If you're reading this, I'm guessing you've either had the thought, dream or tug to publish a book one day. Or perhaps you've already published a book. Or maybe you're like, "I've never thought of it but I just Googled Chipper Things OUT OF THIN AIR and this is what showed up." I'm going to share more on this topic soon, so please let me know what other questions you have in the comments below (or holler via Twitter or Instagram).
Before we start, here's my status: I'm currently working on my second book. My first publisher was Plume (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and my current publisher is Andrews McMeel. I have a fantastic lit agent named Laurie Abkemeier. I've written and illustrated both of my books, which are in the humor/gift sections. I hope my experience can be helpful to you.
Today I'll just go over a few questions I frequently get asked.
"How did you find your publishers/agent?"
This is the most popular. It's a good question because it forces you to work backward. Once you know the answer to this, you can figure out the steps it takes to get the agent then publisher.
I would never recommend submitting your book idea directly to a publisher (unless it was a small university press, but that's talk for another day). Always get a lit agent. I found mine on Agent Query. It's a fantastic resource for learning how to write a query and finding a handful of agents who fit your genre. There are hundreds of agents out there, so it's important to narrow your search. Another great way to find an agent is to look in the acknowledgements in the back of books you think yours would sit next to on a shelf. One more way is to check out the most recent edition of 2014 Guide to Literary Agents. Besides the book being full of great content, the back has an index with agents listed by categories.
Once you have an agent (this is generally the hardest part), you work together to submit a proposal to the publishers that are a good fit for your book. This process, in my case, can take anywhere from three weeks to three months (though I'm sure many take much longer, which is not a bad thing).
Once you have a publisher, CONGRATS!
You won't pay your agent or publisher any money at any point. Agents usually receive a 15% commission, and publishers pay YOU. Of course the exception is if it's in the self-publishing category.
"Should I self-publish or go the traditional route?"
There's no right answer here. It just depends on your objectives for your project. Is it to make money? Is it a labor of love? Are you trying to reach a lot of people? What is your timeline? Do you already have an engaged following? (p.s. both types of publishing can work well for each of these answers depending on your situation).
Traditional publishers offer an advance + royalties after you make back your advance (royalties around 10%, but that totally depends), credibility, marketing, publicity and a sales team to get your book into major stores like Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and Target (hopefully! But having a publisher does not guarantee you'll be in these stores). Of course the downside is often times less creative control—but don't let that stereotype fool you. I've been lucky to have two great editors who have given me total creative freedom.
Self-publishing offers no advance, but you keep all the profits. You work on your own timeline and you make all the decisions, for better or worse. Lots of people make way more self-publishing than going through a publisher. Often times this is because they already have an online tribe or they've been strategic in their marketing. I don't know anyone who has quietly put a book online and it blew up (but please tell me if you do know of such a story). Here's a great article on self-publishing the right way, by one of my favorites, James Altucher.
There's much more to this topic, but that's where I'd start.
"Where do I even start?"
1. Start somewhere. Starting somewhere now is better than starting somewhere later. You're already here, so now you can move on to #2.
2. Really, just do something. Don't wait to figure out how you're going to publish before doing the work. Maybe for you this means uploading sketches to your blog to gauge a reaction without telling people your bigger plans. Maybe it means something else. But get started.
3. Look at agentquery.com or simply Google "how to write a query letter for [insert type of book]". Figure out what you need to submit to agents. Again, work backwards. You need to finish a novel before submitting, but for a book like I'd Rather Be Short, I only needed a few sample spreads to show them (I had all 100 reason written, and I submitted the rest of the query info, but you know what I'm saying). You can save a lot of time and energy by knowing what's needed to submit.
Please let me know if you found this to be helpful! And again, let me know what other questions you have. There are so many brilliant ideas that are untapped. I can't wait to see what we all come up with next.
"The shortest answer is doing the thing." —Hemingway