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How to select a publisher

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Like many aspiring authors before me, I have spent years going through the query process with both literary agents and traditional publishers without success. I spent countless hours researching the best ways to write a query letter, what different publishers and agents were seeking, tailoring my responses, and ultimately having no success.

Eventually, having met with no success in the traditional route, and knowing that my stories were worth telling, I made the difficult decision to self-publish. Self-publishing is a high-risk venture even if approached correctly and fully armed. Self-publishing has grown in popularity over the years as platforms such as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing has made it highly accessible and virtually free, assuming you ignore the costs to make a professional product. It takes significant self-education to learn how to develop a book for publishing without an expert, to pay for professional editing, creating a cover that looks professional, and owning the marketing from start to finish. I was on the start of this journey, reaching out to find cost effective ways in which I could achieve all these milestones to ensure my first published book would be a success. I reached out through multiple writer groups I am a part of, spent a significant time on google and writing blogs, and even attempted to create my own covers.

Although I ultimately did not go down the self-published route, I consider all of this work as time and effort well spent. Why? Because it gave me an appreciation for the enormity of work required to be a successful published author. It is critical to understand this before making the decision to self-publish, and I was lucky enough to learn hard lessons before I had made irrevocable mistakes.

Before I continue to speak of my own publishing journey, it would be remiss if I did not speak of ‘hybrid’ publishing, or more commonly known as vanity publishing. Generally speaking, a vanity publisher will create a veneer to pass itself off as a traditional publisher, accepting open submissions, and will then offer to publish an author’s work for a fee. While this may sound appealing and seem a viable way to get a book published, and while they will print books for you to sell, they will do little to assure it is to a professional standard and even less to help you market the book. This leaves many authors with hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of their own books which they cannot sell as no marketing effort has been applied. This is a trap that I almost fell into during the early stages of my quest to be traditionally published, but thankfully, a little research saved me from this costly mistake.

It was a recommendation from a fellow writer that made me aware of assisted independent publishing. This is the route I have chosen to take, as it allows me the creative freedom inherent with self-publishing, but the support mechanisms that come with traditional publishing such as editing services, cover design, marketing education and importantly, reach into distribution channels.

So how did I decide on my publisher? On the face, that is simple; gut feeling. When I found my publisher, I knew very quickly that they would be an excellent fit for my personality, my work, and my long-term goals. This may seem too simplified to be of use to those of you seeking more concrete answers, so bear with me and I will explain.

The first signal was one of openness. My publisher was very open in all of his advertising and when I spoke to him about what they did, the costs associated, and what responsibility would remain on me as the author. This set very clear lines of responsibility in our relationship from the first instance, enabling effective communication and collaboration.

The second signal was one of personality. From the first time I spoke with my publisher, he was enthusiastic and energetic about his role and about my own project. This displayed to me the same passion for helping authors to be published as I hold for my own work. This is important, because passion is critical to success. Regardless of what you are doing, you will always work harder and achieve more success in something that you are passionate about.

The third signal was a simple acknowledgement about the importance of marketing in publishing success. In my interactions with vanity publishers, marketing was something that they said they would handle, but from a significant number of testimonials, they rarely did. It was critically important to me that, whichever publisher I chose, they had a very strong commitment to marketing. This is something my publisher has by the truck-load.

In the end, selecting the correct publisher is a very personal process and decision. It must be one that fits for you as a person and for your creative work. There is no checklist for success in this endeavour, but if it does not feel right at the end of the day, it will likely not lead to success.

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