The thought of trying to figure out how to get a book published for the first time is nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect! There are a number of ways to publish a book, so you can choose which option works best for you.

How Hard Is It to Publish a Book?

Writing a book for the first time can be arduous! Even more, publishing a book can be just as challenging. Nevertheless, it can also be surprisingly easy, depending upon what avenue you choose. Don’t let your status as a publishing newbie deter you — after all, even the most famous authors were in your shoes once! Persistence and a willingness to do a little research will pay off.

When you begin considering how to get a book published for the first time, talk to anyone you know who might have experience with publishing, including self-publishing. They may be able to answer questions about the process, offer opinions on the best way to publish a book, and possibly even connect you to people in publishing.

4 Ways to Publish a Book

Whether or not you can get personal advice from someone who has already published, it’s smart to do your own homework on options for first-time authors. Here are a few of the most common ways to publish a book.

Method #1: Partner with an Agent

Traditionally, budding authors that want to publish a book first need to partner with a literary agent. Once an agent is convinced of your book’s quality, that person then takes it to publishers on your behalf. This is still a regular practice, especially with big publishing houses. However, it can be a difficult way for beginning authors to break into the industry.

In most cases, you will need to have a personal connection to an agent. For instance, if you are in a university writing program, you may have a professor with a connection. Or, you will need to send out query letters to agents. This is not a foolproof method; however, if they are intrigued, they may request a full manuscript. The challenge is that agents are bombarded with hundreds, even a thousand, query letters every month. From that huge pile, they may select two to request a portion of the manuscript.

So, how do you land an agent with all that competition? It is an arduous process that requires a killer query letter that sells your book in the first paragraph. Seriously, the agent may spend 20 seconds on each letter — and they look for reasons to reject it. To persuade an agent to give you a look-see, follow these steps:

  • Learn how to craft an amazing query letter. The query letter is basically a one-page sales pitch that consists of about four compelling paragraphs. Your query letter can make or break your ability to land a literary agent and then be able to get a book published for the first time.
  • Select the appropriate agent. Access an agent directory that allows you to search for agents by genre or subject. From those selections, you can visit the agent’s websites to further discern if they would be a good fit for your book.
  • Keep track of your queries. After deciding on 20–25 agents to query, it helps to utilize the QueryTracker, a handy tool that helps you keep track of the queries you send out. You can refine the tool by country, whether they accept emailed queries, or if they are even open to new queries.
  • Exercise patience. Once you have sent off your well-crafted query letters, it typically takes 2–4 weeks before you get a response.
  • Cut a deal. If you are fortunate enough to get agent representation for your manuscript, the next step is to strike a deal. You will need to approach this step carefully, as there are some scam artists out there. An agent typically commits to getting your book sold within six months in exchange for a 15% commission. There are no upfront fees involved. Their role is to negotiate a contract with a publisher and can also be instrumental in guiding the early phase of your writing career.

Method #2: Enter a Literary Contest

Participating in a literary contest is a quick shortcut to gaining the attention of an agent. Or, even better, earning a contract from a major publisher. For example, Minotaur Books and the Mystery Writers of America sponsor a First Crime Novel Competition. The winner of this contest is awarded a $10,000 advance and a publication contract with Minotaur. The downside is that there are a limited number of reputable contests like this. Consequently, if you don’t win, you are back to square one.

To make the most of this effort, make sure your manuscript is immaculate. Remember, this is a competition and the best book wins. Hire an editor who can polish your book, and a book cover designer to create a stunning cover. Once your book is the best it can be, follow these steps:

  • Select a contest. Peruse lists of open writing contests to find one that aligns with your genre. Keep in mind that many of the contests do require a submission fee.
  • Follow the guidelines. Each contest specifies submission requirements, which must be followed to the letter. Note the deadlines, and set reminders, so you will have plenty of time to get your manuscript prepared and submitted on time.
  • Submit your entry. Following the submission guidelines, email or mail your manuscript to the contest. Good luck!

Method #3: Self-Publish an eBook

New writers are publishing their first books every day thanks to the advent of digital self-publishing. You can quickly self-publish your own eBook at little or no upfront cost through various online services. This option is favorable for those who aren’t adamant about working with an agent or editor. As a result, the editing and formatting, editorial design, and marketing are wholly up to the author. For first-time authors, this is a difficult but possible task to undertake.

There are many pros to self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Self-publishing allows you to retain full ownership of your book rights, allowing you to publish not only the eBook version but also paperback, hard copy, or audiobook versions. The self-published author maintains complete creative control. Royalties are paid monthly, and the royalty rate is about 70% versus 10% for a traditionally published book.

