.
There are many more resources available today to self-publishers, making it a far more viable and respectable publishing option than once it was. Some self-published authors are very successful, and some leverage early self-publishing success into bigger success with traditional publishers.
The book is only one format of many with which we share long-form stories. It is not the original format, and it won't be the last. Mass-produced, printed book sales remain very robust, but newer, alternative formats of publishing are opening new possibilities for more authors to share their stories.
Digital print-on-demand uses high quality digital printing technology to economically print small print runs of books. Though slightly more expensive on a per-copy basis, digital print-on-demand printing dramatically reduces the risks associated with mass-produced offset printed books.
The Internet, the Web, electronic books, and other digital technologies have revolutionized the publishing industry. These technologies dramatically lower the costs of producing, selling, and distributing books. This has made it more viable for many more authors to share their stories.
Hardcover books are the highest quality and most expensive of printed books. They are designed to last for decades or more, and the best are objects of art in their own right. Authors typically receive more money per copy sold, but, because of the higher price, fewer copies will be sold.
Paperback books come in two types: higher quality trade paperbacks, and inexpensive mass market paperbacks. Paperbacks are less expensive than hardcovers. Authors typically receive less money per copy sold, but, because of the lower price, more copies are likely to be sold.
Print-on-demand has come a long way since the early days of this technology. High quality digitally printed books are almost indistinguishable from offset printed books. But there are many other ways to print your book in small batches or one at a time. Print-on-demand reduces the financial risks associated with mass-produced books.
Books can be made by hand in many different ways. Though this method rarely scales to large profits, each individual book becomes an art object of intrinsic value. This may be personally satisfying to writer and reader, and may, in some cases, translate to a high per-copy monetary value as well.
Electronic books reduce to nearly zero the costs of reproducing a book and distributing it to readers. E-books can be sold through established online book retailers, or through an author's own website. The low costs of production and distribution make it possible to publish many more books that would not be profitable enough to justify the risk of mass-produced print costs.
While not new, audiobooks are more easily distributed in the Internet age and are very popular among a subset of readers. There are unique production challenges to producing an audiobook, but digital technologies have put production within reach of individual authors.
All of the previous lectures in this section discuss established ways of publishing your story, but these are not the only ways to publish. You can come up with your own outsider ways of sharing your story.
If you decide to pursue publishing your book with a traditional publisher, there's an established manner in which agents and publishers want you to approach them. First a query letter, which is very short and seeks only to grab the agent's or publisher's attention. Then, either a manuscript (for a novel) or book proposal (for a nonfiction book).
Most important advice: Have a literary agent or literary lawyer go over your book contract with you. A contract with an agent will give that agent exclusive rights, for a specified time period, to sell your book to publishers, work for which the agent will earn a specified percentage of your income from the book. A contract with a publisher will give that publisher certain specified rights to publish and sell your book, with a possible advance and royalties (or, in special cases, a flat fee) paid to you.
Copyright law is robust and, to a certain extent, automatic for authors. But there are still advantages to officially registering your copyright.
An International Standard Book Number identifies a specific edition of a book published in a specific format. It allows retailers to order precisely the edition and format they want to sell, based on the ISBN alone. ISBNs are easily acquired online.
Every writer needs an editor. Even the greatest authors are edited. There are several stages to the editing process, starting with big picture, substantive edits, and finishing with detailed proofreading.
Books are absolutely judged by their cover. And by their paper type, font choice, illustrations, and other visual and physical cues. A good design can't make a bad book a success, but a bad design can hurt the success of a good book.
There are many file formats in which you can publish e-books, but only a few dominate the field:
There are many free and affordable software options for converting your document to all of these formats.
Though there are many printing options, you will most likely either print a large batch of books using an offset printing press, or smaller batches using print-on-demand digital printing. Many factors go into deciding which kind of printing to choose and how large of a batch of books to print on your first order. When in doubt, print fewer to avoid lost costs if the book underperforms. You can always print more.
Sales and distribution don't get a lot of attention in publishing, but they are a critical connection between book publishers and book retailers. Sales and distribution services -- whether in-house at major publishers or outsourced to third-party distributors -- sell to retailers and handle all the logistics of getting the books from the printer to the retailer.
Marketing a book should start very early in the publishing process and continue well after the book's release. Many publishing decisions made along the way are, at least in part, marketing decisions. Marketing is how readers come to know that your book exists.
Now that you know a lot more about your options, consider again what “success” looks like to you, and what kind of publishing process is best suited to you.
You have many options for publishing your book. Now that you know a lot more about those options, it's time to choose the path or paths that you will follow to bring your story to your readers.
Good luck! Let us know how it goes. We look forward to celebrating your success.
Thomas Bell is a co-founder and partner of Chronicle, a brand narrative consulting firm. He co-founded and served as founding program director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival, one of the United States' largest literary events. In this position, he met regularly with all Big Five publishers and many university and indie publishing houses, as well as with book critics, agents, publicists, and writers ranging from internationally bestselling authors to local self-publishers. He has advised and negotiated on behalf of start-up indie publishers, first-time authors, and already successful authors working toward even greater success. He regularly attends and networks at BookExpo, the annual conference of the publishing industry. He has taken private tours of print-on-demand facilities and the nation's largest book distribution facility, and has presented to the full national sales force of Ingram Content Group, the nation's largest book sales and distribution company, at their quarterly sales conference. He was formerly a book critic at alternative weekly Creative Loafing, and the production editor of The Duck & Herring Co.'s Pocket Field Guide, an independent literary magazine.
Bell has always been equal parts artist and sci-tech nerd. He started programming computers when he was 13 years old, coding in BASIC on a TRS-80 Color Computer with 4K of RAM and a cassette tape interface for storage. Shortly after, he had his first paying client, an electronics repair shop that learned through the local Radio Shack that this kid could write for them an inventory program. Today, he gives time and attention to his nerd brain by developing websites and mobile apps, for fun, for promotion of his other projects, for friends and families, and for clients.