"It is now possible for any writer with a book to get it published at nominal cost or free, and to have it on sale at booksellers like Amazon.com."
All authors who publish books and articles have at least one thing in common: they believe their work is interesting, desirable, or useful to other people. Many texts, such as this Rhetoric and Composition wikitext, are published online and are available for free, without any paid authors or editors. Although many authors and readers prefer print publications, it is now entirely possible to earn a good living writing exclusively for the web.
Getting published may seem unlikely or even impossible, but there are readily available resources to help you. If you are interested in freelance writing for magazines, the Writer’s Market is probably one of the most accessible and helpful sources (see below). If you are interested in publishing scholarly or professional research, you will need to familiarize yourself with the journals and book publishers associated with your field.
It is very important to know a publisher's expectations before sending them a manuscript. Pay close attention to the publisher's policies; some do not accept any unsolicited manuscripts, and many have strict rules about formatting, subject matter, and deadlines. Don't waste time and money sending out manuscripts that are certain to be rejected.
If you want to send an idea for a potential article or book to an editor, you may do this in a query letter. A query letter should be short and to the point. The point is to interest the editor into buying your idea or article or at least requesting a book proposal or entire manuscript. Included in a query letter is a strong opening lead about the article, book, or piece, a description of the development or structure and content, any other information or images you intend to include, why you are qualified to write the piece, and a solid closing requesting to write or submit the piece. It would be wise to include a deadline for reply.
Types of Publication
The first thing you should do is figure out what type of publishing venue is appropriate for your needs.
Do-It-Yourself Print Publishing
Print publication is the oldest and most traditional way to earn a living as a writer and flourish as an academic. Unfortunately, printing books is an expensive process, and you may find it difficult to interest a publisher in your work. Anyone, however, can pay out of pocket to have a book published by a vanity press. The results are often quite good, with a slick and glossy production that is indistinguishable from other books. If you have a manuscript with very limited commercial appeal (such as a history of your family or hometown), or want to control the marketing of the book yourself, a vanity press may be the way to go. Costs vary depending on the size and types of illustrations used in the book.
Academic publishing is how scholars share their research and critically review other works. This type of publishing includes academic journals and books in the sciences and humanities. You are probably most familiar with academic journals in electronic form, since many college libraries offer access to extensive databases of journal articles in electronic form, such as JSTOR and Elsevier's Science Direct. Categories for journals range from physics and geometry to education and art, but all are written for other scholars in a particular field. Authors are rarely paid for publishing articles in academic journals--the reward comes instead in the form of increased prestige or a promotion.
Commercial publishing means writing for profit and is the way the majority of professional authors earn their living. Commercial publication can include books, articles, journals, magazines, and more. If you want to become a professional author, you should research the publishers who publish in your fields of interest. Familiarize yourself with their titles and consider how your work will complement their existing selections. Visit their websites or call them to learn how they solicit manuscripts. Some will only accept manuscripts delivered to them by agents. In any case, you will need to convince the publisher that your work has commercial value and an adequate audience of potential readers.
Writer’s Market is a well-known resource for freelance writers. It offers market information, tips for getting published, advice from agents and editors, and formatting information. These services are available in the Writer's Market book and at WritersMarket.com. There is an annual or monthly fee for online access.
Publishing your work online can take many forms, such as blogs, wikis, Adobe PDF files, e-books, and so on. There are plenty of easy ways to make your works available online for free, but earning a profit on them is a different matter. The Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad have opened up new opportunities for writers and publishers interested in selling electronic works. Also, many formerly print-based newspapers and magazines now offer websites, many with original articles published exclusively online. Search the websites for information about submitting a manuscript or query. While the pay is unlikely to match that of print publications, there are still plenty of opportunities to support yourself as a freelance author.
Writing, unfortunately, cannot always be done simply for the love of writing. Unless one has a wealthy spouse or a bursting portfolio, spending a significant amount of time writing requires that you treat it like a business. The freelance writer must be part writer, and part business-person. In fact, when considering everything involved in maintaining a living as a freelance writer, the career is similar to that of a small-buisness owner. It involves secure jobs, setting prices, and negotiating skills.
This lifestyle may conjure up images of endless travel and world experience, but the fact is, you never get a paid vacation. Writing for publication results in jobs being canceled, payment delays, and payment shortcomings. One must be very careful in factoring the amount of money he/she will receive each month, as it can sometimes take months to get paid.
As a writer seeking publication, you should know your rights. Anything you write is automatically protected by copyright--no one else is permitted to publish it without your permission. When you find a publisher, you will likely sign a contract that transfers some or all of your copyright to the publisher. Contracts can be confusing and difficult for authors to understand; it is often worth finding an agent who can negotiate contracts with publishers to better suit your interest. Many terms of a contract can be negotiated, such as how long the publisher retains exclusive rights to publish your work, what media they can use to publish it, or even who controls the movie or television rights.
There are also alternatives to standard copyright, such as Creative Commons licensing. Creative Commons licenses vary in scope and coverage, but the basic idea is that anyone is allowed to copy and distribute your work without getting your permission first.
There are plenty of websites dedicated to supporting aspiring writers of all types. See the links below for more information.
- Academic publishing. Wikipedia's entry on academic publishing has lots of information and links for scholars and researchers.
- WritersMarket.com. Find places to sell your writing, whether you've got a book, manuscript, or article idea.
- Writing Guide Online vs. Print Publishing. Discusses the differences between print and online publishing. Intended for novice publishers.