How to get an eBook published for the first time:

  • Create a book outline. A book outline can help you flesh out your characters, plotline, and order your chapters and storyline, as well as help you keep track of changes you make along the way. For nonfiction writers, a book outline can provide a blueprint for setting up your sections and chapters, and for keeping track of any sources used.
  • Write your first draft. Write your book using a Word document, following your book outline as a roadmap. Don’t worry so much about editing at this stage; just get the material down.
  • Edit and refine. Print out your first draft and painstakingly go through each chapter to clean up typos and refine the content as needed.
  • Pass it to beta readers. Get some objective eyes on the manuscript by enlisting the help of beta readers. They will provide invaluable feedback to help you further polish your story.
  • Hire an editor. Contract with professional editing, proofreading, formatting, and design services to further refine your manuscript. Once the copy is edited, an ePub file and a cover image for your eBook are created.
  • Upload your eBook. Select your preferred online booksellers and then follow the guidelines for uploading your eBook. Submit the ePub file with the interior content and a JPEG for the cover image, complete the metadata fields, and choose the categories and keywords that are pertinent to your book.

Method #4: Utilize a Book Publishing Service

Not everyone is suited for or has the time to tackle a self-publishing project on their own. A book publishing service offers much of the freedom and speed of self-publishing but also guides you through the process, providing access to strategic advice, editing services, illustrations, and more. You are also not limited to an eBook, as some publishing services can publish paperback and hardcover books as well.

Although there is an upfront cost with this option, many authors find the cost worthwhile for the service and potential earnings they receive in return. Self-publishing services also provide access to a much wider distribution landscape, including getting your book into bookstores and libraries.

How to utilize a book publishing service:

  • Find a reputable book publishing service. This step is critical, as there are some scammers out there just waiting for people to take advantage of. Refer to the ALLi rating guide for a list of book publishers for first-time authors.
  • Determine needed services. Book publishing services provide an array of editing, design, and distribution services. Reach out to these providers to determine which services you need for your project.
  • Work with the team. In partnering with the book publishing service you are involved in the ongoing creative decisions pertaining to your book project. They will lead you through the entire process of how to get a book published the first time.

Publishing Tips for First-Time Authors

When entering the world of authorship it helps to have some handy tips ready at the outset:

  • Use discernment. Each step of the way toward publication requires some due diligence and discernment. Whether you are seeking an agent, an editing service, or a book publishing company, do your research before making selections.
  • Pace yourself. It is easy to get so wrapped up in writing or querying agents that you might skip meals or ignore your spouse. Be sure to keep a healthy balance in your life.
  • Practice self-care. Writing is an intensive exercise that requires extended periods of focus and concentration — and lots of sitting. Take frequent breaks to get the blood pumping in your legs and to rest your mind. Take walks, treat yourself to an occasional massage, and avoid junk food to optimize wellness.
  • Keep perspective. As laser-focused as you might be about your prospects as a successful writer, it is wise to maintain a healthy perspective. Set realistic expectations about how much you’ll earn in book royalties, don’t let a less-than-stellar review get you too down, and be open to learning more about the publishing process as you go.
  • Polish your product. As tempting as it is to upload your book for sale or send off your manuscript to an agent as quickly as possible, resist that urge to rush the process. Take the necessary steps to perfect your manuscript until your book is truly worthy of the money someone is willing to plunk down for it.

How much does it cost to publish your first book?

The cost to publish your first book can range quite dramatically, from a minimum of $100 to $5,000. Consider these examples:

Self-publish. While it’s true that you can publish an eBook on KDP (Amazon) for next to nothing, that book will likely be riddled with typos and grammatical snafus, be poorly formatted, and have an amateur-looking cover. To create a professional, high-quality self-published book, budget $2,000 to $3500 for editing, formatting, and cover design professional services.

Traditional publisher. If you are considering the traditional publishing route, you will have minimal upfront expenses but can plan on spending a substantial sum — usually thousands of dollars — on marketing the book, in addition to earning much lower royalties.

Book-publishing company. Those that prefer to have a book publishing company take the reins will spend about $3,000, on average, for editing, cover design, and proofreading professional services.

The Best Way to Publish a Book for First Time Authors Depends on You!

As you can see, there are many answers to the question of how to get a book published for the first time. Ultimately, an author’s goals and resources will influence which option they choose. If you would like to get some valuable advice from experts before making your decision, you can schedule a free consultation with Gatekeeper Press or get a quote.

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