This is a growing list of questions authors often ask us about writing and getting published. Feel free to contact us with yours!
General Publishing Questions
- How much does it cost to publish a book?
The costs vary depend on what route you're taking, what kind of marketing you use, and other things. It is possible to publish a book for only a few hundred dollars, but you might not achieve the amount of visibility you'll need to sell lots of units. That being said, if you're self-publishing and you've spent more than $5,000 on one book, you may want to check your budget to ensure you aren't making unnecessary purchases and that everything you've spent on has resulted in a return on your investment.
- Should I self-publish?
To decide whether self-publishing is for you, take a look at your end goals, your resources, and the amount of time and effort you're willing to invest. If you aren't interested in marketing your book, which will include having to pitch others on your book in a sales manner, you should probably find a traditional publisher. If you prefer to have control over the outcome of your project, then self-publishing may be the better route. This will require you to take a personal role in all the steps in the publishing process, so make sure you have the time, money, and energy first!
Questions About Writing
- How do I write a book?
This isn't an easy question to answer. It depends on what type of book you're writing -- length, genre, and so on. It also depends on your general approach to learning and storytelling; some people prefer to plan out their books, while others write off the tops of their heads. A good place to start is your memory of high school literature classes. Everything you learned there but thought you'd never use -- identifying symbolism and foreshadowing, illustrating a plot arc, and everything else -- will come into play here. If you don't remember much from those classes, you might be interested in listening to podcasts or watching videos about writing technique. Much as acting or painting takes practice and effort, so does writing.
- Where do I get started?
Write. That first word will lead to tens of thousands of others. Let go of your anxieties over not writing the "right" thing -- you will spend hours and hours revising! Once you have that first word, that first paragraph, that first page, it will all start to come together.
Questions About the Publishing Process
- How does the publishing process work?
The process is roughly the same whether you're self-publishing or have been picked up by a publishing house. It begins with a manuscript, the completed draft of your book. You'll want to have it beta-read by people you know who will give you honest feedback, and you should have it edited by at least two professional editors. Once you're happy with the book, you'll have it proofread one last time and have the cover art made, and then it goes to the printer, the company that will print and bind your books. Meanwhile, you should be marketing the book to ensure it reaches the largest audience possible (unless you're only publishing for friends and family, or for a niche audience). Finally, your book will be ready and you'll have it distributed to bookstores and sell it online. Don't leave the book alone once it's distributed, though -- books can offer continuous passive income, so if you continue to market it, it can be shared and make you money for a long time.
If you're being published by a traditional or independent house, the main differences come down to whether you or the publisher will oversee each part of the process. Also, to get signed in the first place, your first step will be to shop your manuscript to various agents and publishers.
- How do I prepare my novel before sending it to an agent or publisher?
That depends on the agent or publisher. If you have any details about how the publishing house takes submissions, or the personality of the agent (are they laid-back or by-the-book?) then definitely go by that. If not, do not do anything to prep the manuscript. Submit it without any specific formatting, such as special fonts or spacing. It's better to present it as basic than to add any sort of flair that might turn off the recipient.
Questions About Editing
- Why is editing so expensive?
We can't speak for every editor or editing service, but usually it comes down to labor hours. It takes an editor a very long time to do any kind of editing on a manuscript. If you assume that an editor works 40 hours a week and that they're making minimum wage, then you're already at $300.
Editing is a specialized task, contrary to what folks may think. Professional editors adhere to a particular format, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, and are adept at maintaining a writer's voice while strengthening the consistency, accuracy, and structure of a manuscript. So you may see editors pricing their services at $1,000 -- and we'd say that's a fair price.
Now, Shalamar offers editing services at lower prices, but we're a new and fairly unknown company, and we're pretty sure we would never get any clients at a $1,000 price point, while many of those more established editors can count on established and well-funded authors. Our lower price is also in line with our goal of making writing services accessible for anyone. That's about as low as you should expect to see from any editor, though. If someone is offering to edit your book for more like $100, you may want to research the quality of their past output. Good readers, alas, don't always make good editors.
- What's the difference between content editing and copy editing?
There are actually five whole steps to editing. The first is to have someone "beta-read" your manuscript to give you feedback on it. This should be done by someone you know but who will give you honest and constructive criticism. The next is content editing, which covers the consistency of your novel, concerning things like character traits or narrator tone. After that is copy editing, which revolves around things like fact-checking, which is indeed important even if you're writing fiction. Following that is line editing, which looks at phrasing and sentence structure. Finally, one last proofread should be done before publication. These last four steps should all be done by professionals. Some editors will specifically work on one type of editing, while others may combine them or work based on the current state and stage of your story.
Questions About Marketing
- When should I start marketing my book?
At least three months before your expected marketing date.
There are a few reasons for this. We won't get into the marketing science here, but basically, the average customer has to see an item several times before deciding to buy it. This isn't referring to your family and friends, who may decide to support you regardless of how you market it, but to strangers who are interested in your work as an author, which is the sort of crowd you'll need to attract if your goal is to sell well.
