From the Mail Room: What Do I Do with My Book?

mail-room-author-emails-office-899351_960_720A reader sent in this question:

I have a couple questions on how to start my book. I don’t know if it’s long enough or good enough for it to be published. I need a little insight from someone with experience. I sent my manuscript to page publishing but my grandma thought it was a scam because she said when you normally start off writing as a beginner they give you money to help start is that true? I need help!

First of all, we love your grandmother. She’s not exactly on course, but our own Fearless Leader always says: “When it comes to publishing, if you have to pay, run away.” As for the advice you seek, here’s the answer from our K. Rowe:

Let’s tick off the questions one by one.

How long should my book be?

Here’s a handy-dandy summary of standard book lengths by age group and word count. These are general rules simply because many age groups don’t have a long attention span or strong enough vocabulary to enjoy more in-depth books. There are exceptions, of course. If your YA sci-fi is 80,000 words, but it’s an awesome nail-biter, don’t shorten it because you think you have to. Or your military thriller tops out at 206,000; well, the same applies! You as the author control the length of your book. And when you think you’re done telling your story, then you’re done. Here are some general guidelines per Standout Books.

  • Children’s picture book: 500–600 words over 32–48 pages.
  • Children’s chapter book: 1,000–10,000 words.
  • Middle grade: 20,000–50,000 words.
  • Young Adult (YA): 40,000–70,000 words.
  • Flash fiction: 500 words or less.
  • Short Story: 5,000–10,000 words.
  • Novella: 10,000–40,000 words.
  • Novel: Anything over 40,000 words. Anything over 110,000 words is an ‘epic’.
  • Adult literary and commercial fiction: 80,000–100,000 words is considered to be the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, though you could get away with 70,000 words minimum and 109,000 words maximum if you’re feeling daring.

Of course, different genres tend to have different lengths as well, as you can read about in this wonderful guest post by Regina Clarke.

How do I know if my book’s any good?

A good source to gauge your book’s quality and “doneness” is to employ readers – many people have an alpha reader they run their story by before it’s shown to anyone else. Then, there are Beta readers. We have a great guide to the different types of readers here. In a nutshell, beta readers should be impartial to the publishing process (unlike your Aunt Sally who thinks your book belongs on the NYT Bestseller list) and tell you what they think of your book. They might even give you suggestions to improve it. Nearly all of them work for free. We’ve got a resource page to help you find these generous folks, and tips on how to work with beta readers, right here.

After beta readers comes the editing process. There can never be enough said about professional editing. This is usually the most expensive part of the publishing process, but it’s worth it 1000%. If you have aspirations of a writing career, then you absolutely, positively must put out a polished manuscript. Once again, don’t have Aunt Sally do your editing — unless she’s a PhD in English or (like my editor) a retired English teacher who’s not afraid to wield a red pen with loving justice. Editing’s not cheap. Expect to pay about a penny a word. Yes, that adds up pretty fast for a 40,000 word manuscript. But you NEED this to be competitive in the literary marketplace. Of course, you don’t have to pay by the word. Many editors charge by the hour – and if your beta readers have done a good job and helped you clean up your manuscript, you should be able to greatly reduce your editor’s labor.

Aren’t publishers supposed to pay me for my book?

This is probably the saddest point of all. Most folks assume when they submit their book to a publisher, they’ll be paid handsomely for it. Sorry, that’s rarely the case. Once again, I’m not trying to smash your dreams, but it’s a reality check. 99.99% of new authors who submit their book to a major publisher will get a rejection slip. Unless you have several bestsellers, are a famous celebrity, or have connections in the publishing industry, you won’t see a dime of advance money. Gone are those days. The big publishers have tightened their purse strings. They don’t want to pay $10,000 to an author who’s unproven in the industry. So what’s an author to do? Please, please, please don’t fall prey to a vanity press! They will require YOU to pay them to publish your book. There seems to be an endless list of them, but since you mentioned Page Publishing, here’s an article that will help you see the light.

So, how do I get my book published?

Well, you do it yourself! We’ve got the steps right here on this I’ve Written a Book, How Do I Publish It? page.

Don’t be scared. You can do it. We’re here to help. And it sounds like your grandmother’s there, too. Remember – publishers make their money off READERS, not writers. Never pay to be published. Best of luck to you on your publishing journey!

Got a question? Send it in!

Author: K. Rowe

K. Rowe is an experienced and prolific multi-genre author. She draws from over twenty years of active Air Force service. Kathy lives in eastern Kentucky with her husband and a zoo of farm animals. Among her many duties she finds time to offer services as a publishing consultant for new authors. Learn more about Kathy from Facebook, and her Amazon author page.

7 thoughts on “From the Mail Room: What Do I Do with My Book?”

  1. It is cheap and not difficult to self publish your book on Create Space, Ingram Spark or Smash Words. The hard part is promoting your book and getting readers. There are lots of shark out there who will try to sell you ineffective marketing devices.

    1. I built a following on Facebook, and that seems to be decent (and free) marketing. Post excerpts, teasers, trailers, and whatnot. My biggest expense is our local comic con. I share a booth each year with my artist and do my darndest to meet folks and get new readers. My best “warm fuzzy” was a young man who stopped by my table this year. He told me he’d bought my new release the previous year and had read it SEVEN times! I just wanted to hug that guy! And it was great promo to tell potential readers that someone loved my book enough to read it that many times. (And he bought 2 more books from me this year.)

  2. This is really an excellent post, Kathy, if just more newbie writers will read it and take heed. I think of how many are out there floundering around, yet all the info they need is right here. Hope more will share this post!

  3. An author friend of mine has found someone called Alinka Rutkowska (aka Alina Author Remake), who reckons she can shift lots of books for indie authors. I’m pretty sure my friend has paid her a goodly sum. I see my friend’s novel still languishes in the Zon’s rankings, both UK and US. Alinka’s pitch immediately reminded me of Amway (with which I once had a close brush [shudders]).

    My gut feeling is that unscrupulous publicists are the new vanity publishers. It is quite straightforward now to publish a book oneself. Increasingly difficult to market it successfully. What are others’ experiences?

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