Someone wrote recently and said they were trying to finish a book they were writing, but had gone into a fearful place when thinking about having it published. "It's got me so twisted up that I am afraid to even write at the moment because I don't know what I'll do with the manuscript when it's done."

They knew from a friend that I had studied the publishing industry extensively before publishing my first book, and wondered my thoughts on writing and publishing. The following is my reply.


What a great set of questions you raise! Thanks for asking me for my input! Yes, I studied the publishing industry extensively before I put my book out. I'm thinking it might be handy to break your question into its two natural components - writing and publishing. Because they are distinctly different parts of the process.

I was surprised when I went to a writer's conference in 2008 that most of the writers I talked to hadn't finished their book. One woman was even going to use her 10 minute meet with a New York agent to ask which direction she should go with her plot. What the speakers said several times in the conference was before you present your book to agents or publishers, you would be well served to have it already written, and as edited and polished as you could get it.

So what I'm suggesting from that is that before you look into the publishing part, it might be best to get your book written and cleaned up as spiffy as you can make it. It's like they talk about in the 12 step programs, when you're going to take a personal inventory - really study your life with an eye to improvement. The next step in the process is to share it with someone (like confession) - actually read it out loud. They suggest you not look ahead to who you're going to do that with, because it will flavor how you write your inventory.

And if you look ahead to publishing, you might overwhelm or discourage yourself into not finishing the book. Once you get the book finished, then you'll be a lot more comfortable investigating how to release it to the world.

Now, about publishing. I have an MBA and a Marketing degree, and I threw those into the project of investigating publishing. I did a lot of research on the industry, went to several writer's conferences, and looked at the options very seriously. Here's what seems to have changed in recent years - many of the traditional publishers have been bought out by large conglomerates, and the publishing arm is no longer considered a very vital profit center, so those houses don't get as much financial support. Which translates to "let's be very cautious and look for the next big book like the last one which did well." They're not very risk taking.

The other part of that is that they have essentially outsourced their culling process to the literary agents. You can't even get looked at by a major house any more unless you go through an agent. The agents are by necessity as cautious as the publishers, since they have to try to pitch books that they actually think the publishers might use. And honestly, I have met with 5 different agents at the writer's conferences, and as a businessman I haven't been terribly impressed. In 2008 I had one of the agents from a very prestigious New York agency take home and read my book, and he later declined it. It was the closest I got, but even if he'd taken it, there was no guarantee that he could get a publisher to pick it up. (I heard one agent say at that same conference that she'd shopped one book for seven years before getting a publisher to agree to accept it.)

On top of that, with traditional publishing, you would have to do most of your own publicity any more. They seldom do much publicity these days, unless it is for proven authors where they risk very little.

So my Plan B became to self-publish. I studied this industry a lot, and advances in technology have changed it dramatically in the last several years. Mainly, what is called Print On Demand publishing. It used to be that if you self published (AKA vanity publishing) you would pay a publisher, who would run off a number of your books, which you were then left with trying to sell out of your garage.

With POD, they store electronic copies of your book, and copies are only printed as they are sold (thru Amazon or Barnes and Noble online). For the writer, this means your up front investment is much, much less. If you don't add on the publicity packages and additional services you can get, you could publish a book for $500 to 600 base price.

POD has become a very attractive alternative to traditional publishing, since you have control of the process, instead of waiting for the publisher to put you in their printing queue. The other side of that coin is that anyone can publish a book very inexpensively now, so a lot of people are doing it, and the market is being flooded - I've heard numbers like 200,000 new books a year. So the competition gets incredible, and you still have to fight the old school bias against self publishing - I heard the editor of Publishers Weekly say at a writer's conference that they wouldn't even consider reviewing a book that had been self published.

So really, any publishing route you go - traditional or POD, you're essentially stuck with providing all your own publicity. Which is where most writers are at a disadvantage. If you don't have any desire to speak in front of groups, that's a limitation, because no one will find out about your book unless you speak and tell them about it. An author friend and I have both done an extensive number of radio interviews to promote our books, and there are a number of ways to line up interviews, but you will need to have talking points about your book, and have practiced it, so you will interest people enough to buy the book. The advantage here is, that if you're willing to do that, you've separated yourself from most writers, who just don't want to talk.

I look at it like I have three hats to wear. Writer, Publisher, Publicist. They are all so distinctly different, that it serves me well to only wear one at once - don't put on the publicist hat until I'm through with the publisher hat, that sort of thing. And the whole process is like running a marathon. I used to train with a group in Austin. We'd start Labor Day with 1,200 runners. By February, about 300 would finish the marathon. So you really have to commit to the process!

Maybe the way to start is to address the fear - I had two books that I didn't publish (and now will) because of underlying fears! That's a big resistance point and can get in your way.

Let's keep this dialogue open, and if my response brings up further questions, please feel free to ask me and we'll talk it all through! :)

Author's Bio: 

Dan Hays is the author of "Freedom's Just Another Word, a hopeful and inspirational memoir about his struggles to overcome the effects of growing up with a violent alcoholic. Dan also presents hopeful radio messages in his broadcasts "Minute to Freedom." On his roundtable radio show "Dialogues With Dignity," Dan discusses topics of depth and substance.