Biting nails, book signing and the road to publication – Part 4

Okay, you’ve written, edited and honed your masterwork. It’s publication ready.

You’ve joined many writer’s sites, built some contacts and hopefully a lot of friends, learned not only your craft but as much as you can about the book business – and believe me there is SO much to learn! I’m still very much a novice myself!

Are you ready?

Well, while I certainly don’t advise rushing to send your work off or sitting on your novel as long as I did, there always comes a time, an indescribable time when you HAVE to take the plunge and just GO FOR IT!

This time is different for everyone.

If there’s one piece of single advice I can give it’s this – every writer’s journey is different.

Your novel is unique, as unique as you, and therefore your journey to publication will also be unique.

Yes, there are times when you find yourself doing that dangerous thing of comparing yourself to others especially those examples of wildly successful writers with inferior books (something shades anyone?), but not only is that dangerous (as it can deflate your confidence) it is also a totally futile exercise like comparing apples to aircraft!

Your writing, your novel cannot be compared directly, neither can you. By all means take advice, look at what fellow authors do, what works, what doesn’t, but in the end the path you chart has to be your own.

So, that next shaky step is approaching publishers and agents. There is a plethora of information out there regarding the good, the bad, and the dodgy.

Do your homework! You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Query letters are arduous but far worse is the waiting process involved, especially if you’re impatient like me, so be warned.

Some publishing houses want to know if you’ve sent submissions off to others. If a house is picky for goodness sake approach these first so you can honestly say that you haven’t approached anyone else…yet!

There is great advice in The Writers & Artists Yearbook on how to write a good letter and examples of bad ones. What I would say though, is use this but also make the letter individual to you. Publishers will know the standard letter, they’ll get hundreds maybe even thousands of them a week. Make yours stand out!

Give yourself the best possible chance!

There is a huge debate as to whether you need an agent or whether you should pursue an agent first or a publisher. Well, certainly I think writers DO need agents, especially if they are hoping to make writing a long-term career, but grabbing one is an entirely different matter. You will find as I said in my previous posts, that trying to get an agent is not only as hard as getting a publisher but is actually harder! A catch-22 scenario – you need an agent to send your ms off to most publishing houses but most agents won’t look at you unless you have a publishing house! Go figure!

My advice for what it’s worth, is that if you and your novel are ready, go for a publisher first. Now, that doesn’t stop you from pursuing agents, but try and get that publishing contract if you can.

Again remember the statistics… Less than 1% of all fiction published in the UK is by new authors…less than 1%!

Now is as hard a time as ever for getting published. The goal posts are continually changing. Guidelines that publishing houses wanted ten even five years ago, will not be the same now. Certainly I know when I was first writing my novel, some of the Big Six (now Big Five) were accepting unsolicited manuscripts, that certainly is NOT the case now.

Product DetailsBut it’s not all doom and gloom. Some new authors do still manage to breakthrough and snag a major house. One of them most notably is Mark Lawrence, a fellow Bristolian and fantasy writer and all round really lovely guy. His wonderfully epic and visceral novels, Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns, are published by Voyager, HarperCollins and is available in Waterstones, WHSmith’s, Amazon and everywhere else, including my bookshelf…but you can’t have those! 😛

However, for the rest of us the main benefit of the Big Five shutting their doors to all unsolicited (unagented) manuscripts, is that their rigidity has given rise to a whole new breed of publishers. The indie or small press publishing house. This is both a good and bad thing. These independent publishers are invariably quite new on the book scene, but don’t see that as an automatic disadvantage, it hugely depends on the individual house. Some are young, full of energy and often way ahead of the publishing curve and the big houses. They want their books to be a success because they have had to invest in them personally and risk their own money, so they should work harder and go that little bit further than those Big Boys who may have deep pockets but are also spread pretty thin and tend to ignore ‘mid-list’ authors who don’t bring in the big bucks.

BUT you must DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!!! Remember, anyone nowadays can set up a publishing house, without the merest sliver of real book publishing experience. The new author must be wary.

I’m afraid for every decent indie publisher, there is a whole sea of unscrupulous presses, which are either wildly inexperienced, incompetent, lazy, fraudulent or a mixture of all. Finding the good ones is not easy. So DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Some indie publishing houses will make highly exaggerated claims, so check the facts. If they say they have offices in London, New York, Paris or Germany, do they? Are these real addresses, real offices with staff and telephones, or are they bogus, merely a post office box in a building which has several thousand other businesses operating out of it? Remember, an ‘office’ can be someone’s living room, know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign the contract. What about their contracts? If they don’t pay advances, then the percentage should at least be good. Don’t accept anything under the standard 7%, many other houses such as Wild Wolf Publishing give 10% to all their authors. Look at their sales record. Do they have a specific sales and marketing team or are they expecting you to do everything? What about covers? Covers are SO important. Never sign with any house who doesn’t employ professional qualified cover artists. Just because someone in the company dabbles in art, doesn’t mean they’ll have the talent, skills or know how to produce a professional looking cover. So check. Check with the authors too, have any authors left them, if so why?

