How to get your book published: Where to start, basic issues

For lawyers who aspire to become published authors, the process of getting a book into print can seem daunting. But the recent American Bar Association webinar “Getting a Book Published and Marketed: Legal Issues, Tips and Tactics” provides would-be authors with valuable information on the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, how to create a brand for your book and legal issues related to publishing.

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

When determining whether to pursue traditional or self-publishing, authors must consider a variety of factors.

If you go with traditional publishing, one big advantage is that the author pays no upfront costs, said Susan Smith Blakely, founder of Legal Perspectives LLC and author of the “Best Friends at the Bar” book series. “Publication and distribution costs are big-ticket items,” she noted.  The financial downside, however, is that royalty rates are relatively low for new authors.

Self-publishing authors, on the other hand, must pay for publication and marketing of their book, but they receive a greater return on the sale of each book.

While traditional publishing offers better odds of receiving recognition in your field and making an easier transition into other areas of writing, self-publishing authors have much more authority over publication decisions, Blakely said.

“For some authors, those decisions on the cover design, the interior layout and things like that are things that they want to control,” she said.

And although only a small percentage of self-publishing authors are successful, those who are can then spark interest from traditional publishers.

“Sometimes this route of nontraditional publication can be seen as a fallback position and perhaps interpreted as a failure to interest a traditional publisher in your product,” Blakely warned. “You may or may not care about that, but it is one of the things you need to consider.”

Marketing Your Book

Public relations consultant Darcie Rowan recommended meeting with a professional publicist early on in the publishing process to determine who your target audience will be and how you will brand yourself to reach this audience.

The best way to find a publicist is to ask for referrals from people in the business — authors, agents, editors — and research their suggestions, she said. Then choose three to five publicists who work in your genre and send them a chapter from your book to gauge their interest.

Make sure the publicist asks for a copy of your book before he or she gives you a price for service, Rowan advised. “A lot of places out there have ‘cookie cutter’ campaigns,” she said. “It’s the same approach for business books as there are to gardening books as there are to fiction books. That shouldn’t happen.”

Rowan said the cost of a book marketing campaign can range from $4,000 to $10,000 depending on what you want to achieve. “Your campaign should be specially designed just for you and your particular subject matter and what your goals are,” she said.

Robb Pearlman, senior editor at Rizzoli International Publications, said authors should temper their expectations for their book. “Not every book is going to be ‘Harry Potter,’” he said. “Not every book is going to get into the Oprah Winfrey magazine.”

For authors on a tight budget, you can be your own publicist, but Blakely warned, “There is a very, very steep learning curve to being your own publicist and marketer, and it is extremely time consuming.”

While authors using the traditional publishing route will receive support for marketing their book, Blakely noted that because of the recession, “many of the traditional publishing houses have cut way back on their marketing and PR … so you are having to do an awful lot of that marketing on your own even with the traditional publishers.”

When working on your brand image, pick out activities to do that support your expertise as related to your book, Rowan said. For example, teaching classes or blogging about your book’s topic and engaging via your website or social media will create an audience and help ignite interest in your book before it is even released.

“You actually want to become and be seen by the media as an expert in something,” she said.

Ownership Issues

Monica P. McCabe, a partner at Vandenberg & Feliu LLP specializing in intellectual property and entertainment law, encouraged authors to apply for copyright registration for their manuscript and any visual/audio works that go with it before sending it to anyone for review. You can either contact an intellectual property lawyer or go online to to apply.

If you are pitching an idea but do not yet have a manuscript, she said you can protect your idea by requiring the person to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

You may also want to consult an expert about trademarking logos, slogans or titles for a series of books. “Decide what you want to do, where you want to go with it, and protect yourself going forward,” McCabe said.

She also cautioned authors to remember that consultants are not employees, and therefore they own whatever works they create. So if you hire a website designer or illustrator for your book, you must enter into a work-for-hire agreement before they start their work to make sure all IP rights go to you.

For additional information on book publishing, this webinar and others, such as “The Fundamentals of Literary Publishing for Lawyers,” can be found in the ABA Web Store.