Category Archives: Write regardless!

Writer, are you ready to publish?

“Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?”

FOR the first time, a Write, Regardless! article has a question in the title not an exclamation mark. If you’ve done the work on your manuscript, sent it off to publishers for a minimum of six months and heard nothing back, you don’t need a call to action, you need to give some serious thought about where to from here. Here are some of the major questions to ask yourself before leaping into independent publishing.

Can you meet your own expectations?

So your manuscript has been rejected by multiple publications. As Julia Child said in Nora Ephron’s screenplay, Julie & Julia: “Boo-hoo…” (spoken with Julia Child-like hooting). Don’t let anyone tell you your hurt is invalid. Rejection sucks. When you’ve come out of your shell, it’s time to ask yourself if your writing journey is over, or if it’s only just beginning? If you envisaged your book would be published one day, it’s now up to you to see it done.

Can you be a publisher?

Although it creates books, publishing is not a particularly creative process, it’s a form of business. I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on publishing and come to terms with the industry’s two-pronged nature: production and distribution. One process does not stand separately from the other. It doesn’t need to be a book-trade behemoth, but if you want to publish your book, you’re going to need to start, and operate, an independent publishing business.

haters-nounCan you meet reader expectations?

Publishing is a business because millions of readers consume books. Standing on the brink of a publishing venture, ask yourself whether you can meet their needs. This means researching publishing genres and finding where your titles fit in, which requires the ability to be objective about your work. Publishing your own books will bring you face to face with hungry, experienced, critical, opinionated, readers across the world. Are you ready to meet their energy with confidence in your quality books, books and more books? Many of them will hate you for having the courage to self publish, are you ready for that?

Can you meet buyer expectations?

Books are a consumable commodity, sold in units. It sounds obvious, but people part with money to get them. Publishers, and all the operators in the book trade, from publishing platforms to book distributors and bookshops (online and bricks-and-mortar shops on the high street) all deservedly take a cut of the ever-changing unit price of books. Positioning yourself at one end of this competitive chain requires meeting the expectation of the buying public and booksellers. It means providing high-quality book elements: great covers, memorable titles, sensible use of word length and serialisation, and providing books in what publishers call ‘lines’ – that is, a range of titles on an annual basis. No publisher in the world publishes just one book.

Can you work the marketing machine?

I’m really going to cut the crap and ask if you’re prepared to be a pushy arsehole at times? Marketing your books will take persistence, guts, working the room, pressure, stress and being annoying. It will keep you awake at night and take time away from your writing and your family. There are millions of books out there. You are going to have to grab and hold peoples’ attention through an ongoing marketing campaign that, for as long as you want readers for your brainchildren, will never end. Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?

Can you take it up to booksellers?

The book trade is enormous, a place where the agenda is dominated by the need to make money. How will you react when a bookshop hasn’t paid you for those copies of your book a year after they’ve been sold? How will you respond when a bookseller calls for in-store publicity materials, and they want them yesterday or your book won’t be in the shop window? When your publishing platform is tardy in passing on your royalties, who do you talk to, and what do you say? Booksellers are businesspeople, some are jaded as all get out, and others are too enthusiastic for words. Are you ready?

Can you meet media expectations?

The media, as we knew it, is gone. Social media is where the bulk of communication is happening, with the average Facebook account holder operating as a free distributor for the mainstream (or ‘traditional’) media’s stories. In this frenetic, limitless arena, publishers are promoting and selling books in ways that evolve every week. For independent publishers, savvy use of the social media in not an option, it’s a necessity. If you choose to become a publisher, you need to be presentable, professional, and immune to a certain degree of negative feedback about what you’re doing. Lucky you’ve already built that social media platform, right? (Or are you still thinking it’s not necessary? LOL!).

Can you work the system?

Independent publishing requires the use of multiple online platforms to produce printed books and eBooks. Many of these do not differentiate between established book publishers and independent operators. The systems are often complicated and frustrating for beginners, but they are designed to publish and distribute quality books that would not look out of place on a high-street bookshop shelf. Are you ready for episodes of tearing your hair out and throwing things at the computer when it says no?

