The publishing world has changed radically since I began working in it more than thirty years ago. Then, an author largely had two choices for getting published: be offered a contract by a major publisher in New York City or pay (frequently a lot of money) to be published by a vanity press. Today, small independent publishers abound. Self-publishing (the old vanity press) has grown exponentially—nearly 400,000 self-published books were published in 2013, a 59 percent increase over 2011—and although writers who go that route can still spend a large amount of money, they also have the option of putting an e-book up on Amazon for no cost. Whichever way an author chooses to go now, she will need to do more work in order for her book to have the best chance of success.
Whether you want to be represented by a literary agent who will pitch your book to a major publisher or be published by a small independent press, you will need to write a query letter. (A great source for finding an agent or publisher is Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editor, & Literary Agents, most recently updated in 2013.) Different agents and publishers have different submission requirements, so make sure you check what those requirements are before you submit. But the standard submission includes a query letter. Even published authors will swear that writing an engaging query letter is one of the hardest things they’ve ever written. Except for a synopsis. Synopses can be equally difficult and are frequently a required part of the submission process too.
If you choose to self-publish, there are other aspects of your book that you will need to deal with. Specifically, back cover copy and, for the front cover, both the design and any promotional blurbs.
And then there’s marketing. If you work with a publisher, you will have help with this. Still, expect that you will need at least a Facebook page and a website—for which you will have to write the content and which will probably need a blog.