Whether you are self-publishing or seeking a traditional publisher, there are certain crucial pieces of information you need to know to proceed. In fact, this information, or lack thereof, can possibly make or break your book.
As a professional publisher, I always do a discovery call with potential clients before jumping into a contract with them. This is of critical importance because I need to understand exactly what they require in order to best help them through the publishing process. So, without further ado, here are my top 13 questions you must be able to answer before approaching a publisher.
1. What’s Your Title and Subtitle?
Having at least a working title is important because it gives the publisher several pieces of information. A title and subtitle reflect the tone and subject of the content as well as the book’s general category.
Beyond that, it also let’s a publisher know if the title will appeal to the intended audience. In other words, whether or not you will need to tweak your title for better appeal. Keep in mind that the book cover is the first point of contact with a potential reader. Your title is the second, and perhaps, the most important. If the title doesn’t grab attention and entice the reader to pull it off the shelf or click on it online, you’ve lost a sale to another author.
Understand that many people will buy on title alone as long as your cover does its job. What you want is for the customer to get the feeling that this book, your book, was written precisely for them. If your title catches the attention of the customer, your subtitle should help seal the deal by telling them exactly what to expect or what benefits they will obtain by reading your work. Help your publisher by creating a compelling title for your work!
Need help with title creation? I often refer clients to a free Headline Analyzer from Co-Schedule. It’s mainly meant to help with blog post headlines but is also a great tool for helping you brainstorm book titles. Alternatively, get a free copy of our ebook, Creating an Outstanding Book Cover That Sells, and skip down to the book title creation section. You’ll find 3 different methods of formulating the perfect title.
Help your publisher by researching and brainstorming several possible title and subtitles for your book.
2. What is the Status of Your Manuscript?
Have you completed your manuscript? If not, what percent complete is it? If so, has it been professionally edited and proofread? These are vital questions you must know the answer to. While I often take on clients with incomplete manuscripts, I much prefer those who come to me with a solid first draft. That is, one that has at least had developmental (aka: content) editing and proofreading performed. This greatly reduces the time to publication and also saves the author unnecessary costs.
Understand, however, that editing and proofreading aren’t expenses. They are both necessary investments in your book. There is no faster way to turn off a reader than with a poorly edited book! This will garner bad reviews and lack-luster sales which are difficult to recover from.
Help your publisher by completing a solid first draft of your manuscript.
3. Do You Require Any Assistance Completing Your Manuscript?
This is similar to question two but enables your publisher to understand what will be involved in getting your book published. You may have a solid first draft complete, but there may be other things you would like done with the interior.
Do you need an illustrator to create unique graphics? Are you unsure if some of what’s in your manuscript may be copyrighted material? Is your book topic one that needs a disclaimer included? Note, this can be the case for anyone writing on the topics such as health or finances. You don’t want to give the impression you are a professional in those arenas if you lack the credentials.
Help your publisher understand what’s left incomplete in your manuscript that you need assistance with.
4. What is the Anticipated (or Final) Word Count?
Knowing your word count helps a publisher get an idea for how many pages your book will have. I generally use an average of 250-300 words per page to get a pretty good indication of the final book’s length. Of course, the final trim size, font size, and line spacing also makes a difference. Add to that the front matter and back matter (plus or minus 10 pages), and I know the approximate number of pages in the finished book.
Why is this important? Knowing the page count will tell the publisher if your book is too long or too short for its specific genre. As an example, a 400-page picture book for 8 to 10-year-old children might be a bit much. Conversely, a 50-page epic novel is more a blurb than a book worth reading.
I know, there are exceptions to these rules, but knowing your book length also tells a publisher what the approximate cost to produce the book will be. You don’t want to produce a full-color children’s book with a market price of around $8 when the cost to print will be $18 per copy.
Help your publisher know your word count.
5. What is the Premise of Your Work?
What genre are you writing for? Can you give a synopsis of your work? Who are the main characters and what is the plot point, if any? Knowing these things helps your publisher determine what category your book will fall into. They will also know what team members to assign certain tasks to. As an example, I have different cover design professionals on my team that I use for certain genres. Children’s book covers require a completely different focus than historical novels.
In addition to the above, understanding the premise of your work shows a potential publisher you understand your target audience and have the basis for a marketing plan. More on these items below.
Help your publisher understand what your book is about.
6. Does Your Work Contain Pictures, Images, or Clip-Art?
Pictures and graphics are a touchy area. Not because they are difficult to obtain, but because they are a source of liability. If you have family pictures in the book, you’re safe in terms of liability. However, if you have stock imagery or clip-art, you must also possess the proper licensing to publish them.
The absolute last thing you want to do is publish a book that includes images or graphics you randomly pulled off the internet. Attorneys are just drooling with anticipation of you doing this, and fines can easily cost you more than you’ll ever recoup in royalties. It’s just not worth it!
When sourcing images, use trusted websites such as Pixabay or DepositPhotos. Many sites offer images that are free for commercial use under a CC0 (Creative Commons License). This means you can use them in your book without having to pay the creator. Other sites may require you to purchase a special license to use their images, or limit the number of prints you can produce. Still others may only require attribution to the creator.
Regardless of where you source your images and graphics, always read the fine print and understand what’s required for you to use them in your book. Learn more about finding images in my previous post, Graphics and Images and Pictures! Oh My! Still overwhelmed? Ask your publisher to help source images for you as part of the contract.
Be Aware of Delivery Fees
One last thing while on the subject of graphics in your book. Be sure they are of the quality you need. What I mean by this is, if you’re producing a printed book, you’re going to need pictures and graphics of at least 300 dpi. This can quickly create a very large book file in terms of file size. While this isn’t something of critical concern for a printed book, it is for a digital version.
