Chasing Unicorns: Publishing Tips from a Pro Who’s Seen It All

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So you’ve written your novel, put it through countless rounds of editing, and are ready to publish. But where do you start? And how do you choose which path to follow? Today, author Silver James shares her tips for how to take your novel from polished to published: 

Once upon a time, a novelist hunted an elusive unicorn named Agent. The novelist hoped that capturing such a rare creature would send them to the end of the rainbow and the pot of gold known as A Publishing Contract™. That amalgamated fairy tale is still the goal of some—but not all. 

In today’s publishing culture, there are a few paths a novelist can follow: traditional publishing—with a fork leading to small presses or big publishers; and self-publishing. A writer can choose one or all, depending on personal goals. 

No longer does a novelist have to be “electric” or “gasoline” in order to publish. We can be hybrids now.

I’m a hybrid. I first published with a small press in 2008. Four years later, I jumped off the cliff to swim in the rip tide of self-publishing, all the while hoping to sign a contract with a New York publisher. I signed my first contract with Harlequin in 2014. Since I began, I’ve had 41 books and novellas published, as well as learned how to juggle contracted deadlines with the desires of the fans of my self-published series.

So you’ve won NaNoWriMo. You’ve started editing your manuscript. Maybe you’ve polished it to a shiny finish. But what next? The blunt answer: It depends. 

“On what?” you ask. “On you,” I answer. Your publishing destiny depends on your expectations, your career path, and your knowledge and ability. No path to publishing is easy; they all take work and at least one takes extra expertise, and there are pros and cons to each.

Traditional Publishers

Although the “traditional” publishing industry still has “gatekeepers” in the form of agents, many publishers are open to un-agented manuscripts. Some have even created newbie-friendly “digital-first” lines. It’s a slow process, and you need to know the market for your genre; you need to have something the publishing house thinks they can sell; and most importantly, you need to have patience. Most authors will not have a “golden fleece” manuscript that goes to auction for six or seven figures—though you will get an advance, which makes the wait a little easier.

Small Presses

Small presses are sometimes more open to new talent. They lean toward niche markets and may provide digital-first options. Sometimes they offer advances. They provide editors, cover art, and the physical publishing. They may even do some marketing for you. An advantage of small press is that you learn the process of publishing, from final draft to revisions letters, to editing and copyediting, proofreading, and final publication. There’s more steps than you’d think!

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing may seem like the easiest path. Write the book, upload it, make money, right? Take it from me, it’s not. If you just want to write books, go after a traditional contract. Self-publishing is a business and you are the CEO. You’re in charge of editing, covers, formatting, uploading, all the paperwork, and marketing—all of which takes perseverance, expertise, and a head for business. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

The number one piece of advice I give to a new writer? Work with an editor. Every writer needs an editor—no ifs, ands, or buts! If you sign with a publisher, you will work with an editor. If you self-publish, you’ll need to find your own, but your readers will thank you! (Okay, climbing off my soap box now.)

I do love a good cliché (but avoid them in my books because editors), but I’ll say it anyway: I hope I didn’t rain on any parades. Take it from me—the path to publishing takes a lot of work, but if your dream is to be published, you can do what it takes to make it come true. I did, and I’ve never looked back.


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Silver James likes walking on the wild side, and coffee. Okay. She loves coffee. LOTS of coffee. Warning: Her Muse, Iffy, runs with scissors. An award-winning author, she’s worked with the military and in the legal field, fire service, and law enforcement. Now retired from the “real world,” she spends her days with two Newfoundland dogs and the cat who rules them all, writing paranormal suspense, urban fantasy, and sexy contemporary romance for Harlequin Desire. Look for Silver online at her website, buy her books on Amazon, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, or sign up for her newsletter.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Brett Jordan on Flickr.