You’ve written your first fantasy novel. You’ve gone over it a hundred times, checked spelling, grammar and done all manner of editing tweaks with every fine toothcomb you can find. It is perfect. Ready to print, in your opinion. It’s practically burning a hole in the table, the magic is so hot.
But you’re a step ahead of the game. You know you don’t want a pile of books under the staircase, or another POD book in the sparkling obscurity of a bottomless online catalogue … you want to be in print and on the bestseller lists. For that, you probably need a fantasy publisher. So how do you find one?
1. First, write up a synopsis (a summary in 2 pages), a query letter including what subgenre your novel is, like high fantasy or steampunk and a totally intriguing ‘blurb’.
2. Try to find a publisher in your own country that specialises in that kind of book and approach them. You have a much greater chance because you are a local fantasy author and can be promoted as such. Each country has a publishers’ association with a list of publishers. For instance, in South Africa, look on www.publishsa.co.za. To give you a starting point, find a book that is similar to yours on the bookshelf of your local bookstore, or online retailer. See who published that.
In smaller markets, the problem is that most of the fantasy on the bookshelves is published by UK or US based publishers. This is because of economies of scale – big markets support big publishers with big print runs leading to the cheapest end product which can be exported to small markets cheaper than any competing local products which are produced in small runs.
3. So you’ll probably have to try to first get an agent in the UK or USA to get a major trade publisher there to publish you. It’s incredibly tough to get an agent and even harder to get a publisher interested. Trade publishers won’t respond to direct queries, you have to approach them via agents. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is a good resource to help you find the right agent. You can also try agents listed online – google ‘literary agents’ – but beware of the sharks who are linked to vanity presses. You’ll know, because they will ask you for money. To help you get started here’s my short list of fantasy agents.
4. If that doesn’t work, try to find a publisher in the UK or USA you can approach directly (for example, presently in the UK there’s PS Publishing at http://store.pspublishing.co.uk/ and Myrmidon Books who have a very good page to help you get started http://www.myrmidonbooks.com/resources_for_writers.html) These publishers soon get swamped with submissions, so you’ll have to dig about on the internet to find new yet reputable small publishers.
5. Send your query to everyone at the same time, you’ll only get a few replies. When someone is interested, you can send them the whole manuscript. It would then be polite to give them a month or so to consider it before moving on.
6. Rewrite the manuscript while you’re waiting – you’ll find many mistakes and typos and silly things you just don’t see when you check it over the first time. You might consider paying a freelance editor to work with you on your manuscript if you want to give it a professional polish and make it exceptional but this won’t make an unpublishable book publishable. It will just be a nicely worded unpublishable book. Your story will stand or fall on the strength of the story, not the dazzling sentence construction or perfect use of the apostrophe.
7. If a publisher takes you on, they will pay you a percentage of sales, roughly 7% of the retail price you’ll see it selling for in the bookshop. When you understand how the industry works and how many costs need to be paid before that book walks out of the bookstore (design, printing, advertising, distribution, warehousing, and the whopping 40-60% book retailer commission, etc.) you’ll know it is a fair percentage.
8. If no publishers are interested (that’s the norm for 999 out of 1000 manuscripts, so you’re in good company), if you are determined to be in print, you can consider self-publishing via Print-on-Demand (POD) using CreateSpace, which gets your book in front of Amazon customers, but never as cheaply as the books you’re competing against (the latest fantasy blockbusters).
You’ll still have to market it, and that is very hard, because there are millions of authors competing to be seen on the internet, including those with publishing companies behind them. To have half a chance in the marketplace, most writers need editing, cover design, websites, blogs, and effective publicity campaigns. Given time, you’ll be able to do a half-decent job with all that. At least with POD you get your work in print within a few weeks with minimal hassle and cost. That’s an incredibly cool feeling; it’s balanced by the uncool feeling when it doesn’t sell due to lack of visibility. Trying to get distribution to stores is mostly a waste of time – once you add on the retail commission your POD book will be too expensive and won’t be stocked. But with a bit of work promoting your book, you might begin to make some real sales and have real customers reading and reviewing your book. POD books are also very useful for sending to reviewers (Google fantasy book reviews, there are lots of blogs). That’s an essential step in an author’s career.
9. Self-publishing with a proper printing of your book (500-5000 copies) and trying to supply the trade is not recommended unless:
(a) you are planning to start a fantasy imprint with many titles from many authors and you have many dollars and many ideas
(b) you know the people you can sell at least 1000 books to directly or
(c) you have some contacts in a book trade distribution & representation business (the guys who deliver and sell books to bookstores) who will take on your single book. If you pitch up with one book to supply them with they will turn you away – they deal with publishing companies not authors. And you’ll be amazed by how little money you have left over when you factor in all the costs. You just won’t have all the efficiencies of scale that large publishers have, yet you have to equal their final retail price or you’ll sink like a scone of stone. I’m not trying to be negative here, I’m trying to save you from wasting your time. Been there, done that. Lost lots of money.
To be an effective small publishing company you’ll also have to be prepared to run a business which is very time-consuming (i.e. no writing time) and you’ll require lots of other skills that have nothing to do with writing. Ask any small business owner when they last took a holiday.
10. What now? You’ve ended up here, at point ten, along with everyone else. Now you know. There’s a fundamental oversupply of people who want to be fantasy writers, and a chronically small number of fantasy publishing companies to get you in print. This can’t be fixed, it’s due to the competitive marketplace, supply and demand economics. Only so many people buy and read printed fantasy books. That market can only support so many authors.
Enter … the ebook. The digital market is exploding, and there are some exciting ebook sales figures coming out of this market. If you can get it right, there’s some fame to be gained and some fortune to be made. Well, maybe not fortunes, but enough to get you started on the path to full-time writing and to get a broad readership. I suggest you read my article on the Free Digital Attack For New Fantasy Authors.