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Pathways to Publication

bloody bills

We all know that in a mystery the most obvious suspect, the first “person of interest,” isn’t always the culprit. The same is true of pretty much every aspect of publishing.

There’s a lot—and I mean a lot—of debate, acrimony, and bad information out there about what you can or should expect, or what you’ll be doing as an author as well as writing and how much you will—or won’t—make. Don’t expect me to give you the answers. I won’t. I don’t know them. I don’t think anyone does, no matter what they say because every book is different. Every author’s experience will be different.

I have short stories in three anthologies, two published with small presses in both print and e, the other we did as a crowd-sourced charity anthology, so once the original Indiegogo campaign was over, it became available to the public only in e. My four romantic suspense novels were published by  a major publisher—Penguin—but in their e-only imprint, InterMix, so they had no paperbacks. I've also self-published two shorter contemporary romances, as well as re-publishing the Penguin books when I got my rights back. I haven't covered all the publication bases, but I've come close.

And I still don’t have the answers.

Publishing is a business. The decisions you make must be business decisions. The fact that there are so many new pathways opening up has both positive and negative aspects–you have more choice, but you also have more responsibility.

Here are questions I ask for every project before deciding what to do with it…as always, your mileage may vary.

  • • Who will want to read it (and no, you can’t answer “everyone”–the more specific you are, the better)
  • • Where do those people hang out–online and off?
  • • How do those people choose to read? In e or in print or both?
  • • How much do you think those people will be willing to pay for a book, especially if it's by someone they may never have heard of?
  • • Do these people look at covers when they are making choices about what they are reading?
  • • Where do these people find recommendations about what to read next?

Now, let’s say you want to go the traditional route. And let’s say you don’t have an agent you trust, who can help you vet the publishers to query. Publishers aren’t going to come to you, so you have plenty of time to check them out before sending out your query!

  • • Have you heard of any of the other authors on their list?
    (Check out their websites and see if you can find them on social media. Look to see if there are any who appear friendly. Ask them about their experiences—politely.)
  • • What do their covers look like? Would they make you want to buy the books?
  • • How about the cover copy? Check out their books on Amazon or B&N and see whether the copy is well-written and makes you want to buy the book.
  • • What kind of promotions have you seen for the books they publish?
  • • Can you even find a list on their website of the books they’ve published in the last year?
  • • For that matter, is their website filled with information about their authors and books, does it have links to the authors’ own sites? Does it have “buy buttons” for the books?
  • • What do they charge for their paperback books? Is it more than you think your readers would pay? What about their ebooks?

Businesswoman looking through a magnifying glass to contractNow, let’s say the books look good and fit your requirements and they offer you a deal. You’re still not done doing your homework!

  • • EXAMINE THE CONTRACT THEY SEND YOU. This one I cannot stress strongly enough. Be sure you understand every word of that contract. If it says “out of print,” you need to know what that means in a world of print on demand and ebook. You need to know if your royalties are standard. Do they own foreign language rights? What about audio rights?


I am sure there are questions I’ve missed, but I am trying to stress something here: not all publishers are equal, and even if you like your publisher for one project, they may not be right for all your projects. What does your contract say? Do you owe them right of first refusal on your next project even if it’s completely different from the one they bought?

For example, Twisted was bought as part of a two-book deal. That same contract gave me a deadline for the second book, Lost. But it didn’t specify what might happen in the middle. That is, if I had the kind of speed to complete a book/novella in the middle, I could have published it, as long as what I published did not infringe on my Penguin "world."

So those are some of the things I’d consider. As I said, your mileage may vary, and I’d love to hear any thoughts in the comments about other things I’ve forgotten to include in comments!


Laura K Curtis Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.

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