When You Write a Book… And Most People Do

We all know how the computer has turned many people into writers, exploring life questions, sharing how-to’s, creating books of fiction, and wild tales of daring-do. It is my firm belief that each one of us has a story inside that’s aching to be told. And now computers and the Internet and a new publishing industry make that possible.

Some of these writers bring their manuscripts to me. Most want me to tell them that their story is a bestseller; some ask how to get their stories published; all are seeking ways to share their work.

There are at least two parts of book writing:

1. creating the story, and 2. doing something with it.

I have written books and stories for a very limited audience (in one instance my book had a printing of 12). Another publication included notes about my life and was printed twice, for my children to share. I have known families to prepare biographies of Grandma or Grandpa and print up 30 or 40 books to be handed out to family members.

All books don’t have to be New York Times bestsellers to be successful. Only a very small percent of the 10,000-plus books that are published annually achieve that kind of honor. Here’s another statistic: about 90% of the books published online sell fewer than 100 copies.

So where does that leave you? In a position to decide for yourself what to do with your manuscript: seek a mainstream publisher, a small press, an online Print On Demand, or do it yourself. The do-it-yourself kind, called independent publishing, emulates Ben Franklin and other early writers by putting your book together and finding a printer.

Here are some options and suggestions:

  • Mainstream publishers: Most require a literary agent to represent an author; they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. The search for an agent is often as lengthy as doing the entire process yourself – and not all that remunerative (unless you’re in that fraction of a percent that makes the NY Times list).
  • Small press: If your manuscript identifies with a specific kind of reader, you probably can find a small press that publishes your kind of book. This is ideal for writers of nonfiction, since there are dozens of small presses that choose a field of interest and publish only the books that fit their criteria.
  • Online: Choosing an online publisher (called Print On Demand) can be tricky unless you’re very good at reading contracts. This is an inexpensive way to get your book “out” in a form that looks like a book you can hold in your hand. Most P.O.D. books are marketed on the publisher’s website and other online booksellers.
  • Independent Publishing: Once called do-it-yourself, independent publishers are writers who decide to put their books together themselves and seek a book printer/manufacturer to do that part of the job. They end up with a supply of books they can market as they wish – in bookstores, through their own websites, as a follow-up to their lectures, or a tool to promote their business. The investment costs usually are retrieved after the sale of half of the books. The rest is profit they can drop in their own pockets.

So which do you choose? That depends on how you want to use the book, what you plan to do with it. Very few – VERY FEW – writers earn huge returns from writing. If you spend ten to twenty years to write a novel and another year or two seeking an agent, then receive a mere $5000 advance, well, you count the returns.

On the other hand, your faith in your work can work miracles. The most important trait that a writer can develop is Persistence. You need to create the best manuscript you can, then keep putting it out there for publication. Combine that Persistence with the Patience to await responses from a very sluggish business, and you have an even better chance for publication.

Oh yes, there is one other helpful trait: Prothymia (Look it up!)

The formula: Persistence + Patience + Prothymia = Publication

©2008 Val Dumond

About Val Dumond

VAL DUMOND is a writer who is enamored with words and putting them together to tell stories. Trained as a journalist, she also managed an advertising agency and public relations business. She has taught writing classes for many years and now focuses on her own writing, editing for other writers, and helping writers publish their books. She owns Muddy Puddle Press, where most of her books are published. Her favorite writing theme is historical fiction: She has done what-ifs for Klondike Kate — Queen of the Yukon, and the unlucky pilot who in 1933 tried and failed to be the first to fly solo across the Pacific. She also did a what-if about the status of women at a bank where she once was overworked and underpaid. (Kate received a new love interest at the age of 70; the pilot received a second chance at his heart's desire 50 years later; and the women of the bank rebelled enough to improve their wages and place women on the Board of Directors.) See: SUGAR, SPICE, AND STONE; WHEN ROOSTERS FLY; and A LITTLE REBELLION…. But Val's grammar books are the ones that draw attention. Her latest, AMERICAN-ENGLISH—The Official Guide (written for writers), is a culmination of five other books about language she has written. This new book urges writers to develop their own writing style by creating their own Style Manual, composed of preferences among the many choices that American-English provides. In it, she uses examples of uses for the various parts of language and punctuation, sets aside a section that's full of writing tips, includes a glossary and index for easy access to language solutions.
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