Everybody has a story to tell, and with a robust publishing industry, more people can and do tell their stories.
From self-published works to contract hardcovers, books are being written, sold and read at record rates.
"Book publishing is a $24 billion industry, which is more than the total revenue generated by radio stations, than all revenue generated in music industry, and more than movie box office," said Andrew Grabois, the senior director of publisher relations and content development for Bowker
Bowker, which provides book information to the publishing industry and libraries, projects that U.S. output in 2004 was 195,000 new titles and editions.
Though the exact figures, as reported by publishing houses, won't be announced until December, that's a 14 percent increase from the previous year.
It's also evidence of a market that owes its growth to a more educated populace, computers and desktop publishing, book superstores and online book-selling.
"When you look at book publishing as an industry, it's not a small little cottage industry run by gentlemen for gentlemen like it was years ago when people weren't reading," Mr. Grabois said.
There also are more would-be writers, most of whom have new inroads, which includes self-publishing, to get their book in print.
"It's a big industry, a big market," Mr. Grabois said, "but all of that being said, it's not easy because there are about 200,000 new books published in a year."
Get out there
In getting started, one of the first things aspiring authors need to do is ask how they want to publish a book and for whom, said Carrie McCullough, the publisher at Harbor House, an Augusta-based contemporary publishing house.
"Is it just a genealogy for family or is it something to sell commercially?" she asked. "Do they want to self-publish or get royalties from a publishing house? What they do depends on what they want to do."
Perhaps the most important step for an author is to determine what genre their book is, Ms. McCullough said.
"For people who write on the side or just for anyone who says 'I've got a book or an idea,' I say, 'What kind of book?' Purpose makes all the difference," she said. "Once they get that figured out, they can figure out who they want to market to and find a publisher that fits with that."
The fit is important, she said. It's a waste of both the author's and the publishing house's time to submit a romance novel to what essentially is a children's book publisher.
To prevent a mismatch, wannabe authors have to do their homework and research the publishing houses that want the types of books they write, Ms. McCullough said.
One way to do that, especially in an age that has most traditional publishing houses not taking unsolicited manuscripts or inquiries, is to get an agent.
The agent is someone with a working relationship with publishers who can pitch stories and authors to houses.
Though some smaller- and medium-size houses don't prefer an agent - one can slow down and even complicate negotiations, Ms. McCullough said - one can prove helpful in the case of technical writing such as medical books or other patented ideas.
Still, an agent can be hard to come by, Mr. Grabois warned.
"Basically, to get your manuscript even considered by a major publisher you have to get yourself an agent," he said. "The vicious circle is that the agent is going to say: 'Have you ever been published before?'"
THE ALTERNATIVE to fighting the agent-publishing house war is for more writers to consider self-publishing or vanity presses that allow them to pay to get their book in print.
Bloomington, Ind.-based Author House is one of the leading self-publishing houses in the country, and gets plenty of authors taking the do-it-yourself route.
"With print-on-demand and the Web, it's easier than it ever has been to get published on your own," said Lynn Zingraf, the director of promotional products and services for Author House
For varying prices, a writer can pay to have their book edited, formatted, bound, promoted and distributed.
Though cost depends on the package - Author House's basic rate for formatting, layout and distribution begins at $698 - for many, the cost is a small price to pay toward their dream, Mr. Zingraf said
"You think about people wanting to make money, but that's down to No. 4 or 5 on the list. More say, 'I have a story inside of me' or 'I want to help people with my story,'" Mr. Zingraf said. "There are more qualitative reasons out there."
There's also more competition.
"Usually, (writers are) so excited because this is their baby. About 80 percent of authors take between six months and two years to write their manuscript. They love it so much. They've worked on it everyday for the past so many days. They don't know why everyone else won't love it, too," Ms. McCullough said.
"They don't realize the person two doors down and three people two streets over have been doing the same thing. Even Grandpa down in the basement has been, too," she said.
As the writer's market has increased, so has the age of the writers.
"More people are writing and a lot of them are the baby boomers, who are retiring," Ms. McCullough said.
According to Ms. McCullough, unlike their parents, baby boomers generally are more educated and more likely to try to write "the great American novel." The group also is living longer, so there are more memoirs, she said.
Beyond having the money to pay for publishing, today's older writers also have the time to promote their books.
SUCCESS STORIES abound that prove the way to become a best-seller is to start at the street level.
"The guy who wrote The Purpose Driven Life (Rick Warren), ... was selling it out of the backseat of his car after sermons," said Mr. Grabois, who considers self-publishing and self-selling a viable strategy.
"If you're self-publishing, it's unlikely you're going to end up on a bookstore shelf, but if you can create that buzz, go out and sell your book, then there's the chance of getting noticed by a traditional publisher," he said. "If (the traditional publishing houses) can see you are selling your book, then they can get behind the book."
These days, promotion could be the biggest factor in becoming a best-seller.
"It's almost like getting published is the easy part. You've got to market the book," Ms. McCullough said.
"Anne Rice knew that being a hermit wasn't going to sell (her latest book). You can't just sit behind a desk in your cabin. The mystique isn't going to sell it. You've got to go hawk your book. You've got to sell it, market it, be out there glad-handing at book-signings," she said.
"The publishing house can only do so much for a book, even if it's Doubleday or Random House."
In fact, selling a book, regardless of who the publisher is, requires some creative marketing.
"If you don't want to go broke, then think like an entrepreneur," Ms. McCullough said. "If everyone can sell it in the bookstore, then the shelves would always be empty, but they're not."
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
So you have a manuscript
Here are some things to do if you're looking to get published:
- Research. Books and Web sites such as Writer's Market (writersmarket.com) and Literary Marketplace (literarymarketplace.com) provide invaluable resources in everything from submission guidelines to names and addresses of publishing houses and agents. The books also include tips for getting started. View online or go to the library or bookstore to get a hard copy.
- Shop. Look at publishing houses so that you try to pitch them the type of book they want to sell. Don't send your children's book to a company that says it publishes only poetry and adult nonfiction. Don't think that once they read your manuscript they will change their mind about what types of books they want to sell.
- Take your time. After years of working on your manuscript, it might take another two weeks or more to get things together to present to a publisher.
- Be persistent. Breaking into the publishing world isn't going to be easy, but if the story is good enough to write, its probably good enough to sell. It's all about finding the right fit.Tips for your Story
- Go for tightly written prose.
- Try to limit profanity or obscenities.
- Tell about the difficult or the gruesome without rehashing the details bit by bit.
- Use everyday language in an elegant way.
- Don't try to write, and definitely don't directly compare your writing to another author. In other words, be original.
Source: Carrie McCullough, publisher Harbor House books.