Heart Ally Books

Your ally in the publishing industry.

Publishing 101

Prerequisite: Publishing 99. If you haven't done those things, you don't belong here. You aren't ready to be published yet—regardless of method.


publishing 101 graphicIn college creative writing classes, I learned how to get published. The steps were deceptively simple:

  1. Write a good book.
  2. Get an agent.
  3. Get a publisher.

No one ever promised I'd make money, and I didn't expect to. What they didn't predict (or teach us how to handle!) was the industry-rocking industrial revolution that would change publishing forever. I remember the first time I published a story on the Internet (actually an intranet at the time). Something clicked in the back of my mind: This changes everything.

I wish I'd listened to that little thought and not spent the next 20 years continuing to follow those steps.

I'd like to offer a new approach to publication, based on the options available today, in the hopes of helping authors navigate the publishing maze.

Start by defining success.

suc·cess: noun | suhk-ses

the accomplishment of one's goals

You can't know if you've accomplished your goals unless you know what they are, so start here.

What does success look like to you? Your idea of success will be unique. Don't take the question lightly, because it is the heart of where you go from here. This one question will influence your next moves in the industry. I'm going to review the most common categories of answers, but there are thousands of others. Feel free to send me your definition and I may use it for a future post. I've helped more authors than I can count successfully navigate these waters.

I want to see my work on the NYT bestseller list.

How do you feel about self-promotion?

If you hate self-promotion, then you should firmly consider the traditional route to publication. There's no guarantee, but this is your best bet. You may not have to do all of it yourself, but you're still going to have to do a good amount of promotion.

If you are not afraid of self-promotion, then you might be okay going indie -- either with a small independent publisher or on your own. Regardless of the publication path you choose, you'll be doing a lot of promotion—that's why you got your platform ready before moving forward—but you'll be doing more of it if you go indie.

Either way, you're in for a lot of work, so consider taking public speaking classes or spending time with a counselor to get to a place where you can put on your happy face and go do it. I'm a big fan of Laurie Wheeler's dolphin method.

We'll look at the indie steps in a moment. The current how-to for traditional publication looks something like this:

  1. Study the market, learn what agents and publishers are looking for.
  2. Write a great book that they want.
  3. Create a strong, demonstrable platform for selling your books.
  4. Sell your platform and your book to an agent—check all contracts carefully with your attorney.
  5. The agent sells the book—check all contracts carefully with your attorney.
  6. Edit as directed by your publisher.
  7. You write the next great book while promoting the first one heavily.

Don't trust that just because you land a contract with a large publisher you've got a good deal. Read all contracts carefully. You aren't actually selling the book, you're selling your rights to sell that book, and those are valuable and varied. Many authors have regretted signing contracts with missed clauses to cover epubs, etc.

I want to write my own stories, but I want people to read them.

If you aren't willing to write to the market, you may find your sales limited. You are the classic indie.

The good news is, modern indies are finding they can make a better living at writing than they could in the past.

A caution for indies: there may come a time in your career when the traditional market comes looking for you, so don't burn that bridge with anti-establishment blog posts and nastygrams on your social media platform. You may fall in love with indie publishing, but accept that there are different paths for different writers—and there may be more than one path for you, at different times or under different circumstances—and which path is "better" is highly subjective. Comparing the various paths is a waste of time that should be spent writing.

You need to make a decision: How much of the production are you going to do yourself? The industry is full of graphic artists, editors, book doctors, etc., and they are all available to you. Depending on your inclination and financial resources, you can hire these professionals to help you. (By the way—if you think you can't afford these professionals, research Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Your fans are willing to pay you to do it right.)

Remember, this isn't vanity press. Your goal is to put out a quality product.

Here are your steps to publication as an indie:

  1. Write a great book.
  2. Hire a content editor. If you can't get a content editor, have a good friend help. Make the book strong.
  3. Lay out the book yourself or hire a book designer.
  4. Hire a cover artist. People will judge your book by the cover. Make it amazing. Make it scaleable so it works as a thumbnail.
  5. Hire a copy editor to review the final product for errors before it goes to the vendors.
  6. Choose quality POD and EPUB vendors with an eye to distribution and pricing options.
  7. Distribute to vendors. Epub is a great way to start and then you can add print later. Or you can do both at once.
  8. Promote.
  9. Repeat.

Note: nowhere in there did I say to count your sales. Let's be real: unless you're very lucky or very talented at promotion, your initial sales will be horrible. You'll be building your readership slowly over time. There is no place on your path for depression. When it creeps in—and it will!—shove it away. Accept that it is a normal stage in the publication process (even traditional authors face these creativity-destroying doldrums) and get back to writing.

For those who wonder where Heart Ally Books fits in the spectrum of publishing, we're in this indie-publisher gray area. We help writers with all of those pesky details—so they can keep writing and producing—without stealing the bulk of their profits.

Be careful when you hire anyone to help with your novel. Read the contract. Check it with your attorney. Make sure you have an escape clause. There be dragons here.

I want to tell my story and give copies of my book to the significant people in my life.

You are in an ideal position to indie-publish. If you can do it yourself, you'll save a lot of money. If you can't, there are a number of ways to get where you want to be. While I'm not a big fan of templates, and even less of a fan of Microsoft Word, there are templates available that will do a lot of the work for you.

Your basic steps will be:

  1. Write an awesome book.
  2. Get it edited -- you don't want to be remembered for your bad spelling.
  3. Make the book beautiful with a good layout. Pay attention to readability.
  4. Design a cover or hire a designer. People do judge books by their covers, so take time with this step.
  5. Find a good print-on-demand printer. CreateSpace is free. Lulu is improving. LightningSource is still the gold standard in the industry. There are others. Research each one, and pay attention to distribution options. (Distribution is getting your book from the printer to the buyer.) Even though you aren't all about sales, you won't turn them down, right? Don't make it impossible for someone to buy your book.
  6. Give the book to those you love and cross this item off on your bucket list.

I've heard "lifers" talk disparagingly about this class of writer. Your goals are different from theirs. Don't compare your path with theirs. Don't compare your success with theirs. You are in a completely different industry than they are. You aren't a threat to them, and you aren't going to take their readers. Once upon a time, this niche was full of vanity press publishing companies. Okay, it still is. They'll take your money and give you a sub-standard product. You can do this yourself. Save your money for that trip around the world that is next on your list.


In my next few blog posts, I'll be covering these options in more detail along with additional links, steps, and helpful hints to avoid the pitfalls of the publishing industry. You can subscribe to be notified of each one using your favorite feed reader.