What if I told you there was a secret password, or magic code, or mystic gatekeeper who you could invoke, so your work would be picked up by a major publisher and it would remain on the bestseller lists for weeks or months, be translated into 50 languages and turn you into a household name. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Unfortunately, however, it isn’t the case.
This post will therefore be less about ‘secrets’ and more about ‘strategies’ to make you and your work a ‘good bet’ for publishers.
1. Pimp your CV
Have you had any of your work published previously? Short stories … essays … even an entry in a 200-word short story competition are all feathers in your writing cap. Look into writing fellowships, or writing courses where there is a possibility of pitching your work to a publisher at the end.
2. Do your homework
Target publishers who publish similar works to yours. When you submit a manuscript proposal to a publisher, follow their submission guidelines TO – THE – LETTER. Synopsis of 300 words? That doesn’t mean that 1500 words will be better, it could actually mean your hard work will be ‘archived’ into the rubbish, sight unseen.
3. Be a reader
Know the books in your genre. How is your book different? Be aware that, if your book is too similar or derivative, if there’s already a glut of post-apocalyptic-war-against-the machines books in the market, for example, yours might not get up, no matter how brilliant it is.
4. Talk to booksellers
What are your local booksellers reading? What books do they recommend to customers? It pays to be a little schmoozy with the people who’ll sell your work. Be aware of overstepping the line, however. You don’t want to pester them to stock your book, or rearrange their store so your book takes pride of place, because that’s a sure-fire way of ensuring THEY WILL NEVER SELL YOUR BOOK AGAIN.
5. Know the lingo
So you’ve scored yourself a contract? Great! Now what? Know the lingo – your publisher will need to work up a P&L for your book, which will include sunk costs, projected sales and discounts to booksellers so they can arrive at a breakeven figure. Then the publishing process will begin – with copyediting, typesetting (laying out the book) and proofreading often performed inhouse (or with freelancers like me 🙂).
What’s an average author contract? When I was at the Bellingen Writers’ Festival recently, the industry insiders panel agreed that an advance, on average, is $7000 for fiction authors, and $5000 for non-fiction authors. First-time authors can expect royalties of 10% for the first 1000–5000 copies, then 12% thereafter. If your book sells overseas, royalties can be 25% (but the RRP is probably lower so the payout may end up being less).
6. Don’t give up
Maybe the traditional publishing route won’t be the best option for you. Think about your potential readers – if they consist mainly of friends and family, then self-publishing with a short print-run of a couple of hundred copies will be a better bet. Self-publishing involves higher costs initially, but affords more creative control and greater potential return on your investment.