As all writers of books know, there are two things you need to achieve success: a great story and a publisher ready to take a chance on it. Many writers find the second part harder than the first, but we’re on hand to help.
Have you ever considered the costs of hosting a book tour? Hotels, airfare, and personal expenses while you’re away can amount to a shocking total. Hosting a webinar is the best alternative. Anyone from any part of the world can attend a webinar, and they don’t even need to leave their home. Rather than shelling out tons of cash, a webinar allows you to promote your book efficiently and inexpensively – as long as you approach it correctly. [Read more…]
Last night, I had a vivid dream about the “last unicorns” – it is a unique story, trust me; one you’ve never read before. While dreaming, I knew that once I get the story down on paper, I would have a bestseller on my hands. I also knew that I would might forget things if I didn’t take notes, so I woke up to write the plot down. I was golden.
Then I woke up for real. I was dreaming when I “woke up” to write the story down. So much for my best-selling breakthrough novel that would put me in the league of Robert Jordan, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien (I do shoot for the starts, don’t I?). [Read more…]
I’ve had five novels published professionally, through an internationally-distributed publishing house. I’m contracted for one more, which will be hitting stores next Summer. And like all good authors, knowing that there’s an end in sight to my current contract, I’m on the hunt for a new one.
After my first three books, getting a second contract for three more was easy. My books weren’t bestsellers, but they sold enough to turn a profit for my publisher, so getting a new contract was a no-brainer. Yet now, suddenly, after almost six published books under my belt, landing a new contract is proving far more difficult.
Why is it so much harder to get a contract after six published books, when it was so easy to get one after just three? Shouldn’t cumulative publishing experience count for something?
My fan base is growing slowly but surely, so my sales numbers are small but respectable. So why is this happening now? What’s the difference?
We all know the answer to this question by now, and it’s a problem that a surprising number of established writers are dealing with. I just heard from my agent today, and she confirmed the ugly truth we all know. And I quote: “publishers are continuing to publish fewer titles a year.”
The problem, it turns out, isn’t so much on my end. Sure, my sales history could be stronger. Who’s couldn’t? And I always seek to better myself as a writer. But these things actually have surprisingly little to do with getting a contract.
The issue is rooted in the industry itself. The tanking economy and the advent of ebooks have led to a floundering publishing industry. The firm foundation that this industry has been standing on for its entire existence has turned to shifting sand. And thus, everyone is in survival mode. Everyone’s looking for ways to cut costs, so employees like editors and marketing staff are being laid off. Publishers aren’t taking as many risks on new talent, and they’re scaling back their production numbers with existing writers.
So what’s a writer to do? Published or unpublished — unless you’re among the elite few with huge sales and name recognition, your current status just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s an even playing field in some respects, and I’ve used a lot of words in this column describing the options available to writers, from self-publishing to e-publishing and everything in between.
But there’s no substitute for a contract with a publisher. Even if we’re talking about web publishing or ebook publishing or book apps or some other form of new media… writers need publishers. And if you don’t believe me — if you genuinely think that self-published writers can do just as well as published writers, thanks to “a little hard work and some ingenuity” — here’s a brilliant and sobering article from one publisher who explains just exactly why the writer/publisher relationship is crucial to bookselling success. An excerpt:
It takes a long time to build… trust with a large reader base and that’s the real strength of the publishing company and what an author really gives up by going alone. Publishing companies are businesses designed to make connections with readers both directly and with intermediaries (book reviewers, bookstores, etc) for the purpose of selling stories. Publishers keep the connection open with the reader even when the writer is on a break from writing. By going alone you only maintain that connection with your readers for as long as you are producing content.
More importantly, publishers pull resources that individuals do not have access to on their own.
…no one can reach a large enough audience alone. Cross promotion is an obvious and necessary next step that will benefit everyone, but it can’t be done without capital (read: $$) and that can’t be done without agreements that make it clear who’s putting up the capital and what they’re getting in return, that requires publishing houses.
That says it all. You can come up with the coolest new publishing ideas ever, the most “wow” concept of a story, and write some of the best prose this world has ever seen. But if you don’t have the infrastructure in place that a publishing house provides — to publish and promote it to the mass audience of readers — you’re never going to have anything more than just another self-published title with a small, niche readership.
Self-publishing is great, and I’m not knocking it. I’ve expounded on its virtues before. But if you hope to make at least a portion of your living from book writing — even in this wildly changing landscape — a publishing house is all but required.
So here’s the rub: how do you land a publisher in this increasingly uncertain publishing climate? On the one hand, there are lots of different types of publishers, and the digital publishing realm is bringing about even more of them. Even ebooks and web-books are seeing publishers or special arms of established publishing houses dedicated just to that form of publishing. But that doesn’t solve the core issue.
