Publishing is a tough business. I’ve heard numbers from less to 5% to about 10% of manuscripts submitted are accepted and published by traditional publishers. Several years ago a friend of mine researched all the books in the romance genre by first-time authors published by the major romance publishing houses in a given year. She found that, on average, an author had been writing for seven years and had seven completed manuscripts before making her first sale.
Nearly 300,000 books were published by traditional, vanity/subsidy, and self-publishers in 2006, and organizations such as the Book Industry Study Group and the Jenkins Group often report that the majority of all books published sell than one hundred copies. Nonfiction books typically stand a better chance of being published in the first place and, once published, usually sell more copies than fiction.
Obviously achieving success as a book author, especially as a novelist, presents a huge challenge. There is a lot of debate on the pros and cons of the various kinds of publishing: traditional, subsidy, and self-publishing. See my Self-Publishing Primer for a more in-depth review of these different kinds of publishing and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Patricia Fry has written an insightful article, Publishing—The Raw Truth, at Publishing Basics. She includes a series of questions to ask yourself to decide if your book project is really viable.
And if you’d like to hear a passionate debate about the pros and cons of self-publishing, listen to the Writing Show’s podcast Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing Smackdown with Jeff DeRego, Stacie Penney, and Matthew Wayne Selznick. They have an interesting discussion, though some of the participants seem to lump subsidy and self-publishing together, which isn’t a fair evaluation, in my opinion.
I’m a big advocate of self-publishing. Much of my work, and most of my favorite, involves helping writers polish their manuscripts and find their way through the self-publishing maze. Self-publishing authors can be very successful … but many aren’t, just as the majority of writers who strive for traditional publication fail to meet their goal of publication.
The two most important characteristics of successful authors – regardless of how they are published – are these: 1) dedication to improving their craft and learning the industry, and 2) persistence.
Please share your publishing experiences and questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find out.
And I have a question for you: would anyone be interested in the Self-Publishing Primer as a free e-book? It’s all here on my blog in 14 separate posts. Would it be more convenient combined into a single PDF and/or HTML file?