Are you up for joint-venture publishing?

“Readers are not easily fooled by bad product.”

For many writers, the answers to many of these questions is no. Lack of time and skills means a better option is to seek out a joint-venture publisher, one of the fastest-growing arms of the book trade. Many large and small publishing houses have joint-venture imprints, providing publishing and marketing services to writers, for a fee, often with a spirit of ‘sharing the risk’. As with all products and services, working with a joint-venture publisher means negotiating a sound contract with all parameters agreed before setting out. There is currently no standard of fees, but if you’re seeking to hand the entire process over to someone else, you’re looking at thousands of dollars.

Is a joint-venture all that?

Many joint-venture publishers provide individual services (proofreading, for example), while others seek to stream writers into buying their entire suite of services. If joint-venture publishing is more your thing, there’s plenty of choice out there, but be aware that independent publishers have exactly the same access to the global publishing industry as joint-venture publishers. While it can be a great relief to benefit from the support on the nitty-gritty of publishing processes, don’t be under the impression that a joint-venture publisher can deliver anything independent publishing can’t in terms of getting your book in front of readers.

Are you up for vanity publishing?

Many writers seek only to publish a book for friends and family, not a role in the international book trade. This process is called vanity publishing and has been around for decades, delivering quality books for happy customers. Don’t conflate vanity publishing and joint-venture publishing. Vanity publishers have garnered a questionable reputation for high fees, sometimes very high, so be cautious when negotiating the details of your contract. Never hand over money before agreeing on all the terms of the process, and certainly don’t pay the entire fee before seeing results – part payments are best when working with vanity publishers.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSThe publishing industry, from the largest publishing houses to the smallest independent presses, uses the same publishing platforms as self publishers, and it’s become harder to tell the difference when you see books on shop shelves. This increase in access only works for consumers when the highest standard of publishing is pursued – readers are not easily fooled by bad product. If you want to become an independent publisher, be ready for a journey that demands the highest quality work, attention to detail, and marketing energy. There are no more publishing secrets in the book trade – they’re all freely available to everyone who wants to produce a book and find readers, but they must be used wisely and well.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, you must submit!

“In this digital age, it’s never been easier to prepare your submissions and have have them all done and dusted in a very short time.”

IF you’ve ever really done the work on a manuscript in the manner outlined in Write, Regardless!, allowed it to absorb your imagination and your heart; lost sleep over it and swung from thinking it’s the worst thing ever written to moments of confidence that it says something, you’ll know when it’s time to give it a chance in the wider world. If you haven’t done the work, you’ll be full of doubt about your manuscript’s quality, tempted to ask everyone what they think, and so out of touch with your inner bullshit monitor that you won’t know how to sift the feedback. Here are some tips about finding if you’re ready to submit your work to publishers and literary agents.

Submitting season

In this digital age, it’s never been easier to prepare your submissions and have them all done and dusted in a very short time. After a standard three-month wait to see whether the marketplace, right now, is interested in your manuscript, if your work has not been picked-up you’ll have a choice: publish it regardless or shove it in a desk drawer and try to forget about it.

Publisher or agent?

There are plenty of pros and cons about whether writers need an agent. You don’t need a real estate agent to sell a house. It’s the same with selling intellectual property. Writers can research the various submitting opportunities and send our work in directly, or we can hand the process over to someone to do the work for us. The submission materials you need to prepare are the same.

The agency pathway

There are the standard agencies that list the genres they will represent; then there are writing programs that operate as agents by matching writers with publishers; and then there are writing competitions that serve a similar purpose. Whenever your work is being represented by a third party between you and a publisher, it’s a literary agency-type process. Be under no illusion – the author pays for this process upfront with a reduction in their advance or the competition entry fee; or at the back end as a percentage of royalties. Literary agents are best treated like real estate agents: assertively and courteously, with everything in writing before the ‘For Sale’ sign goes up.