This also gives you room to set up your multiple marketing elements. You won't want to rush anything by having to pull major initiatives all at once. Besides, when you suddenly appear all over your neighborhood, or the Internet, it becomes less of a genuine outreach by a new author and more of a sales pitch. Folks pick up on that, even if they aren't aware of it, and it will hurt your sales.
- I've set up all my social media accounts and have been posting about my book, but I haven't made any sales.
How many other forms of marketing are you using? Social media by itself is not a marketing strategy. There are too many nuances to it -- how are the algorithms helping or hurting you? how many people are seeing your posts? will an Influencer make your post viral? -- for it to be a reliable salesmaker. To put it briefly, you need to ensure that the people who see your book, whether on social media or in a bookstore or elsewhere, follow through by buying the book. you'll need to be much more proactive than sharing links and photos.
- What should my marketing plan include?
That varies depending on the subjects and genres of your book, your writing tone, your audience, and many other factors, but there are some basics. Despite what we said above about social media, you really should have accounts at least at Facebook (a professional Page, not a Profile), Twitter, and Goodreads. If you are a photos kind of person, use Instagram as well.
Beyond that, you should have a professional website with a custom domain -- not yourbookname.wixsite.com, but yourbookname.com. (Or yourname.com, if your name isn't common.) Also set up an email address at that domain -- we recommend Zoho. It is free.
We also recommend doing a "tour" of your local bookstores, introducing yourself to the owners and giving them an advance copy of your book if possible. This can help generate interest among the booksellers, who in turn may recommend your book to their patrons or even let you put up a poster in the window.
You never know when someone will ask about your book, so keep something on hand to give them. Business cards made specifically for your book work well, but at Shalamar we tend to use bookmarks, because whenever a person uses your bookmark, they'll think of your book.
Depending on the aforementioned factors, you might also host a book signing event, schedule appearances at book festivals, send your book to local and national reviewers, set up interviews, do a blog tour, sponsor a cause or business... the list goes on, but choose carefully! For example, New Orleans is big on events, so Shalamar usually includes them in marketing plans for local authors, but this might not work as well in your town.
- I'm really shy and don't want to do all those marketing things.
You're not alone. The Shalamar founders are also quite shy. Most of the authors we work with are as well. But here's a harsh truth: If you don't put yourself out there, you aren't going to succeed.
We aren't trying to downplay social anxieties or phobias. (This writer experiences extreme anxiety in crowded rooms, such as the ones at book signings.) But at the same time, assuming again that your goal is to make sales, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of connecting with people. It will be difficult, but it will also be worth it! You can mitigate your exposure to it by scheduling out your social media time or using a service like Hootsuite that merges multiple accounts.
Questions About Post-Publishing
- How do I get my book into physical stores?
For bookstores local to you, simply call, email, or visit and introduce yourself. Ask the owner or operator what process they use to stock books. They may allow you to put a few copies on their shelves on a consignment basis, or they may ask you to sign up with a particular book distributor or wholesaler. There are several large companies that offer distribution, but we cannot recommend any of them. Shalamar is looking into providing distribution as part of our slate of services in the near future.
To get a book into Barnes & Noble stores, mail a finished copy of your book (not a copy of your manuscript, but the finished product that you would want them to stock) to their Small Press Department with a short letter addressing the book, its marketing plan, and why they should stock it. Here is the webpage where they detail the process in full. (Please note that we are not affiliated with Barnes & Noble and we don't have a role in this process. We're just providing the link for you.)
Questions About Shalamar
- What is Shalamar?
We are a publishing company and writer advocacy organization. We are writer-forward -- meaning we put the interests of our writers first. We also offer support to other writers outside the Big Five publishing houses through the services we offer. Some of our resources, such as this FAQ page and the Storyville podcast, we offer to anyone for free.
- Why do you have whole pages of information and resources laid out for writers to use?
That's part of our advocacy program -- breaking down the barriers to entry for new writers by offering information freely and easily accessible for anyone. We hope to be able to expand these free and low-cost services in the near future.
- What do you mean when you say you represent authors from underrepresented or marginalized communities?
Our mission to help new authors is underscored by an immediate objective: to amplify the voices of certain communities by helping their writers get published. These groups are the minorities you don't usually read about in the media or see on TV, broken down along ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic lines. That doesn't mean we only publish those writers (see our First Author, Jerry Glas) or that only they can benefit from our services -- they're open to anyone! But over a short time you will start to see initiatives pop up specifically around that goal, because that is the specific way that we have chosen to make this world better than it was when we found it.
- What's your backstory?
Our company was formed from an idea back in November 2013. The founders were three friends and writers who wanted to make the publishing process much easier for new authors. Now we're known as Shalamar, and our focus has shifted somewhat to offering services alongside publishing select writers in a traditional format.
- Who does Shalamar recommend I work with to get published?
Lots of great folks! We have a suggestion or two for nearly every part of the publishing journey. Check out our Partners & Resources page for links to the companies and services we like!
- My question isn't answered here!
Reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form on the Contact Us page. We try to respond to questions quickly, so if you don't hear from us again, feel free to try again using a different email address -- it might have gotten caught in our spam filter. You can also tweet at us; we're @ShalamarNOLA on Twitter.