Whether you are a fiction or non-fiction writer, it helps to understand the entire life cycle for a book. If you are just getting started, here’s a short primer to set the ball rolling.
Writing the book
Your writing will fall under two broad categories – fiction and non-fiction.
In a novel (another label for fiction books) is where you create a plot (imaginary or inspired by the real world), characters (that your readers will love or hate) and bring them to life with your narration.
The sub-genre (romance, thriller, fantasy, young adult, humor, chick-lit, erotica, horror) will decide the twists and turns in your plot and the tone, style of writing.
For the non-fiction genre, it could be self-help, history, philosophy, business, biography or a host of other themes. Publishers and readers of the book will take you more seriously if you are already considered a subject matter expert in that area.
Writing the manuscript is the easy part, relatively speaking. The fun starts after you have a manuscript ready.
Choosing between the various publishing options
Traditionally, when people spoke about getting published, it would be safe to assume that they were referring to print publishing. The internet has opened up newer avenues to get published.
However, traditional publishing is still alive and kicking. Publishing houses offer multiple options from print publishing to digital publishing.
Vanity publishing is also a thriving industry and is an option for authors who don’t have the inclination or the patience to go through the relatively torturous mainstream publishing process. This is where the authors pay the publisher to print out a pre-defined number of copies on their behalf.
Finding an agent or going solo
If you choose to go down the traditional publishing path, you’ll need to line up in front of the publishing company that specialises in your genre and pitch your idea (for non-fiction) or plot (for a novel). The initial letter or email that goes out to the publisher is called the Query Letter.
If your concept for the book gets the publishers interested, they’ll ask you to send across the manuscript (or the first few chapters). It’ll then lie in a ‘slush pile’ for periods that range from several weeks to several months depending on how big and popular the publisher is.
Due to the volume of queries that publishers get, several may insist that you approach a literary agent first who can represent you. Agents can play a key role in getting your work in front of the right publisher, helping you with the legalities of the contract and managing the various print, movie and digital rights. In return, they take a commission from the royalties. The process of pitching to literary agents is similar – Query letter et al.
Getting the publishing contract
If you have never seen or signed on a legal document, the publishing contract can appear pretty intimidating with a lot of clauses that seem to cover everything under the sun. The advance you’ll get will also be mentioned in it. Other aspects include – the royalty, copies in the print-run, scope of work for future editions (in case of non-fiction). Most the textual part is part of a standard template that has evolved over time to safeguard interests of both parties – the author and the publisher.
The editorial process
Don’t assume your initial manuscript will go into printing in its original avatar. Even if you thought you have created a masterpiece before your submission, the publisher will have other ideas for the book. If you are working with a traditional publishing house, you’ll have an editor assigned to work with you. It’s the editor’s job to work with you to make the book better before it ends up in bookstores.
Each chapter, sentence and word would be scrutinized to see if it takes the story forward or is just adding to the word-count. Gaps in the plot, structural/logical flaws (if any), would need to be fixed. For the publisher, your book is more than a work of art. It’s a product that needs to generate revenue. So, commercial aspects also need to be considered.
Then there are the aesthetic elements of designing the book cover. Unless you are an established name in the industry, most readers will judge your book by its cover. So having a relevant, eye-catching and impactful cover can help book sales.
Book Marketing and Promotion
As with any product or service, a book needs to be promoted. This is a task that authors generally, as they are more comfortable with the artistic part. Many feel that the business elements of book publishing is something that their publishers should manage independently.
Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Unless you are a superstar author with a saleable brand name within your genre, it’s most likely that your book will not automatically draw in the crowds by the sheer power of your storytelling.
Typical promotion activities associated with books are the book launch, book trailers, book-signing, internet marketing (through author blogs or websites designed specifically for each book), contests, networking events, workshops (for non-fiction books), speaking assignments. What you do will be limited only by your imagination.
Building a brand
If you don’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder (the probability of your first book becoming a best-seller are remote, but for a few fleeting moments of euphoria let’s assume it does), it’s very important for you to start building your brand.
Your first book would have given your readers an idea of your writing style. It helps if your subsequent books fall in the same genre, as you’ve already got an audience who knows you as the brilliant writer that you are. With a loyal reader-base you aren’t building your readership from ground zero.
Give your readers something to look forward to. Build the anticipation. And ensure that you deliver the goods to meet their expectations.
So there you are. A single blog post can’t give you all the answers, but hopefully this will give you an idea of all that you need to do to write a book and get published. There’s a whole lot of information on the internet about each of these phases. So roll up your sleeves and dig in.