Hi, how was your week? I have been working hard on my book. Getting it published as been an unexpected journey, so I’ll share my experiences so far with you in case you ever decide to go the same route.
The first (and most fun part) is writing the book. I love doing this, it feels a lot like acting – I sort of ‘become’ the characters, think about how they would feel or react and daydream them into interesting situations. Most books seem to fit into the 70,000 to 100,000 words range. Which means that after I have written the story, I usually have to go back and delete great swathes of unnecessary sentences. I found the book ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King to be a big help here.
Next comes the ‘not fun’ part. You have to decide how to publish your work. I wrote my first book soon after I realised I would not be returning to teaching (long story, won’t go into it here.) I gave the completed manuscript to Husband to read, who tends to be ‘constructively critical’ of most things I do. To my surprise, he loved it, said he had never realised I could write so well, and encouraged me to send it off to publishers. I did a Google search to find publishers and discovered that most (all of them really) do not accept unsolicited manuscripts from new authors. To get to a publisher, you first need an agent.
I bought the ‘Writer’s Handbook’ and found contact details for various agents. They were all different, all asked for very specific details. Each submission took most of a morning. I then settled back and waited for them to request my full manuscript. I waited a long time. A few replied with very nice, personalised letters, telling me that my book showed real potential but wasn’t something they felt “passionate enough about” to represent me. Several replied with a standard ‘no thank you’ letter. Most never replied at all.
I have since learned that a good agent already has many authors as clients, they only take on a few new authors each year. They receive however, about 300 submissions every week. In order to cope with that, and to not spend their entire working day reading submissions, they employ people – often work experience students – who read the submission letters and decide if they think an author is worthy of being viewed by an agent. The criteria for knowing if the cover letter is ‘good enough’ is vague and subjective. I think, unless you know someone ‘in the trade’, finding an agent involves a lot of luck.
During this time, I was writing book number two, Hidden Faces. I also began to talk to other authors. They informed me that rejection was normal. I heard stories of people who had eventually been accepted by mainstream publishers, but during the editing process, their book was changed beyond recognition, it didn’t feel like theirs anymore. Publishers need to make money. Some seem to almost have a formula for the types of book they can sell, things that are currently in fashion, and they ask the authors to fit into it. I feel it is a bit like an artist painting a picture, expressing how they feel, then daring to exhibit their work, and being told, “I would like to buy your painting, but please change the sky to green and add some people and take out that tree…” Would it still be their work of art?
I was now not sure I wanted a mainstream publisher. I began to look into self-publishing. This was confusing. It seemed to fall into two categories: the rather unflattering term of “vanity press” and “self-published”. But what was the difference? It seemed that shops were willing to sell “self-published” books, but not those that used “vanity press”. But it was hard to discover the difference. Both were what I would call “self published”, as the author had themselves paid for the book to be published and they only received money if people bought it. (Generally, my understanding is that for a first book, a publisher will pay the author about £800. All profit after that goes to the publisher. However, people are shy about talking about specifics when it comes to money, so that may not be correct. When I get to the relevant parts, I will tell you what I paid for things, so you know.)
I eventually learned that “vanity press” is when an author writes a book and immediately sends it to be printed. So, no one edits it, no one checks the spelling and punctuation, no one says, “this bit is confusing, you need to change it”, no one type-sets it. You can find sad stories online of people who paid a company to publish their book and then found it had no copyright page, or Chapter One began on the left-hand side of the book. They received books that ‘felt wrong’, often cheaply bound in very thin card, with pages that were loose.
My feeling is that if you have written a book that you are proud of, that you just want to see in print, to perhaps give to your family (but not sell to strangers), then why not? I hate the term “vanity press”. Writing a book takes time and effort, why not see it published? I much prefer the terms “home press” or “amateur published”.
However, I did want to sell my book. I wanted a ‘proper’ book, one I could be proud of. I started to look online for editors, copy-editors, type-setters, printers. There were many publishers who offered a self-publishing service, and everyone seemed to have a corresponding ‘horror story’ on the internet. (If you Google search the name of the publisher and ‘scam’ it is quite scary what appears.) It was beyond me, so Husband took over (he is good at that sort of thing.) There was a lot of business stuff involved. He started by going into a bookshop and asking if they stocked any self-published books. He then looked to see who had printed them and contacted the printers. He got quotes for printing and asked for details of editors and type-setters, people they had worked with before who they could recommend. He then contacted various people, asked for examples of their work, quotes for prices, details of what they would do.
While Husband did all this research (made me remember why I love him) I rewrote a serial, Counting Stars, that had appeared on my website, making it a complete story. I now had two new books ready to publish. (I had given up on the first one and decided I needed to rewrite it.)
This account is getting long, so I will continue Part Two another time. I will explain about editors, and what exactly ‘proof-reading’ means (it is not what I thought!) and why you might need insurance…
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Thank you for reading.
Hidden Faces is available in bookshops and from Amazon.