Which Publishing Path Should You Take?

So, you’ve written a novel. It’s been cleaned up, scrubbed until its skin is raw, edited, and polished until it gleams. There’s not a single ounce of typos in your manuscript, and the plot has been torn apart and rebuilt until every plot point, every plot device, is perfect. You’re ready to move on to the next step: publishing. You swallow hard at the very thought of putting your work out there, but it’s what you want to do. It’s what you need to do with this manuscript. But you’re not quite sure what your next step is.

Well, there are three paths you can take (and a fourth that you should be very wary of). They are: Traditional Publishing, Indie Publishing, and Self-Publishing. The one you want to watch out for? Vanity publishers. They’ll charge you for the rights to publish your book while making all these big claims and blowing smoke about what they can do with your book, like getting it turned into a film and whatnot. Watch out for these scammers!

Traditional Publishing
This is the route most people immediately think of when they think of getting published. Typically, one of the “Big 5” publishing companies (Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan) agree that your book is worth their time and effort—not to mention they think it will be profitable. They do all the work for you, including cover design, editing, marketing, etc. However, they don’t typically take unsolicited manuscripts; you generally need to have a literary agent in order to be considered. If you’re considering the traditional route, your first step is to put together a query letter, have a damn good synopsis/hook of your manuscript, and start querying agents in your genre. If an agent is interested in your work, they’ll request the entire manuscript. If they think your manuscript is worth something, they’ll agree to represent you, and they’ll negotiate a contract with a traditional publishing house for you.

Indie Publishing
This route in the publishing world deals with small-time publishing companies, otherwise known as “independent” publishers. In many cases, they will take unsolicited manuscripts. If you decide to go this route, this is when you may get tangled up with vanity publishers, as previously mentioned. This is when you need to tread carefully, and make sure the publishing house isn’t trying to take advantage of you while blowing smoke up your ass with huge claims of selling millions of copies of your book. A true, honest publishing house won’t charge you to publish your book.

Self-Publishing
Self-publishing is the path I took with The Days Without You. It took some cash out of my own pocket, but I had total control over every aspect of my book. Very few are seriously successful when taking the self-publishing path, as it takes a lot of hard work when it comes to marketing and getting your book seen. It takes a lot of know-how in regards to what makes a good, industry-quality book. Many authors attempt to perform the interior design themselves with pre-made templates, or they try to design the cover on their own without any knowledge of graphic design in order to save themselves some cash. While not impossible, it’s a difficult task to make it look professional, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Self-publishing tends to get a bad reputation because so many authors don’t take the time to ensure their book is of professional quality.

No single path is right or wrong. (Except for vanity publishers. Those scammers can go screw themselves.) The course you choose just depends on a few factors, including how much time and effort you plan on putting into the actual publishing. Keep in mind that there’s also a lot of stigma surrounding self-publishing, as many folks consider it the “rejected” or “unwanted” path—a path only for books that weren’t good enough to be accepted by a major publishing house.

What are your plans for publication?

How Long Should My Novel Be?

If you’re just starting out, or maybe you need a refresher, you might be wondering about the proper length of a novel. The short answer? Somewhere around 80,000 to 100,000. This is the standard, expected length for a first novel, especially if you’re looking to traditionally publish via an agent. Although anything over 40,000 words is typically considered a novel, the expected minimum length is 50,000.

Stock Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels.com

Again, that’s the short answer. Your word count will vary based on the genre you’re writing. For example, genres that involve a lot of world-building (read: Science Fiction and Fantasy (and we’ll include Historical Fiction in that, too)) will require a higher word count. Why? Because the world the characters live in needs to be believable, or what’s known as suspension of disbelief.

I want to note that these figures are based on standards established by the publishing industry authorities. While it’s true you should, at least, aim for a standard word count for your particular genre, keep in mind that every novel will vary; don’t be discouraged or frustrated or upset if your final product doesn’t meet or exceeds industry expectations. The following numbers are approximations or “comfortable” ranges.

General Fiction: 50,000 to 100,000

Sci-Fi & Fantasy: 90,000 to 120,000

Romance (Mainstream): 50,000 to 90,000

Sub-genre Romance: 40,000 to 100,000

Historical Fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 (but more so on the 100,000 side)

Suspense & Mystery: 70,000 to 90,000

Young Adult: 40,000 to 80,000

Middle Grade: 25,000 to 40,000

You’ll find varying numbers on different websites, as different publishers and experts (I don’t claim to be a publishing expert, just a thirty-something girl with a degree in English and writing fiction.) have different ideas on the “proper” word count for a novel based on its genre. Your novel may differ from , but if you’re looking to traditionally published, be prepared to explain or justify your reasons for going outside the expected word count. But again, every story has its own word count, so write your story naturally—the way you write.