Publishing Basics

So You Want To Publish a Book (Post 3): How Should You Publish Your Book?

So you’ve taken the time to make sure your book is well-edited.  Now you have to make a tough decision.  Do you find an agent, submit directly to a publisher, or self-publish?  I’m not here to tell you what to do.  That’s not my job.  But what I am going to do is give you some guidance.  Below I provide some main points to help lead you in the right direction to you.

paths in publishing

The most important thing you can do is follow your dream.

I’m dead serious when I say this.  Too many times we let other people live our lives for us.  If you follow your own dream, you are much less likely to have regrets in the long run.  If your dream is to find an agent who might find a big publisher who can get your book into bookstores, Walmart, the grocery store, etc, then pursue it.  Try to find the agent.  If your dream is to find a small publisher who will take the burden of having to upload your book yourself, design the cover, provide editing services, etc, then submit to a small publisher.  If your dream is to self-publish because you want full control, then self-publish.

Early on (2009) when I got serious about self-publishing, I had a lot of people who argued with me over my decision.  This ranged from family to friends to strangers who sent me emails.  So I know what it’s like to feel the pressure when other people don’t agree with your choice.  But in the end, I wanted full control.  I didn’t want some publisher telling me what I could or could not include in my book.  I wanted to write my story my way.

Sometimes I see authors on forums arguing with a new author who tells them he wants to go with a traditional publisher.  So it’s not just those who want to self-publish that deal with the negativity.  This comes from all sides.  Be prepared to have to disappoint someone, whether they are close or someone who happens to email you out of the blue.

If you want to seek advice, ask questions from others.  Gather as much information as you can.  Do your homework.  Then make the decision that is best for you.  I know it takes courage to go against the tide and to do your own thing, but I also think the rewards are so much better if you pursue your dreams.   Things we often regret are the chances we didn’t take.

This doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be successful.  You might not be.  But isn’t it better to take the risk and find out than to never know?

Rules of Thumb If You Choose To Look for an Agent or Publisher

This is not an exhaustive list, but they are guidelines to help you get on the right path

1. Money flows to the author.  If an agent or publisher wants money in order to represent you or publish you, run away.

2. Do your homework on the agent and/or publisher.  What other authors do they represent?  What is the quality of those books?  Do those books seem to sell well on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, etc?  What marketing does the publisher do for the authors?  Does the publisher pay the author on time?  Feel free to email the authors the agent or publisher represents.  They might not respond to your email, but it never hurts to send a message.  Asking questions is how I came to learn most traditionally published authors aren’t earning a living at writing.  (The average self-published author isn’t making a living either, by the way.  From what I’ve researched, it’s still not the norm.)

3. Realize small publishers might not be able to do as much marketing for you as large publishers will.  Regardless of the agent or publisher you get, prepare to market your own books.  Don’t expect someone to hold your hand through everything.

Rules of Thumb if You Choose to Self-Publish

1. Be willing to invest time and money into your product.  Tell a compelling story.  Get a good quality editor.  Get a good cover artist (unless you have the skill for this already).  Take time to learn how to format a clean manuscript or pay someone to do it.  I know it’s a huge pain to put the money into the book, but you are competing with a lot of high quality, low-priced books.  I’m surprised at how many authors skimp on this area.  Why should a reader invest in your book if you aren’t willing to?

2.  This is not a golden ticket to the easy life.  You’ve probably heard the stories about a few authors who self-published and made a killing in sales.  Keep in mind, these are outliers, not the experience of the average self-published author.  Can you make money?  Yes.  How much?  You won’t know until you put books out there.  But I promise you sales are up and down and often unpredictable.  Your mileage will vary depending on your genre, what the market wants, and other forces outside your control.  So embrace the fact that your journey is a huge question mark when you start it.  (The same is true for traditional publishing, by the way.)

3.  Do it because you love writing.  If you think sales is going to make you happy, you’re wrong.  Money, sales rank, and recognition are an illusion of happiness.  They might provide a temporary high, but the high doesn’t last.  There’s always someone more successful than you.  There’s always someone who hates your work, and they might even hate you because you had the nerve to write it.  Sales don’t always go up.  There’s a point when they go down.  Someone might steal your book and try to make money off your hard work, and Amazon isn’t always willing to remove the stolen book.

There are a ton of reasons why this is a hard path.  Lasting happiness comes from doing what you love most and focusing on it.  When I stopped worrying about all the external factors, I got my joy back.  Now, regardless of highs or lows in sales, I’m happy.  The reason I’m happy is because I’m enjoying the process of writing.  So my last piece of guidance is to focus on what you can control and let go of the things you can’t.  It’s not easy, but it makes a world of difference in how your emotional health.

Categories: Publishing Basics

“Hey, That’s My Idea!”: When Works of Fiction are so Similar You Want to Sue

This morning an interesting story showed up on my Facebook feed: Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the Avengers movies, was hit by a lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement. In the lawsuit, an author by the name of Peter Gallagher (not the actor) alleges that Joss Whedon and the film company Lionsgate, among others, stole the idea for the 2012 movie Cabin in the Woods from his own self-published novel The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines, which he first put out in 2006. Apparently both the book and the movie have similar premises (spoiler alert!): a bunch of teens go hang out for the weekend in an old cabin, they’re attacked by monsters, and they find out they’re subjects in a horror-film scenario run by a strange organization or group. Gallagher also says that several of the characters in both works have similar names and personalities. No word yet on what the defendants in the case say or whether the lawsuit will actually go through or be thrown out of court (for the full story, click here).

