Publishing – Traditional, Vanity, Self, Bookstores and Screenplays

So you’ve completed your first or next story, and it’s time to publish; what is next, what sacrifice are willing to make? From my experiences in both self-publishing and seeking out a traditional publisher, I offer my opinions on the matter. I hope you will find this useful.


There are hundreds out there, but writers beware; there are a lot of snakes in the grass too. A traditional publisher will NOT ask any funds from you and will offer all services from book covers to marketing programs, and your remuneration will be a royalty percentage from sales. It is not easy to get a publishing house to read your manuscripts; they are so overloaded with manuscripts or book proposals and to get through them all, it does take months before they get back to you, by then most authors are fed up and self-publish.

99.9% of traditional publishers do not accept unsolicited (un-agented) manuscripts for the simple reason that they need help to weed out the good and the not so good. Totally understandable, that now leaves a small margin of 0.1% of traditional publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Great news – again be prepared to wait for months.

If you have funds readily available (anything from $99 – $200 a year), seek an agent. I have not done so and therefore reserve any opinion on the matter. In the little research, I have done they all offer editing services to help you get the best manuscript on offer. Agents have far more insight and avenues to pull from than you or me.

Sometimes publishers that usually do not accept unsolicited manuscript open a small window of opportunity for authors. They will release an open period (example; Dec to January) when they will accept unsolicited manuscripts – if they mention open periods on their website be sure to diarize and go back to the site frequently.

What do acquisition editors look for? All publishing companies are different obviously, but most prefer email submissions. Generally, you will be asked to submit; the title, author’s name, genre’, number of words, one-page synopsis, first few chapters or a full manuscript, author’s biography, author’s resume’ and a marketing plan. Be absolutely sure that your submission is exactly as per the submission guidelines, anything to the contrary will be ignored.

Not all Publishing companies will send out a notification that they have received your submission neither will some send a rejection notification. After a grace period of approximately three months, you may email a query and enquire as to the status of your submission. Check the website for the correct contact email address for a query; it is not always the same as for submissions. Be aware that you probably won’t receive any response from your query email either; so you may take it for granted that if you have not received a reply after three months, your submission was unsuccessful. Yes, I know publishers love to communicate – Not!


Most vanity publishers will claim that they are a traditional publishing house – well they’re not. If they charge the author a fee for a publishing package, editing or any upfront fee, then they are not a traditional publisher.

I have found in my continuous search for a publisher that on their website they do not mention their charges. They will proclaim to offer the most wonderful (almost too good to be true) services, and after you have submitted according to their guidelines they will only then inform you of their fees; A lot of wasted time and effort on your part.

As I have said before publishers take a few months to get back to you, so when you hear from a publisher after only two weeks or even less, make sure your alarm bells start ringing. I had a publisher email me the very same afternoon requesting that she wished to speak to me. With all the alarm bells ringing I played along (curiosity) eventually receiving the email with the publishing packages.

Packages can range from $499 up to $7000. Usually, they will offer three various types of packages; bronze, silver, and platinum or something similar. Another common fee they charge is a reading fee – $2.50 per page. Do not mistake this as an editors fee; the reading fee is a fee charged for someone (who incidentally gets paid by the company) to read your manuscript, and if they like it, it then gets passed on to an editor.

Author’s desperate to acquire a publisher pay these exorbitant fees and are allowed to feel special, privileged and that they are the next best seller. After approximately six months of their novel getting as much publicity as they paid for, the company needs to move on to their next paying customer, and the author is left everywhere but nowhere; just another paying customer.

My question is; if you are prepared to pay such high fees to get your book published why not self-publish. This will be discussed in the next section.


The quickest, cheapest and easiest way to get your manuscript published, if you are not prepared to wait months for a publisher, is to self-publish.

There are several platforms that offer a free service for self-publishing, listed below is a few but not all;

Createspace – owned by Amazon. Permits you to publish in paperback; it has an easy to use process to upload all the relevant documents including a cover template. They also offer standard template cover designs should you not have one of your own. They will assign an ISBN number free of charge to your paperback edition. Printing is on demand; you can print one at a time or several and have them delivered anywhere in the world. Once a manuscript is published the only fee is for the printing of the books as per the order. I have used Createspace and highly recommend them, especially for first time publishing. Their response time in my opinion to all my queries has been very efficient.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) – owned by Amazon. KDP is for publishing your book electronically. If you have used Createspace and completed the paperback process, the system offers you the option to be directed to KDP to complete the electronic publishing process. KDP will assign an ASIN number. Again the guided process is very easy and simple to follow.

