We asked Author/Publishing Editor, Robin John Morgan, if he would like to contribute a piece to our blog. he has provided an honest and humorous look at some of his experiences for new writers.
When I was asked to do something that looked at my writing, and considering I write on a few blogs as well as work on manuscripts, I decided I would look not at myself and my experience of what I write, but thought I would write something more about what the book world is about from the point of view of a Small Indie Publisher and Author, and aim at those who have often thought about writing, and give a few facts based on my experience of my own work, and working with other writers.
One of the most difficult parts of what I do is talking to unpublished writers, who are looking forward to becoming published Authors.
With a good many years of being published behind me, and also as a publisher myself, I have fallen into every pit fall there is and have a much more grounded understanding of the book buying public, and so yes, I have been taught the hardest way of all through trial and error. So the problem I have when I talk to a writer about the prospect of working with them on a manuscript, is that knowing all the mistakes I have made in the past, it is hard to teach a new writer who is so filled with excitement that actually, their time as an author may be one of the most wonderful, yet hardest things they attempt.
Actually sitting down and writing a book is without doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. I cannot deny that in those quiet moments where my mind is at its most focused as I bring together a tale, for me personally it is sheer joy, and I get a rush of adrenalin as I pound away playing the story in my head and turning it into the words on the page. When you finally choose that moment to say “I am Done” is such a rush, and it is very exciting and you simply cannot help but feel the buzz, I strongly recommend it to anyone who really does want to write something, be it with publishing in mind or not.
The thing here is, when you have finished and the manuscript if finally ready, the first thing you need to do is find some ground. It is vitally important that you ground yourself before you let anyone read it, and I will give the best advice I can in saying “Grow a thicker skin.”
There will be mistakes, I know you don’t want to hear it, but no matter how many times you have read it, subconsciously and because you have written it, you will have skipped over little mistakes and errors, and it is not because you are a bad writer, it is simply because this is your work and you know it so well, and for that very reason your mind will fill in the gaps and pass mistakes without noticing. It is actually the most normal aspect of writing, but here I will give a warning, everyone who reads it will simply love telling you that you made a mistake. The appropriate response to this as they smile with self-righteousness at you is “Thank you.”
I always say thanks and then say if you find more just note them down so I can add them in the final edit, because even though you think you are done, take my word for it, there will be more editing whether you want it or not. People love to pull you up on your mistakes, it makes them feel superior, because while you are filled with excitement and joy, I can assure you they are feeling a tad jealous that you wrote something, and it is at this point you deploy the thicker skin. Really good friends will absolutely love it, and if you made a mistake, you will find they will be embarrassed to point it out, keep those people close as they are your best tools, and after a little honest coaxing they will be blunt and provide you with some great points, so DO NOT TAKE OFFENCE, listen to them, and you will find that actually they are doing exactly what every good reader will do to your manuscript, so pay attention and learn, it’s all part of the process and again I will add very normal. Take notes and then go back through your manuscript and make all the changes that are needed, and even though you have done it a million times, go through it page by page and see if you can find more. Can I suggest you print the manuscript out and then work through it as follows:
Read the first page of each chapter, and then read the second and so on. Doing this you will not get as caught up in the story and you will find that your retain greater objectivity when spotting mistakes, I have found it to be a really good practice, although I will warn you, it is the longest and most boring job you will ever do.
If you decide to go ahead and publish, there are also things that will help you. Getting a publishing contract is one of the hardest things you will ever do, and actually most people blow it when they reach the stage of actually meeting a prospective publisher. The best advice I can give is be open, be honest, and wear a thick skin. A publisher will have read your manuscript several times, and possibly let others they trust read it, so they already have a good sense of the story, and let’s be honest this is what they do every day, so most importantly listen to them and make notes. Try not to be too ridged, they may offer a few good ideas, and yes they know this is your baby, and they are aware of those millions of feelings sloshing around inside you, but you must not be too demanding, this will be a partnership so treat it as so and take any and all positives you can from the meeting. No one likes to edit out things they love, so listen and also add your input as to why you think certain parts should stay and talk a well-reasoned argument for keeping them. A temper tantrum at this point will ensure your manuscript remains exactly that, so stay open and approachable and talk through each issue that raised.
