Back in 2001 (Unreal how quickly times goes by...) I wrote a manuscript, a crime story based on conversations I held with college students. The story was okay, sub par in all honesty in every aspect. I wasn't vain enough to see it as a masterpiece at all. Still, I logged to my AOL account and browsed for publishing firms. I was surprised to find four responses and I chose one firm out of Pittsburgh.
The woman I spoke to on the phone asked for the entire manuscript. I was at the Post Office bright and early the next morning with my package and sent it off. I don't think I slept much those three weeks until I received another letter. (note how we are not talking email yet. This was a time when people still wrote real letters.) This one hinted at a lucrative contract once the story went through the editorial phase. What's that involve? I asked. Then the woman pulled the rug from under my feet.
When I didn't reply, she added "We can work out a payment plan."
NO! That is NOT how a real publishing house works. Don't fall for it. Do what you can to curve your enthusiasm and keep your money in your wallet. As soon as some entity is eager to publish your book and make you into the next Suzanne Collins after you pay them fees after fees after fees, you're dealing with a Vanity publisher.
Vanity publishers are quite common and you'll know it just by getting solicitations from perfect strangers who are head over heels with your writing. Why are they something you should watch out for? Because they'll create the illusion of establishing your writing career but once you dole out the dough, you end up with a box full of books and arrivederci you'll know what you'll do with them.
Real publishing houses are so tough to break into because they have to be selective on the works they invest in. But before you sign that check and send it out to a vanity publishing firm, consider self publishing through a platform like Lighting Source or Create Space.
The costs are low and the biggest advantage is that you, the author, own all the rights to your artwork, your title, your story. No one behind a desk will demand you add a vampire and several scenes of bondage and domination because that's what's selling in the present market.
The disadvantage is that you are on your own as far as promoting your work and your brand. THAT is where the real work starts for a self-published author.
If you're new to writing and you suddenly heard an angel choir at the mention of self-publishing at low cost, hold your horses.
Unfortunately, Indies carry a damaged reputation, the product of thousands of would-be-authors who spent little time honing their craft and offering a poor product. The book market is flooded with under-developed plots, thousands of pages full of typos, copycats bent on rewriting Twilight or 50 Shades, and countless other atrocities that pass themselves as book these days.
Now, don't be discouraged. Nothing worth doing comes without a struggle. It's not a question of talent or promotional skills. It's a matter of gaining one reader's trust, then another, and then another. And that takes quite a bit of time.
If you have your draft finished, congratulations. Now read it and be brutally honest with yourself. Have you made a good product?
Can the story be better? As my professor was so fond of saying "There's no such thing as good writing. There's only good rewriting."
Is it presented in its best possible light? This is where you let your creative juices flow like the Mississippi. You have full control of what goes into making your book: the cover, the format, the font you use on the page numbers at the bottom, the title (yes, that's a big one, considering publishing houses are very fond of changing titles. Just ask Dean Koontz).
Once you reach the stage where you're satisfied with your final proof, I'm sorry to tell you, but you've only rounded a bend, and the long road ahead of you disappears into a distant horizon. But you don't have to go it alone. This is where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and others come into play. Forge connections. You'll be shocked at the reception you'll get from your "competition". I've never come across an Indie author who thought he or she were too good to give you a good word, advice, a LIKE.
A word about competition: Unless a reader decides he or she will read only the same novel from author X forevermore, you have not lost. Books are limited affairs and remember, all it takes is one. One person to fall in love with your characters and gush about the plot with their friends. It goes from there. It takes time.
You've written a piece of you. Don't just hand it out to anyone offering you the top best-selling spot on the New York Times. Be careful with your work and explore every option, and I mean every option. Don't discount traditional models like the painful submission and rejection process literary agencies impose on upcoming authors. Hey, Stephen King's Carrie was rejected HUNDREDS of times before making his career.
Before you become overwhelmed keep this in mind if nothing else: It all starts and ends with how good of a story you bring to the readers. That demands more than the proverbial pound of flesh. Don't try to write like someone else. Write like you, and listen to those voices telling you that you can do better because you can. And if you want to reverse the perception trend of the Indie author, you must first make a commitment to giving a reader a story worth remembering.