Tag Archives: Writing Process

Unlocking the secret life of (most) writers

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.

CLOSET HIS, CLOSET HERS PRThe 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.

As I write this, I am preparing to attend my first writers event as part of a panel discussion at Brisbane Writers Festival. For a self-published author in any country that is almost unheard of.

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.

WRITE REGARDLESSIt 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!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

Writer, show your proof!

“Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.”

BY now your book and your plan to market it should be well advanced. You’re nearly at the finish line with the formatted, beta-read manuscript that you’ve read multiple times from start to finish; your effective title and cover; all your publishing matter (such as an ISBN and barcode), and your established working relationships with the mainstream and social media into which to spread the good news about your book’s publication. It’s now time for one of the very hardest parts of the marathon: to proofread your book and ensure is passes the eagle eye of hungry readers.

Good housekeeping

What no independent publisher should try to do without is a cast-iron back up of their work somewhere external to their computer, such as a USB memory stick or a separate hard drive. Within that, ensure you always know which is the most up-to-date version of your work as you proofread it. If you’re proofreading eBook and paperback versions of the same content, you’ll need to ensure every change is made across each version. Work out what kind of system works for you, and stick to it religiously.

Copy editing

In independent publishing, beta-reading has come to replace what was once the first stage of copy-editing. After having your work read by one or more beta-readers, take the opportunity to use the feedback to rework it. Once you’ve formatted your work, and before you do your final proofreading, there is another chance to tweak your book’s plotting and content. Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.

Watch the formatting

Ensure that any copy-editing does not throw out your book’s formatting. If you make cuts or a lot of additions, your paperback will end up thinner or thicker than it was and you may need to adjust the spine width of your cover design. Very often, a traditionally published book has a few blank pages at the very end. These are to allow for expansion and contraction of the content prior to publication without impacting the cover design, but check with your print on demand (POD) platform as it may have restrictions about leaving too many pages blank.

House style

Whether you complete your own copy editing or you engage someone, you’ll need to decide on a house style or style guide. There are differences in publishing style between major international publishing territories that reflect not only the spelling of those regions, but also publishing conventions. Choose one and stick to it.

Consistency

There is no rule on earth that demands independent publishers follow an existing house style, but what readers will always notice is a lack of consistency in a book. Consistency suggests to readers that your choices are intentional, not mistakes. If your house style is all over the place, they’ll be unforgiving. Staying consistent between books is also important. Think about visual links between book covers and interior styles across all the books you publish in a one-year period. Let readers grow familiar with your publishing style.

proofreading-google-imageProofreading

It’s crunch time. If you want an excellent publication that doesn’t let you (and your readers) down, this is your chance to prove yourself a quality book publisher with a future in the industry. There really is no way to avoid this stage of the process… put friends on notice, make the kids walk the dog, lock the office door, take the phone off the hook and put every sentence through its paces.

Contracting-out the job

You may wish to engage a copy-editor and/or a proofreader to complete this stage of the work for you. Agree on the terms of the job and the cost before they embark on the job, and which house style you require them to follow. Don’t expect the work to be done swiftly if you want accuracy. As with every part of the publishing process, if you want speed, anticipate errors and an invoice that reflects your impatience.

Start at the end

After several reads of a manuscript, you’re bound to have been alert to copy errors in the first half, and blind to them in the second. On one of your error-hunting missions, work backwards through your book, starting at the last section and working your way to the first, giving fresh eyes to text that’s probably not had much focussed attention.

Mistakes on mistakes

One of the easiest stages to make proofreading mistakes is when you’re correcting errors. Get into the habit of altering the text, then reading the whole sentence again to ensure you have corrected it properly.

Avoiding litigation

As an independent publisher, it’s crucial to ensure that what you are publishing does not defame anyone. If you’re quoting a person or a source, check that you’ve been accurate. Be accurate with the portrayal of people’s identity (job titles, spelling of their names, backgrounds). If you are writing about real events, think about changing names and locations to protect the privacy of individuals, places and businesses, and include a disclaimer in your book’s front matter. Be scrupulous about this process and don’t rush it. Check every source, quote, attribution and reference. If in doubt about anything, leave it out.

Copyright clearances

If your work quotes from or includes the work of others, you’ll need to get clearance from whoever owns or manages the copyright of the material. Usually, your first port of call is the publisher of the work, who may seek clearance for your use of the material from the author. Sometimes, work is out of copyright and in the public domain, and there may not be a need to get clearance, although out-of-copyright material is often held in a collection that requires clearance for its use (for example, an art gallery that owns a copyright-free painting). Always check if clearance is required, or if there are limitations imposed on use of word and images; and always attribute a source where it is known.

Readers are your friends

“Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers.”

Independent publishers need to come to terms with a reality: publishing without the support of others will mean making at least a few errors in your first print run. Even whole teams of highly skilled users of the English language have been known to miss obvious inaccuracies before titles hit the printing press. Prepare for this inevitability by engaging ‘first readers’ of your work when it’s just been published – perhaps your beta readers – and ask them to give you feedback about spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, etc. Your online publishing platform will allow you to make as many changes as required to the publicly available versions of your books. There’ll be a few rogue copies out there with errors… but that happens to every book publisher in the world.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSFor many writers, there is a willingness to hit the publish button in a rush at the last minute, but quality publishers will slow down at this penultimate moment and proofread the work properly first. Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers, so invite them into the process. You can see the finish line from here, just don’t trip!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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.