Publisher Preferences

by Kathi

Question: I've heard that publishers are unlikely to consider a single book (novel), or are more likely to consider one if it is the first in a series of three or more. Is that true? Thank you.

Answer: If a book sells well, publishers will want to issue sequels. They know those books will also sell well (since demand is already established). This is particularly true in popular genres such as YA, fantasy, or SF.

At the same time, plenty of standalone novels are published as well. In some genres, such as literary fiction, single titles are the norm.

Here's my take on this issue.

Your priority is to write an outstanding first book, because that's always what publishers want.

If a publisher agrees that your book is outstanding and wants to publish it, and if it is the kind of story that lends itself to sequels, the publisher may ask you if you have any ideas for possible sequels. If you have some good ideas ready, that counts in your favour.

If your first book sells well, the publisher may then offer you a multi-book contract to make a complete series.

On the other hand, if the publisher doesn't think your first book is brilliant, they won't care whether you have ideas for sequels. They'll simply pass on it.

Think of it like going on a first date. If the date goes badly, mentioning that you're looking for a long-term relationship will not save the situation. On the other hand, if the date goes great, your desire for a long-term relationship could be a plus.

So what you should do is make that first book great and, if it makes sense, have a few ideas for what a series would look like. Maybe do a brief plot outline for the arc of the series as a whole. But don't go to all the effort of completing additional manuscripts for sequels until you have sold the first book. If the first book doesn't sell, you will have wasted time and effort that could have been spent on a different project.

Comments for Publisher Preferences

Click here to add your own comments

Re: Publisher Preferences
by: Todd Rogers

There is another school of thought, a different approach (if you will) that you can take that might be a better path if money is not your primary motivator in getting published.

To some, just being published is enough because the author knows that where a great story lives, the money will eventually follow, the book's primary distribution vehicle notwithstanding.

And that vehicle to which I am referring is Electronic Self Publishing!

It's exposure for current and future projects, it's keyword term laden for website and search engine optimization, and probably most importantly, it's a retainer of creative, artistic and business control for the author, which can be a very good thing if done right.

One of the most important things to note about self publishing is that there are many many different avenues by which you can accomplish it.

+ Direct Electronic Distribution via a website or landing page with email opt-in, and user account creation that the author creates and then hosts.

+ Publish via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple's iBook platform giving you an ultimate reach of up to over 650 MILLION Credit/Debit Card On File accounts worldwide ready to find and purchase your book (either platform would invariably require that you give them exclusive distribution rights for your story in exchange for allowing you to set price and how much you want to get paid, which can be as high as 70% of the book's sale price and paid monthly to your bank account of choice).

+ Direct Self-Print Publishing via advertising in traditional electronic and print media from newspapers to magazines whereby online orders result in using a print on demand service like CreateSpace to print books as they're sold and shipped via USPS, UPS, FedEx or any other carrier depending on where in the world the book is going.

A case study done by a business associate of mine, Ryan Deiss, owner of DigitalMarketer, Inc. in 2012, revealed that in order to get a royalty of just $1, your traditional publishing house distributed book would need to be hardback and priced at around $19-$23 to recoup the money spent on title creation, cover art, editing and initial distribution, which would include any advance check you were paid.

Now, hopefully you'll see why you are given an advance (in most cases anyway).

To get $1 in royalty from electronic self publishing, you only need to charge $1.70, and most stories go for between $0.99 - $9.99 per copy.

The average Star Trek book, for instance, sells for $7.95.

Can you just imagine charging $7.95 and getting a 70% royalty of $5.57?

Just...let that sink in for a bit. :)

To Todd:
by: Glen

Self-publishing has always been an option, since it's relatively easy (though producing a professional book will cost money).

The challenge is always in the marketing and distribution, because of which less than 10% of self-publishers, electronic or otherwise, break even, let alone turn a profit.

Most traditionally published books lose money too -- despite a clear advantage in marketing and distribution -- but at least the author gets an advance, so you won't lose money.

If you can accept losing money just to get your work out there, or if you know you can reach 10s of 1,000s of people willing to buy your book, self-publishing is an option. But most of the time, self-publishing is sold to aspiring authors by companies who want to make money from writers, not from selling books.

Publisher Preferences
by: Kathi

Thank you very much, Glen! This is great information, even more than I had asked. You are very generous to share your knowledge and experience with aspiring writers. Your website is a wonderful resource for us.

It's still hard to decide whether to end my first novel with a firm finale or a cliff-hanger situation, but it's nice to know I have a choice. Thank you again for your guidance!


Re: Hard Finale or Cliff Hanger/Publishing Preferences et al.
by: Todd Rogers

I think there is a way you can be certain of which type of ending you should go for.

In my humble opinion, a hard finale would be appropriate if your wish is to wrap up all loose ends and complete all story and character arcs by the final period in the final paragraph of the book.

This could be the case when you, as the author, are unsure if there will be any further books yet you want the book to "stand on its own two feet", so to speak.

A Cliffhanger would be appropriate if your aim is to definitely and unequivocally communicate to the reader that more is coming from you on this particular story.