Amazon offers their services worldwide, so there is no issue regarding your royalty payments no matter where in the world you live.

Since I have not personally used the following services I will refrain from commenting and merely list them for your perusal; I will say though that you will be required to assign your own ISBN for each edition (paperback and Epub) and these are costly.



Ingram Spark


Lightning Source

Self-publishing means that you are in full control of everything and anything that relates to publishing and marketing. It is recommended that your manuscript is edited by a professional and this can cost anything from $450 – $2000 (R7000 – R20000). But like I said it is recommended and not a requirement for self-publishing.

A cover design is crucial to the marketing of your book. A good cover will always grab the reader’s attention and entice them to read it. If you have the means to graphic design or illustration software then lucky you, otherwise it is worth your while to employ someone that can do a professional cover for you. The illustrator I have used in the past cost me $96 (R1500).

Marketing you book becomes the biggest hair-raiser and consumer of your valuable time. Use every social media platform available, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and use them frequently, at least once a week. (This is my personal bugbear.) If you do not constantly remind readers that your book is the best book they will ever read, then they will simply pass you by.

As you can gather, to self-publish has cost approximately $550 (R8500) and in comparison to the Vanity Publisher, you do the same quality and quantity of work for practically the same amount of money. Also after six months, you won’t be moved down the popularity table to make space for new clients, you are and always will be your own number, one client.


Every author dreams of looking in the display window of a major bookstore and to gaze upon their work, their masterpiece stacked in piles and labeled as a “bestseller.” Well unless you are published via a traditional publisher and your book truly is a bestseller this concept will remain a pipe dream.

I speak here of my South African experience. However, I am positive it is the same throughout the world.

To get your self-published book onto a shelf in any major bookstore, you have to go through a distributing company such as On the Dot. To get your books stocked in a distributing company, you have to have a publisher. Catch 22! I obtained a publisher for a short period until they closed their doors for business, that printed on demand. On the Dot required a minimum of fifteen books in stock at all times. It was all really a pointless exercise since by the time the publisher and On the Dot added their costs to the percentage of royalties fees the book cost in the region of $16 (R250) in the bookstore. Honestly, who is going to pay that for a book from an unknown author?

The only other option is to get the bookstores to take a few of your books as consignment stock. Not many do and this in itself has issues, here are a few that happened to me;

I large franchise agreed to sell my book at $6 (R90) – I charged them $3.5 (R50) per book. After a few months, I went to check if it was still on the shelves and got a shock when I saw that it was priced at $18 (R280). Needless to say, I was angered and recalled my books.

At another bookstore, they conveniently did not notify me when all my books they held were sold. After querying this with them, I had to first show proof that they had indeed taken a consignment of my book.

A bookstore in Manitou Springs, Colorado took a consignment of ten books. Correspondence (I was living in South Africa at the time) was very laboured. In December 2012 my family and I went on holiday to the USA. I made arrangements to meet the owner on a specific day at a specific time, and after driving over an hour and a half just to get there the owner was gone, and the store closed for business permanently. I was furious and very hurt by the owner’s actions and have still not recovered my books to this day.

I mention the negative side of bookstores to make you aware that you must, at all times follow up with the bookstores. If your book is not selling rather remove it from their store before it lands up in a pile somewhere in the back of their storeroom – forgotten.

On a positive note, there is a quaint bookstore in the Seadoone Mall, Doonside that has all my books on consignment called Readers Rest. They are absolutely fabulous and honest; they even hosted a book signing event in 2015 for myself and two other South African authors.

It’s a long hard search for a decent bookstore, but if you can find one that is willing and able to take your books on consignment with honesty, then you have found a gem in the rough.


Yes, your manuscript will make a great movie, so what will you do about it? You write a screenplay, perhaps with the aid of online software such as Celtx.

Your screenplay is finished – now what? You are not familiar or connected with people in the industry, so how do you get your screenplay to get noticed? The answer is with a lot of patience and tenacity – in fact, you probably need years of patience.

