Questions a Publisher Asks
Independently publishing your book can be a daunting process, but there is hope. Of all the data and requirements you’re bombarded with, about 85% of it is now possible to handle very easily through online publishing, as you will discover. Though you are entering a marketplace in which literally millions of books are published in various formats around the world each year, the good news is that there is plenty of good news.
The job of a publisher, though, is to turn a good manuscript into a great book.
You probably haven’t thought of yourself as a publisher at all. You are burning with the desire to create effects upon readers and the mechanics of getting a finished work into readers’ hands probably wasn’t part of your vision. The process needs to be broken down a little so that you can see the different functions involved.
If you want to independently publish your work, it follows that you must become an independent publisher - the clue is in the name.
How exactly do you do that?
Is this just a matter of pushing a button and getting what you’ve written to come out of the end of a printing machine?
No, there are different stages involved in publishing a work, and if you really want to make it as a writer, each stage needs to be confronted and dealt with.
The publisher role shouldn’t be permitted to interfere too much in the writing role; and the writing role shouldn’t interfere too much in the publishing role. Each have their own jobs to do.
Traditional publishers work by
a) looking for writing that grabs readers’ attention distinctively
b) looking for compelling stories and well-realised characters
c) judging the commercial feasibility of the work based on what they feel is the core premise of the book, the state of the market and the author’s potential.
Publishers have editorial, sales, marketing, publicity and production departments and design a business plan for each work which looks at it from each of these different perspectives. Such a plan would cover issues such as:
i) Is the book ‘strong’ enough to hook the reader? By which we can now see is meant ‘Is the work built around a sufficiently powerful core vacuum?’ as outlined in How Stories Really Work.
ii) Which genre does the book fit in? This comes with a whole package of expectations, some of which you may not yet have thought of, such as how genre affects pricing, cover design book formats, types of reader, etc. Asking about genre is another way of asking who the readers will be for the book and how will they be reached.
iii) What kind of competition is there around in that group? Be specific.
iv) What makes the book under examination different enough to stand out in the crowd?
v) In what format will the book be published? Does it need illustrations?
vi) How long is the book? Is that the ‘normal’ length for a book of that kind? (This is an interesting one because many books of course have defied the norm and gone on to success. When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings there were no ‘High Fantasy trilogies’ around - Allen and Unwin, the original publisher, took a risk and basically created sub-genre.)
vi) What will the book cost to produce? Include any cost that might come up, such as editing, marketing, distribution and so on.
vii) What will the price of the book be?
viii) At what point would the book become profitable?
ix) When would the book be ready for release?
You don’t have to do all of this on your own and if you feel that your emotions might get in the way, perhaps it would be best not to. There are professionals around who will do some or all of this section for reasonable rates. But if you feel that you can be sufficiently objective about your writing, all of this can be feasibly done by you.
You have access to the tools you need to affordably publish and market your books internationally. You can take advantage of the ready-made publishing production lines which have appeared over the last ten years.
Like it or not, the way readers operate is as consumers do all over the world: they look at the outside of something and make a judgement as to what might be inside. In the case of books, the appearance contains so many subtle cues that this point is even more crucial. Readers will not only make a purchase based on the strength of a cover, but will actively reject (or most often simply ignore) books that do not trigger their mainly subconscious criteria.
What you think might work to attract readers is probably a guess. There are some guidelines that you need to follow if you want to be successful at this.
• drawing a cover yourself
• selecting an unconventional font in the hope of ‘standing out’
• unusual book formats that might sound like a good idea at the time but which will put readers off
• false impressions (like placing a romantic picture on the cover suggesting sex when there is no sex in the book).
As with everything else, the practicalities of book publishing like choosing a cover should be built around the overall goal, to affect the reader in a way that you intend.
This means that a book cover should suit the genre of your writing. Identify key cover design elements and themes that your readers expect to see and are looking for. Book buyers associate certain cover styles with certain kinds of experience.
Yes, you have to consider things like
• placement of titles and author’s name
• spacing and layout
•use of images and graphics.
Take a look at other books in your genre. What kind of font do they use?
Book buyers generally spend a fraction of a second scanning over a book on a shelf or online and so part of what you are trying to do is trigger subconscious recognitions. E-books have cover images about the size of a postage stamp or smaller but you still need to use that image to good effect.
If this aspect of getting published seems too daunting, professional designers are available at reasonable rates.
Here is a checklist of things that you might want to include on your cover. Before you panic about this though, most online platforms deal with most of this so you don’t have to worry too much.
• Tagline or subtitle
• A short review
• Any awards
• Recommended retail price
• Illustrator, if applicable
• Website link
Here are some further specific tips:
i) e-books and print books are totally different and need to be formatted differently to optimise the reading experience. Modern e-readers can play havoc with files that have been prepared for printing.
ii) Serif Fonts such as Garamond are easier to read on printed paper. The flourishes help group the letters in words together
iii) San Serif Fonts such as Arial are easier to read off a screen, which has lower resolution than ink on a page.
iv) Though physical books can come in many shapes and sizes, try to stick to the standard formats atlas until you have mastered the whole process of independent publishing.
v) independent publishing platforms provide you with an automated series of options for most of this.
Setting Up the First Pages
Established convention going back centuries gives a sequence of pages for the beginning of any book. Even e-books follow this sequence to some degree. These are the important points:
a) The first page is always a right hand page. This comes straight after the cover (or the end papers of a hardcover book). It contains the title of the book in case the cover is lost.
b) Right hand pages are always odd numbered while the left hand pages are always even numbered.
c) Page 2 is the first left hand page. It can be left blank or used to list the author’s previous titles
d) The next right hand page, Page 3, must include Title, Author and Publisher.
e) The next page, Page 4, contains the copyright and other legal information about the publication of the book. It is always a good idea to assert your copyright ownership over the material with the line:
Copyright © [Author Name] [Year of First Publication].
This is followed by a Reservation of Rights statement, such as ‘All rights reserved’ or an explicit restriction on the reproduction of the text in any format without permission by you, the author. Almost any other book will give you an example. The copyright page should also include the full name of the publishing company, the mailing address or contact of the publishing company, the city and year of publication, the edition of the book, and when the book was printed. You can also include a reference for the cover image (if applicable) and acknowledge contributors to the book such as the cover designer, editor and so on.
f) Page 5 can be used for a dedication and/or disclaimer
g) Page 6 can be left blank
h) Page 7 in a Novel is the first page of text.
i) All chapters should start on a right hand page.
j) Give your reader page numbers and running headers where possible. Page numbers can be placed at the top or bottom of the page and either centred or against the exterior margin. Right hand pages are always odd-numbered pages. Never print a page number on a blank page. Start the page numbering from the start of the main text, not the first physical page of the book. Use Roman numerals for preliminary pages such as a Foreword or Preface.
k) Running Headers are the headers that appear at the top of the page containing either the title of the current chapter, the title of the book or the author’s name, and just need to be consistent. They are located at the top of the page and either centred or aligned to the margin.
Don’t worry! This can all sound daunting, but there are further books and courses about it all, including the How to Write Stories That Work -and Get Them Published, available here.