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So, You Want to Publish Your Book?

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OPEN BOOK
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Apparently, my last article, about writing a book, reminded quite a few people that yes, they have important stories to tell, and encouraged them to stop waiting and start writing. I'm truly thrilled. At the end of your days, you won't be thinking about how many Facebook friends you had, or how much Candy Crush you played. But you might take comfort in the thought of the books you wrote, and the lives your writing impacted.

Let's say you've written a book, and you're, naturally, thinking of getting it published. I had a great many people ask me for advice on getting an agent and/or being published. Um, I'm not a huge fan of agents. I myself recently fired my own (theatrical) agent, because she wasn't helpful. And she was kind of a big deal. (Big enough that I won't tell you her name, since I'm allergic to being sued.)

I'm not a fan of agents, because I think, unfortunately, a lot of people believe that having an agent frees them from having to take accountability for their career. They can shove all the responsibility onto their agent to bring in the cash and make the deals, as they focus on their craft. But when you give away your responsibility, you also give away your power. Your career is your problem, and responsibility and opportunity. In my opinion, writers and artists have incredible options nowadays. I fired my own agent because I felt she didn't give a damn about my writing. Firing her forced me to get creative about how I was going to network and create the opportunities I needed. I took back my power.

Not to mention, times are tough and it's harder than ever for agents to sell unknowns. Publishing houses are very leery of taking chances with their resources. Unless you're a big name, and/or making a sex tape with someone who is a big name, I'm skeptical as to how much an agent can really do for you.

But you wrote a book, and you want the world to read it. Thus, here's some ideas for how you can publish your own work, and start designing opportunities for you and your work:

  1. I love the Book Marketing Expert Newsletter, lots of accessible and realistic ideas.
  2. Publish your own book: What's crucial, I think, about self-publishing is to invest the time and energy necessary to find the right company for your book and your goals. Ideally, you want to end up with a book that looks and feels as professional as possible. So yes, exhausting as it is, you're going to have to commit serious time to researching the companies that help authors self-publish. I'd suggest getting started by buying self-published books, and noting which books look the best. How much does it cost to publish? What services -- editing, proofreading, cover art, marketing, to start with -- if any, are offered? Take your time to do this right: spend time on self-publishing websites, Facebook pages, Twitter. Research. Read the fine print, know exactly what you're getting for your buck. Also, seriously consider how much you're going to charge for the finished book. Charge too much, and people probably won't buy it. Too little, and readers will be suspicious. (If you're planning on becoming rich by writing books... oh my, that's a shame.)
  3. If you're going to sell your book through Amazon, take a moment and create a solid author's page. This may make you cranky, but many readers will be as interested in you, as they are in your work. Let your (potential) readers in on your journey: readers want to connect with you! Talk about your background, the reason you wrote the book, the writers who inspired you, and your process. You should also understand that you will be perceived as you present, which is a great reason to present as the professional author you wish to be. Take yourself and your writing seriously.
  4. Networking to get an agent: Let's say you think I'm crazy with my "will-to-power" philosophy. You're thinking, "Carlota, good luck with your boring walk-uphill-both-ways-through-the-snow crap; I'm an artist. I want an agent. I want to be left alone to write, as my agent soils her hands throwing filthy lucre at me." First of all, you should be creating a list of the agents and publishing houses that focus on your particular genre. (You can do this by noting the names of the publishers of your favorite authors, and the names of agents and/or agencies these authors are citing in their acknowledgments.) These are the people and companies who have more reason to be receptive to your work; now you must figure out how you're going to make these people aware of your existence. Start by identifying your network: high school, college, grad school, fraternities, sororities, band camp, Facebook, LinkedIn. This may seem insanely corny to you, but if there's a fellow college alum at a publishing house that you know dominates the market in the area you write in, you're going to have to grit your teeth, and write your alum a query letter. And when I say "a" query letter, yes, I mean, potentially hundreds -- if not thousands -- of query letters. But if you contact people with whom you have some shared experience, you're giving them a solid reason to at least read your letter and your manuscript. That's the power of networking.
  5. Creating buzz: I'm listing this last, but in many ways, it's the most important. If you've written a book, and you don't have a Facebook page and a Twitter account with info about the book, and where people can purchase it, and some juicy reasons about why they should do so... sigh. You took the time out of your life to write a book that, presumably, you care about... why not finish what you started and let the world in on the secret? Yes, at first, you may feel sleazy and gross, putting up links on Facebook to your book and asking people to buy it. And some people who you're sure will support you, won't; meanwhile other people whom you don't even like will buy your book and tell you how much they loved it, and whoa. And the more you do, the more you'll be able to do. The more you do, the more seriously you'll take your work and the better your writing will become. Right around now, go create a Twitter account for yourself as a writer, and start following writers, literary magazines, publishing houses and agents to see what they're talking about, and how you can join the conversation. Tweet out links to your book, make allies, help other writers: get people talking about your book. People talking translates into sales.

The more you do, the more empowered you'll be to push yourself and your talent further. Is it easy? Dear god, no. Sending out hundreds of query letters without receiving a reply can make you want to mix up a gallon of margaritas and curl up in bed with said pitcher and a Krazy Straw and weep. You will have days when you'll feel completely alone and frustrated and hopeless. Days when you can't get anyone to read your book, and your "friends " are on Facebook saying, "like, omg, she's so like spiritual, you know" about Kim Kardashian's latest onslaught on the English language. The very same people who can't be bothered to crack open the book that is your heart and soul.

You will also have days when you'll see a stranger on the subway reading your book and smiling with enjoyment, and you'll think, "I wrote that. I did that. I. Made. That. Happen!" And you'll feel pretty damn invincible. You know what to do. Get to work!