Publishing as a First-Time Author

Finishing your manuscript is an achievement in itself.  Now what are you going to do with it? Leave it on the laptop or get it published.  Much easier to do the former but then it will always be a case of wondering what might have been, won’t it?   IMG_6479

You have several options:  submit your work to a publisher, self-publish, use a publishing service or hope to catch the eye of a literary agent – all a bit scary so do your research thoroughly.

Professional Publishers

They will provide the whole package, from proof-reading to production and marketing.

Some can be termed “vanity” publishers.   Be careful.  They will accept almost anything.  If you are being asked for thousands of pounds to get your book published you are probably not going to get much of your investment back.  So don’t spend more than you can afford to lose.

The vanity publisher may tell you your manuscript is fantastic but don’t allow flattery and ego (and let’s be honest, we’ve all got one) to cloud your judgement.  If it’s that good, why are they not prepared to invest in it?  The answer is because they don’t have confidence it will find a market.   Or actually it’s just pretty blinking awful.

However they won’t tell you because they have a product to sell and YOU, not the reading public, are their potential customer.

There is nothing wrong with going down this route but make sure you make the decision with your head, not heart.  The vanity publisher will deliver your book to a public that probably don’t want it, so manage your expectations before checking the sales rankings in expectation of having written a best-seller.  There are an abundance of horror stories from the disillusioned who have forked out a small fortune only for their dream to come crashing down around their ears.

Think of it as a hobby and accept that any hobby costs money, so work out what you would spend per month going to the gym, playing a sport or having a spa.  Then multiply that by the number of months it took you to write your book.  If that sum comes out close to the figure the publisher is asking for, then you may decide that’s a reasonable proposition.

One publisher was recently offering to refund the author’s investment if their book sold seven thousand copies.  That is highly unlikely.  Unless you have another claim to fame or get lucky with some sort of promotional stunt, as a first time author, the reality is you’re unlikely to sell more than a few of hundred copies, even with favourable reviews.

Once the book has been available for a while and the price is reduced, if it’s a page-turner, it may rise in the rankings.  If that happens, your next book could well be a winner.

I would recommend sending your manuscript to several publishers – bearing in mind few will take submissions from unknown authors – so not a lot of point in starting with the huge houses, as they won’t even read it.  Trawl the internet and decide who to approach.  Identify your target audience and write a clear and concise covering letter.

Reputable publishers will tell you if your work is a dud and will not put their name to it, regardless of the length of time it took you to write it, so no point getting into a protracted debate.

If they think your book might sell but are unwilling to cover the entire cost, they may offer you a shared-risk contract – in reality this is how many authors get started.  In some cases this is negotiable so don’t be afraid to refuse the original offer if it’s more than your budget.  The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t agree terms.  If that’s the case, you keep your copyright and self-publish.


Many people choose this route from the outset.  It’s cheaper and quicker than using a professional publisher. You can research this online, follow the instructions and be a published author in a matter of days.  You will need to co-ordinate the operation from start to finish but if you are a good project manager this should be achievable.

Proof-read the manuscript thoroughly to avoid looking silly when it’s in print – we’ve all read the book from the library with the typos pencil-highlighted in the margin by a previous borrower – probably with unedifying relish.

Might sound obvious, but keep your character’s names consistent (Robert turned into Richard in one chapter of a book I read recently) and make sure your timelines work.

You also need an eye-catching cover design as you are competing with thousands of other eBooks.  The cost varies and I will look at this in the next blog.

Many believe this is an acceptable way of testing the water.  There are authors who have made large fortunes as Indie writers.  Equally there are many who haven’t.

If you decide on this option but aren’t sure you have the necessary level of technological skill, you can use a publishing service, although this will obviously be more expensive than going it alone.

Publishing Service

This is not just for those who have been rejected by mainstream publishing companies.  They will proof-read and format your work and facilitate publication of a book or eBook. They may provide marketing tips or offer to include this in your package.  Again, do your research online, there are lots to choose from, compare costs and select the one which suits you best.

Literary Agents

Should not charge a fee for reading your work.  Many will not take unsolicited submissions so again, do your homework and watch out for sharks.  Some writers self-publish to attract the attention of an agent.  Follow the submission guidelines and only submit where genre-appropriate.  If you are successful the agent will represent you and do the leg-work with potential publishers, taking a percentage of the proceeds.  I thought the chances of being taken on by a reputable agent were slim so I didn’t consider this avenue.


Whatever option you choose, don’t hold back and the very best of luck to all who are brave enough to have a go.

To quote the late best-selling author Ray Bradbury: ‘You fail only if you stop writing.’

I look forward to seeing your work in print and if you’re looking for a new BFF when you’re rich and famous, maybe choose me?

Below is a link to my first published novel.  Have a look at the first couple of chapters online, read the reviews and see what you think.

Next blog in May will be looking at marketing and publicity.

Also find me on Facebook:

or Twitter:@juliehaiselden


About jhbooksblog

Hello - I'm Julie Haiselden, an occasional NHS med sec/practice administrator. Mother of three, wife of one, a chaotic cook and published crime/thriller novelist who blogs a bit about books, life and food. School alumna. Occasional am-dram actress/director. I enjoy walking and photography (although my enthusiasm outweighs my skill set). I've recently joined the reviewing team at Whispering Stories and can be found via the following social media sites: I also accept a few hard copy novels to review.
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One Response to Publishing as a First-Time Author

  1. Pingback: Client or Customer? – Clear Head or Committed Heart? | jhbooksblog

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