creative writing community, craft and inspiration
by Mally Becker
“This is the greatest time in history to be a writer,” declared David Henry Sterry. Because of all the publishing options now available, he and Arielle Eckstut, collectively The Book Doctors, assured a full-house of aspiring writers that our works-in-progress could be published. And after their three-hour master class on “How to Get Successfully Published” at The Writers Circle on Sunday, March 13, dear reader, I believed them.
No, they didn’t present the writer’s version of the ad in the back of old superhero comics: “If u cn rd ths u cn gt a gd jb.” Or would that be: “If u cn wrt ths u cn b pblshd”?
With a grin, David clarified: “The good news is that everyone can get a book published. That’s the bad news, too.” He was referring to the fact that, with so many voices out there, it can be more challenging than ever for a single writer to be heard.
He and Arielle dove into a wide-ranging, practical discussion of the hard work and significant investment involved in getting from Point “A” to Point “Published.”
It’s a subject they know well. Between them, Eckstut and Sterry have published twenty-five books, including the must-have Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Arielle is also a literary agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. Together they have been helping writers find homes for their work through workshops, consulting and editing services for over twenty years.
Before a rapt crowd, they described how to evaluate the pros and cons of the three current publishing options:
1. Traditional, with one of the “Big Five” name brand publishing houses;
2. Indie, which includes boutique and small presses, and;
3. True self-publishing where you are in charge of it all (including the financing).
“How many of you want to be published by a traditional publisher?” Arielle began. The majority of hands in the room went up.
“Going with a traditional publisher can ruin your book,” David warned. “It just takes too long.” He and Arielle pointed out that you need an agent to reach the Big Five and it can take years to find a good one. Your agent will give you revisions. You’ll rewrite and wait for them to respond. Even after you finally get a publishing contract, your book won’t appear for another one to three years.
“But traditional publishers do have advantages,” Arielle countered. “They have wonderful editors, trained staff, marketing and distribution networks. And if your book takes off, they have the resources to reprint it quickly and get national media attention.”
“Unfortunately, it’s more likely that you won’t get the most experienced editor or publicist in the house. They just have too many books to promote to focus on yours,” David explained.
Arielle highlighted another option. “Independent book publishers offer fewer books each season, so your work is likely to get more attention.” Indie publishers include familiar names like Workman Publishing, as well as academic presses and niche publishers with specialty audiences. “Best of all, most independent publishers still accept unsolicited manuscripts.”
How do you find the best indie publisher for your work? Online research, of course. Arielle also suggested talking to your local librarian and to independent bookseller who should know publishers and the kinds of books they offer.
The Book Doctors cautioned listeners to beware of scammers. If an independent publisher is asking you for money for services, that should be a red flag. And don’t be fooled by a professional looking website. Check on the company’s reputation. “And if you have any doubts, ask for author references,” David said.
Arielle shifted the focus to self-publishing: “It used to be the red-headed stepchild of the publishing world.” But that’s changed with on-demand printing and services like Amazon’s CreateSpace and Ingram. They also reminded the audience that The Joy of Cooking and Ulysses were both self-published.
“Self-publishing can be incredibly fulfilling,” David said. “But it requires you to practically run your own small company. You will be responsible for all aspects of book production and distribution.”
Arielle suggested that authors interested in self-publishing might also want to look into companies like Book Baby that provide ‘white glove’ services, including editing, cover design, promotion, distribution support, and more.
No matter what option a writer chooses, The Book Doctors emphasized the need to build an author platform and to develop a great “elevator pitch” for your book. “It’ll be with you for years – first, to sell the book to a publisher and then to an audience,” David said.
The presentation also included advice on finding the right agent, writing query letters, synopses and, yes, the essential reality that a writer actually has to do the writing.
“You should be building your team of support every step of the way, from writers groups and organizations to networking at writers conferences and through social media, and—especially if you’re planning to self-publish—to putting together a top-notch editorial, production and marketing team.”
An hour or so later, Arielle asked the question again: “How many of you want to be published by a traditional publisher? How about indie? And self-publishing?” The ratio of hands had significantly changed. But everyone felt that they had learned more than enough to gird themselves for the publishing journey ahead.
Mally Becker is The Writers Circle’s Outreach Coordinator and all-around invaluable staff member. Last month, Mally’s work-in-progress – a historical mystery novel set during the American Revolution – was named one of the top two manuscripts submitted in the Mystery Writers of America-NY Chapter annual mentor program.