All…in writing a successful novel, there are at least three phases. First, one has to write a good story and tell a good tale. Second, you have to get “published” if you are going to have more readers than your parents and best friends. Three, the author has to sell the book.
This post is about number two, the publication of the book. There are both so many publishing options and there are none. How can this be? I start from the no name, no “platform” position. The major publishers are out there. Mainly, you have to have an agent to get published by a traditional publisher. If you are a new author with a good story but with no platform you have as much chance of getting an agent and a traditional publisher as getting struck by lightning. Still, lightning does strike, right?
What’s a platform? It’s some form of notoriety that gives you a leg up in generating an audience who may be interested in anything you have to say. In todays cable news cycle, you have lots of people who have their fifteen minutes of fame. Have you ever wondered why so many of these people write books? Well, they really don’t. But, there is a cottage industry who will take a person on whom fame has smiled and write something for him/her. The person’s name will sell books whether they are a starlet in the news or someone whose house has been swallowed by a sinkhole.
Traditional publishers have so many of these offerings that it’s hard to find time and space for the unknown author with a good product. But, the people get what they want to read…witness the magazine stands at the super market check out counter.
A platform can also be earned over many years with a body of good, credible work such as a college professor who keeps banging away at scholarly manuscripts. Keep writing your novels and someday you’ll have a body of work and lightning may strike. See John Grisham, Stephen King and many others.
My work has been turned down by all agents I have solicited even though some evidenced a bit of interest before hastily retreating. Most authors wear this as a badge of honor and I do too. Still, on balance, I rather have a competent agent than all the rejection letters.
In the end, I decided to use a niche publisher to edit and print my book. To be sure, this is greatly different than taking your manuscript to a copy service and printing and binding a hundred copies and trying to sell them. Now, that’s what I call self-published.
My publisher is a subsidiary of Penguin Books so I thought they might eventually become interested. Maybe they will.
My publisher is very good at editing and printing the manuscript. Both of these are critical. This does cost money but you get the value for these services. The cover copy and art are very good in my experience but keep in mind the author has to come up with all content. Also, the cover art will come from stock photos to which the staff has access. Still it can end up very good. You judge. The cover from Judas the Apostle came from the publisher’s stock photos while the cover of The Last Sicarius was designed by a graphic artist I employed.

So, in my opinion, these types of publishers can help you put out a quality, well edited novel with good cover art. What I personally have not seen good results from are the marketing services of the niche publishers. Traditional publishers may pay you for the book, do the print runs and market and distribute the book. If they are successful, everyone makes money. The niche publishers will sell you marketing services according to various packages and your checkbook. A lot of this ends up being press releases the author has to write because your marketing professionals haven’t read your book and will tell you it’s not necessary for them to do so to sell the book. These will be sent to press release services who dutifully disseminate them. There may be so call lists of newsletter subscribers who are just waiting for a book in your genre. I haven’t seen much result here. They will also set up social media for you, a website-usually static-, blogs, FB, Twitter, etc. This is good but in the end these are the means for you to market your own book. There is rarely a really good publicist who runs with the ball and actually sells your book. You’ve got to do it and if you are like me with a consuming day job, it’s very difficult as social media can consume all the time you are willing to give it.
My last three years of writing, publishing and marketing my books have given me a world class education. I now know what services to buy and what value to expect. I also know what I can do better myself or by hiring someone locally. I guess the bottom line is that the author is not a vendor at this point but a consumer. Just like all successful shoppers, you have to buy smart and for good value. You must marshal your resources and stay in the game. Keep turning out good stories and publishing well edited, attractive works. After all lightning has to strike somewhere. Best.


About vrmayhalljr

Van R. Mayhall Jr. is the senior partner in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana law firm where he practices corporate and business law and handles selected litigation. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, he was educated at Louisiana State University and Georgetown University. He and his wife, Lorri, have three grown children and enjoy boating on Lake Pontchartrain.
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