Books have long since stood as one of the best ways to spread information and fiction alike, and while the Bible and “book” were nearly synonymous in the Middle Ages, the printing press allowed books as we know them to become a reality. Printing presses then and now can effect book printing on a large scale, and authors are always looking for agents, publishers, and book printing companies to help them. When a novel such as creative fiction, a memoir, or collection of essays is ready for print, the author has some steps to take before that work appears on bookshelves. Publishing a book is not quick or easy, but there is an established process, and self publishing a book is a route that some choose to take. What happens between finishing a manuscript and book printing?
The Traditional Route
When it comes to publication, an author or anthology editor may take the traditional route of book printing, which starts with literary agents. The author will not be alone; he or she will research and look up literary agents if they do not already have one, and convince one to represent them in the publishing process. Literary agents will have their own online accounts describing not only their own literary experience and interests, but the genres of fiction or non-fiction that they will represent for clients. This may range from cook books to self-help to spiritual books, all the way to science fiction to thrillers to biographies and more. An agent’s profile will also explain if that agent is currently available or not for accepting new clients.
The author will submit the right materials to agents who will take an interest in their manuscript’s genre. This includes a query letter, a concise and detail-focused letter where the author will introduce themselves and the nature of their manuscript. This is roughly analogous to a cover letter for a job application, except that the letter describes the manuscript as well as the author’s own expertise and literary experience. The author may also personally thank the agent for his/her time, and explain why they are sure that this agent is the right one for the job. If appropriate, the author may also send a sample of their manuscript, such as the first two chapters or the first 50 pages of the material. Agents will describe what sort of sample that they want, if any, on their profile page.
An author must be prepared for many rejections before getting an agent to accept them, let alone a publisher, and many publishers may reject an author and their agent before one agrees to print their material. Even famed authors such as J.K. Rowling and Stephen King faced many rejections early in their careers before finding agents and publishers, and an aspiring author should not be discouraged by a tall stack of rejections from agents or publishers. Once an agent agrees to work with an author, that agent will act on the author’s behalf and search for a publisher who will print their work. Publishers look for not only quality manuscripts, but those that have a good potential to sell well and satisfy what the market is looking for. Authors are discouraged from trying to “play the market” when writing their manuscript, however, since markets may change rapidly between manuscript creation and publication. And once a publisher is found, if at all, they will start book printing on a scale that they feel is correct. Established authors such as Clive Cussler or James Patterson or Danielle Steele may get large print runs, while newer ones may be seen as a risk and may get smaller print runs to minimize liability.
Another route is self publishing, and this route may be taken for any number of reasons. Some publishers are known as “vanity presses,” and will accept manuscripts much more easily than regular ones will. The author will be expected to cover more expenses, however, and some authors see this method as dishonest. All the same, a new author may try this route to get their first work into the market as a sort of test run, and the print run is likely to be very limited anyway. Success may encourage an author to switch to the traditional publication route later.