Usually in such a case, after that final period, there is a blurb about the next book title and that blurb acts as the cliffhanger when you've done a hard finale, which is an alternative option you could take.

To answer Glen on the Publishing Preferences question you originally posted, I think you might have misunderstood my motive for writing that reply.

Of course the aim for writing a book is to make money. But money should never be the first motivator to getting your story out there.

Exposure should be, however. The money simply follows when you use a system like Apple's iBook or Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platforms to put your stories out there in the absence of a website to promote and fulfill purchase and delivery of your book to the devices people will read your story on.

The electronic publishing route is very very promising when you want to guarantee publication, your subsequent or future works evolving based on customer reviews and testimonials, which can be very helpful to you as the author as to what happens next or if there is to be a next.

When you go the traditional route of publishing through a publishing house, there is an entire process you have to go through just to be taken seriously.

You need an agent, that person with the connections to get your story in front of the movers and shakers within the publishing realm, and he takes a cut of your profits, if any, which includes any royalty or advance checks.

You need to submit your monthly budget to the publishing house and give an estimate on how long it will take you to get your story written, or they will just tell you when you need to get chapters submitted, which might mean long hours which could affect the overall quality of your work.

My aim is not to knock or disparage the traditional publishing route, just to give you an alternative to getting your story out there, and to give you a bit of flexibility whereby you can set the price for your story, and perhaps give you an idea on how to serialize your works over a three, four or five book series in addition to your one book stand alone epics.

In closing, if you charge $7.99 for your title, and you've asked Amazon to be your distributor (which the Kindle Direct Publishing Platform only asks for exclusivity in promoting your title for giving you the flexibility of pricing and guarantee of publishing), you can get as much as 70%, or $5.59 per title sold which is direct deposited twice monthly into the bank account of your choosing.

The costs associated with cover creation, title creation and such can be accomplished cheaply through many online methods like

This is just to open your eyes to what is out there so you can make the most informed choices as to where you want to go with your writing career.

To Kathi
by: Glen

There is a middle ground between ending with a cliff hanger and a firm finale (such as the main character dying).

Most readers appreciate when a novel has a proper resolution of the plot. Genuine cliff hangers can be dissatisfying and frustrating, especially when there is no guarantee the sequel will ever be published.

On the other hand, a novel can have a complete and satisfying plot in itself and at the same time be the setup for a much larger series arc. Sometimes the series setup is a subplot in the novel. On other occasions, the resolution can be satisfying and yet leave the characters in a place where they are ready to head in a new direction.

To Todd
by: Glen

I feel obliged to the many aspiring writers out there to make clear that self-publishing most often brings neither profit nor exposure. Profit and exposure both result from the same thing: a successful marketing strategy (which may begin with a large platform) and a great book.

Most self-publishers, even those with good books, lose money and do not achieve exposure. Simply listing a book on amazon is no guarantee that readers will ever find it. Even those who start with a great book need a way to reach thousands of prospective readers. Traditional publishers have many advantages when it comes to attracting readers, including ...

* Getting books into stores and libraries (which are still the places most people find new books).
* Getting books reviewed by major reviewers and journals.
* Getting into major award contests.
* Qualifying an author for grants, speaking tours, membership in professional organizations, etc.
* An existing platform (in the form of brand recognition).

For this reason, higher profit margins usually do not translate into profits for self-publishers.

If a writer has a large platform already or is a whiz at marketing (which most aren't), self-publishing can work. However, even the few successful self-publishers often switch to traditional publishing because of its advantages.

To Glen:
by: Todd Rogers

Of course, you're 100% correct in your opinion on the self publishing model.

I was simply coming from an alternative point of view where awards, being put in a library, or other such considerations are secondary to getting your book exposure.

The fact that today, it is so hard to get a book accepted by a publisher (even a good story) because they look at your book for box office or television potential in addition to a myriad other considerations, self publishing can be a way for you to get your first titles out there.

You're quite correct (obviously) that self-published authors often do end up going the traditional route, however, they go self publishing first because sites like Amazon have their Kindle Direct Publishing platform whereby your book is disseminated to the new authors section and its given exposure even though you can help it along with a well designed cover.

It's not that I will ever say eschew the traditional process, but if one side is failing, it couldn't hurt to use the other.

To Todd
by: Glen

I admit that self-publishing can work for some writers (though it's a tiny percentage).

If you're publishing for exposure, you have to consider how much exposure you're really getting for the cost. Also, not all exposure is good. If you sell less than 200 copies through bookstores, that may be taken as evidence that your writing is poor quality -- which can count against you if you later seek a traditional publisher.

Aspiring writers must be also cautious about companies that make money selling over-priced self-publishing services. Some companies offer marketing services that cost more than a new car and in 99% of cases deliver meager results.

The most legitimate form of self-publishing is to form your own publishing house as a small business. Many couples do this in cases where one is a writer and the other an entrepreneur.

This route offers tax benefits (because business expenses and losses are deductible). In some countries, publishers are eligible to receive government grants. It is also easier to get distribution, reviews, etc. if you have your own imprint.

