We have a new book coming out next month, which aims to guide first time writers through the process of establishing a career as a full time author.
Here is a short excerpt from chapter one.
At one time there was a single route to publication. You wrote the book. In the distant past books were written on a typewriter with carbon paper between two sheets of paper so the author had a copy. Thank goodness those days are long gone.
Once the book was complete you purchased a copy of a writer’s handbook which detailed publishers and agents throughout the world and began to contact them individually. When you had identified potential agents or publishers who might be vaguely interested, the next stage was to craft an amazing introduction letter which would hopefully tempt them into asking to see your work. Then, filled with hope you would spent hours of time and countless amounts of money getting the first three chapters of the book photocopied. Then you would send it off, with a stamped addressed envelope to ensure the book could find its way back to you if, or usually, when the publisher or agent did not like it.
This was a hugely time consuming and expensive way of tracking down someone who would be interested in your book. If they liked the first three chapters then the next stage was to photocopy and send off the remainder of the book. Woe betide anyone who had not got copies of their book and it went missing in transit.
Fast forward to modern times. Things are a lot easier. Publishers and agents are all online. They can be found at the click of a button, thanks to the wonders of the internet. The necessary pages and chapter samples can be sent easily and quickly as attachments. Conversations are instant. If the publisher is interested, they can get in touch, either by email or telephone requesting the remainder of the book. There are still a few publishers who do request printed pages, but they are few and far between now and seem, thankfully to be a dying breed.
AGENT OR PUBLISHER?
This is rather like the chicken and egg problem. Large publishing houses will not consider an author who does not have an agent. Some will not accept unsolicited manuscript, basically ones that have been sent by the author. Agents will often not be taking on new clients as they will work for a small number at a time. This leaves authors with the problem of how to even get their book looked at, let alone accepted. Smaller publishing houses and new agents who are building up their client list will be more likely to look at your book. Unfortunately getting accepted by a small publishing house means that the advance and royalties paid to the author will be negligible.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Unless you have an agent who has a hotline to the publisher’s commissioning editor, your book will go on what is called the slush pile. Most publishers will receive upwards of 100 submissions A DAY. Eventually your book will be read and either accepted or rejected for the first stage of the acceptance process. To be accepted at the first stage a book must immediately grab the initial reader. To stand out in the slush pile it must be of an exceptional standard, but also fit exactly into the publisher’s standard and their current direction.
CAN I GET AN AGENT TO SELL MY WORK?
Of course, you can. However, agents will only take on a small number of clients so they can give each their full attention. They may love your work but have a client whose writing is similar and so they will not take you on, as there would be a conflict of interest.
A large company with well known agents is unlikely to take you on unless your book is absolutely, incredibly fantastic, something new and innovative and you are someone super cool and saleable.
Smaller companies, both agents and publishers are more likely to take you on, but are unlikely to be able to pay you anything much for what has taken probably the bones of a year to write.
WHAT ARE PUBLISHERS LOOKING FOR?
Each publishing company has a catalogue of books they publish. Their clients buy from them because they know what type of book they will be getting. Some will specialise in fantasy, others in romance, they will not deviate from this. To be accepted, a book needs to fit into this niche as well as conforming to the direction the company has decided to go in.
Apart from fulfilling these criteria and writing an exceptional book, publishers want an author they can sell. You are part of the whole package. An author with a ready-made platform on social media will be more tempting to them than someone who is unknown, regardless of the quality of the book.
A publisher may accept it at an early stage and then, once it has had recommended changes made and even been edited by the company, may still be rejected at a very late stage if the company changes direction with its catologue. To be rejected at a late stage of the process is heart-breaking and leaves the author right back at square one.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A PUBLISHER LIKES MY BOOK?
With traditional publishing the author is paid an advance, which is usually a shockingly low figure, despite the rare mega-bucks deals we occasionally read about in the media. It is not impossible, but the chances of anyone realistically achieving one of those eye watering deals is small.
If you do manage to attract the attention of a publisher, the process from handing in your completed manuscript to seeing your book on the shelf is painfully slow.
Once the author has been paid their advance and handed in the final draft of their manuscript, the book goes into production and the editing process begins. The publishing company’s editor will work with the author to both improve the book, but also to tweak it to their requirements. Their version of the finished book may be completely different from the authors vision.
While the editing process is happening, the cover will be designed. This could be completely irrelevant to the book, but these creative decisions are out of the author’s hands. Then, to a fair amount of fanfare the book is launched. The author will have a brief moment of fame, while the publisher’s PR department does its job. There will be magazine, newspaper, even television interviews and then the spotlight moves to the next thing.
When your deal is negotiated for sales of your book and any subsequent ones the publisher claim rights too, the author agrees that the copyright of their book will belong to the company for a given period. This agreement can extend to books that are translated into other languages or ones that are made into films, or TV series.
CAN I RETIRE ON MY BOOK SALES?
Probably not! The reality of the traditional book world is that most books don’t make much more than their advances. The publishing companies will generally publish a couple of ‘big’ books which will sell really well and support the ones which don’t make much. If the book makes anything beyond its advance, the author is paid a small percentage of the retail price, generally 10%. For a book which is being sold for £20.00, the retailer takes half, the publishers will take another chunk, leaving the author with around £1 for each copy sold. Until the book has sold enough copies to cover the advance, the author will not get any additional income. There are occasional horror stories of authors being asked to pay back their advance if the book does not sell at all.
BUT ISN’T A TRADITONAL PUBLISHING DEAL A BETTER OPTION?
No! Apart from the kudos of being accepted by a publisher. Amazingly, even now, what is seen as being properly published seems to carry weight with those who don’t understand the current publishing climate. If working with a traditional publisher and earning peanuts works for you then good luck. Those who are publishing independently are often making a proper living. People who buy books do not limit their choices to books that are published by traditional companies. They are attracted by good cover design and enticing blurbs, not who the publisher is.
