Publishing 101: A beginner’s first look

Last week, I shared with you 10 things I learned about being a writer; this week, I bring to you another list. (Drum roll, please)

5 Things I Learned About Publishing!


(Ok, so this is a printer, but would you rather have a picture of a desk?)

Alright, publishing… *shivers* (That word scares me, sometimes.)

  1. The difference between small press, independent press, and micro press…
    To be honest, it was not until recently that I had any clue about these differences. The sad part about this is that it has probably been mentioned to me ten different times, but this week it was different. This week, I had to read the difference for myself rather than having it handed to me. Perhaps that’s not fair. It was in essence handed to me. I was given a Wikipedia link by a professor. (That’s right, a professor used Wikipedia! But hey, sometimes it’s got its act together.) So what did I find? In the past I have wondered what would be right for me because realistically, I know if I publish, it will probably NOT be with one of the “big dogs.” I thought there were three other options, small presses, independent presses, and micro presses. Well, apparently that’s two options.(?) Small & independent presses are terms often used interchangeably and micro presses are publishers that produce chapbooks or other small books on a very small scale. (Small as in maybe 50 copies of one book in a year.) Well thank you, Wikipedia. Apparently I’m looking for small/independent presses. Click here if you want to check it out for yourself. 
  2. What do editors want?
    I’ll let you in on a little secret; they don’t know. Stop trying to write that book that you think they want, that book you think will make money, that book that fits all their patterns. Write the book you want to write because not only do you not know what they really want, they don’t even know. Trends change and the work that speak to an editor will change, too. No one stays the same forever, right?
    And while we are talking about editors… Let me tell you what dawned on me for the first time. If you’re thinking about becoming an editor, be prepared for a thankless job. Perhaps the author of the book you spin into gold will be appreciative, but to paraphrase Betsy Lerner, no reader finishes a book and says, “My God, the editor did a fantastic job with that one!” No one asks the editor to sign their book either. Have you? Seems a little odd since so many of us writers are desperate for that big deal that comes with an editor.
  3. It’s a lengthy process.
    And here I was thinking it was writing the book that took forever! Having read up on the sometimes horrifying topic that is publishing, and attending a first-time published author panel–first book that is, I’m realizing that the publishing side can take just as long, if not longer–depending on how you write. From the moment your book gets selected to the moment it’s printed, bound, and in your hand, you could be looking at years. Yes, that is plural.
  4. Platform!
    Even with the rise of e-readers, I’ve always had a romanticized view of “literature” and all that it entails, including the authors. I used to think the publishing world would always be a business of the dark age, but as usual, what do I know? I’ve learned in my Literary Citizenship class this semester that authors need a platform and an online presence. This week I learned that not only do I need a platform, I sort of already have one and if you find yourself reading this blog, chances are you have one, too. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google +, Tumblr, Instagram, Goodreads, GetGlue, WordPress. These are just the forms of social media that I have on my phone! Everything I post on each of them shapes my platform. How much have I posted before I realized that? How many things should I have put more thought into beforehand? How many message boards have I posted on that can link back to me? This is something all new writers should really be thinking about.
  5. How many times must we see/hear of a book before we pick it up?
    I recently read a story published in Ninth Letter by my professor Cathy Day called “YOUR BOOK: A Novel in Stories.” The story comes from her “Theory of 5 Pops,” which I’d heard her mention in a past class. The theory is that a book will “pop” onto your radar at least five times before you actually buy it. This could be anything from seeing the cover in a store or while someone else was reading it, or reading a review of it. So while I had heard this before, I feel like I learned it this week because the story made it sink in. As I was finishing her story, I started thinking about my past purchases? The following was my thought process–

    Do I do that? How many times did I hear about my favorite book before I actually bought a copy?  Wow, I do that! How many times have I rented a book at the library with a $20 in my pocket instead of buying it? How many of those were books that are still in circulation? How many current books have I bought used copies of?

    All of this lead me to wonder if as a “5 pop” cosumer, am I killing authors’ careers? What if that fifth “pop” takes so long to make it to my radar that buying the book then won’t really help the author’s career?

Side note: I encourage you to think about that fifth point. How responsible are we for the fall of the publishing industry? (For this reason and so many others.)

3 thoughts on “Publishing 101: A beginner’s first look”

  1. I really like this post. I had the same realizations last year at the Midwest Writers Workshop. It’s shaming to think of how many books I see on a shelf at a bookstore and want to read but i don’t pick them up until I see them at Half Price. Also, the time frame in getting something published isn’t something I ever really thought about either. I know there are a lot of articles our there that lay these things out but the facts seem to fall on deaf ears until you’re the one researching these things. Great post.

    1. Thanks! 🙂

      It’s true, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear something, I won’t remember it until I have to find it for myself. I really need to figure out how to change this…

  2. I’m curious: why do you think of it as “platform building” and not “literary citizenship”? I’m glad, though, that you’re realizing that all your online activity DOES add up and does make a difference–whatever you call it.

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