Plot. Write. Sell. Chapter Two

Chapter two

Your route to publication – self publishing or traditional

At one time there was a single route to publication. You wrote your book, purchased a copy of a writer’s handbook which detailed publishers and agents throughout the world and began to contact them individually. When you’d identified potential agents or publishers who might be vaguely interested in you or your work 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’d spent hours of time and countless amounts of money getting the book photocopied and  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 didn’t like it.

This was a hugely time consuming and very 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 hadn’t got copies of their book and it went missing in transit.

Way back in the day authors used copy sheets in between the different pages of their book so they were copied onto a second sheet.

Fast forward to modern times and 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 and 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 easily 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 to thankfully be a dying breed.

There are other options available to authors too. Self-publishing. Once the ground of imagined egotistical fools whose books didn’t find publishers could find printers and order the necessary vast copies of their books, which inevitably remained in their attic or garage. Self publishing is now considered a viable option for authors. E-books mean that books don’t even have to be printed and technology means that books can be printed in single copies making those thousands of copies lying around the house redundant.

Traditional publishing, working with a publishing house revolves around the publisher making all the money. They pay the author an advance for their work and then do all of the production themselves. With self publishing the author, apart from the sellers fees, get to keep all of the royalties from books sales, but they have had to fork out the money for the production of the book, editors, cover designers etc. With either way there is no guarantee of finding readers and making any sort of reasonable income.

Your route to publication depends on which method you find the most suitable. Some find the structure of the traditional publisher suits them, while others enjoy the entrepreneurial way of self publishing.

Writing reality

The reality of either method, still means that the book has to be written. There is no short cut that can do that. The press loves to print articles about authors who when faced with massive tax bills or imminent bankruptcy sit down and dash off a novel which sells millions enabling the author to retire to the sunshine. Unfortunately despite the rosy picture painted by the media, the reality is rarely like that. There is a saying within the industry that for every author that makes a million there are a million that never make anything and another million that never get published. In reality there are an additional million at least that never finish their book.

Writing a book is not for the faint hearted. That grain of an idea which strikes when you are lying in the bath, or the character at work whose life fascinates you, or your incredible business idea which you want to share are just that. Tiny fractions of ideas. Turning those ideas into a book is a tough job.

Writing, not only involves long hours of planning of your book, otherwise you’ll write yourself into rabbit holes, lose the plot literally and end up abandoning the book. Once the carefully planning has been done an author faces long, lonely hours of writing. Often we hear people say they are going to write a book when they have time. The reality most of us never have the time, even after retirement, working hours become filled with other fun things and the writing always gets postponed. To write a book the time has to be found – from somewhere – that means, getting up an extra hour earlier, staying up later, giving up watching tv in an evening, or spending time with the family.

We hear cases of people who write their books in their work lunch break, finding ten minutes before their working day begins, typing on a phone on their commute home.

While it is hard enough to keep yourself motivated to keep writing, it is even more difficult to deal with the disinterest you’ll face from family and colleagues. Your book may be the best thing ever, in your mind, but they will never see you as a potential writer. They are more interested in their own lives, what’s for dinner, when the washing will be ready, when you’ll mend that broken hinge on the cupboard. Be prepared to grow a very thick skin and to dig deep into your reserves of drive and perseverance because you will need every bit of them to keep going.

Sales – don’t order your Porsche – yet

So many authors read tempting articles in the media describing the huge advances authors get for their books, or read about self publishing authors who are earning huge amounts of money. In reality most books sell very few copies and most authors, including some big names, have second jobs, or super spouses which pay the bills and enable them to write.

With traditional publishing the author is paid an advance, which is usually a shockingly low figure. The book is then produced by the publisher and offered for sale. The author then gets 10% of the book sale price. Pause for a moment while considering you see a book on sale for say £20.00. Half of that amount is gone already to the retailer, so the revenue for the author who has done all the long hours of planning and writing, is you’ll see, quite small. Until the book has made back its advance in sales, the author won’t get any additional income.

Royalties come sporadically making it very difficult to plan any kind of normal life while relying on a royalty cheque from a publisher.

With self publishing the income is slightly different. In that online retailers generally give the author 70% of the sales price of the book. This sounds wonderful, but with self publishing the author has to pay up front for the production costs of the book. Self publishing doesn’t, or shouldn’t mean that the author has done everything themselves. Of course this is possible and some people do, but this is the reason self publishing has a slightly bad name. In order to have any kind of writing career self publishing it is essential that the book is produced to an acceptable industry standard. That means paying for editors to work on the book for proof readers, typesetters, cover designers, e-book formatters. All of these are expensive, but really are essential. Anyone wanting to have a career as an author needs to be producing well written and professional standard books. Of course doing everything yourself means that you cut those costs, but the book sales will not happen.  You might get an initial flurry of sales from friends and family, but if you are looking for a long term career as an author you want readers to enjoy both your writing and the way the book is produced. Remember you are producing a product. You wouldn’t buy a car with only three wheels. Why should you expect anyone to buy a book which is badly put together?

