Assisted publishing or subsidy publishing is paying a company (or a person) to publish your book for you. I don’t have any experience using assisted publishing, because it’s not the right option for me.
If you go this route, check references, ask a lot of questions, and treat it like a business decision—because it is. Some companies are good, some are not, and some are rip-offs. I’ve heard of rates from several hundred dollars to over ten thousand. And that’s a lot of money to pay for something you can do yourself if you indie publishes your book.
Now, my statement about doing everything yourself if you indie publishes is an oversimplification. In truth, we hire experts to handle various aspects for us. In this way, we act as a general contractor on a building project.
For example, I hire editors, cover designers, and marketing people. I coordinate their work to move toward a finished project: a published book. This approach is very much a business process.
Whichever publishing option you pick, I wish you the best
Early in my career, I thought a query and a proposal were two names for the same document. Boy, was I confused?
A query letter is a short communication to get an agent or publisher’s attention. If your query letter succeeds, they’ll ask for a book proposal. A proposal is a lengthy, detailed document that shares key elements of your book in organized sections. If they like your proposal, they’ll ask to see the full book (for fiction) or encourage you to move forward in writing the book (for nonfiction).
The Query Letter:There’s a lot of information online about writing a query letter. Unfortunately, there’s disagreement over what to do. It seems to be as much art as science. Despite differing opinions on the specific content and order, here are the pointers I’ve picked up and use:
Address it to a specific agent, following the agent’s guidelines and making sure they accept queries in your genre.
Open with a concise connection to the agent (sincere and non-embellished), followed by a great hook, sell your idea, and then sell yourself (including your platform). This should take four paragraphs. Making it longer makes it too long.
Keep it to one normal page (even though you will email it as text).
Don’t ask them to click a link or download an attachment. I understand most will skip your link and few will download an attachment unless they know you and requested that you attach a document.
Keep it professional. Avoid being cute, clever, or gimmicky.
Spell-check and proofread carefully.
Note that in the non-book world, some periodical and online publishers also want you to query them first. Others just want to see the finished work. If they ask for a query, the preceding discussion applies.
A-One Sheet: Something like a query letter is a one-sheet (sometimes called a one-pager). It’s a document that you might hand to an interested agent or publisher whom you meet at a writing conference. It contains much the same information as a query but can include more, as much as comfortably fits on one page. A one-sheet can also include relevant graphics and professional formatting, which you should avoid in a straight-text query letter.
A Book Proposal:Whether you have a fiction or nonfiction book, agents and publishers who like your query letter will expect you to send a book proposal next, even if the book is complete. There are many courses and books that teach how to draft a book proposal, so I won’t try to cram all this information into a brief overview.
Do an online search, and you’ll receive more matches than you have time to read. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with the expectations for a book proposal and some contradict each other. Focus on recommendations from successful agents and authors who have sold a lot of books to traditional publishers. You will benefit from their experience.
Here are the sections I include in my nonfiction book proposals:
table of contents
about the author
Though I’ve never done a fiction book proposal, the sections are about the same. The main difference is that, instead of including a chapter-by-chapter detailed outline, a fiction proposal needs a concise summary of the entire book, including any spoilers. Don’t hold back. Condense your book into a couple of pages.
Search online for specific examples of nonfiction and fiction book proposals to further guide your work on your own proposal.
Make the best proposal you can. Some agents and publishers will tell you what they expect in a book proposal. Follow their instructions exactly.
If your proposal follows their format, it’s easier for them to evaluate. And if it doesn’t meet their expectations, it’s easier for them to reject, because they know you’re a person who won’t follow directions or doesn’t think the instructions apply. You will be a challenging writer to work with. No one wants that.
Many writers starting out try to blog and write a book at the same time. They end up doing neither one well. Or they try to write a book before they’re ready. Then they end up with something not suitable for publication, waste a lot of time, and endure much frustration. That assumes they finish the book. But they’re more apt to give up before they finish—because they’re not yet ready to write a book.
Unless you’ve done a lot of writing—say about one million words—and invested about 10,000 hours honing your skill (see “10,000 Hours”), I recommend you start with blogging or writing short articles, essays, or flash fiction. Blogging (and short pieces) offer several advantages:
Blog posts are quick and easy to write.
Blogging is a great way to hone our writing skills and find our voice.
Feedback is fast.
Errors are easy to fix.
Bloggers develop a habit of writing regularly, even when they don’t feel like it.
Blogging according to a schedule—which is what all bloggers should do—trains us to meet deadlines.
Blogging prepares us to write longer pieces.
There are many other benefits associated with blogging, but these outcomes are some of the key ones, which is why I recommend starting out with blogging or writing other short pieces. Save the book for later (see “Work Up to Writing a Book”).
The Elements of Style is an excellent writing resource. Start with it. Then build on that foundation.
For a comprehensive reference on punctuation and formatting, there are several notable resources. Unfortunately, none of them are in complete agreement, with obvious conflicts. Each guide has its advocates. And many have specific applications.
While some people know the major style guides and their differences, I struggle to comprehend one. I selected The Chicago Manual of Style because it best addresses the various types of writing I do. I use it as my go-to reference. I also ask my editors to follow it. It comes in book form and is also online at www.chicagomanualofstyle.org.
In addition to The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), other style guides include:
AP (Associated Press)
MLA (Modern Language Association)
Turabian, often used for academic work
Special application style guides include:
APA (American Psychological Association)
AMA, the American Medical Association
NLM, the National Library of Medicine
CSE, the Council of Science Editors Manual
ACS, the American Chemical Society
ASA, the American Sociological Association
The Bluebook, for the legal profession
Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.
To find an editor, your best option is to go with a freelancer. There are many qualified professionals available to edit your work. Here are some ways to find them:
You can do an online search for editors and wade through the responses. This method is time-consuming.
Ask Other Writers
A better idea is to ask others in the writing community for recommendations. This approach will give you a vetted editor.
But many authors are reluctant to share the names of their publishing team for fear these independent contractors will become too busy with new business to continue to work for that author.
Another good source is editor associations and groups. They can connect you with a good editor. Sometimes they’ll give you a list, and other times a real person will provide the names of editors who best meet your criteria.
Find an editor through networking. I’ve made many great contacts at writers’ conferences.
Finally, consider online resources.
I’ve used Reedsy to find relevant writing professionals.