It is a shark infested sea out there for the inexperienced newbie, so be careful which boat you put your trust in, if it has holes, you’ll regret it!

Having said all this, don’t be afraid to take the plunge. By all means send your MS off to the Big Five and try your luck if you want. If your novel is great but you want it published before you collect your pension cheque, then try for an indie.

Then of course, the other route is also the self-publishing. Now to be honest, I really can’t give much advice here as I really don’t know that side of the book business BUT I can tell you that there is NO shame in pursuing this path and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. Writers are writers, books are books, no snobbery please! Again, remember this is your creation, your journey, you must follow the path that best suits you, your needs and your masterwork.

I personally have some of the most astonishing works of fiction on my bookshelves which happen to be self-published, because the author knew their vision and knew that they wanted complete autonomy over their creation and its birth in the marketplace. I tip my hat to those venturers and their wonderous creations!

Thank you to all those writers, published, self-published and yet to be, for creating fiction that you wish was real! May your dreams continue to take flight…

Good luck! 😀 xx

Biting nails, book signing and the road to publication – Part 1.

Writing advice is a tricky one.

Certainly you’ll find hundreds of sites ready to tell writers what to do and how to do it. Unsolicited advice that may be very helpful or may not.

Personally, I genuinely believe that the writing journey is different for everyone – one size definitely does NOT fit all. It’s difficult and perhaps even dangerous to tell other writers what to do, but sharing experiences and stories is always a good idea.

So, for what it’s worth, here is a little of my journey to publication…I hope it’s helpful. 😀

Right, you’ve written a book, spent years toiling over it, researching it, bringing your characters to life and building the world they inhabit. So what now?

Well, firstly, the gestation period for my debut novel was extraordinarily long, ridiculously long in fact and well outside of the norm in terms of the writing process. I initially had the idea for White Mountain back in 1997 while travelling around New Zealand. I had had a few characters roaming my imagination for a while, but slowly over the course of a four-month odyssey in that astounding country, those characters became a story.

Real places I fell in love with, became the direct inspiration for locations in the book. My world building went into overdrive. I found myself delving into countless volumes about ancient cultures, the Sumerians, Nabateans, Indus Valley civilisations, the Epic of Gilgamesh and other ancient myths. I lost myself in the intricacies of etymology, the derivation of words we all know and many we don’t. I pored over books on geology, geography, botany and other aspects of natural history. All of it seeped into my consciousness and blended with my own growing mythology.

I’ve said it in interviews, but I truly believe that research is the key. Whatever your writing, whatever the genre – DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!

Even with a brilliant storyline, engaging characters, a plot full of twists and turns, the enjoyment of your novel will be greatly heightened by your research. In short, the suspension of disbelief which is so important to every work of fiction, is hinged upon whether you have made your story realistic, believable. In the most fantastical novel, real elements will ground it, make it easier for the reader to connect and relate to the material.

Often this is actually more important with fantasy and science-fiction novels, as they more than any other genre run the risk of alienating readers if the world the writer creates is too fantastical.

So, you’ve created your world, written your novel…what now?

Well, once you truly have gone through the vital process of rigorous editing and redrafting…I must have edited White Mountain a 100 times at least, and once you are absolutely certain that your manuscript is publisher ready…then take the plunge!

A stupidly simplistic statement, but as I know all too well, when you have taken so long on your book, it becomes your baby. It has consumed such a large part of your life that it becomes difficult to let go. The danger here, is that you then sit on the novel too long, certain of its merit and appeal but fearful to let others get their hands on it. Totally understandable. But if you are ever to make writing your life, then you have to be brave and take the plunge. Send your ms out into the world and brace yourself.

You’ll either get no response at all, or most likely, a polite no. The chances of actually gaining a publishing contract are hugely against you, so be aware of the figures. Less than 1% of all fiction published in the UK is by new authors…less than 1%!

That’s quite a mountain to climb!

Once you really know and understand that, then you’ll be better prepared for the emotional rollercoaster to come.

As all writers will tell you…the worst aspect of this process is simply the waiting, endless waiting, wasting time, months of it, in some cases years.

I was lucky. I had finally finished fiddling with my book and decided that I would start the submission process. I started by entering the 2011 ABNA competition and to my delight, got through to the quarterfinals before being cut at the semi’s. In that time, I didn’t send out any submissions other than to agents. Had a few rejections and a few non responses from those, par for the course – agents are even harder to get than publishers.

That’s the catch-22 scenario. Agents are harder to get than publishers but most publishers, and certainly the ‘Big Six’ – Hachette, Macmillan (excluding their new writers programme), Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster, will only take manuscripts through an agent, no solicited ms!

Tricky…