Critical Eyes are a Critical Investment
Welcome to part two of this three part series of posts on investing time, money and effort in your writing.
Last time we looked at getting on course i.e. getting started on taking your writing seriously. This time we look at the next step.
So you’ve written a novel, or a memoir, or a collection of short stories. Maybe you’ve written a set of essays, or an instruction manual, or perhaps you now have enough poems to make a book. Now what?
Routes to Publication
Most likely you’d like to share your work with some readers beyond your circle of family, friends and the cat and so you need to get published. So how does that work? Well you can approach literary agents and if you’re lucky get taken on by one. You could even approach publishers directly and with even more luck and a following wind be snapped up by one of them. And of course to increase your ‘luck’ in being offered a contract or publishing deal, you will have done careful research on which agents and publishers to approach, i.e. ones who actually represent/publish writers of your particular genre. You will also have investigated the nature of such contracts and will know what’s a fair offer and what you can and should negotiate on.
I did the above. I was encouraged by the fact that my first novel got to the ‘second-reading’ stage in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Getting that far in that scheme is usually taken to mean the manuscript is publishable and leads to an introduction to at least one agent. But I had no success, I’m afraid. Bad luck or poor writing? Not for me to say. None of the agents or publishers I approached ignored me. All offered encouragement and constructive advice. None felt they could sell my work. My novels don’t fit neatly into any one genre, but spill over across several, plus the main characters in both are women who are no longer ‘chicks’–– and older women just ain’t cool––apparently.
But that wasn’t the end of my ‘getting published’ dream. We are indeed (as writers) fortunate to live in interesting times. Recent years have seen the rise of the independent author-publisher. Now, put all notions of the old concept of vanity publishing out of your head. Things have moved on considerably from the scenario where a desperate-to-be-read writer would spend a lot of money on poorly produced volumes of their work, only to end up pulping them, having stored them in the garage unloved and unsold for months or maybe even years. No, it’s all different nowadays.
The rise of the indie author or author-publisher (pick your favoured term) has coincided with the rise of the digital or e-book. As e-books popularity increased, book distributors such as Amazon saw an opportunity; an opportunity that would bring them sales, sure, but would also allow anyone with a written piece of work to publish it. Kindle desktop publishing (KDP) was born. All an author had to do was have their manuscript in a suitable format for uploading, get a cover from KDP’s cover creator facility and press upload. Other companies such as Ingram and Smashwords and the makers of the Kobo and Nook e-readers also got on board. The uptake of this opportunity by authors was considerable and this led to Amazon and Ingram, amongst others, offering the facility to produce paperback as well.
I went down the author-publisher route, set up my own imprint and have published two novels with a third one (this time for children) due out early in 2015. I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) set up by the indomitable Orna Ross and this means I have access to lots of very useful advice and protection, as well as a network of authors and publishing industry experts whose knowledge I can draw on. I’ve become au fait with marketing, especially on social media and have made a reasonable number of sales but I’m nowhere near making a profit – yet.
Why no profit? Ah, well, that’s where we come back to the investment thing at the heart of this series of posts. Yes, it’s time to get critical.
Polish before you Publish
So, if, having read the above, you’re enthused to publish your book, please just stop a minute. Don’t rush into it and don’t publish your first draft. Don’t publish your fiftieth draft. I can assure you it won’t be good enough. Whether you want to pursue the traditional agent/publisher route, or whether you decide to go indie, you owe it to yourself and your manuscript to get dispassionate, critical eyes to assess and critique your work. Get networking and find an editor, a cover designer, a proofreader and a book designer. At the very least get an editor. If you join ALLi as an associate member (£44.00) i.e. unpublished writer, you will be able to tap into a rich database of tried, tested and approved book professionals who will knock your manuscript into shape.
If you take this advice and perfect and polish your book, you have more chance of getting an agent or publisher’s approval, but more than that you have a publication-ready manuscript regardless of whether Penguin (other publishers are available) think you’re next big thing.
If you do self-publish, you’ll have a book worthy of your readers hard-earned money and investment of time. The last thing you want is your reader throwing your book (or their e-reader) across the room in frustration at your poor spelling, several typos, plot inconsistencies and nonsensical sentences. And furthermore, it’s not unheard of for traditional publishing houses to pick up a successful indie author having been impressed by a good product that’s building a satisfied readership.
But more than any of that, it should be a matter of pride and of belief in your writing to produce and publish the best version of that writing. And, especially if you choose the indie route, the quality is down to you. The author-publisher is gaining respect. Booksellers and book fairs are beginning to be just as approving of the independently published as they are of those who are traditionally published. Again ALLi has been at the forefront of this move with their Open up To Indies campaign.
However, it’s down to us as writers whatever route we take to publication, but especially if we go the indie route, to ensure that our book is edited and proof read, that the cover is not some generic, distributor generated one, but is worthy of being the first judgement readers make of our work, and that the interior layout is easy on and pleasing to the eye.
So develop a professional attitude, invest in your ‘business’ and GO GET CRITICAL!
And if you still need convincing, and even if you’re not wanting to be published, consider this, seeking and accepting constructive criticism won’t just make your book a better read, it will make you a better writer.
Some useful contacts:
These are the talented people whose services I’ve used to make my books the best they can be, clck on their names to go to their websites for more information:
Editor: John Hudspith
Book and cover designer: Jane Dixon Smith
Proofreader: Perry Iles email – firstname.lastname@example.org
And you’ll find the Alliance here