IT FEELS LIKE a lifetime ago that I embarked on my dream to write a novel and have it published. In fact it is… in 1988 I received the first of many rejections over three decades, for a Young Adult novel I wrote when I was 15.
If anyone had told me I would wait thirty-three years to see my first novel in print, I would probably have taken myself off to acquire a trade with a better strike rate for success.
But I never came close to giving up. Was it grit, ego, refusal to accept that my storytelling might be unworthy, or a combination? I’m not sure, but I will undoubtedly write about it one day because that’s how I am hard-wired.
Here is the announcement about my coming-of-age thriller set in rural Australia – Tank Water – from Books + Publishing, March 26 2021…
MidnightSun acquires Burge debut novel
MidnightSun Publishing has acquired debut novel Tank Water by Michael Burge, a story of homophobic hate crimes and the dangers of growing up feeling different in rural Australia.
Burge met MidnightSun publisher Anna Solding at a pitch session hosted by New England Writers Centre in 2018.
‘From the first time I met Michael, when he pitched his manuscript to me in Armidale, I’ve known that Tank Water is an important Australian novel,’ said Solding, adding that ‘it delves into themes that don’t often appear in our national literature’.
‘Through the taut and haunting narrative spanning two decades, Michael articulates what it can be like to grow up gay in the country and how prejudice and hate crimes are an extension of people’s fear of difference. We are so honoured and proud to be publishing this book.’
Born in the NSW New England region, Burge returned to live there in 2017. He said Tank Water has a fictional rural setting and is not based on any one case.
‘In the country, there are many stories about gay hatred leading to extremes of violence, and fiction is a way to start the difficult but necessary process of telling them at a relatively safe distance. I’m so excited and grateful that Anna acquired this tale about how three generations of a country family deal with toxic masculinity and must dig very deep. Taking a risk on such edgy subject matter is a testament to MidnightSun’s vision.’
WRITERS are living through tough times, and times are usually tough enough for wordsmiths.
“Of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another.”
Not since the invention of the printing press has it been easier to publish books using an array of affordable online publishing services, but these same systems and the distribution networks they feed have stripped the traditional currency of many of the same books to almost nothing.
Newspapers struggle to get readers to pay, and we now have multiple generations who do not expect any content should come with a price tag.
Yet it’s not all bad news. Despite the terrible odds stacked up against writing for fame, glory and riches, people still tell stories.
My lack of success in landing a traditional publishing contract for my work led me down this pathway, even as a log-jam of manuscripts was piling up in my head, heart and hard-drive. Write, Regardless! is the result of having many questions fired at me ever since I threw my cap in the ring and became a publisher who made a small splash.
I once worked in publishing and learned a thing or two about gauging what makes a good story, a savvy author and a win-win contract, but I needed to spend years researching online processes and social media in order to lay the foundations for this step into the partially unknown.
And I hasten to add I don’t have the answer to every question. I’m still learning, but after finding myself corresponding at length about my approach, and thereby losing time for my own work, I decided to look at how I achieved my limited success in order to have somewhere to direct queries.
“I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.”
In my first year as an independent publisher I profited from the publication of four titles, which made money after significant sales to libraries of the paperback version of my strongest non-fiction title Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love. This title had relevance to the news cycle in that it spoke considerably to the critical political journey of marriage equality legislation in Australia.
The publication of Closet His, Closet Hers: Collected stories at the same time was no mistake. Fiction is a much harder sell, and I consciously floated my first fictional title on the same wave as Questionable Deeds. To put it plainly, I was objective enough to make decisions as a publisher as much as I was making them as a writer.
That is the key to Write, Regardless! It seeks to unlock publishing industry secrets, but it will also raise your awareness of what it takes to spend your precious time writing regardless of what the publishing industry thinks of all your hard work.
This book is not aimed at teaching you to write, although it has several encouragements to analyse your work to make it more engaging and entertaining to readers. It doesn’t offer short cuts. I started creating an online presence as a journalist twelve months before I started writing my first published book, and I encourage readers to give the process at least the same time as I have, which is now approaching five years.
Writing is about doing the work. Publishing is about even harder work. Marketing and promoting a book is the hardest work most independent publishers will ever do.
Write, Regardless! is the technique I applied to myself, and in doing so earned a third of a traditionally published writer’s average annual salary in my first year, without any support whatsoever from the traditional publishing industry or the mainstream media.
That might sound like very small fry, but weighed up with the high chance of getting ripped off thousands of dollars for the ‘one-stop-shop’ charlatans, or outsourcing the work to others, it’s a resounding success story. I made more than many authors receive from books that have been treated to the full suite of marketing and promotion, festivals and competitions.
Write, Regardless! is available free online as a series of articles on my website, but I’m publishing it here with all the same links to other resources I created on the journey.