There are many film studios, production houses and entertainment companies that accept submission and, as with the traditional publishers, many of them do not accept unsolicited screenplays. Most will acknowledge your submission but be warned it takes far longer than a traditional publisher to get a response either negative or positive; you might wait up to a year.

What is required for a screenplay submission?

A logline; One or two sentences that act as a hook to grab attention.

A one or two-page synopsis; A summary breakdown revealing the three stages/acts of the screenplay.

Act I – The setup; build up to the arc, characters are introduced.

Act II – The Arc or confrontation/conflict; the defining moment when the crisis point is reached.

Act III – The resolution; the outcome after the defining moment and all is resolved.

A treatment;

This is two to five pages detailing the full story. It should include a few examples of dialogue, and scenes that are pertinent to the story and is always written in the present tense.

A screenplay;

The final draft of the screenplay, edited time and time again, and without errors.

Another means to get your screenplay amongst the mix of things is to enter screenplay contest. There are websites such as Film Freeway that weekly email lists of companies looking for specific genre’s and contests currently seeking participants. For me, that writes Christian Romance these contests and listings are few and far between. When one does come around, I am thrilled until I read the submission fees. The fees range from $15 – $50, and I do not believe that a person (usually a struggling part-time author/writer) must be forced to pay for their submission. The company hosting the contest is undoubtedly sponsored so why milk those that cannot afford it and in essence are the ones that make the contest possible. If I had to pay for every contest that has drifted across my emails, I would be out of pocket approximately $4000 a year! Is that really worth it?

It is imperative to copyright the screenplay and the treatment of the screenplay; some companies will not accept a submission unless it is copyrighted. WGAW Registry is simple and easy to use.


How to keep track of all your submission?

As I stated earlier, I am actively seeking a traditional publisher; for a novel and two children’s books as well as the screenplay to my first novel Changes From a Sunset. For every manuscript, I have created a spreadsheet detailing who I submitted it to, time, date and format of submission as well as what was submitted. It also details the publisher’s responses. When the manuscript is rejected, I highlight the entry; this makes it easier for me to see which is still outstanding. I suppose it would be easier to simply delete the rejected submission, but I keep it for future references. Below is an example;

In all scenarios with it be with Traditional, Vanity, Self or Screenplays only submit your submission within the genre’ applicable, you are wasting your time and the publishers time. Submitting a Christian romance to a company that concentrates on sci-fi and horror is plain foolishness.

As you peruse, publishing companies I suggest you keep open the Preditors & Editors site, a fabulous source of information. Here they list publishing houses and whether they are legit or not, vanity or not, and state any issues received from members.  At the time of writing this article Preditors & Editors website was being updated therefore inaccessible, they do promise to be operational again soon.

If anything I beg you as an author to please research, research and research the publisher if you are lucky enough to receive a contract. I received a few contracts from publishers, and everyone was so badly slated across writing forums, and the internet or they turned out to be Vanity Publishers, and in the end it only makes an author feel more disheartened than ever. But rather be safe than sorry.

I pray this article has helped you, even if in the smallest way and I pray for your success as an author/writer. Don’t give up on the dreams that drove you to write in the first place, hang on, hold on and persist with patience.

God bless you and your writing.



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5 thoughts on “Publishing – Traditional, Vanity, Self, Bookstores and Screenplays

  1. Well said! Dave and I know only too well the hardships of publishing. So many beautiful reads are simply shelved by the author because of the negative responses they receive. I believe that an author shouldn’t give up because of a rejection. There are many ways, as you have described in your blog, to decide what to do with a book upon completion. Every book deserves a chance!


  2. You are so correct this is a journey I never anticipated. After publishing Molding My Destiny and other ebook marketing and getting others to read the books has been a challenge. Lots of rejections but I am not one to give up. After experience some of the things you encounter with book stores… Wish I would have read earlier…..But like you said: “every books deserves a chance” is so true will keep this in mind. Thanks for sharing!

  3. There are lots of inaccuracies in this article: for example, you don’t need money upfront to work with a good agent–they only ever take their commissions from the payments your publishers make. And publishers take risks on new writers every day.

    I know it’s frustrating trying to get published, but please don’t misinform people like this. It’s not helpful.

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