A nobody’s primer on publishing

A friend just finished a draft of a novel (STAR WARS fanfic, for context) (EDITED: Actually original fiction; reading comprehension error) and wanted advice on publishing. I spammed the relevant Facebook thread with this beast, then realized that I might have some followers who might enjoy a highly condensed, ultra-basic take on publishing from someone who hasn’t achieved more than beer-money-level success at it.

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If it’s fanfic, you’ll probably have to give it the ol’ E. L. James treatment if you want to sell it–not billionaires and light bondage (necessarily) but filing off the serial numbers. I’m given to understand that the people responsible for publishing STAR WARS novels tend to know what they want written; they’re not that interested in spec work. Then again, it’s not like I’ve ever submitted a STAR WARS manuscript and actually heard from an editor that they’re not interested in spec work… so do some research if this is the way you want to go.

If you’re interested in traditionally publishing it, the first piece of work is obviously revision. Then you can send it to agents and/or publishers; most people recommend agents, but there are at least a couple of science fiction publishers that will consider unagented manuscripts (Tor and Daw, anyway; possibly others?). The SFWA should have a list of reputable novel publishers; Query Shark has good advice on query letters; Preditors & Editors has a very comprehensive list of agents, and I think Robert J. Sawyer has a list of agents who represent a lot of science fiction, although his list may be out of date (I last looked at it in 2011 and I think it was a little old then) (edit: it appears to have been updated in 2013).

If you want to self-publish it, I highly, highly recommend listening to the Self-Publishing Podcast and the Creative Penn podcast. SPP is entertaining enough that you can pound through the archive in a few months of listening, and it’s worth it; the hosts have made huge progress since they started recording, and looking at their career trajectories (and at the changes in the landscape) is really instructive. The Creative Penn is less entertaining, but Joanna Penn is a bit smarter about things like rights, derivative works, &c, and her guests are pretty different.

The over-under on self-publishing versus traditional is roughly: Traditional publishers will do a lot for you, but it’s hard to get their attention and (reputedly) hard to get them to do much marketing for you, so you’re responsible for getting your books sold, and you need to sell a lot of them because you’re only making 15%. If you self-publish, you’re responsible for creating or contracting everything–the ebook, editing, cover, product description, marketing, everything–but Amazon (and the other platforms: B&N, Apple, Kobo, Google, &c) will pay you 70% of each sale, so you can do well on a lot fewer sales. Charlie Stross has an essay called “Why I don’t self-publish,” and he’s also published an essay by Linda Nagata called “Why I do self-publish”; the compare/contrast may be interesting. Stross also has a series of essays on the publishing industry (I think permalinked on the sidebar of his blog) that are definitely worth the read.

Not that I’ve been thinking about this for a while or anything. Happy to follow up on anything & everything. (That goes for you too, you legion of loyal readers, you.)

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