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SFWC: How to Get Published Successfully

I don’t know if this session actually told me anything I didn’t already know. I mean, it was pretty basic. I think I was hoping for some kind of surprise or secret. But there isn’t any. We authors should probably know that by now.

The session was run by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. They said the first thing a writer needs to ask him- or herself is: “Who is my audience?”

If you write nonfiction or genre fiction, this is pretty easy to define. But you’d be surprised how many people say, “My book is for everyone!” Or, “It will appeal to all ages!” Maybe it will. If it does, you’re very lucky. But you have to start somewhere. An archer aims for the target, doesn’t just shoot into the wide blue sky. Even the Harry Potter books were marketed first as middle grade fiction before finding a broader audience.

Once you know who your readers are, you can start to look for them. Even before the book is written, reach out. Start hanging out on the Web sites your readers frequent. Read those magazines, listen to those radio shows. Comment on the blogs. Begin to circulate. And offer to help anyone who might be looking for beta readers or guest post writers.

And in the meantime, be writing a great book.

Then, when it’s done, decide: traditional, indie, or self? That is, choose a publishing path.

If you need a bit more clarity on all these, here is the breakdown:

Traditional publishing generally requires an agent. You will be offered an advance against royalties, but there is a longer time between delivery of the manuscript and actual publication—it can take two to three years.

Independent publishers are smaller. Think: university presses and those types. Some still require agents to submit. They have smaller lists, which means your book will get more attention. But they also have less money so advances, if any, are smaller too. You can identify potential mid-list publishers by visiting a bookstore and looking at some of the imprints.

Self-publishing does not require an agent, of course, but it does demand a lot of legwork from the author. It’s on the author to find an editor, a cover designer, someone to format the book—or else do it all him- or herself, though that’s generally not advised. And because there are many people out there willing to take your money, authors looking to self-publish must be careful and well informed. Do your research if you plan to self-publish!

How to choose? Well, if you know your audience and genre, you can generally tell whether self-publishing can work. Romances, for instance, do quite well as self-published books.

No matter what you choose, you’ll have to do some marketing. Large publishing houses seldom put the effort into sales and marketing (unless you’re Stephen King or some other big name—which is ridiculous since his books sell even without all the advertising). Indie houses usually don’t have the budget or reach to do as much marketing. And if you self-publish, well . . . Yeah.

Not groundbreaking information, but still a nice summary of the various pathways to publishing. And what’s the bottom line to getting published successfully? It’s the same thing we heard throughout the conference: Write a great book!

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