It’s hard enough to merely define the new landscape of publishing, much less navigate it. In the future, I’ll talk more about attracting the attention of publishers of all kinds.
In the meantime, let’s open a dialogue between authors, editors, publishers, marketers, and everyone else in the industry. How have things changed for you, what does the future hold for us, and how can we all get there successfully?
If you want to write a book and have it published by a reputable traditional publisher, then you need to demonstrate to an agent and publisher that your book will sell, and there is one very specific piece of information that you need to share in order to help prove your worth in terms of generating revenue.
That one thing is different for nonfiction authors than it is for fiction authors, and of course, there are a lot of other aspects of your writing and experience that play into an agent or publisher’s decision to offer you a contract or not. However, that one thing still stands out as the most important thing you need to get published.
So what is that one thing?
Let’s take a look at that one thing for both fiction and nonfiction aspiring authors.
For fiction writers, the most important thing you need to get an agent or publisher is a phenomenal story idea and manuscript. Your story needs to be well-written and fill a niche that is either untapped but could be extremely well received or add something to an existing, popular type of story. In other words, the most important thing to an agent or publisher is that your story is great and it can fit into a viable place in the market.
For nonfiction writers, the most important thing you need to get an agent or publisher is a platform. Not only do you need to demonstrate that there is existing demand for the book you plan to write, but you also need to prove that the market isn’t already saturated with books on the same topic. You need to show in your proposal that you’re bringing something extra to the table that will motivate people to buy your book rather than all the others on the shelf in a bookstore. However, all of that ‘s secondary to your platform. Agents and publishers need to believe that you have the ability to reach large audiences in order to sell your book. Much of the success of book sales is in the hands of the author who needs to get in front of people and try to convince people that they need to read the author’s book. The first thing an agent or publisher looks for when a nonfiction query and proposal lands on their desk is the writer’s platform. Who is this person and do they have the ability to reach large audiences of people to help sell their book? If you can prove your ability to reach large audiences and move copies of your book and that there is room in the market for your book, then you have a much better chance of selling your manuscript than a nonfiction writer with a great idea but no platform to support it.
Bottom-line, fiction writing is about the story, and nonfiction writing is about the platform. Yes, there is more to it than that, but without those critical elements, you’ll have a very difficult time finding an agent or traditional publisher who wants to work with you. Fortunately, both of those things can be improved with research, effort, learning, and time.
You have an idea for a great book or you’ve already written your manuscript and need to create the perfect title. That title needs to appropriately convey the tone of your book but also catch the attention of a literary agent, publisher and readers. That’s a tall order!
My best advice when it comes to choosing a title for your book is this — don’t let it stress you out completely. The reason is simple — no matter what you name your book in your manuscript, the publisher has the last word on what the title will be, and that final word comes from multiple meetings with many different people on the publisher’s side. There are a lot of cooks involved in stirring the pot when it comes to determining a book’s title!
If you’re not already a popular author, you can try to fight against a title suggested by a publisher, but you might not win. Consider this — Stephenie Meyer’s original title for Twilight was Forks, which was changed by the publisher, and the U.S. publisher of the first book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic) changed the title from the one used in the original English version of the book published by Bloomsbury. In the United States, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Bottom-line, don’t get too attached to your book’s title. Ask friends, family, and other writers for their opinions on your possible manuscript titles and aim to get the right kind of attention from agents and publishers with the title you choose. However, don’t be surprised if that title doesn’t end up on your book’s printed cover. Remember, it’s the content of your manuscript (and your platform if you’re a nonfiction writer), not the title that will seal the deal with a publisher, but the title can help draw attention. Therefore, don’t ignore it, but don’t drive yourself crazy over it either.
Last week, I wrote about how long nonfiction books should be in the Book Writing and Publishing FAQ series. Today, I’m going to tackle fiction. Before I dive in, I want to remind you that there are exceptions to every rule and the word counts provided here are simply suggested guidelines.
In order to offer word count targets for your fiction book, you need to consider two things: your book’s genre and the current market trends. In other words, there are acceptable word count targets for young adult fiction that are not the same as the word count targets for literary fiction. Similarly, audience preferences and publisher strategies change over time, so reviewing successful books in your genre that have been published recently can help you determine your word count target.
With that said, let’s look at word counts!
There are varied suggestions related to fiction word count based on who you ask, so I thought it would be best to provide word count targets straight from the source — a literary agent. Colleen Lindsay is a member of the Penguin Group (USA) business development group and former literary agent. She writes a blog called The Swivet where she writes extensively about the book publishing industry. Recently, she published a post with current word count “rules of thumb” that you can use as a guideline while writing your fiction manuscript. You can read her complete post here, which includes a lot more details and suggestions than the word counts provided below.
