Generally speaking, Fiction queries have some common elements: You need a letter that is intriguing enough to stand out from the thousands of other letters your intended reader receives and you need a synopsis of your book. Besides those items, which better be perfect, you need one of the following: Either the first 50 pages of your manuscript, the first three chapters, or the whole enchilada. I’ve queried people who ask for one or another of those. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the person you want to pitch your book to is interested in reading -or even representing- your book (in the case of an agent, since these are the most common people you would send a query to). If they’re not interested, there’s a good chance you’ll never even hear back from them, but we’ll say, for our purposes, they are interested. They’ll instruct you to send your manuscript (unless they wanted the whole thing with the initial letter). They’ll read it and, if they’re still interested, they may agree to represent you to publishers. Then they have the fun task of trying to find someone else to read it. If -and that’s a BIG if- a publisher is interested, there may be a delay of up to 18 months in seeing your book in print. And, unless your last name happens to be King, Koontz, or Grisham, most of the marketing is going to be done by….YOU. Now, obviously, this is a phenomenally simplified view of the process, but it’s pretty much what you can expect.
The other option is self-publishing. Self-publishing, once widely known as vanity publishing, used to be an outlet for people with little talent and lots of money. If you self-published your book, it meant that no one except your mother would have any interest in reading it. Now, however, self-publishing has gone mainstream, with some previously-published authors choosing it over traditional publishing. In interviews I’ve read over the past couple years there are usually one or two common reasons that people choose to “go it alone”. One is the time it takes to get your book to market. If you self-publish, the time to market is dictated by you and you alone. The other is creative control. If you self-publish, you get to decide absolutely everything that has to do with your book; interior layout, cover, fonts, marketing, appearances, you name it. This can be a blessing or a curse because I’m certainly not implying these things are easy to do, especially with no experience and a most-likely very limited budget, but even with a traditional publisher, you’d have to do a lot of it anyway. And there are a lot of companies that provide the services you need. Some will do everything from cover design to layout to printing the books (but you have the final word on every detail) and some provide templates for the interior and the cover and you design everything. This is the way I do it, because there are no upfront costs involved. This method is called Print-on-Demand (POD), which requires no inventory, either by the author or a publisher. I do keep a small stock on hand, but only for local bookstores and personal appearances. Otherwise, when someone orders a book through Amazon or any other service, the order goes to the printer, who prints the needed numbers of books, and ships them, usually within a day or two for small orders. No muss, no fuss. And, except for the month leading up to Christmas, my books have always been shipped in 1 to 2 days; not just printed, but shipped.
So, while there are obvious benefits to both scenarios, I prefer to self-publish. Of course, if some big publishing house wants to handle one of my books and pay me a six-figure advance, I’d be open to that. In the meantime, as I prepare to release my 5th book, I’ve had good success with self-publishing.