The Writing Process: A Guide For Non-Writers – Part Four

The one thing I can forgive non-writers for not understanding about the writing process is publishing, because it’s something I often see writers misunderstanding too.

But what most writers do understand is that publishing is just as hard as getting the book written, whereas I often hear non-writers assuming that I, as a writer, will get my book snatched up as soon as it’s finished, and it’ll be a bestseller in no time.

If only that really was how it worked.

So Part Four of my The Writing Process: A Guide For Non-Writers series is going to be on publishing. If you’ve missed any previous installments, you can find Part One (Preparation) here; Part Two (Writing The First Draft) here; and Part Three (Editing) here.

I don’t have any experience in publishing a book or having one published, so all the information here is from what I’ve read online or in books (notably Creative Writing for Dummies by Maggie Hamand, and The Insider’s Guide to Publishing by Katherine Lapworth, Kevin McCann, and Tom Green).

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing is one of the two most popular methods of publishing today. It is also the oldest form, hence why it’s called “traditional”. At its most basic, it works like this:

  1. The author submits either their manuscript or the first few chapters of their manuscript along with a query letter (usually including things like a summary of the novel, technical things like the word count and genre, and a short author bio) to a literary agent. An agent is someone who helps the writer sell their book to publishers, much like a Hollywood agent represents actors. You can find advice on finding and submitting to agents here and here (the first link outlines the basics; the second goes into a bit more detail), and advice on writing query letters here.
  2. If the agent likes the book, they may offer to represent the author. A contract will be drawn up.
  3. The agent then gives some pointers to help improve your book before they start to sell the book to editors. Editors work for different publishing companies (or, to be more accurate, imprints of publishing companies; you can find more on this here), so the editor that accepts determines which publishing company will publish the book.
  4. You thought edits were over before we started submitting to agents? Wrong! It’s time for more edits. With the editor’s help, the author will do more structural and superficial edits before eventually the manuscript is ready to be sent to a proofreader, who will check it for grammar, spelling, and inconsistency.
  5. The publisher will help with marketing, though the author will also be expected to do some too. They will also organise the formatting and design the cover – in fact, traditionally published authors have very little control, if any at all, over how their cover will look.
  6. The book is published! It will be professionally done and be far more likely to end up on bookshop shelves than self-published books.
Here, I’d like to make a point on how all of this is paid for. Many people – both writers and non-writers – think that you need to pay for an agent, and pay for other aspects of traditional publishing too, and this is ridiculously expensive. The truth is, however, that if a publisher is asking you for money up front, you should run. Run far and fast.
Reputable agents and publishers take expenses from book sales after publication. This article explains in more detail how it all works. Disreputable publishers (ie, those who ask the authors to pay extortionate amounts for publication), meanwhile, are called vanity publishers, or vanity presses. Unlike the reputable publishers, vanity presses will not put in any effort to make your book professional or desirable, or to market it. These are not the publishers anyone wants for their book, hence why I included this word of warning.
And while that concludes my (basic) explanation of how traditional publishing works, that isn’t everything that I wanted to say about it. Other than the extra editing, it seems a relatively straightforward process, but you may recall that I said that getting the book published is as hard as writing it.
The thing that’s so difficult is the rejection. Every writer faces rejection from agents and/or publishers at some point in their career, often multiple or even numerous times. For every book published, there are likely at least hundreds of unread manuscripts sitting in agents’ and publishers’ offices. And for every bestselling book, there are at least hundreds of published but mostly unheard of books hiding on the back shelves. So writers need to make sure there is absolutely nothing more they can do to improve their books before they start sending them out, to give themselves the best chance of avoiding a barrage of rejection letters. And everyone needs to get rid of the idea that publishing a book is the gateway to fame and fortune – unless you’re one of a rare but incredibly lucky few, it quite simply isn’t.
Self publishing
For many writers, the solution to not only all that rejection, but also the lack of control over the finished product, is self publishing. These days, this usually involves using a website like or which can both print books and create ebooks. You can also use Amazon to publish ebooks directly.

While self publishing most definitely has its benefits, it does mean you have to do everything yourself, which is a lot of extra work. Of course, you can hire professionals to help you – freelance editors and cover designers, for example – which obviously will improve your chances of success. But without a publisher to lend your book credibility and help you with marketing, sales likely won’t be as high.

There isn’t much to say about self-publishing; with the help of the websites mentioned above, the process of self-publishing is pretty straightforward. The websites give you instructions to help you through things like formatting and uploading your manuscript, uploading your cover, and choosing from various publishing options. If you pay extra (usually a substantial sum extra), you can also use their professional formatters, editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and marketers. Or, as previously mentioned, you can either hire freelancers of your own choosing, or you can save money and do it all yourself.

And if your book does manage to become profitable, then you get to keep the majority of the money, rather than having publishers and agents taking cuts from your sales profits.

So although self-publishing may be the most straightforward option that allows you more control over the final product and avoids all the rejection of traditional publishing, it can also be a lot of effort and very time-consuming and very expensive. But if you think you would be able to make a success of it in the end, then it’s certainly an option worth considering.

Hybrid Publishing

There’s also a third option for those looking to publish their book. Hybrid publishing is a new form which attempts to combine traditional publishing with self-publishing – or, more accurately, all the benefits of both. According to this article, hybrid publishing can also be called author-assisted publishing and co-publishing, among other things.

There are many different ways to go about doing this, which often involve the author paying some money to help with the publication process, in return either for more control over the book, or for higher royalties. One article I read even said that vanity publishers count as hybrid publishers, which to me makes it sound like vanity publishers count as a worthwhile option, when what vanity presses do is exploit authors by charging them extortionate amounts for a low-quality book, bad service, and little return. So authors looking into hybrid publishing need to be very careful and do plenty of research to avoid vanity presses.

Since this is a new and varied method of publishing, I don’t know that much about hybrid publishing. If you want to find out more about it, the article linked above outlines the basics in more detail, and this article offers various viewpoints on and insights into it.

So there you have it!

Whether you’re a new writer, an experienced writer looking into publishing, or a non-writer who’s just curious about the process, I hope you found this helpful!

What tips would you give to writers looking into publishing? What about the publishing industry do you wish non-writers understood better? Let me know in the comments!

Also, don’t forget that you can follow this blog by email, Google+, or my shiny new Facebook page – all the relevant links are on the left of the page! (If you’re on mobile, you’ll want to view the web version to see this)

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