Friday, 28 March 2014

Writing advice part 3: Publishing myths

My area is what’s known as traditional publishing. Basically, I send a few chapters to publishers and agents and if they like it, they ask to see more. If they like that, they accept it for publication. If not, well, then I get the dreaded rejection email. ‘Thanks for your work, but it’s not right for us at this time’ sort of thing. There are other areas, of course. Self-publishing for one. It’s a growing business and it suits some writers perfectly. For some of us, it’s a hobby and a job for others. What’s important to remember about self-publishing is if you do it, you’re responsible for everything. Not just writing your book, but editing it, line editing, proof-reading and, crucially, marketing and promoting it. If you’re happy with fifty odd copies of your book to pass among family and friends and to have physically have a copy in your hand, then that’s fine. It’s what you want. But if you want total strangers to know about your book and buy it, then you’re going to have to market it effectively. And time spent doing that is time not spent writing your next book. It all depends on what you want to get from writing and publishing. 

So the myths of traditional publishing. First one. You send your entire book to the acquisitions department of one of the big companies and wait a few weeks for them to say ‘this is great. Here’s twenty grand. The film rights will be with you in five minutes.’ No. The vast majority of book publishers won’t take a look at your book unless it comes from a literary agent. And an agent won’t take a look at your book unless it’s as polished as can be, and you follow their guidelines. 


Second one. Agents are only in it for the money and if you sent them the opening of Pride and Prejudice, they’d reject it because there are no car chases and nudity on the first page. Again, wrong. Yes, there are bad agents out there just as there are bad builders who’ll do a poor job of doing your conservatory. Agents aren’t the snobby monsters some think they are. They’re not a barrier between writers and publishers. They’re the ones who can help you as writers. They can help you with publishing contracts, money questions, plot problems, advice on how to market yourself or simply being a pair of ears if you’ve got a moan. They do this because they care about books and they don’t get paid unless you get paid. 


Third one and relating to what I just said about agents getting paid. Never pay a publisher or agent to read your submission. If they say your book looks great but they charge a reading fee, don’t send them a penny and tell others about them so they know who to avoid. Money flows towards you - the writer – not from you.


Fourth – and this is one of my favourites – it’s a get rich quick business. Everybody knows about Fifty Shades of Grey or the Twilight books or The Da Vinci Code. One thing those books all have in common is they all came along the right time and hit the right audience. They sold millions and they made millions for the publishers and the writers. Just about any writer who’s in it for the long haul wants to make a living out of it and they want a good living out of it. But the thing is, books like those three and all the others that sell loads are not the rule. It’s definitely possible to make a living out of writing, but your chances of being an overnight success and selling the same as a Dan Brown or JK Rowling aren’t high. People who don’t know about publishing and some newer writers see the stories that make the headlines about Fifty Shades originally being self-published and think it’s like that for every writer. It really, really isn’t. If you're in writing for the long term, I’d advise you to think of it as writing and having a new book released on a regular basis to make a living out of it rather than having one massive book that everyone’s talking about. Because eventually, they stop talking about it and you have to follow it with one equally as big. That’s very hard and very rare. 


Last one. Publishers are only interested in the next big thing or the money-makers. They want exciting action and explosions on the first page and if they don’t get it, your book will go in the bin. Not true. We’ve all got different tastes. We all like different types of books. Publishers are the same. Some are exclusively romance or crime or horror but the thing they all have in common is they all want interesting characters doing or involved in interesting things. Whatever genre you write in, keep it interesting. That doesn’t mean it has to be over the top. It just means publishers want a reason to keep reading, to turn the page and think ‘one more chapter’ because they know if they do that, the readers will do the same. 


Ultimately, writing is an artform in the same way painting or singing is, but publishing is a business. It wants to succeed and make money. Whether you’re fussed about cash or not, you should want to succeed as well.

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