Of course, it's also a lot of work and it can be expensive to hire editors, designers, marketers, sales staff, etc. (but less expensive than working with a self-publishing company). If you acquire the skills and knowledge to do much of the work yourself, and you enjoy the work, you are more likely to achieve gratification and profit. In time, you might publish other writers' works as well and so develop a second career in publishing.

Good Grief!
by: Kathi

Thank you, gentlemen, for sharing this polite debate about publishing. This decision is more difficult than writing the (nearly finished) novel!

I AM an experienced marketing specialist and publicist in my day job, so I know a bit about it, including the high cost of effective marketing. Unfortunately, I'm not Mrs. Got-Bucks.

My original plan WAS to write a screenplay. (I used to work in TV production.) A friend who's a TV writer recommended the book format first, since it's much harder to sell a screenplay or TV pilot than a manuscript, and one can self-publish after being rejected by the publishing firms. Then, if the book sells decently, a studio or production company would be more likely to look at a screenplay based on the book. I wonder if knowing that would make them more open to at least reading the darned thing.

That begs the question: How does one acquire a literary agent for the first time, just to get something into a publisher's office?

Again, thank you so much for all your advice!

To Kathi
by: Glen

Re: finding an agent

You might start with this article...

... which covers the basics of the traditional route to getting an agent and getting published. Some of the links in this article are also great sources of additional information.

Re: Publisher Prefereces
by: Todd Rogers

You are most welcome, Kathy!

And I would go so far as to say that of course the debate would be polite, as there is no reason to get catty or to get mean spirited when we're all here to lend a hand to our peers and (perhaps) learn a few things in the process! :)

The basis of my comments and my beliefs in this subject matter of self publishing stem from coming to learn a few things through the self publishing model that actually makes it easier rather than harder to get published than what was previously thought possible or believed.

The old way is going away in that those that have read so many manuscript submissions as to get overly finicky when something breathtakingly new and fresh hits their desks, are being replaced by those that publish more on how the book is packaged rather than merely the words contained in its pages.

I have come to start reading M/M (that is gay male) Romance novels, and I came across the genre through Amazon Recommends function of the book buying process.

I wouldn't ever have started reading them if I hadn't been first intrigued by the cover art and then the story synopses written likely by the author themselves.

Then, when I started reading the actual story, come to find that while it wasn't perfectly written (some inconsistencies were found that might have caught by those editors working in traditional publishing), the story was good and it flowed nicely and by its end was judged as being as good an attempt as anyone could expect from an starting author.

A literary agent might be a great way to negotiate both writing universes (digital and real world), so I hope you report your experiences with such a person if you find one!

More on self-publishing
by: Glen

I'm starting to wish we moved this discussion on self-publishing to it's own page.

However, I would point out that self-publishing isn't a "new" thing. It has a long history, and many great books have been self-published.

One difference today is that it's harder for a first-time author to distinguish between legitimate self-publishing and newer forms of vanity publishing.

Consider the example of author Virginia Woolf who, with her husband, founded Hogarth Press, a legitimate firm that published the books of Woolf and many other distinguished authors in time. That is true, professional self-publishing. Many writers today still go this route. Of course, you have to know how to produce and market a quality product, and invest your budget wisely where it counts -- just like any business.

At the other end of the scale you have companies that try to look like traditional publishers -- except they publish anything, regardless of quality, charge authors big fees to publish their book, and then try to sell hugely expensive marketing services (based not on what is appropriate for a particular book, but on how much money the writer is willing to pay) so that 99.9% of authors have very little chance of breaking even, let alone turning a profit. Some of these try to convince writers that a "new model" of publishing will be more profitable than traditional (which it usually isn't).

The worst of these, I suspect, are simply taking advantage of people with a lot of money to waste and ego to stroke, just like the old vanity publishers. Worse, there are many doors closed to writers who go this route.

In between is a huge grey area with a variety of models, including companies that make ebook publishing inexpensive (but won't help you make sales), crowdfunding, co-publishing arrangements (some legitimate, some not), independent publicists, freelance editors and designers, agent-publishers, online slushpiles, etc.

If you're going to enter this grey area, you have to do your research to make sure you're getting value for your investment. Make sure you have a quality product to offer (bearing in mind that you are seldom the best judge of this), and that you know how to market it.

Re: Publisher Preferences
by: Todd Rogers

See, THIS is why I LOVE this website!

I couldn't agree with you more, Glen!

It is often said that we are our own worst critics, but in the Court of Public Opinion, the People are the true judge.

This is why we have our music stars coming from the likes of YouTube and Reality Competition Shows on TV like "Your Country's" Got Talent, X Factor and The Voice.

The people judge what they wish to consume.

When applied to the publishing world, this could work wonders for new authors who want to add their stories to the Literary Lexicon, but there is also a bad side and you make a very .. dare I say it, "Fair and Balanced" argument.

The trouble with self publishing could muddle its blessings, so thank you for calling a spade a spade.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.