(Niceville, Florida; 21 September 2021) – Most writers want to get published. After all, Olympians who wield their foils in front of the world every four years didn’t study fencing only to keep their amazing skills hidden at home, nor do most writers train for years just to wield the pen with magnificent skill so they can entertain an audience of just themselves.
However, just as I cautioned in Part 1 of this series not to put the cart before the horse—you can’t begin honing your writing until you know what you want to write (https://sparks1524.com/2021/08/12/the-writers-craft-how-do-i-become-a-writer-part-1/) , it’s equally imperative you don’t get caught up in ta rush to publish before you have a product you’re confident enough can withstand the steely-eyed scrutiny of not just an editor, but the public itself. The marketplace of ideas is a brutal place; even well-meaning critics can inflict caustic emotional injuries on you if you’re not prepared to face that onslaught with a body of work that is truly and solidly professional.
The 21st century provides a unique advantage and disadvantage to prospective writers in the form of the internet. Our digital century allows anyone with a computer and access to a blog-hosting platform to publish whatever they want. However, that advantage is offset by the reality that millions of people are doing the same thing. The sea of cyber media is so vast and so deep that even an author as brilliant as Shakespeare can go unheard simply by virtue of being lost in the crowd.
I chose to start my civilian publication journey via this blog. I did this by starting to write regularly, regardless of whether or not I had any followers. I then began following and actively commenting on blogs I found interesting. This began the long, slow climb I needed to make. As other bloggers saw my comments (and saw my comments were professional, interesting, and relevant), they began to follow me. Slowly (and I mean slowly) this began to build a readership. One key of this long game is that I keep this blog alive. In the media world, even back in the days of film and three TV networks, if you didn’t keep your product alive and current, it died. Product death happens faster now in the age of attention spans that reach a whopping 5 seconds.
Today you can keep a self-published blog alive with regular entries, but you also need to think about marketing those entries. Using Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media sites can help you get the work out and slowly build your audience, but that takes more time and effort. In fact, doing your marketing can take almost as much time as your blog entries themselves!
For novels and other books, traditional publishing (in which you find an agent) has the advantage of giving you a highly trained professional editor and coach to work with you while the agent then does the work of selling your book to a publisher. The publisher will then employ the long arm of their marketing teams to work advertising your literary wares. Getting picked up by Random House, Simon & Schusters, etc., will open vast doors of advertising and market reach for you. However, your initial profits will be small. The publisher will keep the lion’s share of the profits because, well, they’re in it to make money as well, and they are laying out the $$$ it takes to get those commercials on the radio and those ads on TV.
Going the traditional route can take years. I’ve linked below a few websites I find to be very helpful in searching for an agent. Research the agent you’re reaching out to. Make sure you submit your manuscript exactly how they wish it, no more, no less. The only caveat I’d make is to recommend including a cover letter, even if one isn’t specifically asked for. This shows you’re willing to go the extra mile for professional perfection and allows you a chance to address the agent personally. (One warning: if the agent specifically says not to include a cover letter, then do not include one!!)
I gave myself four years to find an agent for the Accidental Detective series. I started my search in 2018. I had one publishing house string me along, then ghost me. It happens. I’ve received many rejection emails, but all were quite courteous, professional, and a few even gave some specific guidance that did help me along (and showed the agent’s team had at least scanned my work). This is a long long game. If you’re not patient, it’s the wrong career for you.
Due to the pandemic and the completion of the job I had in Washington State last year, I decided to cut the fourth year off my agent search and risk diving into independent publishing. (Note that in the industry, ‘self-publishing’ is a term used by the amateur zipping products off their desk-top printers, whereas ‘independent publishing’ has come to denote professionals who are serious about their endeavours.) There are many online publishing sites you can use. Just as with a traditional agent, you have to do your research!! (I’ve linked some books below that were helpful to me in my research. I get no money from these recommendations, so this is not a sales pitch!).
I used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing to get the first and second Accidental Detective novels, Lion’s Pride and The Norfolk Murders, out last year and early this year. And So It Begins will be publicly birthed the same way early next year. So, yes, I’m a published novelist in the national marketplace, but, so what? If no one hears of my work, then what’s the point of laying out up to several thousand dollars to get my logos legally trademarked, commission professional cover art, and legally register my copyright with the federal government?
You, the independent author, will have to cover the costs of trademarks, copyright registration, cover art, etc. Registering the trademark for the Accidental Detective logo cost me over $2,000. Each copyright I register with the federal government (so the federal government will be my witness in court if someone steals my work) costs around $65. I design my own covers, but my own graphics art background isn’t up to executing professional-grade work. I pay for advertising on some podcasts I listen to and other areas (costs vary). I commission Eric Butler, a prior Navy graphic artist I know, to produce the final products. That costs me $300 a shot. This is one reason new authors get so little money early in their careers; the publishing house is absorbing all these costs in addition to trying to earn a profit themselves. (If you’re interested in commissioning Eric for graphics work, let me know in the comments section. I’ll pass on your information to him or let you know myself if he has to pass due to other commitments)
You have to get creative with your marketing. Social media is a powerful tool, if you know how to use it. I advertise each column and YouTube video on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIN, and MeWe, but these don’t guarantee success. I’m largely depending on word-of-mouth to help build sales. I shamelessly ask those who have read my books to leave a decent review on Amazon if they thought the book was worth it. If not, then I ask them what they thought I could have done better.
I might sound like an expert on independently publishing, but far from it. I’m a rank amateur who has barely begun this journey. There’s no shame in that. All stories, even the story of you getting published, have to start somewhere. This journey can be a joyful, exciting ride that might lead to success, or a nightmare that makes you want to burn your notebook, crush your pens, and take up underwater basket weaving for the rest of your life. Getting published is just as much work, perhaps more, as writing is. It’s a long game, and you have to be able to execute solid time management, set strategic priorities, and manage your money while laying the ground floor of your media empire.
The question, “I want to be a writer. How do I start?” is often posed by people hoping to possess the potential to press a pen to paper, producing prodigiously potent prose while enjoying a luxuriously loquacious linguistic career. Unless you’re truly content to write for yourself, and yourself alone, becoming a writer is not an easy craft to master. However, if you put in the work, do the research, accept proper coaching, and refuse to quit, becoming a writer just might be the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure that opens up whole new worlds in which you’ll find whole new stories to tell!
-Check out my video on this topic at: https://youtu.be/fKwU4D_IxyY
-For help searching for an agent, check out the following links:
-I found the following books extremely helpful as I researched independent publishing:
14 Steps to Self-Publishing a Book, by Mike Kowis, Esq.
Self-Publishing for Independent Authors (A Beginner’s Guide), by Ian Andrews
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