writing to be published is not what it was. Once upon a time, the major publishing houses hired editors whose job it was to edit the books the publisher had chosen to carry. Those editors worked with the writers, helping them to develop their individual writing styles, while maintaining a fairly high quality of literature for the publsihing house. The editors sifted through every scene to make certain those scenes would carry the readers forward, while building the story to its peak so that by the closing passages, all the loose ends would be tied, and each character had obtained what we would now call closure, if not success in what they wanted to achieve. Those were the days when the publishers' income depended on the quality of the books they sold.
Those editors are gone. They have entered the mythos concerning what we all believe a real publishing house should offer. Starting in the 1870s and 1880s, corporations busily looked for ways to eliminate competition, not only from each other, but from enterprising businessmen who were working on their onw. The passage of the anti-trust laws by our congress attest to what was happening then. However, corporations now own congress, and any meaningful competition with them has been all but entirely eliminated. In the United States, our pbulishing houses are owned by Bertelsmann, from Germany, CBS, Walt Disney and a few others. Wolter Lluwer, of the Netherlands, owns many of the top publishers in this country, and unless the publisher clearly states that they are independent, they are onwed by one of the major corporations. McGraw Hill still concentrates on educational books. The News Corporation owns Harper Collins. Pearson, out of the United Kingdom owns the Viking Press, Alpha Books and others. For information go to http://people.brandeis.edu/-1amiller/publishers.html
It is illegal for a publicly traded corporation not to make money for its share holders. This affects everything in our political world, and it affects writers as well. It costs money to pay good editors to bring manuscripts up to industry standards. As far as corporate owners are concerned, those manuscripts that require editing are too expensive to publish. Publicists, who would be in charge of advertising new authors also cost money. These are two things that the major publishers will no longer grant new writers whom they might publish.
Once upon a time, the major publishers would pay their good midlist writers an advance that was meant to carry them for about a year, while they wrote their next book. These advances used to run between $25,000 and $50,000. Large publishers no longer do this, except for their best selling authors, because they are unlikely to make back the money they would spend printing the unknown authors' books. Most of these writers are lucky to get them a contract that offers them a $2000 advance. Those writers seldom see more than that in royalties, as very few books pay back their advances, and the major publishing houses do not want to spend the money on marketing for those books. Major publishers do look at self published books that have sold well, and they will publish books that have sold well in foreign countries. Sometimes they look at books that are essentially clones of books that have sold very well, such as: Percy Jackson, a Harry Potter rip-off.
So, where does this leave American writers? You have to scramble fo whatever you can get. You need to look for the best of the independent publishers. These are publishers who jury the work they publish, so if one of those publishers takes your book, it will not be thrown in with a pile of books that you would be ashamed to be seen with. You want to look for publishers who have good contracts with the book stores that will carry your book. Book stores don't want to have to dispose of books that don't sell. Most important, if you are hoping to get some great reviews, you need to edit and re-edit your work. You may want to hire an experienced eidito to help you do this. Writing a good book is an art, and it is often a collaborative art, as two people, you and your editor, will each bring your unique perspectives to bear on your manuscript. You will each see things that the other does not. In the best editor/author relationships, the insights one has will enhance the insights of the other. But in the final analysis, it is up to you to make sure your manuscript is the very best that it can be, before you try to find an agent or publisher for it.
If you go the route of self publishing, there are other things you need to consider. You want a publisher who clearly states in his contract with the independent bookstores that they will take back any remainders; books that are not sold within a specified period of time. Brick and mortar book stores have a finite amount of shelf space. You also need to consider what the cover of your book looks like. An evocative illustration across the front of the book, or distinctive fine lettering, are all very well. However, only so many books can be displayed with the front cover exposed. Most of the independent book stores do not have the shelf space to be able to display the front covers of all the titles they carry, or to keep the same titles on display for more than a few days. The title and name of the author should go down the spine as well. You may want the spine of your book to stand out from all the others as well.
E-books are rising in popularity, and Amazon does make it easy to publish your manuscript as an e-book with them. To a point, they will even help you sell your book. However, there are a few things to remember about corporations like Amazon. For one thing, they publish everything, and you may not want your book clumped in with some of the poorly written stuff that there is so much of. Second; an e-book published Amazon will be published to what they like to call the Cloud. People who purchase your book can read it on their computers, which may or may not be comfortable, they can read it on an Ipad, or they can read it on Amazon's Kindle. There are many brands of e-readers out there that are excellent for handling text and mobi files, and many people have bought those e-readers. But, Amazon has made sure that the e-books they sell cannot be uploaded to any e-readers but their own. It is their way of putting the competing e-readers out of business. Whether or not you choose to publish through Amazon depends on how strongly you feel about such tactics. There are many e-book publishers out there, such as Smashwords, who ensure that the books they publish can be read on a wide variety of e-readers.
There are hundreds of thousands of e-books for sale, and you do not want yours to be forgotten in a heap with countless others. You want to make sure that you get the word out about the exciting e-book you have published. E-publishers have decidedly lower overhead, so they can afford to give the author a higher percentage of the sales. the standard rate runs from 50-percent to 70-percent of sales, as apposed to the usual 10-percent to 15-percent most publishers pay the author for a print run. Some e-publishers will start the pricing low, at perhaps ninety-nine cents a copy, until the readership picks up. Then they may raise the price to five or six dollars. This works well, as long as people know you have a book worth buying. So, you still need to get out there and sell your books.
Publicity is an art as much as writing is. How much can you afford to talk about what you have written without offending your friends and family to the extent that they don't want to see you any more? Do you have the gumption and the where-with-all to arrange talks about writing, reading excerpts from your book, and giving away free copies of it that people can upload, perhaps from your website or a thumbdrive that you give away? These are the sorts of things many writers shy away from doing, as they would rather sit at their desks and write.
Believe me, I am one of those writers who would be more than happy to let the sales job be done by someone who loves to sell, so that I can get on with what I like to do, which is sitting at a comfortable desk and writing. However, in today's world, writing is only half the job. No one can afford to specialize that way. We must all be renaissance people, adept at many skills. Besides, it is healthy to learn how to get yourself into the public eye, in positive and meaningful ways.