Working with a publisher will limit how many books you can write. Publishing houses have increasingly tight so unless you are a huge name author, you will usually be limited to writing one per year.
Often an author will be given a contract for two or three books. Sales of these will be monitored. If the author has not made a good profit for the publishing company there will not be any future books commissioned.
WHAT IS INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING?
Self-publishing was once where egotistical fools whose books didn’t find publishers, would go to a local company and print the book themselves. Before the digital age print runs had to be enormous, which inevitably meant boxes of excess books being stored in the author’s attic or garage.
Authors can now publish independently, working with a production team and then selling the finished book themselves through an ever-growing series of digital platforms. An independent author can write as much, or as little as they want and publish as quickly as they can get the production done. The biggest bonus of publishing independently is that the author, rather than the miniscule percentage of royalties paid by traditional companies, earns up to 70% of the retail price of the book.
WHY PUBLISH INDEPENDENTLY?
When you chose to self- publish, you have total control over the contents, design and appearance of the book. Plus you own that all important copyright for future sales, translations, audio book sales and film rights.
Once you have finished the manuscript you can have a finished book; hardcover, paperback or e-book for sale within days, instead of the year or more that traditional publishing takes.
While there is no reason why you shouldn’t be one of the lucky authors who get a multi-million advance from a traditional publisher, equally, there is no reason why you can’t sell a million copies of your own book and earn the majority of the retail price.
With independent publishing the jobs the traditional company would do, such as editing, cover design and production must be professionally done. There is nothing that will turn readers off than a book that is full of mistakes or has an amateurish cover. By working with a company who provides these services you are assured of producing a book that is certainly as good, as one from a traditional publisher.
Why give a publishing house your book and let them make all the money from sales when you have put in all of the hard work? Publish independently and the majority of the retail price goes into your pocket.
There are many advantages of independent publishing.
- Firstly, you are in control of your career. You can write as much as you like, in any genre. Traditionally published authors are limited usually to one book per year and must stay in the genre for which they are known.
- Book covers and book production is controlled by the author so books will retain their vision rather than that of the publishing house.
- The opportunities for sales are countless and increasing all the time, with most giving the author 70% royalties on book sales.
- Independent publishing gives authors the opportunity to make proper, often very large incomes.
- Going it alone gives authors the chance to build up their own mailing lists and keep in touch with readers who will be eagerly waiting for their subsequent books.
- You own the copyright of your work.
- Some authors need the validation from friends and family that they have been accepted by a ‘proper’ publishing company, even though they will make little or no money. Often that validation means they need to keep a full-time job and squeeze writing time in wherever possible.
- There is a very definite snobbery amongst the publishing world that perceives independent publishing as somehow ‘dirty.’ Poorly produced books with little or no editing and awful covers perpetuates this. Earning a proper living wage from your book sales is surely a better option than having to keep a full time ‘proper’ job to pay the bills to be able to write.
- Some authors may feel daunted by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done to produce a book and to sell it. This book will help authors to negotiate their way through the process.
- If television companies want to turn the book into a series or film you will not have the legal acumen that would be available for you with a traditional company. However there is nothing to stop you hiring a professional to ensure you are given the correct advice.
- It is not possible to properly produce a professional quality book without some financial outlay for production and marketing. One of the disadvantages of independent publishing is the cost of producing the book. But it is important for any author to see this as part of the product they are manufacturing.
- It takes a lot of copies of a book to make back what it will cost you to produce if you are independently publishing so be prepared to be in this for the long haul. But put in the work and you will get the rewards.
At the end it boils down to if you are willing to gamble and hope you will earn a large advance from a publisher or if control of your manuscript, finances and career more important.
WHAT IS AN INDEPENDENT AUTHOR?
Basically a very busy person!
- To be successful as an independent author most will write full time, putting in long hours five, six, or sometimes seven days a week.
- Not only are they writing, they are also re-writing and editing books that have already been completed. Some books go through multiple drafts before it is even shown to an editor.
- Books that have already been completed may be at the production stage with the author working with a team they have put together. The independent author may, at any given time have a book that is being written, another being re-written, one that is being edited while others are in production, with covers and the layout being designed.
- Whichever format the book will be sold in, paperback, e-book or audio book the author will have to oversee the production of each.
- The independent author has to check all of these pillars to ensure the finished book is as good as it can be. They are focused on producing a professional quality product. No one would buy a car with only three wheels. Why would anyone to buy a book which is badly put together?
- Books may be uploaded before they are ready and pre-ordered to mailing list subscribers and other buyers. A careful eye needs to be kept on production to ensure the book will be ready for sale on the correct date.
- Another ‘hat’ they wear is that of PR. An essential part of the life of an independent author is marketing. This takes the form of advertising, designing advertisements, posting them and monitoring their success. Email newsletters to subscribers, increasing their number, blogging, updating the website and profiles on the various sales platforms all has to be done.
- Sales and finances also have to be dealt with, accurate records must be kept for accounting purposes as well as ensuring producers are paid. A careful eye must be kept on book sales and advertising adjusted accordingly.
It can be a long, lonely slog, especially given that the bulk of the day is spent alone with no sympathetic colleague to lend an ear when things go wrong. It can be daunting to juggle everything.
Independent authors can make a living from writing books, it is a real possibility, but it is hard work. Unless you have a drive to write and tell stories find another role. Unless you are prepared to put in the hard work necessary, forget being an independent author. And unless you understand the real need to invest in professional production, seriously there are easier ways to make a living.
- Make this strange time make a difference to your life
- Why plot your story before writing