by Iola Goulton
Happy New Year! I hope and pray 2017 is a productive writing and publishing year for all our readers.
And speaking of publishing ... I saw one too many articles on vanity publishing during December, by authors who'd been suckered into shelling out thousands of dollars (or pounds) to a "publisher" who failed to deliver. Although, let's face it: one article about this is still one too many. Anyway, here are the two most recent, in case you missed them:
- Is Austin Macauley a vanity publisher?
- I paid GBP 3,000 for Authorhouse to publish my book (and got 16 "free" copies)
So Australasian Christian Writers are dedicating Mondays in January to reminding our readers what vanity publishing is, and why it's a bad idea (I wanted to say "why it's almost always a bad idea" ... but I couldn't think of an exception. So let's stick with the premise that it is always a bad idea).
Regular readers of this blog may recognise the following post, as it initially appeared on 8 August 2016, and was titled "Is My Novel Publishable?"
Once upon a time, it was difficult to get a novel published, because there were too many authors competing for too few slots with publishing houses so only the best (or most saleable) books got published (in theory. There are always exceptions).
Then some enterprising people discovered that some authors were actually willing to pay to be published ... and an industry was born. Vanity publishing. And it forever changed the face of publishing by changing the answer to the eternal question:
Is My Manuscript Publishable?
Easy answer: yes.
The advent of ebooks and print on demand (POD) technology means everything is publishable. But, to misquote 1 Corinthians, you might have the ability to self-publish, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s especially not a good idea to self-publish through some “service” aka a vanity press—apart from the quality issues, it’s not good Christian stewardship to spend thousands on something you could organise yourself for a fraction of the cost.
(If you have a burning desire to see no measurable return for an investment of thousands of dollars, then please comment below and I'll offer some suggestions.)
So is my manuscript publishable?
Hard answer: it depends.On what?
It depends on who you want to publish your novel: a major US publisher, a smaller US publisher, or a local (e.g. Australian) publisher. And attracting that publisher will depend on your book scoring well in three areas:
- Writing Craft
If you’ve written a novel set in Australia or New Zealand, it’s going to be a tough sell to an American publisher. Not impossible—Narelle Atkins and Kara Isaac have both done it—but not easy.
You’ll need a literary agent to have a shot at any of the big-name US CBA publishers like Bethany House or Thomas Nelson. (Lucy Thompson wrote a post about that here.) You don’t want just any agent—you want an agent with a track record of selling to the major CBA publishers. Michael Hyatt has a list of agents who represent Christian authors, and you can download it from this page.
In order to get signed by an agent, you’ll need to have credibility as a writer. One way to build credibility is to enter and final in major writing contests. (Lucy Thompson wrote a post about that as well, as did Carolyn Miller).
And you’ll probably need to attend a major US Christian writers’ conference such as the upcoming American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee, as major conferences give you the opportunity to meet agents and publishers in person.
SettingYour novel will also have to have sales potential. Big sales potential.
Major US PublishersThat’s the problem with books set in Australia: major US CBA publishers prefer books set in the US, because that’s what they sell best. They will sometimes diversify and read a historical novel set in England or Scotland, but for the most part, they prefer their fiction to be set in the good old U S of A. Or, at the very least, with an American lead character. For example:
- Close to You, Kara Isaac’s debut novel, capitalised on the US love for all things Lord of the Rings by having an American hero and a Kiwi Lord of the Rings tour guide heroine.
- Mail Order Bride, Lucy Thompson’s debut historical romance, is set in Colorado and utilises the much-loved mail-order bride trope. There may even have been a cowboy.
- The Elusive Miss Ellison, Carolyn Miller’s upcoming debut, is a Regency romance set in England.
AustraliaAustralian publishers love books by Australian authors with Australian characters and settings. They tend to accept submissions direct from authors (so no literary agent required), and it’s easier to get to meet them in person (the best opportunity for Christian writers is at the Omega Writers’ Conference in October). Personal connections help.
The downside is the Australian market is smaller, which means fewer potential buyers (a fact many Australian authors have lamented on). It also means our small publishers can’t publish every manuscript they see, much as they might like to.
Smaller US PublishersThere are a myriad of smaller Christian publishers, mostly in the US, who may be open to submissions.
If you want a free list of close to 100 publishers who publish Christian fiction, click here to sign up to my mailing list. This list does not constitute an endorsement, and I don’t recommend any specific publishers … although there are a few I recommend people steer clear of (like the publisher which offered me a publishing contract without actually seeing my manuscript. Or the publisher sued for deceptive practices).
There is also the aspect of writing craft: is your manuscript good enough?
The bigger the publisher, the better your manuscript has to be, for two reasons.
First, there are so many authors fighting for an ever-decreasing number of publishing slots that anything less than excellent isn’t good enough to get the attention of a major publisher. Publishers get so many excellent submissions that they don’t have time for could-be-excellent submissions or almost-excellent submissions or submissions they can’t see a market for.
Second, the quality of editing varies widely between different publishers. I've recently read two books by the same author, but from different publishers. The book from the major publisher is professional, polished, and a pleasure to read. The book from the smaller publisher ... isn't. To the point it's hard to believe the same author wrote both books.
What is saleable?The most saleable manuscripts are those which fit clearly into a popular genre. With novels aimed at the Christian market, this includes meeting the expectations of CBA readers, and being careful regarding ‘edgy’ content—topics so expansive I could write a book about them (wait. I am).
We’ve discussed some of these issues in previous blog posts here on Australasian Christian Writers:
- Narelle Atkins discussed acceptable content in Christian fiction
- Rel Mollet discussed Crossover fiction
- Narelle and I discussed genre and why it’s important (Genre is so important that in 2017, we're going to dedicate one post a month to the topic.)
- Jeanette gave a useful introduction to the emerging genre of New Adult fiction.
This is when you might consider self-publishing.But if you pursue self-publishing, pursue excellence as well. Don’t self-publish as a shortcut, to fulfil your publishing dream. Instead, write something good enough to win a major contest or to attract the attention of your ideal agent, be published by your dream publisher, and choose to self-publish because that’s what you believe God has set out as your path.
To go back to the original question. Yes, your novel is publishable. It’s not there yet in terms of the writing craft, but it is publishable. Your challenge is to work out how you want it to be published, and do the work necessary to achieve that.
Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below.
About Iola Goultonwww.christianediting.co.nz to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction.
I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.
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