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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Inside Tips on Book Publishing

Want to find out some inside info about the mysterious world of publishing? Read on. Margot Atwell, author of The Insider’s Guide to Book PublishingSuccess, imparts her hard earned wisdom today on Novel Rocket...

What drove you to write this book?

Working as an editor and publisher, I see that writers have a huge hunger for information about the publishing process. Authors who are traditionally published frequently know very little about what the publisher’s job entails, which can lead to confusion and frustration. Publishers typically compound this problem by not really taking the time to educate authors on how best to work with them, so there can be friction and disappointment because of unmet expectations.

Self-publishing can be a huge boon for an author, but it’s easy to underestimate the challenges of publishing a book. As Donald Rumsfeld once said in a completely unrelated context: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Many authors are diligent about learning the publishing process, but it’s tough to do that if you don’t even know what questions to ask. The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is meant to be a guide for authors, to teach them what questions to ask, and to answer many of those questions.

What’s the number one mistake you see a self-published author make?

The biggest problem with a lot of self-published books is that they are not edited well enough. Professional editing can be expensive, and the editorial process can be grueling. Most writers are careful about editing their own work, but it’s very important to have at least a second set of eyes on a manuscript. A good editor can point out weaknesses in the manuscript that the writer is too close to the work to see, and can help offer constructive suggestions for how to improve those areas. Working with a good editor can make one a better writer.

Another major mistake is using a sub-par cover. Finding the right cover can be very challenging, and professional designers can also be expensive, but the cover is the number one marketing tool for the book. If the cover looks shoddy or totally wrong for the author’s genre, readers will typically be turned off. Authors self-publishing ebooks will often design the cover themselves and I believe that is usually a mistake.

What’s your advice to an author who is not happy with the cover their publisher has chosen for their book (assuming, of course, they’ve gone the traditional publisher route)?

Publishers aren’t trying to make you unhappy by putting a “bad” cover on your book, but there are a lot of pressures within a publishing house, and a lot of voices in the process. If you are really unhappy with the cover, try politely talking with your editor about it. Are there other cover options that were passed over for some reason? Try to be concrete with what you don’t like about it. You can be firm, but make sure you approach the conversation constructively. Sometimes, you’ll end up with a cover that you like a lot more. Sometimes, the editor’s hands are tied, and there really won’t be much she can do. It really depends on the publishing house you’re working with. I believe some publishing contracts stipulate that authors must be consulted about cover art, so consider requesting that for your next book.

Does an author really have to market their own book? Shouldn’t that be left to professional publicists?

There is a lot a professional publicist can do for you. He will typically have contacts within the media and experience crafting a pitch to interest editors and producers in an author and a book’s subject. However, the author is the authority on her own subject, and her network is the best place to start getting the word out about the book. Her website and blog, her social media, the conferences she attends: all are great places to interest potential readers who are already interested in the subject of the book. A publicist can often help get opportunities for a book and author, but it’s the author’s passion for and knowledge of the subject that the reader will connect with. If the author isn’t the biggest advocate for her own book, it will be very hard to get attention for the project.

What do you think is the biggest ‘dirty little secret’ of the publishing industry?

I’m not sure there are really any secrets anymore—the internet has provided a place for everyone to air a lot of dirty secrets. One thing that isn’t secret, just not widely known, is that most printed books are sold returnable, or on consignment. Publishers send them to the bookstores, online retailers, and wholesalers, and the accounts can send them right back and not pay for them if the books don’t sell fast enough. It’s just one of the factors putting a lot of financial pressure on the traditional publishing industry right now, though it has been in effect for many decades.

What’s one myth about book publishing that you’d like to expose?

It frustrates me to see readers talking about how ebooks shouldn’t cost $9.99 because there’s no cost to making them. Working at a tiny independent publishing house, that line of reasoning drove me crazy. Yes, there isn’t much of an incremental cost attached to creating one additional ebook, the way there is a difference in cost between printing 3000 and 3001 paper books. However, there are still significant origination costs that go into creating to each book, such as the advance to the writer, the editing, typesetting, cover design, proofreading, ebook file conversion, and marketing, among others. If the price publishers are charging for a book does not factor in the costs of originating a project, the whole model will be unsustainable.

What’s your next chapter in life? What will you be working on in the near future?

I’m launching an editing and publishing consulting business. For now, you can reach me at margotatwell at to learn more. When I have more details, I’ll write about them on my blog. []

What are some parting words of encouragement for wannabe authors?

This is a very exciting time to be an author. There are an unprecedented number of ways for you to connect with readers who will enjoy your work. Whatever path you take in publishing, make sure it feels comfortable and authentic to you, work hard, and keep writing!

Margot Atwell has worked in book publishing for almost ten years, producing four national bestsellers in that time. Her writing is featured in such publications as Publishers Weekly, Publishing Perspectives, Movifone, and Five on Five. The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishing Success is her first book.


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