So congratulations you got a deal, and your manuscript has taken its first step and enters production. Before I look at the life of a publish author let’s take a small pause and address a few myths of publishing, because you will find a lot of people in the big wide world actually believe this stuff, and at this point in time you may also be one of them. Firstly you may retain the rights to the book, and I strongly recommend you do this, but actually you will not own the rights to the format, and that is the most important point to rise when you first start out, because the format which you may be consulted on will actually belong to the publisher. They are the ones that will set the interior and page design, and that is their design and format, so as you can see this really is a partnership between the two of you. You can end your contract with them, but if you do, well what you are holding in your hand is no longer yours, you will have to change everything and re issue the story in a different formatted way, with a completely new catalogue number, even though your previous publisher will no longer be printing your book.
The second biggest myth in publishing is that if you do not have a big traditional publisher doing your book and you take a more self-published route you are simply using a vanity publisher and are not actually a real writer. Ok let’s kick this myth out into the grass and burn it once and for an all. I have seen too many good writers’ crash and burn because of this stupid myth. Thirty years ago things were different, most large publisher created their own household names, sadly today the bigger publishing houses only want well known writers and celebrity writers. A few years back in an attempt to face off digital publishing, the big companies cut most of their mid list writers leaving the market flooded with out of work writers, as they focused on celebrities to add more money to their coffers. What they actually did in their panic was change the game forever as out of work writers rushed to publish their own work, and that brought in the rise of Self and Indie Publishing Companies. Indie companies are small operations, and yes they do not have the advertising clout of the big boys, but in recent years they have worked very hard and done well to get books out, and in some cases they have been more successful for their authors. It will always pay to check out companies and size them up to see if they are the right fit for you, and I always advise writers to look around and see what they can get for their money, and I would say the same to you if that is a route you want to take. The most important thing to take into account is that there is no time table to publishing, if a company tells you they will have your book out in two weeks, I would be a little suspect of them. Talk to them and ask as many questions as possible, and if you feel they are talking your language, congrats you found yourself someone you can work with.
There is a myth that using a self-publishing company is an act of vanity. My personal point of view is that if you have spent years working on something you would want to share with the world of readers, using a big Traditional Publishing firm is no less vain than using a small indie. There is a little vanity in all writers, we have written it and yes we want to know what others think, and would it not be a wonderful thing to see your name on a book spine?
Ok now on to the more common stuff, firstly you will find that everyone thinks authors are all millionaires, they think the moment you put out a book, you are suddenly rich. Not true, selling books is bloody hard work and it is going to be trickle by trickle, and even though this is most important book in your life because you wrote it, at this point in time no one has ever heard of it. Not only that, they have never heard of the other million books produced that year, so you suddenly find that you are in the centre of a pool filled with rival books, and somehow you have to make yours look better than everyone else’s. Depending on your publisher, you will be expected to promote and sell the book. Advertising in the book industry is massively expensive, and it’s hard to match the bigger publishers who throw thousands of dollars at advertising big name authors and celebrity writers, and you will be competing with them also. The thing here is that actually there is no special formula for a bestselling hit, and even though you are pitted against some big titles you have an even chance of having your book in the right place at the right time, and suddenly you could be an overnight success. It may take a year, it may even happen after ten years, the important thing to remember is that when it comes to sales, take the long view, sometimes small repetitive sales can gross more money over time, so make your game plan about a long term investment and do not expect instant fame, that is the rarest commodity in the book market if it happens at all.
Ok so here is the best bit advice I can give. Every man, woman, dog, and acquaintance you know will expect a free copy of your book. Now it is up to you, but that is the fastest road to bankruptcy, so work out who those special people are. I make a short list, and it is usually parents, wife and those who really helped out, after that everyone else pays, even if it is discounted to them. I honestly believe no one should write a book for the money, and if cash and fame are your incentive, I would say stop and go get acting lessons, because as hard as that is, you may find you will do better.
