I am a very linear person and had planned to begin this series with the beginning of a writing project. However, this past week I "attended" IndieReCon, and I'm going to be making a self-publishing announcement, myself, next week, so I decided to start writing about the end of the writing road.
While I suspect most of my readers are very knowledgeable about the publishing process, there are many people who are not. And a lot of them want to write and publish books. This post is for them.
What Needs To Be Done To Publish A Book
Editing--Before publishing, any manuscript needs both developmental (what I used to call "content") and copy editing. Developmental editing involves an editor working with the author to make sure that
the plot makes sense
characters behave consistently and logically within their storylines
there are no unnecessary characters
scenes are not drawn out or unnecessary
voice is maintained throughout
and a great many other things are done correctly.
Copy editing usually involves another editor checking for spelling, punctuation, and usage.
Proper editing is the hallmark of a professionally prepared book.
Cover--The cover needs an illustration as well as design layout with whatever titles are required. If this is a paper and print book, the spine and back cover must be designed. Fonts must be chosen and guess what? Some of them are copyrighted, so someone needs to deal with that. A good cover is another hallmark of a professionally prepared book.
Interior design--Someone has to lay out the pages, deciding how wide the margins will be, what the text will look like, what kinds of fonts will be used for chapter titles, etc. If this is an eBook, someone needs to format the manuscript.
Marketing and promotion--Someone needs to find a way to get the book into the hands of reviewers, whether they be print journals or blogs. Should there be press releases? To whom should they be sent? Should the author do public appearances? Where? Who should be contacted to try to arrange them?
Distribution and Sales--If this is a paper and print book, will bookstores carry it? How will the book come to their attention? Will Amazon carry it, and how will that be done?
There will probably be more things I haven't thought of.
With what has been known in the twentieth century as traditional publishing, a publishing company selects manuscripts submitted to it on the basis of quality or marketability and agrees to do all the above for the author. In return, the traditional publisher gets a big chunk of the profit made on the book. An author might get, say, twelve percent of the cover price on her book with the publishing company getting the rest. However, the author hasn't invested any money in this project, only the publishing company has. In addition, the author has received an advance payment against the income she's expected to receive on sales of her book. She gets to keep that even if the book doesn't sell enough copies to meet that expected income.
With self-publishing, an author does all the work that needs to be done to publish the book. If she can't do it herself, she has to find other people to do it and pay them. She gets to keep a much bigger cut of the money that comes in from sales, but she's done a great deal more work and invested her own money in the project. If sales aren't great enough to cover her costs, the loss is hers.
I've seen blog posts from self-published authors that suggested there were a few simple steps to publishing a book. One traditionally-published author who was planning to self-publish her next book announced that she was going to have her mother edit it, because mom had a master's degree. The Honest Inside Scoop or the Pros and Cons of Indie Publishing by Jessie Harrell, which appeared at the IndieReCon site this past week, is a very good assessment of the work involved with self-publishing. IndieReCon also ran Costs of Self Publishing by Miral Sattar of BiblioCrunch, which will give you an idea of what some of the expenses can run up to. (Hey, you know what? If your mom's good enough to edit your book, she ought to get paid.)
The point I want to make here is that publishing a book is publishing a book. The same work has to be done whether a traditional publishing company is doing it or you're doing it yourself. Self-publishing is a serious endeavor. The people who are making any money at all are investing time and money into their work.
You don't really need to know a great deal about publishing if you're lucky enough to have a manuscript accepted by a traditional publishing company. I certainly didn't when I first started publishing. If you're thinking about self-publishing, you'd better know a lot or find a way to learn what you need to know. This isn't something you want to go into blind.