It takes a lot of copies of a book to make back what it will cost you to produce if you are self publishing. Equally it takes a lot of sales to make any reliable income if you are publishing through a traditional publishing house.

Write only if you have to, if you are driven to create a story, if a character won’t let you rest at night. Please don’t write because you think it is a fast way to riches. It isn’t.

In for the long haul

There’s nothing easy about writing a book. It takes a long time. Don’t start writing in October and think you’ll have a book you can print and give as Christmas presents to all and sundry.

A book comes from a germ of an idea. A tiny grain of sand which gets under your skin and won’t leave you alone. The idea could be anything, but it sticks with you, demanding to be given life.

Planning a book is essential. There are authors who tell you not to plan, to just sit down and write, but the reality is that for most people this method doesn’t work. It is less time consuming and wasteful to spend time initially planning the book. More on this later, but with planning you’ll know what direction the book is going in and what you are going to be writing about in those precious hours or even minutes you’ve chiselled out of your day.

Planning can take a long time. From the grain of an idea, which could be a beginning, a middle, an end of a book, a character you want to write about, anything. But from that tiny scrap of information you will then need to write, if it’s a novel, from 60 – 100,000 words. By planning you’ll get to assess if the idea is suitable for a book – or possibly it is a short story idea and won’t work as a book at all. The planning stage takes a long time, developing that initial idea, stretching it out, following the character to see what happens to them. But more than that, seeing if the story has the wings that will make it an interesting book with plot loops which will keep a reader interested for the time it will take them to read it.

The physical act of writing takes a long time. There are so many hours available to us for writing and only so fast that we can type regardless of how easily the plot comes to us. Many authors forget that what they have written in that time is only a first draft. The novel is an unformed thing which needs careful moulding into a proper book. Only then is the book ready to go to an editor or to your publisher. Broken down a 100,000 word book breaks into 40 lots of 2500 words. A lot of words to write in a day, when most write on average 1000. Work it out and 100,000 words at 1000 words a day is 100 days, so in reality the best part of a year taking into account the time you’ll chisel out to sit at the computer working.

The rewrite will take a similar amount of time and then take into account working with an editor. Most traditional publishing houses don’t publish a book for a year after it is completed taking into consideration the time spent working with an editor and then the necessary production work, typesetting, layout, and goo cover design.

The cost

There are two costs involved in publishing a book. Anyone who is self publishing will have to fork out for the financial production costs. And at the risk of repeating myself, it is essential to have these production things done professionally. Unless you are a professional book cover designer, the fact that you know your way around the relevant software, or your aunt/uncle/cousin/child does not make for a cover which will give the professional feel your book needs in order to sell to a mass audience. What is the point of spending hours of time writing a book and then let it down by not having it produced properly. It takes the same amount of time to badly produce a book as it does to do a good job.

I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve had nasty emails from authors who are convinced their book doesn’t need the touch of an editor. Their great aunt Mabel who last read a book 70 years ago at school has read their book and declared it wonderful – of course she has. There isn’t an author alive who doesn’t work with an editor, or who doesn’t re-write their first draft. Some books go through multiple drafts before it is even shown to an editor. Part of the work of an author is to ensure their copy is as good as it can be. They will have an idea in their mind of what the book is about but it is impossible to be able to tell if you’ve said that to your reader. Only a completely removed person can see the flaws in the book.

There are other costs when you write a book. The personal one. Not only will you be subject to scorn and disinterest from family and friends, if you are really determined to get the book written you will end up missing out on a lot just in order to make the time to write every day, or every week.

It seems easy initially to plan to write every weekend, or every night after work, but that means missing out on family occasions, just relaxing with friends. That cost while it seems innocuous at first can be quite a hefty one. Family and friends can become quite resentful if you spend time writing, shut up in whatever space you’ve carved out to write and not being with them.

I missed many days out with my children, something I regret now, in order to spend time with my imaginary characters. Time would pass by so quickly, after saying I’ll be outside in a minute, we’ll go to the beach in a while, I’ll come and play with you when I’ve finished this chapter and then look up what you think is a few minutes later and the whole day has gone.

There is a cost, but with careful planning you can ensure that you don’t have to miss out on everything and yet still have the time to write.

Go into writing your book with the knowledge of what it really involves. Understand yourself and the process of producing a book.

Make sure you don’t fail – this book will help. Get all the help you can