How do I get published?

In my opinion, the decision of which publishing model to choose boils down to two essential things: ‘control’ and ‘who pays’. An appropriate visual would be the graph I've drawn below. Think of any publishing model as falling between these two variables. Basically, I think of control as referring to who owns the rights to the book and with that comes publishing responsibility (couldn't resist riffing off the Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”). The other variable, ‘who pays,’ is simple - it’s either you and/or someone else. There is a reverse side to the ‘who pays’ coin and it is ‘who benefits.’ The more you pay, the more you control issues such as royalty and profits.

What about literary agents? Where do they belong on this graph? Some workshops I've attended think of literary agents as a subset of traditional publishing and I tend to agree with this categorization. Literary agents are the gatekeepers to some publishers. If you manage to land one, great! If not, don’t sweat it, according to a literary agent I spoke to. Anecdotally, only 5% of North American books published go through literary agents. On the ‘who benefits’ side of the coin, note that literary agents usually get 15% commissions on domestic sales of your book, which will come from your pocket. However, like any expert, they will leverage their connections to ensure your book succeeds, and some may do editing. An agent might be well worth the back-end investment.

I've come up with a simple grid to help you make your choice. After all, not everything is a good fit for everyone.

Publishing Model
What it is
Did you know?

1.     Self-publishing 

§      Publish at your own expense i.e. pay for your own
-          Editing
-          Book Cover
-          Book production
-          Figure out distribution channels
§     Control you own the rights to your book.
§     Royalties – you keep what you make after costs. e.g. Amazon from 35% to 70%
§     Requirements – your ability to coordinate all the above.

§      Anecdotally, an average self-published book sells approx. 100 to 150 books.
Crowdfunding is a viable option to financing your book.

You could use e-book publishers or print-on-demand services that offer to put together your book and distribute for a fee e.g.
§    Smashwords
§    Createspace 
(Amazon owned)

Other resource
2.    Traditional publishing

§     Publish at someone else’s expense
-      Send your material to a publisher directly and have support from editing through to book production and distribution.
§     Control publisher buys the right to your book. Majority of creative control for book covers, editing, title etc belongs to publisher.
§      Royalties – some publishers offer advances, which is money towards writing your book. Contracts may stipulate a 20-25% royalty on gross or net sales.
§      Requirements (vary) – typically, have to send a query letter and then a book proposal (including sample writing)
§     You will still be required to work on your book's marketing
§      It is supposed to be easier to get a publisher than a literary agent.
§     You typically have to earn out the book advances e.g. if you are given $1,000 advance and have a 20% royalty on a $10 book (i.e. $2 per book), then you’ll have to sell 500 books to earn out the ‘advance’ before actually receiving a pay cheque for subsequent sales.

3.    Literary Agent

§      Publish by leveraging an expert in the industry to represent you.
-      This is a variation of traditional publishing. You get an agent who supports you and gets you into a traditional publishing house.
§     Control publisher buys the right to your book. Majority of creative control for book covers, editing, title etc belongs to publisher.
§     Royalties literary agents negotiate contracts on your behalf and may get a commission of 15% (domestic sales) - 20% (foreign sales/films) of your total income.  
§     Requirements (vary)  typically, have to send a query letter and then a book proposal (including sample writing)
§      Only about 5% or less of books published are represented by agents.
§      Anecdotally, there are about 20 legitimate agents in Canada, about 150 in NY and about 150 in London, UK.

Make a mental checklist and see what works for you. As with the story you are lovingly crafting, don’t half-ass any publishing approach. And by the way, these publishing models are not mutually exclusive. Some successful authors initially self-published their books and ended up getting picked up by traditional publishers. 

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