The shock and awe principle

I deal with the submission process by using a little military energy known as shock and awe, because it cuts through the crap. Writers can get stymied by business strategies, the main one publishers deploy being the ‘don’t send your manuscript out to more than one publisher/agent at a time’ advice. The ONLY person this principle benefits is the person looking at your great book submission. They have removed all competition by making you afraid to call the cavalry. When I submit a manuscript, I send it to all relevant publishers/agents at the same time, and I give the process three months maximum. This is how real estate has been sold forever, by creating that critical mass all property sellers desire. Intellectual property sellers have no reason to think or act differently. Literary agents certainly don’t act on this advice – they create bidding wars between publishers whenever they can.

Direct-to-publisher submissions

Right now, major publishers have open doors for unsolicited manuscripts, uploaded via their websites. Usually once-a-month, these opportunities have snappy names like Penguin’s Monthly Catch. They require writers to have a formatted manuscript, a synopsis and a writer’s biography; some idea of the target audience and similar titles on the market; a social media platform (don’t say I didn’t warn you about the need for one); some skill in public speaking and communicating, and a couple of contacts in the publishing/media industry (warned you about that one too).

“While there is still a publishing industry, writers who have done the work on our manuscripts should have a go and submit our books for consideration.”

Fab formatting

There is a basic manuscript style in the English language, which is generally a one-inch page margin, plain font, page numbering and double-spaced text. This is not publishers being picky, it’s a format that is easy on the eye for people who read a lot. There are international variations and your state or national writers’ resource centre will tell you what is standard for your part of the world. There are no excuses for writers who don’t adjust their manuscripts to a publisher’s specifications. Sent a single-spaced manuscript of 250,000 words when they wanted 80,000 maximum, double-spaced? Whoosh! There goes your book back into the slush pile! Make it legible, plain (no sample cover art by Uncle Brian), with a decent working title and give it to them in the format and file type they ask for.

Super synopsis

A synopsis is not a blurb on the back of a published book, taunting the reader with hidden details about the story, it must allow a publisher to appraise your plot at a glance. If you’ve done the work plotting your book, a synopsis will be very easy to write. If you cannot write one, chances are your manuscript is not ready to submit. Explain your exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement, and do it in the word-count they ask for.

Brilliant biog

Publishers are seeking background information about you as a writer, not necessarily where you went to school or your employment history, unless these relate to the manuscript you’re submitting. Write your biog in the third person, show them your stuff as a wordsmith, and stick to the word-count they ask for (are you seeing a pattern here about not pissing them off?).

Insider knowledge

Many submission opportunities ask writers to name a few existing books that are similar to ours. Don’t get on your high horse and claim you’ve written something so original there is nothing like it in the history of literature. The chances are there’s a few similar titles out there in the hundreds of writing genres. This is publishing industry shorthand to understand your manuscript quickly. You’ll be asked to nominate a genre and a format. Is it a long-form memoir? Is it a narrative non-fiction novella? Is it a short story collection? Be real and be honest.

Screen-savvy author

Agents and publishers have been known to request authors submit audition-style videos to see if we are media-friendly. Don’t panic! If you need to create a short audition video, you can film yourself on your mobile phone camera. Choose a quiet, well-lit but shaded location that prevents the sun directly hitting your face, hit the front-facing camera symbol and select video. Next, hold the camera up horizontally like you’re taking a selfie, pause, breathe, and introduce yourself before reading your writer’s biog in the first person while looking into the camera lens. This will make it look as though you’re addressing the viewer right in the eye, and give you a confident air. Email or message the clip to your desktop, then upload it with your book submission. Keep it simple and keep it short.

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BE COOL It’s only a contract.

The fast response

Be prepared to have an agent or a publisher interested in your work very quickly. Like enthusiastic house hunters, they can act fast if they want to get your work off the market. This is not the moment to tell all your other prospects your work has been picked up. No real estate agent cancels further inspections on the strength of an enthusiastic potential buyer… no way! Some publishers/agents will ask for a few weeks to read and consider your work because they like the sound of it. If so, calmly tell them you have made other submissions, but say that you have not been offered any contracts. If they are genuinely interested, they’ll get reading and perhaps send you one. If you need help interpreting it, contact your writers’ centre or arts-law centre for advice.

