Book publishing questions.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Now get five questions for the price of one.]
Have you ever finished writing a book? How do you do it?
I am writing something and there is so much more to write.
If [you] have published a book, can you please tell me how to haggle with a publisher? What is the usual cost of printing? How much of the total does the author get?
I'm starting to get a lot of these questions. They seem to be frequent to working writers with a public profiles. It's understandable for aspiring writers worry about how publishing is going to work and I highly encourage writers who are serious about trying to make money to understand the ins and outs of the industry they mean to make headway in, but I do notice that sometimes the level of detail and focus on particular moments of the process seem to be oft asked after, especially before one has finished even a single draft of a single manuscript.
I'm not going to NOT answer your questions of course, but I can do a lot more than what you can get from ten or fifteen minutes on Google. I have esoteric knowledge of craft and years worth of advice about process. I am a codex goddamnit.
Erm.....let's do your questions.
Have you ever finished writing a book?
Yes. A couple, in fact. Neither is fit for publication without major rewriting and total revision. And one I'm pretty fucking sure will never see the light of day because I don't really know how to unproblematic-ify it. It may have just been 500 pages of writing practice. And that's okay. I sure as shit needed it.
In the modern era writers can circumvent rejection by going with self publication, but this isn't always a spiffy idea. If a book hasn't been substantially content edited, it is likely to be shitstorm bad and getting clocked over the head with a bunch of rejections sends a writer back to make their work better instead of going with instant gratification. First time manuscripts are notoriously bad and often are bad in a particular way. (They're horrible at the beginning and get better as the person spends a year or so practicing and literally gets better at writing by the time they reach the end. In fact, a careful agent or publisher can usually identify a first novel by watching the prose quality improve markedly from beginning to end.) A lot of writers should put their first book on the shelf, learn many valuable lessons, and start their career in commercial publication with book number two.
They don't, but they should.
I'm currently working through the first draft of #3 and I think this will be the first one that I tell to go fly and be free.
How do you do it?
One word at a time, Prithu.
When the draft is done, rewrite it.
When the rewrite is done, revise it.
When the revision is done, revise it some more and get feedback.
When you get feedback, swallow your pride and listen to it. Revise it again, and get more feedback.
When you're sick to death of it, and it's as perfect as you can make it, shop for an agent.
Trying to skip steps is...not advisable. I mean, you can self publish a rough draft if you want, but it doesn't mean it's going to get any attention.
I am writing something and there is so much more to write.
I've been there. Just keep writing!
If [you] have published a book, can you please tell me how to haggle with a publisher?
I don't have a published book, but here's what I can tell you about haggling with a publisher: get an agent. Get an agent. Get an agent. GET AN AGENT. GET. AN. AGENT.
Let them haggle. They know how to do it. And how not to get taken for a ride through a quagmire of leagal-ese.
They will almost always get you more money than they cost, and they will be your first line of commercial-level feedback (if you need to make some changes to make your manuscript more sellable). They are your legal representation. They know the tricks publishers will pull, and very few opportunities exist for an unsolicited manuscript to be published anyway. (You don't want to be in the slush pile.) They will know where to best shop your book because it might not be too obvious. And if you do happen to be someone who wrote something that is really (truly) good but might not sell–one of those books that needs to be in the world–they know who to call.
What is the usual cost of printing?
This really depends. The cost of printing a single book is now low enough that a print-on-demand model is viable and will make a writer money. You can crank out a book for really only a few dollars in materials once the galleys are uploaded to the computer. The big five use cost scalability of materials and economies of scale to lower their per-book cost to pennies, but that's why they don't typically sign a contract if they don't think you're going to sell at least 7500-10,000 books. They need a lot of copies to make back their investment.
How much of the total does the author get?
There are a lot of ways that it gets worded (amount per unit, percentage of wholesale, wholesale return value, percentage of retail) but the end result is that you will probably get somewhere between 5% and 10% of a book's cover price depending on how good your agent is at negotiating for you. You can actually make less if you try to go it without an agent (don't) and more if you're a household name (don't we wish).
Hope these answers were helpful. I can also do a postcolonial deconstruction of Cars III if....you know....you're into that sort of thing.
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