With current technology and the changes taking place in the publishing industry, it has become more confusing to first time authors as to how to go about, or whether to even attempt, becoming published.
In major publishing houses, the average length of time between the signing of a contract and the release date is usually 18 months. At the end of that time, the publisher can decide not to publish your book for any reason.
Don’t be misled about how much money authors are making in royalty based publishing contracts. A 10% royalty may sound great but that is not what the author actually receives. The unspoken truth is that the customer “returns” of purchased books across the country average 25% each year. In most cases these books are soiled and cannot be resold. This return policy is deducted from an author’s royalties, reducing their 10% to about 7% very quickly.
If you are fortunate to have a manuscript accepted by a major publisher you might also be given an advance on your royalties. However, advances are at an all time low and very little is spent on publicity. Some publishing contracts require authors to pay for publicity out of their advance. By the time the publisher is ready to print, if they feel you have not created enough interest in your book, they can decide not to publish the title. Under these circumstances if you keep the advance they end up owning the rights, prohibiting you to negotiate another publishing contract.
Agents and publishers will mostly entertain established writers–this places most new authors in a “Catch-22” of not being able to find a publisher without an agent or an agent without a publisher. It is unfortunate, in our field, to need to mention that there have been some agents who have accepted up-front fees from first-time authors and not followed through in presenting manuscripts to their publishing contacts.