Be cool about contracts

Good publishing contracts are not lengthy – they don’t need to be. If you’re offered a contract, it should never ask you to assign copyright of your work to another party, but it should require you to warrant you created the work you have submitted. You should be allowed to negotiate a timeframe to submit your final drafts, and you and the publisher need to agree on the date the book will be published. They can set a time limit (and perhaps a fee scale) on author changes to the manuscript ahead of publication. This is to ensure you’re a proactive, organised collaborator… if you’re a literary vacillator, you’ll pay for the privilege (remember when I warned you getting to grips with plotting would serve you even if you’re traditionally published?). The contract should stipulate an advance against royalties (which is getting extremely rare in publishing these days) and a royalty percentage of book sales for the author.

Silence is the new no

If you haven’t heard back from a publisher/agent after three months, they’re telling you no. It’s not courteous, it’s not commensurate with the effort you have put into submitting your work to them, but it’s the truth. They have rejected that manuscript and you’ll never know why. Accept this and move on. Here are some tips on dealing with literary rejection.

Having another go

If you’re keeping your eyes and ears open to publishing opportunities, you are sure to find a few more publishers/agents to submit your work to while you’re waiting for a bite from your first round. When I do, I always submit. If you have your submitting materials ready to go, it takes a few minutes and keeps another ball in the air in your juggling act. After two rounds (over six months) it’s likely you’ll know if you’ve had enough silence.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSWhile there is still a publishing industry, writers who have done the work on our manuscripts should have a go and submit our books for consideration. Be efficient with your time by preparing your work quickly and submitting to all publishers/agents you can find accepting work. Follow their submission guidelines to the letter. Mark a day in your diary three months from your critical mass of submitting. If you have not heard back from any of your submissions, it might be time to move on and publish your work, regardless.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, join your tribe!

“If you want to write and publish, join the publishing industry and consume.”

MANY writers struggle alone with the task of marketing. Writing an entire book is enough of a challenge for even the most experienced wordsmiths, so when we’re expected to run the marathon of multiple drafts, then turn around and create a publicity campaign for our work, we tend to stick our heads in the sand and hope like hell that something about our work will render all marketing efforts unnecessary. Here’s a refresher on how you should already have started marketing if you’re writing a book, and the good news is it involves interacting with other people.

Marketing from day one

Write, Regardless! has one fundamental message on marketing: to sell your book, you need to be actively promoting while you’re writing and packaging it. This process takes a degree of multi-skilling which is akin to juggling, but adopting it removes the terrible feelings of exhaustion that result from completing a manuscript only to find you’ve run less than half the marathon. Marketing starts on day one of writing a book, and, for as long as you want others to buy and read your work, it never ends. Break through this mental obstacle and you’re halfway to an effective marketing campaign.

Accessing word of mouth

The simple act of one person reading your book and recommending it to their friends is the oldest form of marketing in the world, and it’s still (relatively) free. Entire advertising industries are built on convincing people they need to part with their money in order to generate word of mouth, but the good news for independent publishers is that the social media is built to facilitate infinite word-of-mouth experiences. If you’ve come this far in Write, Regardless! and somehow decided not to build your social media web of fabulousness, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Going tribal

It’s time to take your facebooking up several levels and find your social media tribe. Facebook offers facebookers a sophisticated search engine. Take some time to seek out others who think like you. This could be political groups, social networks, or book clubs… anyone gathering for a common cause which relates in some way to the subject and/or genre of your writing. Sometimes these are closed groups, and you simply apply to join. Sometimes, these groups allow participants to post without permission, following a set of group rules and guidelines. Other groups are managed by an ‘admin’ person or persons, who you can send messages to, requesting they ‘share’ one of your posts. Admins have replicated the role that editors fulfill for news sources, aggregating content for group followers, and they are often hungry for relevant contributions. This is where you come in, providing articles that relate to, mention, provide extracts of and links to, your books. Never do the hard sell in these forums. The soft sell is generally more persuasive. Don’t tell me you can’t do this because you’re not a journalist: you are, and here’s how.

