7 min read

5 things a NYT bestselling author will tell you about publishing*

Hey folks, Eisley James asked me to participate in her Independent Authors and Publishers series. You can check out the whole series here. Here's my take.


When Eisley asked if I would participate in this series, I assumed I'd wax on about our brilliance for starting a publishing company only days before the BIG SIX (or BS as I like to call them) laid off half of their editorial staff. I figured you'd desperately need my wisdom on finding a good editor, creating a beautiful book interior, or writing a serial fiction. I was sure I'd win your undying adoration.

Of course, this Indie Bound series is rife with authors who shine much brighter than my  wisdom. If you haven't had a chance, you should read the entire series. Take notes. Print it out. You won't find greater wisdom and experience.

What to do?  What's uniquely Claudia? Hmmm... Well... I know a lot of people? You see, I'm the girl that everyone knows. You know. That girl. The one everyone knows? Yep, that's me!

And I happen to know a lot of published authors. I've interviewed and chatted with (in person) literally hundreds of published authors. I talking about the big guys - fiction and non-fiction; the people who's work was parked on the NYT bestseller list for a year. I've chatted with folks who have been to Oprah's home and a few who've been on her book list. I was interviewing authors during the gravy days of publishing through the beginning of the end days.

So I think I can speak with some authority on what a seasoned, published author would tell you about publishing with a BS publishing house.

Of course, they won't tell you right away. They, almost more than anyone, are invested in the myth of the BS publishing. But no  author will ever turn down a free meal? Add tequila and  you get...

5 things a NYT bestselling author will tell you about publishing after a few shots of tequila

1. Everyone has to market their own book: When I say 'everyone', I mean every author who ever existed - ever.

Think of Mark Twain. According to biographers, the only thing he wanted to do was stay home with his beloved wife and children. Yet, he left the house to schlep around the country by train for 'speaking engagements' (read: market his books). Walt Whitman sold his books door to door.

In modern times, most authors pay for their own publicist.

Sure the publishing company has a marketing department. But you don't know if your book will make their radar. Many great books languish because the marketing department is too busy. Imagine this: After two years of drama, pain, and torture, your book is due to drop in April for the summer reading season. A month before your book is ready to be released, Adam Levine is impregnated by an alien, or whatever. Without your knowledge, your book is bumped to the back of the line in support of a hotter, better selling story. This means: your print run is slashed, your marketing campaign obliterated, that visit to Jay Leno's couch is given to the person who wrote 'Rock star to Alien Mommy.' And your book? If it's distributed, your book will have a 'limited run'  (run: most of your books will end up in the bargain bin.)You would be amazed at how many seasoned, bankable, best selling authors this has happened to.

Most authors use at least half of their advance to pay for their publicist. They have their own websites and schedule their own press junkets. They create and manage their own platforms. They are active participants in the creation and implementation of their marketing plans. (Did you really think James Patterson was on Castle for fun?)

No matter who you are, what you wrote or who published your work, marketing your book is your responsibility. Period. It always has been. It always will be.

2. A 'book advance' is actually a loan against your cut of projected book sales.  A lot of people see book advances like car sales. You sell your car; you get a big check. You sell your book; you get a big check. It doesn't work that way. When you sell your book, you get something called an 'advance.'

How do book advances work? For every copy of your book sold, you get a certain amount of money or royalties. Using round numbers, if your book is lists for $15, your cut can be 5-20% of the price. Your agents 15-30% (avg. 20%) is taken from your take. Being optimistic, your take is $3/book or $2.40 less your agents take. That assumes that the book was sold for $15. Traditionally, publishers give bookstores a 55% discount. That means your book actually sold for $8 or less. (Your cut: $1.60 less your agent = $1.28) Ok, $1.28 a book. That seems pretty good.

Here's the thing: Your advance is a type of loan against future book sales. You only get more royalties after you've sold enough books to pay the advance back to the publisher. And the future part? That's 10 years after the print of your book, any language. One writer shared with me a common BS publisher strategy. One of her romances was a week away from finishing its final 10 years when the publisher decided to publish the book in Korean. Thirty years after her book was published, the ten years starts over again.  All those Korean sales? They go against the advance she spent decades ago.

Depending on your contract, the publisher can add marketing costs to your advance. This means that your book royalties are used to repay their marketing departments xeroxing time. Your book sale becomes a little like loading sixteen tons - the amount you owe continues to rise, the only way to pay it is through book sales, until you owe your sole to the BS publisher.

And, more disheartening, it's not unheard of for publishers to ask you to refund your advance when your book doesn't pay off your advance.  (This is a time to make a plug for having your own entertainment lawyer to review your contracts. Not your agent or your agent's lawyer. Not the BS publishers lawyer. But someone who's on your side only.)

3. Every great author employs their own editor or series of editors before the manuscript gets to the publishing editor. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

, Stephen King discusses the eight or ten friends who are his pre-readers. He runs his books past these early readers and then to an editor before he sends it to the publisher's editor.  Janet Evanovich's entire family is involved in her reading and editing her manuscripts. Why would these world class authors have hire their own editors?

Because your book editor is employed by the publisher. And the BS publisher's primary goal is to make money for it's stockholders.  And if their stockholders don't like something? It's the editors job to get rid of it. If hot dogs are considered disgusting at the moment, they are gone from your manuscript. If 'anything with gay marriage in it sells'? Harriot, the blonde buxom bombshell heroine you spent four years developing along with her husband Joey, becomes Harry, the hot beefy hunk married to Joey. They can and do slash and burn your manuscript based solely on the winds of profit.

The best way to avoid the slash and burn is to employ your own editor. That way, your overworked, much hassled, and abused publisher's editor can glance over your flawlessly edited book and pass it along while leaving all the hidden gems and hot dogs alone.

No matter who you are or what level of this game you are playing, you will employ your own editor.

4.The quality of your writing matters far less than how famous you are. Oh come on. This can't come as a surprise. Snookie has a book. Tim Tebow published his memoirs before he'd played even one game in the NFL. Sensation sells.

If you truly want to be published by a BS publisher, stop writing. I'm dead serious. Stop writing. Spend all those nights and weekends becoming famous. Go on a reality television series, get drunk or better yet fall and hurt yourself will having inappropriate sex on camera. Kill your daughter and get away with it. Kill you spouse and get away with it.


An agent and publisher will be waiting for you sooner than if you spend years perfecting your manuscript.

If you insist on writing a book, and still want a mainstream BS publisher, the best way to do that is to sell a million of copies of your book. However, you have to ask yourself. If you can sell a million copies of your book, why do you need a BS publisher?

5. No one knows what works sells now; and they probably never did. Yes, there's that 's' word again. Publishing is about selling books. Period.  The only thing always sells is whatever is hot right at this moment. Outside of that, sales happen one book at a time. Your publisher doesn't know what will sell your book.

And right now? Until you get out there and try to sell it, you won't know what sells your book. There aren't magic bullets. Or as Seth Godin says, Make your own path. I started the Twitter chat #bookmarket to see if I could figure out what works right now. Almost two years later, I still have no idea.

You've got to be asking yourself - why would anyone publish with a BS publisher?

Now that's a very good question. If you have an answer or a question or a complaint, leave it in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.