So You Want To Be A Writer…
…or an Author, to be more exact. First of all I’d like to point out that this is not a Writing 101 article. If you want to know how to write a great book, there are thousands of blogs and books out there that will give you the basics on the craft. So what is this post about? For most of my life, I’ve been drawn to the world of publishing and I’ve taken out (far too much) time to learn as much as I can about how to get published, something I assumed that everyone who was interested in being published would also do. But in the last few weeks, this theory has been proven to be flawed as I was twice invited to speak to a few writers about what I have learnt from my foray into the publishing world. I wasn’t surprised to find that people are more focused on writing their books rather than learning about what to do next, how to get noticed, who to send your work to, etc. But I was still stunned that a lot of things I took as common knowledge were unknown. So I put together a really quick rundown of what I said to the people I met last week and I hope this helps others out there. It’s mostly basic stuff but as I like to say, every little helps.
A traditional publisher is any publisher who will accept your work, have it edited (including providing a cover design), then market and distribute it to vendors. In an ideal world, we’d all get published via this route as you will have a professional team to work with you and guide you through the entire process, most importantly an editor and a publicist. The process shouldn’t cost you a penny as traditional publishers usually pay you an advance for your work, which they hope to recoup when your books sells. They are spending their money so chances are that they will put some energy into marketing your work. The flip side of this is that publishers are much pickier these days as hard copy book buying continues to dwindle. They are not necessarily looking for the best work any longer, they are looking for what will sell fast and in bulk quantities – autobiographies by “celebrities”, novels by established authors, novels by “celebrities”, fad fiction (tales about vampires and werewolves for example). Obviously this is a generalisation and there are still publishers who will rather have fantastic work than books that will fly off the shelves (although I imagine they’d hope for both). Books have about three months shelf life when sent to retailers so if your book doesn’t sell quickly, chances are the retailers won’t ask for more – or worse, they return them to the publishers. No publisher wants to bear that cost.
How do you approach a traditional publisher? These days, most big publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts so you’d have to find an agent. This is probably as difficult as finding a publisher so take time to consider who you want to send your work to and how many attempts you’re willing to put yourself through. I’d highly recommend the “Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book” for more information on how to contact both publishers and agents.
Don’t use these! I can’t say this enough. DO NOT USE THESE. Unless, of course, you don’t want to make any money off your writing and you just want copies of your book for your family and friends. Once you pay someone to provide you with all the services a traditional publisher would, there is no point expecting them to market your work. Their profit has been worked into your production costs and unless you’re fortunate enough to have a particularly good publisher, the marketing effort put in by these firms in tiny. They are known for charging thousand for their services and include costs for unnecessary things such as keeping your books in a warehouse. Also these publishers will retain a lot of legal rights over the printing and distribution of your work that you might think is alright but really isn’t if you want to part ways with them. If you want to get your book in print without going through the traditional route, I would recommend the Print on Demand option.
Print on Demand
This is becoming very popular and is a self-publishing route where the writer provides enough information to a printer for them to produce a hard copy book that will be printed and sold whenever there is demand for it. The stigma around self publishing has dramatically reduced over the years (look at the success of Fifty Shades of Grey) and people are flocking to use these services. There are many companies who provide this service and I personally recommend Createspace as I’ve used them in the past but I’ve also heard that Lulu is good (there are many more companies so don’t limit yourself to these). These companies will let you upload a formatted word document that contains what will become the inside content of your book. They will also then let you upload a cover (front, spine and back as one file) or use one of their custom ones but I advice you get yours done independently. You then set a price and based on the production cost for the book (dependent on thickness, paper type and quality etc), you will be able to determine what royalties you will make on it. The books are then placed on stock lists for online bookstores, libraries etc (sometimes for a small cost) and whenever someone buys a copy, the book is produced and mailed to the person – hence, print on demand. It’s very straightforward and so far has only cost me my time (as I did all the formatting and design myself) and less than £10 for ordering my proof copy. If you’re not sure how to format your document or design a cover, these sites provide links to professionals who can help for a fee (can be quite high sometimes but worth the hassle if you really have no clue what you’re doing).
Digital books are the future! They don’t go out of print and will not be returned to the publisher after a few months. Best of all, everyone can get involved. The disadvantage is that EVERYONE will get involved. The e–book market is crowded with a variety of qualities of work which sometimes makes it difficult to spot good books out of the bad. But it’s really easy to format and upload your books online through a multitude of retailers. I’ve included a link to the ones I use below. I’d recommend having your books distributed by both Amazon and Smashwords. Both sites provide detailed information on how to get your books ready. I can’t go into them in detail here as I’ll only be repeating what they say. Smashwords distributes to Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Sony, Kobo and a host of others. I highly recommend everyone downloads a free copy of Smashwords Style Guide as it tells you how to format your word document in a clear way (simple things like when not to use tabs make a huge difference). A link for this is also below.
Smashwords Style Guide – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52
Alternatively, you can pay someone to do all the hard work for you by using a multitude of service online who offer this. Costs vary depending on who you go to and what exact service they provide. I’m happy to give more advice later if anyone wants some help.
Other things to bear in mind
Whatever route you go down, you will need to get an ITIN from the IRS and fill out a W-8 form if you want to avoid being taxed in the USA as well as your domicile country, if you sell your work over in the USA. The process to obtain this has changed within the last nine months so my advice will not be up to date but I can expand on this a bit more at a later date if you want. If you want to read about how I got mine, click on this link to a post on my blog where I describe the process in detail (https://caeblogs.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/the-tale-of-the-big-scary-irs-and-the-unknowing-uk-writer/) The thing to bear in mind is that every distributor requires you to fill out a W-8 form so you will have to fill out 5 forms if you go with 5 distributors. The good news is you only have to renew this every three years. The bad news is it takes about four months to get the whole process complete…if you’re lucky. Start this process before your book gets published, if you can.
Social networking – a must
Do not start this after you’ve published your book, it’s almost always too late by then. Start now, if you can, to build a fan base online or in your local community. If you are an expert at something, write about it, give presentations on it. Let people know that you exist because it makes it easier to get them to spread the word about you once your book is out. Indie/self-pub writers succeed mainly by word of mouth promotions as we don’t have large marketing budgets to advertise our works. Contact book bloggers and reviewers and offer them free copies of your books in exchange for an honest review. Capitalise on the connections you have and make sure you sign up to website where you can interact with other readers and writers (e.g. Goodreads, Shelfari, Kindleboards). But remember that hard selling can be seen as spam too so, be careful with who you contact and what you say. So far I haven’t paid to advertise my work but this route works for some people and you might want to consider investing in it (although it is best to limit your expectations on this). Whatever you do, be aware of the fact that this whole process takes time. Keep at it, even when it feels like no one knows who you are and no one cares. The idea is that one day, they will.