Strangely enough, something similar happened to me last year. I was on Facebook and I saw on my news feed that a movie company that produces really interesting horror movies was getting ready to release a new film and had just uploaded its first trailer online. When I read the synopsis of the movie and saw the trailer, I was instantly reminded of a short story I wrote back in June 2013, one with an eerily similar premise and which I plan to expand into a novel when I get a chance. I will admit, the thought to sue did cross my mind.

But I didn’t. This was partly because I’d never published the short story. I’d sent it to a friend who recommended I expand it and I did speak of it one or two times on my blog, but beyond that it’s been languishing on the shelf until I feel it’s time to start expanding it. It’s a little too much to suppose that they somehow found a single post on my blog back in 2013 or maybe even hacked my flash drive and used that material to create their movie. That sounds more like a conspiracy theory or something.

Not only that, but I felt that what I was going for with my story set it apart enough from the movie in question that I didn’t need a lawsuit. And finally, I’m just finishing up my undergraduate degree. I have no time and none of the expenses for such a lawsuit, even if I was inclined for one.

But just because I didn’t feel that copyright infringement had happened here doesn’t mean it never happens. There are quite a few cases where judges have found that movie producers or book writers or TV showrunners have owed someone money over a possible infringement. Some ways to prevent yourself from being caught in either the plaintiff’s or defendant’s side include, of course, to seek out every copyright protection you can get. For example, with every book I publish I make sure to send it to the US Copyright Office first. I know, technically publication or sending it to myself in the mail is considered copyright enough, but it helps to have federal protection.

Another thing to do is, if you suspect that someone’s infringed on your copyright, that you do as much research as possible. See if you actually have something to worry about. Also remember that there are plenty of stories that have similarities (like Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down have similarities, for example), so keep that in mind while you research. It could turn out your work and the work you’re researching only has a few similarities, and the ones there are just the kind anyone could come up with.

But if there’s enough resemblance that you can’t pass it off as just a few coincidences, then perhaps you might want to see if a few more people see the resemblances. If they see them too, then maybe you should consider consulting a lawyer.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I’ve never had to worry about this. If anyone has experience with this subject, please let us know your story and tell us what happened. We’d love your feedback.

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on this Whedon-Gallagher story and see how it turns out. Because this could be our story. Anyone of us could go through this, as any one of us could have a copyright infringement lodged against our own properties simply to con us or someone could steal our works and sell them for their own profit. And we need to watch so we know how to fight it and keep it from happening to us.

Categories: Copyright, General Writing, Publishing Basics, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where to Publish (For New Writers Who Are Looking to Self-Publish)

Below is a video Janet Syas Nitsick and I did on publishing, specifically self-publishing.  The question came in, “What places can an author publish his book?” In this video, we answer this, but I’ll include the highlights below so you can read it instead if you wish.

There are two main options you have when you self-publish.  

1.  KDP Select (which means you can only publish through Amazon).

Amazon has a program called KDP Select which is exclusive.  It means you can’t publish anywhere else.  (You can, however, publish your paperback in several places.)  This exclusivity applies to the ebook.  And you must be exclusive with Amazon for three months.  After that, you can upload your book to other sites.

When you enter Amazon Select, your book will be automatically put into Kindle Unlimited (KU), which is a subscription service that allows people who pay for it to borrow KU books.  If someone reads 10% of the book, that counts as a borrow.  Each borrow doesn’t earn the same as a sale.  For example, if your book is $2.99, you will make 70% off that sale.  When your book is borrowed, you get a portion of whatever Amazon has decided to put into the pot for the month.  So if Amazon decided the pot is going to be $3 million, it will divide up that $3 million with all the borrows that were made on Amazon that month.

There are pros and cons to the Select approach.

Pros include: Amazon gives preference to these books.  For example, the book will come up more easily in searches.  Borrows count toward sales ranking, which can also help toward better exposure.  It is only three months, so you don’t have to be locked in for a long time.

Cons: While some books do well in Select, not all of them do.  It’s not a guaranteed ticket to instant sales/exposure.  In my opinion, this is not a good long-term plan.  The best strategy for a career as a self-published author is to be diversified.

You have to decide which is best for you.

2.  You publish on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, D2D, etc…

You can upload directly to Amazon (via KDP), Barnes & Noble (via Nook Press), Kobo (via Writing Life), and iBooks.  I believe you can publish directly to Scribd, too.

What I do is use Smashwords to publish my books onto the channels they offer.  I don’t use them for Amazon, but I do use them for Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Baker & Taylor, Library Direct, Page Foundry, Overdrive, Flipkart, and Scribd.   Now, I have published some books directly to Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

You can also use D2D (Draft 2 Digital) to publish to various sites, but I haven’t used them and have no experience with them.  What I do know is that unlike Smashwords, you can’t sell on D2D.  Smash words will allow you to sell books (and yes, it’s not a whole lot you’ll sell there).  But D2D is pretty much a middleman to get your books from your computer to the other retailers.


No matter what option you choose, something to keep in mind is that the average author is not going to have instant success.  I understand it’s easy to think there’s some magic formula you can use and make a living right away.  But the truth is, for most writers it will take hard work and persistence to pay off.  You will need to improve your storytelling ability while you’re also improving your promotional techniques.

The self-published author wears many hats.  You’re not only writing a book, but you also have to take care of the cover, format it for ebook and/or paperback, publish it, and then promote it.  If you need help with formatting or covers, here’s a link at Smashwords to help you find people who can help you with these things.


Are there any questions you have or experiences you want to share with publishing?  The more input we have, the better we can all learn.  There might be something I missed. 🙂

Categories: Publishing Basics, Publishing Trends, Self-Publishing

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