So without further ado, here are Colleen Lindsay’s suggested fiction manuscript word count targets by genre:
- Middle grade fiction: 25k to 40k
- Mainstream YA fiction: 45k to 80k
- Paranormal YA or YA fantasy: under 100k preferred but can go as high as 120k
- Romance: 85k to 100k
- Horror: 80k to 100k
- Western: 80k to 100k
- Mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction: 90k to 100k, but light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries are shorter at 75k to 90k, and historical mysteries and noir are 80k to 100k.
- Literary fiction: As high as 120k but trends make even short literary fiction (65k) acceptable.
- Chick lit: 80k to 100k
- Novella: Anything under 50k
- Science fiction & fantasy: 100k
Again, the word counts above are strictly guidelines. Authors like J.K. Rowling prove that an agent and publisher will accept longer manuscripts for an exceptional book, and certainly, word count typically lengthens in sequels. However, if you want an agent or publisher to even bother looking at your query, stick to the word counts suggested above!
A very common question among aspiring writers is related to how much they actually need to write before their nonfiction manuscript can be considered complete. In other words, how long should a nonfiction book be?
Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer to that question. However, the reason is simple — the publisher usually determines the word count that they want for a nonfiction book.
The publisher determines this number by weighing production costs against projected sales numbers. The publisher also reviews the competitive market to see what else is already available and how those books are selling. In other words, there are a lot of factors that publishers use to choose a word count for a nonfiction book. The vast majority of nonfiction authors do not choose their word count. Instead, they write for the word count dictated by the publisher in the writer’s contract.
So what’s an aspiring nonfiction writer with dreams of snagging a contract with a traditional commercial publisher to do?
As you learned in a previous Book Writing and Publishing FAQ article, it is not often necessary to write a nonfiction book before you submit your proposal to literary agents and publishers that accept direct submissions. You can read more about that by following the link to “Do I Need to Write My Book First?” However, you do need a few sample chapters and a detailed, annotated table of contents to either accompany your proposal or be provided to agents and publishers upon request.
If you do want to write your nonfiction book before you solicit agents and publishers, be prepared to have to make major changes to it once the publisher offers you a contract. Unless you have a very solid platform (meaning you’re famous or a corporate executive or other well-known figure), you’ll probably be asked to work with an editor to make the table of contents and the content you’ve already written match the publisher’s expectations. If you still want to write your nonfiction book before you retain an agent or publisher, word count can vary greatly, but a good target for a business nonfiction book is 70,000-80,000 words. That should give you about 200-250 pages in a final manuscript.
Of course, depending on the publisher, book sizes, font choices, and so on can vary, which means word count can vary, too. Furthermore, if your book includes images, they have to be factored into the word count. In other words, each of those images take up space and should be included as part of your word count (not added on top of your word count).
Again, there is no rule for nonfiction manuscript length, but the word count given above can give you an idea of how long a nonfiction book might be. Think of it this way — the longer the book is, the more it costs to print. Therefore, the price tag has to go up. Publishers have to try to predict the sweet spot between length and price to maximize sales.
I received a question via the Freelance Writing Jobs contact form today that is probably fairly common among freelance writers. A seasoned journalist sent me the following note:
“An opportunity has been presented to me to write a book. The problem is I have no idea how to price such a venture.”
How much should writers charge to write a book for a client? There are a few things to consider in order to know what the going rate is to write a book.
First, you need to know who is publishing the book. If a major publisher asks you to write a book, then there are a few factors that will affect the advance and royalties that publisher is likely to offer you. First, the amount a publisher is willing to pay you depends on:
- Your platform — meaning how well you can prove to the publisher that you can sell a lot of copies of your book through your extensive connections.
- Your experience — have you authored a book before? How well did it sell? The publisher’s offer to you will be higher if you have a track record of selling books.
- The market for the book — publishers evaluate the potential sales of a book and adjust payments to authors based on expected sales performance.
A publisher that picks up a book from a new author could offer an advance anywhere from $5,000 and up. The “and up” part depends very much on the three factors listed above. It’s up to the writer to determine if the secondary opportunities that being published through a major publisher provides is worth the amount of time vs. the payment.
What if the book is to be written for a client that will self-publish or try to sell to publishers? In these situations, you may or may not get a byline as the author. How much should you charge?
