Now that you’re armed with that dream destination and a basic plan to get there, it’s time to get professional help in order to take your book the rest of the way toward publication. I am not suggesting that you are incapable of doing many of these things on your own, but learning a new skill takes time and in the world of publishing, professionalism in editing and cover design can make or break your career before it even begins.
Much has been written about the art of delegation and why the investment of time or money into getting help actually makes financial sense in the long term. The bottom line is that you should focus your time and energy on the things only you can do—the writing—and look for others fill in the gaps.
Tool #1: If you want to go the traditional route to publication, get an agent. While some of the smaller presses still accept submissions directly from authors, more and more publishers are letting agents do the manuscript screening for them. There are still opportunities to pitch an idea directly to an acquiring editor at a writing conference, but even then it’s helpful to have an agent to follow-up with any submissions or (hopefully) contract negotiations.
There is a lot of debate out there about the benefits of having an agent or going solo and it all boils down to what you want your career to look like and if that path would benefit from an agent’s help, especially when negotiating the terms of a multi-book contract.
If you decide to get an agent, you’ll first start by mastering the art of the pitch, query, synopsis, and proposal. If done well, these tools will help capture the attention of the agent with the essence of the story and in turn give an acquiring editor all the information they need to convince a publishing board to offer you a contract. The beauty of a well-crafted pitch is that it can also lead to the creation of enticing back-cover copy and other marketing pieces that you’ll also need if you go the indie route.
A simple Google search on how to write a great book proposal or how to write a query letter will lead to a ton of online resources. A few comprehensive articles that I recommend are found are at agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog (on book proposals or query letters), Jane Friedman’s blog and a free download from a Writer’s Digest article. If you can track it down, former agent Terry Burns had a beautiful little ebook called “How to Pitch and Promote Like a Pro” that helped introverts craft and deliver the perfect book pitch to use in an elevator, conference appointment, or opening paragraph of a query.
Once you’re armed with a well-written query, it’s time to knock on the doors of a few agents. One of the most comprehensive lists of agents can be found in the Writer’s Market Guide or in their online database at WritersMarket.com for a low monthly or annual subscription. You can also find agents by searching the appointment lists at writer’s conferences or even looking at the acknowledgments pages of books by your favorite authors in your genre. However, not every agent represents (or continues to represent) every genre.
So, before you send off your query, research the types of books or other authors that specific agent represents then comb through their guidelines to make sure you send exactly what they want. Even take a little time to stalk their website or blog to discover their pet peeves so you don’t accidentally burn the bridge you want to cross. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable to query several agents with a “simultaneous submission” but NOT copied in the same email. Personalize your query to that particular agent if possible and make sure you spell their name correctly.
Getting an agent can take a very long time and you might see more rejections than interest at first. Consider this part of the learning curve to becoming a career author because you’ll need that thick skin later when it comes to public reviews about your book. While a form rejection or silence could mean your craft or pitch need more work, requests for a full manuscript and even a personalized rejection are evidence that you’re getting closer to getting your foot in the door. Keep in mind that individual preferences vary widely and stories abound about agents who turned down a book that went on to sell millions of copies.
Tool #2: Work with a professional editor to polish your story. Like we talked about back in the “Build a Book” section, it’s important to get extra eyes on your words to help shape the big picture, individual sentences, and then catch all those tiny proofreading errors. If you sign a contract with a traditional publisher, they will pass your manuscript on to their staff editors, but if you choose the indie route, you’ll need to find and hire someone on your own.
Where does one find quality editors? The best place is through word-of-mouth in your various writers circles. If you know an indie author, ask them for a recommendation of who they use. Even if their editor is booked solid, they might be able to recommend someone else. Join an indie author Facebook group or other online writing community and start eavesdropping long before you need to hire someone.
Since I write inspirational romances, I’m also aware of a network of Christian editors and proofreaders. Their sister organization, Christian Editor Connection gives authors the chance to connect with professional editors who are looking for work. I’m certain there are similar networks within the indie community since a quick Google search led to the Independent Editors Group based out of New York City and freelance editor listings on Upwork. You might also be able to find a good editor through a listing in the Writer’s Market Guide. Whoever you find, remember to start with a sample edit and then be very clear about your expectations, the price, and the time frame.
The editing process can be another opportunity to develop that necessary thick skin, but it’s important to continue being professional in all of your interactions. Be prompt when it comes to deadlines and if there is a potential delay, communicate early and often. Remember that a staff editor from your publisher has a vested interest in making your book the best that it can be, but they also are in tune with the publisher’s guidelines and the reader’s expectations as they shape a story. That’s why it’s important to pick your battles when it comes to accepting or rejecting changes.
If an editor can quote the Chicago Manual of Style by sub-section, it’s easy to defer to their expertise. If they got confused in a certain section, chances are that readers might also and you’ll want to reword to avoid the virtual speed bump. But if you’ve gone along with most of their suggestions, then when you need to stand your ground to defend a few other spots with good reasons, your opinion holds weight rather than be thought of as a whiner who complains about everything.
Even if you hired the editor yourself, a sour experience can make them turn down your next job. Not to mention, they have friends in the industry and might have gossiped about the nightmare author who was impossible to please. Publishing is a small interwoven community, so don’t burn bridges. I’ll say it again. Be professional in your interactions.
Tool #3: Aside from a quality edit, a beautiful cover can make or break a book’s success so find a talented cover designer. Again, if you’re with a traditional publisher, they will handle this task themselves but usually ask for your input for cover ideas and opinions about the finished product. If you’re indie publishing, you’ll either need to figure out Photo Shop layers yourself or hire someone.
Outside the recommendations of other indie authors inside your writing groups and online communities, check out Upwork to find freelancers or check out the list of custom cover designers at BookBuzzr. There are also sites like The Cover Collection or The Book Cover Designer where premade covers in multiple genres are simply waiting for your specific customizations. Online graphic design places like Canva.com have added an ebook cover option but if you add a print version, you’ll need to adapt that image later to add the back cover and spine.
If you use CreateSpace as your print-on-demand printer, their tools will generate a customized template to accommodate the trim size and actual page count of your book. That template can then be used by your cover designer to create a comprehensive full print cover as well as the standalone ebook front cover.
When it comes to designing a cover, one needs to know more than the finished size of the book. With my traditional publisher, I had to fill out a cover design form that would be equally helpful for a private designer. I provided them with the genre, a synopsis, the story hook, the setting, the theme of the story, the mood readers would sense at the beginning and at the end. I also included detailed descriptions of my hero and heroine as well as a few pictures of the actors or models I used as inspiration while writing the book. I also found a few competitor covers that I liked in my genre and offered my opinion of whether I’d prefer a couple, a single character, or just a setting on the cover. My preferences were not contractual obligations, but did provide the cover designer a place to begin.