It will be of optimal use to writers who have at least one manuscript completed and the willingness to create another with a regular writing schedule of no less than a page of new material a week. It’s also designed for you to begin the work of becoming a publisher at the end of each chapter, before moving onto the next.
One page a week sounds like a small amount, but there is more to being an author than writing these days. Read on and courageously do the work!
THERE is nothing quite like hitting the publish button on your own work. It’s an even sweeter experience when you’ve been patient and really done the work on your book, confident that you’ve made it the best it can be with the resources at your disposal. Congratulations, writer… you have transformed yourself into an author! Here are a few considerations your new title brings with it.
The book blues
Many authors draw comparisons between publishing a book and having a baby, no doubt due to the long gestation period and the potential for a difficult birth. There’s also a good chance you’ll encounter something of an anti-climax after publishing a book, particularly after your launch has come and gone, and the initial flurry of sales has died down. This is a time to take great care of yourself. You’ve achieved something major after sending one of your precious brainchildren out into the world. You’re bound to feel vulnerable as your work finds its feet.
Reviews (the good and the bad)
It won’t take too long before you start garnering feedback on your publications, on online book-selling sites across the world, or social media sites like Goodreads. Be prepared for people to love and hate your work in equal measure. Bad reviews hurt, leaving authors feeling misunderstood and disheartened. My best advice on this is to let reviews be. Always encourage readers to write them, but read them very rarely, and never engage in an argument with a reviewer who didn’t like what you wrote. This is an incredibly difficult standard to maintain, and one of the best ways to get through it is to get busy on positive actions around your publications.
Keeping your book (and yourself) buoyant
The great thing about print on demand (POD) publishing services is that you don’t have to sit with thousands of copies of your new book in your office. They can be printed in short runs, allowing independent publishers to plan marketing campaigns that are financially low-risk. Having said that, it’s easy to end up with a few spare new paperbacks on your shelf. Get them out there!
“Share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers.”
Readers love meeting authors, especially when there’s a copy of their book for sale. Reserve a weekend, gather up all spare copies of your book, print signs with great review quotes, and hold a stall at your local markets. Ensure you have a special ‘market price’ for your book (such as a discount for buying more than one), and you’ll shift a few copies; but there’s an old marketing saying about never letting a customer go without being able to get in touch with them again!
Connect with readers
Direct selling gives authors an opportunity to begin an ongoing relationship with our readers. There are many ways to do this, such as handing out a business card, or becoming friends on social media. Starting an emailed newsletter allows you to regularly stay in touch with readers and let them know your news about upcoming titles and events you’re participating in. Because avid readers still tend to enjoy the communication offered via email, they’ll often readily agree to giving you their email address. Social media platforms like MailChimp can be used to create free or low-cost email newsletters for independent publishers, but always let respondents know you’re not planning to sell or share their details with any third party.
Just about any bookshop or bibliographic service in the world will be able to stock or supply your book if it has an ISBN, but independent bookshops and libraries are likely to ask you to arrange for the printing and delivery of your titles directly. Work with them in their way and you’re likely to shift a good number of copies. You’ll also maximise your profits by cutting out the middle man.
Checking out the competition
An increasing number of book trade festivals and competitions are opening the door to independent publishers, who’ve grown from an anachronism into a relevant player in the international publishing industry. Some still have their gates firmly closed to indies and operate on an invitation-only basis, just check their application details and be prepared to travel. Many conferences, conventions and exhibitions are seeking authors to present their work, so think laterally and stay open to invitations.
Selling stuff takes energy and an iron will. In this era, selling words in any format is in one of the most challenging periods in the history of publishing, as the social media inevitably supplants the mainstream media as the dominant platform for all things newsworthy and literary. Stay agile, take the knock-backs with a light approach and ensure you celebrate your wins. In my first year of independent publishing, I made about one-third of the average income of a mainstream, traditionally published author, with absolutely no assistance from the media or the publishing industries. That left me feeling wiser but also, in my own way, successful. Remember that you define what it successful, not others. Keep to your goals and ignore all the white noise.
Adjust your course
Redesigning a cover, re-launching a title that has not been effective in the marketplace, and re-pricing or rebranding existing work are old publishing industry tricks. Independent publishers can benefit from employing all of them if we find our work doesn’t hit the mark first time around. We can always think again, laterally and creatively!
Conceive another brainchild
As I have written on many occasions in Write, Regardless! no publisher ever releases just one book. One of the best ways to stave off post-publishing blues is to be already well on the way to completing another manuscript by the time they hit. Now that you know the process of independent publishing, achieving your second-born will be all the easier for you.
Publishing your first book, and ensuring it is a high-quality product that delivers for readers, is an incredible achievement. One of the best things you can do when you achieve it is to share the good news about how you contributed to making the world a better place for writers. Write, Regardless! is my way of inspiring wordsmiths to keep putting work out there despite the odds that traditional publishing poses. If I have inspired you, please find me and return the favour!