Some comments on my Facebook page made me realise that many people out there - and some reading this - may know very little about the business of publishing. Many of them may look at JK Rowling, Celia Ahern and Dan Brown and figure it's an easy way to make lots of money. So here are some things which may seem obvious to anyone who has been involved in the business, but which many others don't know about publishing:
· Write your book first. Or at least, write most of it. Most agents and publishers are going to ask for a completed manuscript, not a proposal. This means that you may be writing it not knowing whether it will ever be published. Accept that the only person who ever enjoys your book may be you.
· A full-length novel should be between 75,000 and 100,000 words.
· Once it is written, you have a choice about how to publish it. The traditional route involves sending your manuscript, or a query letter about it, to agents or publishers. The other option is to self-publish, either as an ebook through something like Kindle Direct Publishing, or via what used to be called a Vanity press, such as Authorhouse or a smaller indie press.
· If you choose to self-publish, you pay for the publication and you do all the marketing. In most cases you design your own cover, write your own blurb, and have complete control over your book. It won't be edited, and it's likely your "publisher" won't even read it. It's hard work, it's expensive, you will lose a lot of money and your book will have little credibility in the market.
· Assuming you want to be paid for your work, rather than paying for it, you then choose whether to send it to an agent or publisher (or both). Agents will take a cut of your royalties, but they will do all the hard work of selling your book to a publisher, and will probably get you a much better deal than you could get for yourself. Agents tend to be more approachable than publishers, and you will generally need to submit to them by a query letter and a chapter or three rather than sending them your manuscript. To get their attention your query letter needs to be some of your best writing.
· Do your research first. Check out the websites of agents and publishers, and only send your work to those who are open to submissions in the genre you have written. Check what format they want it in and submit according to their guidelines. First three chapters only? Email or hard copy in the post?
· It's extremely rare to be offered an advance for your book - money up front to secure the right to publish. And advances tend to be relatively small - about £3,000 ($5,000). Bear in mind that this is an advance on royalties. Not only does it not mean that you won't get more money than you would with a normal arrangement, but you will need to check whether you have to pay it back should your book not sell as well as expected.
· It's more usual once a manuscript is accepted by a publisher to be offered a contract which awards you back 10-15% of receipts, sales or cover price in royalties. But don't plan what to spend it on, because not only is it impossible to predict how well your book will sell and thus how much you'll get, but royalties are, naturally, paid in arrears, so you may not get anything until up to a year after your book hits the shelves.
· It can take up to a year from your book being accepted to you holding it in your hands, and there's a lot of work involved during that year, mostly editing and advance marketing, much of which involved terrifying deadlines. Get used to it - you will be expected to put in your fair share of marketing and promotion of your book.
· You can't get too precious about your book. The publisher will design the cover, ask you to rewrite parts, write your blurb and even rearrange your chapter divisions. Mine even changed the title and wrote my bio.
· Writing will not make you rich and famous. Royalties from most books are not enough to live on, and even Jacqueline Wilson, Children's Laureate here in the UK whose children's books have sold millions, was asked at a party what she did for a living. When she answered "I write books for children," she was asked, "What name do you write under?" If you want to be recognised in the street and asked for autographs in restaurants, act in films, don't write books.