Since the Book 'Em North Carolina event took place a few weeks ago, I've been asked by several people how to get published and how to be successful at it.
I imagine if you asked any New York Times bestselling author how to get a publisher or agent and make it to the bestseller lists, you won't get a straight answer. It's not that they won't tell you - it's that they can't tell you.
You see, this business is unstructured. In the corporate world, there are often well-laid-out paths to the top. In the military, you know you won't go from Major to General overnight; there is a specific path to follow, even if your specialty varies. But while many of the publishing houses are very structured, authors live outside those walls.
Ask a dozen authors how they achieved success and you'll get a dozen answers.
Some go the traditional route. This is the one I suggest to most writers. Subscribe to Writer's Digest and learn the business. Buy Writer's Market and become a member online. Learn how to write dynamite query letters and synopses. Query agents - the gatekeepers for the biggest publishers. And if you are unsuccessful going the agent route or you want to speed things up, query publishers directly. Often you can get a contract with a small to mid-size publisher, prove your worth (always measured in book sales) and you might become more attractive to The Big Guys.
Pay to play. There are various forms of this method in the industry. Some publishers require the author to pay all overhead expenses and the publishers make their money from the authors themselves. Others share in the expenses, provide the authors larger royalties and make their money along with the author - in sales to the readers. There are variations and the writer needs to weigh the pros and cons. Always check with Predators and Editors to make sure the publisher is legitimate. This is the method I recommend to writers whose books are written for a very small audience, such as a family history that only family members may be interested in.
Hang out your shingle. There are variations in this method as well. You can start your own traditional publishing company with graphic artists, typesetters (in today's market, people who understand publishing software such as PageMaker, Quark and others), editors (never skimp on these!), marketing (the largest overhead item, far exceeding that of printing and production), etc. Or you can simply upload your Word file to one of the eBook formatters online and pronto, you're published. There are dozens if not hundreds of variations of this method, each reflecting the needs of the writer at that particular time.
But if you're writing for commercial success, one factor never changes: it's a numbers game. Whether you find a small, mid-size or major publisher, whether you pay to play or hang out your own shingle and create your own imprint, once that book is published all future publishers and agents are going to ask you the same question: how many copies did you sell? If you're writing for the pleasure or education of your own family or close circle of friends or acquaintances, this won't matter. But for commercial success, it's the only thing that matters.
If you are an author, what path did you take to success?
p.m.terrell is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed author. Her 13th book, Vicki's Key, was released this month. Suspense Magazine says it's "a riveting read" and "p.m.terrell gets better and better with every book she writes." It is available in paperback, on Kindle, Nook and iPad as well as other eFormats. Go to www.pmterrell.com for more information.