Big rule here, PEOPLE LIE. Yes sad as it is, if everyone who ever told me they were going to buy my book did, I would be ten times richer, I work on the average that if two hundred people tell me they are going to buy my book, I expect to paid for two, and that really is the case in the real world. People mean well and they probably do intend to when they tell you, but the reality of it is that most of the time they forget. It is also the same when they tell you they have read it and loved it, most people may buy a book and ask you to sign it, and that is good, but if you expect them to read it, I am sorry to say that for a lot of people a book is nothing more than an ornament these days, and it looks on good on their shelf or unit, as it gives them the chance to gloat about knowing the author, so yes, for many a book is a stroke for their ego not yours.
I am a bit twisted and actually love these kinds of people, and yes my evil side appears with my humour, I ask them questions about the story and watch them squirm whilst thanking them for reading it. I know I am bad man, but if you take it with a pinch of salt and do not take offence it can be really funny adding things that are not in the book and watching as they agree and telling you how much they loved it, I guess I am sick person but I see it as sport, and more importantly it stops me being depressed about it. There are a lot of sycophants out there and you will meet them as they ooze all over you and paint you out to be a glorious author, again keep grounded and do not let your ego go wild, being an author is about understanding that there is always a balance to be met.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the praise, and for some people you have written something that touched them deeply, and you should be very proud of that, for that is one of the best reasons for writing, you bring joy and inspire some people, it is a nice thing for any author to be recognised for their work, so enjoy those moments. Not everyone will like what you write, and some people (Namely Trolls) will take a lot of pleasure out of ripping your work apart, either on forums or in person, trying to defend yourself is pointless because these are the kind of people who fail at reason argument, I take a leaf out of Mark Twain’s life, he once said, “Never argue with an idiot, they will bring you down to their level, and then beat you with experience.” I find it is the most apt approach to trolls, so try to ignore them and move on, because it really does not matter how you try to answer, whatever you put will be torn apart and used against you. It is not fair I know, but honestly take it from me and all other writers, at the end of the day they are not worth the trouble.
Right the final point that I feel is important. There is a debate that authors should really throw themselves out there in this day of social media, and it is believed that readers want a much more personal relationship with authors these days. Now this is my own view point only, so you need to understand that before reading on. I am a publisher as well as an author, and in my role as a publisher I do look constantly for new and refreshing ways I can make my authors look good in hope of sales, but as an author I know there is a line to be drawn, so I always ask a new author just exactly what their expectation of being an author is, and you should ask yourself the same. One of my authors is not keen on too many personal pictures being out there, and I have respected that by taking the one and only picture that was printed in a newspaper and using that in all our publicity. That was his wish, others I have published have a broader view of what can be used, and so with their permission I only use what they are comfortable with, and I would suggest that you follow a similar principle. I know some people want to know everything about your life, and hey if you are happy to do that, then fine. With my own work, I control everything that is released, I actually write most of the personal stuff to ensure better control, and that keeps things balanced with my family. Just because some big boss somewhere wants to exploit everything you do for sales, does not mean it has to be that way. I have another author who is probably one of the best at selling his own books to others, which is actually something I don’t like to do, I much prefer someone else (Usually my wife) to sell the books. I must admit though this author I mention is really great at it, he has the perfect calm persona and friendliness and I have to smile as he has sold to his dentist and church vicar, as well as a long list of others he has met on his travels, I do agree that if you are going somewhere it always pays to have a few spare copies in the car with a pen.
Book sales are a tough business to be in, so take your chances as you can, and put out exactly what you feel is relevant to you and you only. When the books are selling it can be a wonderful experience, and when they don’t sell keep your chin up, all book sales come in fits and starts, do something to promote and push the sales whenever you can. If things are slow write, keep writing, because even if your first book does not sell that well, remember its always the roll of the dice, so keep writing and eventually put another book out. The golden rule is always write, write, write and remain grounded, but more importantly than ever, enjoy the experience of all of it.
Robin John Morgan, writes for VCP, and has published seven out of an eight book adventure/fantasy series, “Heirs to the Kingdom.”