It depends on the amount of time it will take you to write the book and whether or not the client agrees to give you a percentage of sales earnings. If the book is about a topic you know well and would not require a lot of research, then you can write it faster than a book that would require a lot of research. If you can reduce the number/extent of edits that you’re willing to make, that will also reduce the amount of time it takes you to write the book. The desired word count also affects how much you should charge.
So what should you charge to write a book for an independent client? A safe place to start is $0.10 per word. That’s fairly competitive with the rate that most work-for-hire publishing contracts offer (meaning an advance is paid to the author but no royalties). For example, for a 70,000 word manuscript, you can charge $7,000. Just be sure to include a clause in your contract that limits the editing process so you don’t end up spending too much time editing again and again. Also, book writing is a situation where you should definitely require a deposit, a payment at 50% completion, and another payment upon submission of the final manuscript. Alternately, you could charge upon signing the contract and at the 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% completion stages. Splitting payment up is common even among major publishers. It’s a good idea to include a clause in the contract that states the next stage of writing won’t begin until payment on the prior stage is received. This helps ensure an independent client pays you before you invest too much time in the project.
I hope this helps. Of course, it’s important to evaluate each opportunity independently to determine whether it can help you in more ways than just money. Depending on the opportunity, you might want to charge more or less. The $0.10 per word recommendation is a guideline but not a strict rule.
Nearly ten years ago, iTunes forever changed the music industry. The familiar business model of buying CDs made up of ten tracks or more was replaced by the ability to download individual songs. The record industry was thrown into turmoil and it took years for executives to figure out how to do business in this brave new world.
Today, the publishing industry is going through the same digital revolution, thanks to the advent of ebooks. Just weeks ago, a big name literary agent decided to bypass traditional book publishers to work directly with Amazon.com and its Kindle ebook reader, giving him and his authors a significantly bigger piece of the pie. (A corporate war has all but broken out over these sudden changes in the book business.) Add in the terrible economy we’re currently in, and it’s easy to see why longtime book publishers feel the solid ground beneath their feet turning to quicksand. So here’s the bad news: traditional publishers just aren’t taking chances like they used to.
And that’s only half the problem. There’s also the giant elephant in the room that the publishing industry has to contend with that ten years ago the music world didn’t: social media. Opinions and “likes” are shared instantaneously among one’s circle of friends and acquaintances, and if someone doesn’t like what you write, they’re going to tweet those feelings to all of their friends.
How does a modern writer navigate a landscape in flux, where nothing is certain and things can change overnight?
Here’s the good news. With an industry in flux comes an enormous amount of new opportunities. The same way that independent musicians suddenly found themselves on equal footing alongside bands signed to major record labels when iTunes was born, the playing field has suddenly been leveled with the advent of ebooks and social media. Every day, there are cool new startups popping up, and clever ideas being put into practice by brilliant, enterprising writers who are willing to break free from tradition and get themselves and their work out there in ways that no one has ever attempted before.
The publishing world is like the wild west right now. It’s undisciplined, undefined, and untamed. It’s a brand new frontier, and there are new trails waiting to be blazed. And to extend the metaphor, this new frontier is looking for its conquerors. Those famous names that will figure out how to not only survive this new world, but thrive in it. In publishing terms, the world is looking for those writers who will define the new publishing paradigm with their savvy understanding of the way this new world works.
This is where I come in. I’ve worked as a journalist my entire adult life (around fifteen years), and though I’ve worked in all forms of print media, the bulk of what I’ve done professionally has been in the online world. I’ve worked with About.com, b5media, and of course SplashPress Media, as well as starting and editing an ezine known as INFUZE Magazine (which sadly, is no longer around). I’m online every single day, keeping up with the latest, greatest ideas in publishing, as well as the hottest trends in social media.
I’m also a published novelist. My first novel, Relentless, started as a serialized story that I wrote and published on the Internet, adding a new chapter every other week. It was picked up by a publisher and the rest is history. My fifth novel, Nightmare, was just released internationally in July 2010 by Bethany House Publishers (a division of Baker Publishing Group). I’m hard at work on number six right now (it’s called Vigilante) and working hard to land some new contracts beyond that. But like many established writers, I’m finding that contracts are a rare commodity these days. Because as I said above, in this climate, publishers just aren’t as willing to take risks as they used to be — even on established writers.
So I’m keen to explore all possibilities, to see what other writers have done to find success, and to step out into this wild frontier and try out some ideas of my own. I can’t promise you’ll find success by reading my weekly column here at Freelance Writing Journal. But I can keep you well informed about where the industry is and where it’s going. If you want to stay in the know and ahead of the trends, or if you’re just looking for a treasure trove of intriguing new ideas for enterprising writers… Regardless of whether you’re a freelance journalist or a book writer…
Welcome. You’ve come to the right place.