You see, platforms like Amazon’s KDP not only take a cut of 30%-70% of your royalties, they also charge a delivery fee for your Kindle book. Current delivery fees charged by KDP are $0.15 per MB. So, if your illustrated children’s book has a file size of 20MB, it will cost you $3 per sale to have it delivered to the purchaser. Assuming your book will be priced between $2.99 and $9.99, you would be legible for a 70% royalty per sale. Therefore, you would have to charge $4.28 per book just to break even ($4.28 x 70% = $3 less the delivery cost of $3 = $0 per sale).
Keep in mind this is true only if you are self-publishing or using a service publisher like Softpress Publishing where you keep all earned royalties. If you are going through a traditional publisher, your royalties earned would be much reduced, like 7%-10% or so per book. Therefore, the book would need to sell for even more to overcome the delivery fee loss.
Help your publisher by owning the rights to all images and graphics in your book.
7. Do You Need Cover Design Assistance?
If you are self-publishing, you need to understand good cover design or, at least, hire a professional. After all, your book will be judged by its cover. Doing it yourself? Get a free copy of our ebook, Creating an Outstanding Book Cover That Sells.
If you are working with a publisher, you should at least have a few concepts in mind for your cover. Look at other book covers in your genre. Note the ones that stand out to you, either good or bad. How are the elements arranged? What colors and imagery fit the tone and subject of your book? When it comes to cover design, knowing what you’re looking for well ahead of production will help your publisher stay on schedule. It will also make for a smoother progression and fewer revisions during the cover design process.
Help your publisher understand your cover design needs.
8. Who is Your Target Market?
Who will your book be marketed to? Publishers understand that trying to appeal to all audiences is a great recipe for disaster. Therefore, it’s important to know the demographics of who your book will be targeted towards.
Are you writing to appeal to young adults? Fine, what age range and gender? Is your book on finances? Ok, are you targeting college grads, middle-age, lower-income males, or stay-at-home moms looking to supplement the household income? Perhaps your ideal reader belongs to a certain affinity group such as Harley Davidson® or Porsche® owners. Narrowing down to the most specific attributes of your target audience tells your publisher you know your ideal customer well. It proves you have done your homework and makes your book more appealing for them to choose to publish.
Help your publisher understand your target market.
9. What is Your Marketing Plan?
The ugly truth behind traditional publishing is the lack of marketing assistance that an author will typically receive. Sure, most publishers offer some level of assistance, but most receive the very basic service. Understand that marketing almost always falls on the author. Therefore, you should begin your marketing efforts well in advance of your book launch. Create your author website, build a social media following, produce ARC copies of your book and ask for reviews, create a press release and media kit, and/or attend conferences and trade shows.
You should also develop a solid marketing plan for after your book hits the shelves. This can include tours, live book signing events, speaking engagements, and running promotions. Having a solid understanding of your marketing efforts helps the publisher know you understand what’s involved in getting books to sell. It also reassures them your book has a solid chance of being a best seller.
Help your publisher by developing a solid marketing plan well in advance of your book launch.
10. Do You Have a Website?
Having a website tells a publisher you are serious about being an author. Consider it a long-term investment in building your platform, and the very epicenter of your online presence as an author.
You can share samples of your writing, photos, links to your social media accounts, blog entries, teaser chapters for an upcoming novel, and, of course, links to where your books can be purchased. Think of your website as the hub of your literary life. The one place your audience can learn everything about you.
Help your publisher by creating a robust author website before your first, or next, book is published.
11. Do You Have a Social Media Presence?
Building a following on various social media platforms will be essential to the success of your book. Publishers know this, and when you show them you have a sizable audience, they are more apt to take notice of your manuscript. In fact, this is one of the first questions I ask potential clients!
Whether you prefer Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or some other platform, you should be using social media to establish yourself as an author. Learn more on building your following on social media in my post, An Author’s Guide to Building a Platform and an Email List.
Help your publisher understand which social media platforms you use, and what sort of following you have.
12. What Are the Benefits to the Reader?
I know your manuscript is your baby. You’ve written, edited, re-written, and agonized over it for months, maybe even years. But you must understand it’s not about you. It’s about your reader. What’s in it for them? Why should they care about your masterpiece?
Creating a remarkable book description with compelling sales copy will be essential to your sales and marketing efforts. Publishers know this well. Therefore, being able to effectively articulate and deliver a captivating synopsis of your book to a publisher is crucial. In order to sell your book to your target audience, you must first sell your manuscript to a publisher!
Help your publisher know the benefits your manuscript offers to the ideal reader.
13. What Does a Successful Outcome Look Like?
Looking to be a NYT best-selling author? Want a $150,000 advance to write your novel? Perhaps you want to earn a million dollars while riding the wave of fame and fortune. While these are lofty ideals, for most authors they aren’t achievable goals. Especially if you’re writing your first book. Instead, dial it back a little and be realistic in what you hope to get from a publishing contract.
For those seeking a traditional publisher, can you keep the rights to your work or negotiate a higher royalty share? Perhaps you can bargain for a reasonable advance or additional print copies for giveaways and promotions. What other benefits can you bring to the table to entice the publisher to take a chance on you?
If you are self-publishing, what does a successful outcome encompass? 500 pre-sales? Two book signing events at launch? Getting your message into the hands of your ideal reader and building your platform as an author? Perhaps you’re not looking to be a full-time author, but your book will bring awareness to your coaching or speaking services.
Either way, having a realistic expectation of the publishing process will carry you much further than unrealistic aspirations.
Help your publisher understand what a successful outcome looks like for you both.
Whether you are self-publishing or seeking a traditional publisher, I hope these questions will help you succeed. They are meant to stimulate your thinking and prepare you for the publishing process.