How a book deal works – All you need to know

Many writers, even before they start writing, torment themselves wondering how they will get their manuscript published. Because very few know how a book deal really works.

There are two ways to publish a book

  • Self-publishing
  • Rely on publishing houses

The first category is the one accessible to everyone, in fact thousands of stories are published this way every year. The differences between these two options are many.

If you self-publish, you have sole access to the rights of your book and you hold the outcome it will have within the market. You will have to worry about hiring someone to do the cover and editing if you do not want to take care of it yourself. (Many writers hire beta-readers before publishing

to check that their book is ready for publication). However, you will have total control over your story, 100% of the earnings and no deadline to meet. You can get a more complete overview of the process here.

As you can see, there are pros and cons so you have to choose which you think is the best option for the book in question.

Remember that while anyone can self-publish, the advantage of being published by a publishing house is not granted to all types of books. In fact, non-fiction books are often discarded outright unless the writer already has a solid fan-base.

If you want your manuscript to be published in the traditional way, the discussion becomes longer. In fact, the path is long and often tortuous, but in the end, it is overcoming this that gives satisfaction.

So let’s get to the point. To publish a book in this way, you need to sign a contract.

How does book deals work?

We often tend to complicate things but the answer is much simpler than we think. In fact, the longest part lies in the waiting. But let us start at the beginning.

The first step to publishing your book is to finish your book. It seems obvious but many people underestimate this aspect.

Some believe they can shorten the whole process by writing to publishers straight away, when they have not yet completed the writing or almost worse, without having edited the book. Do not fall into this trap, because publishers may reply to you after months, but they may also do so after only an hour. And if you blow your chance because of haste, you will not forgive yourself.

Moreover, some publishers need to see the complete package in order to make the fatal decision.

To finish, or start, your book you certainly need a daily routine, here you will find the best ones.

Remember that many people have great ideas, very few people actually start their manuscript and very few actually complete it. And those who eventually deliver the complete and polished product are a tiny fraction in comparison.

If you do all this, you will already be thousands of steps ahead of those who are left dreaming. In the end, as the saying goes, we miss all the opportunities we don’t take.

To recapitulate: Make sure you show your work to experienced eyes ONLY once it is finished, edited and complete. It must look its best.

Having passed this crucial step, we move on to the literary agent. Not an indispensable figure, but almost, if you want to be successful.

What is a literary agent?

A literary agent is a person who examines the manuscripts of aspiring writers and if they are good, presents them to publishers for them to buy. He is not a requisite figure for traditional publishing but is often appreciated.

In fact, publishing is a very saturated field and publishing houses have to examine millions of manuscripts every year.

Presenting your book with a seal of approval will certainly help you pass the first minefield of selections. This figure will not only help you sell your book, but also allow you to pass publication with more peace of mind. In fact, he will be in charge of negotiations and checking that the contract is in your interests.

Another plus side is that you do not have to pay your agent before publication but he will receive a percentage of your future earnings. Before entrusting your book to an agent, however, do your research well and choose from several available options, because he will hold the entire future of your manuscript in his hands.

Once you have chosen a list of authoritative agents, you must introduce yourself.

Writing a query letter

Writing a query letter

A query letter is your only chance to attract the attention of the agent you want and obtain an offer. (If you do not have connections, find both the agents as well as their contacts on the web).

In fact, its only purpose is to intrigue the agent and convince him to read your book.

This message should contain all the technical aspects (i.e. title, number of words, genre) and a small summary of your plot. Do not forget to also briefly introduce yourself, preferably without boring the agent (100-150 words).
Once you have made an effort to describe your work and have been polite and courteous, all that remains is to wait.

The field is very fierce so by now having an agent is more than recommended. Once you get one on your side the real process begins.

Publication process

Whether you rely on a literary agent or you do it yourself, the publication process requires a lot of time and patience. In fact, before a publisher gives you a final answer your text will go through many eyes that will have to evaluate it, following both the readers’ tastes and the trends of the moment.

That is why if after a few weeks or, in the worst cases, a few months, you have not received a response, do not be discouraged. It will take them a while but they will certainly get back to you one way or another.

(In case you receive rejections do not be discouraged, many masterpieces have been rejected and denigrated in literary history and this does not make them less valuable. After many rejections, however, I advise you to revise your manuscript once more and try to see if it is really in its best shape. If after trying all options (but truly all) you do not receive any offers, write another book. I know it is hard to hear but if you want to be a writer, your career cannot revolve around one book. So rise up from discouragement and fight for your writing career. Above all, don’t forget that if tradition fails you there is always the option of self-publishing).

Once you or your agent have submitted your manuscript to publishers and you have your book deal,

The negotiation period begins.

In fact, you will have to decide which of the publishing houses will win the book. The best thing that can happen to a writer is to receive offers from several publishers for the same book.

This way it will no longer be them in the position of power but you and they will have to fight for your attention. This fight is usually fought like an auction, the highest bidder wins.

Remember that before you sign anything and sell your beloved rights to any agency, you must analyse their publishing contract well and understand what it means.

If you have difficulty understanding a contract, and you are without an agent, do not hesitate to seek the help of a legal expert.

The part of the contract that ultimately interests most people is the financial part.

You can receive your earnings in two ways:

There are contracts that contain an advance + Royalties and those that contain only Royalties. An advance is a sum of money that will be paid to you before the book is sold, often divided into three parts. One sum upon signing the contract, one sum when the book is ready and another upon publication.

Royalties, on the other hand, are the percentage of money you will earn on the sale of every single copy of your book.

Both of these sums are the part that has to be negotiated the most with publishers and is also where a literary agent will be most useful to you. In fact he will fight tooth and nail to get the best offer because in the end the more you earn, the more profit he will make.

Keep in mind that contracts that do not offer an advance are not less valuable because they often offer much higher royalties. You will then examine what suits you best.

Once you have signed the contract you can rest, you have nothing else to do. Now all the work is up to the publishing house and if you have one, your agent will make sure that you receive the right amount of money on time.

Now that you know how publishing contracts work, all you have left to do is write until you can’t feel your hand anymore and become the writer of your dreams. If you enjoyed this article, don’t hesitate to subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss out on any pearls. And above all, remember me when you become famous. Enjoy your writing!

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