Tasting the spam

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be used autonomously by writers marketing books – you simply post material about your titles whenever and however you like. A small warning: many social media participants are wary of spamming; and you don’t have to do much for people to think you’re a spambot. Endless sales tweets or filling your Facebook timeline with posts about your books is a big turn-off for many social media consumers. It’s the social media, remember? The emphasis is on being sociable. You can market like those who hand out business cards at birthday parties, sure, but you’ll start to notice your number of followers dropping. Selling all the time is very one-note. Mix it up with content that is not about your latest book.

penguin_book_cover
PERFECT PAPERBACKS Penguin’s paperback brand has been a publishing success since the 1930s.

Branding like an expert

Independent writers can tend to overlook tried and true marketing tools, such as brand management. It sounds a bit cold and corporate, but writers who publish our own work need to keep half an eye on how it sits in the marketplace. Ever since independent publishing began, centuries ago, writers have published work in serialised form. Think of the success of Mills and Boon and Penguin Books as a publishing brands: readers know exactly what they’re buying (and they buy it often) plus they know how much they’re paying; there is a consistent look, length and format, and there will be more of the product to purchase in the future. Think about what you want to achieve with your writing. Do you have a series in mind? Could you visually link different titles with a similar design palette? Can you position yourself as an expert in the field you’re writing about?

Reading the marketplace

It’s easy for writers to forget about reading and consuming in the same marketplace we plan to sell product within. If we avoid bookshops and book reviews, we can quickly lose touch with publishing basics, such as the current price of eBooks and paperbacks, or the evolution of publishing genres and writing styles. Keep your book-lover’s antennae attuned for shifts in the book trade, and check the date of online articles you stumble across – years have passed since it was claimed eBooks would knock printed titles into oblivion, a prediction that turned out to be incorrect. The publishing industry, like all industries, moves the goalposts annually. What worked three years ago may not work now. If you want to write and publish, join the publishing industry and consume.

Hiring help

“Decide what will make you feel successful, and share that with your readers.”

For some writers, running a marketing campaign is too much of an ask. They decide they have neither the time or the energy to promote their own work, and they seek to hire a publicist to generate sales. There is no standard fee for publicists, and the scope of their role varies, but expect to pay thousands of dollars. Some believe this scale of fees is justifiable since publicists are effectively selling access to a network of publicity that they’ve built over many years; but, as always, the onus is on you to be upfront about the cost, the terms and the outcomes. Do your homework and ask for references and testimonials before paying for a publicist’s services: you may well be hiring someone who is an independent author like you making a sideline income. Always create a contract with a publicist, laying out the parameters of the agreement, and hold them to account.

Deciding what ‘success’ means

It’s been my experience that independent publishing success means different things to different readers and writers. There are few benchmarks outside the usual ‘bestseller’ lists, so it’s helpful for independent publishers to set the bar for ourselves by deciding what we view as successful outcomes. For me, gaining independent reviews and mainstream media coverage for my titles means I have succeeded in doing all that I can to promote them in the marketplace. When I have placed my paperbacks with major city bookshops, I feel I have succeeded in putting them in the pathway of readers. Anything less, for me, does not feel like success. Work out what success will mean for you, and keep it realistic and measurable. This will help when you’re feeling challenged by what you have started, and I assure you there will be many such moments.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSIndependent publishers do not operate in isolation, we are part of an international network creating product for a hungry audience that is increasingly diversifying the ways it accesses books. Replicate what has already worked for that industry through branding and word of mouth. Join the club by ensuring you buy, read and review books. Participate in social media groups and networks, not just by promoting your work, but by promoting the work of others too. Decide what will make you feel successful, and share that with your readers – they love knowing when the risk they took on you pays off!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.