Tag Archives: the quest for publication

Forget selling. Focus on #writing.

A while back, I read this post, on Chuck Wendig’s blog and it got me thinking.

The basic gist is that there are gatekeepers for every writer. While, with indie publishing, it’s fairly easy to get your book out there, it gets much harder after publication than it is for trad published authors because most of the gates indies must go through turn up after the book is published.  So you get things like review sites that won’t touch anything self published; different gate, different place in the process but it’s still there. He explains how completely saturated the market is and links to an article from a fellow who has 150 books each day sent to his review magazine from trad publishers alone – which is why it only accepts trad pubbed books.

The message of Chuck’s article is, basically: there are gatekeepers in any part of the process, self published or trad. Know they are there. Accept they are there. Cease your raging against the machine. Deal with it. Write more books.

IMG_1513

Here, let me help.

As messages go, it’s spot on.

Except…

As a writer I’d like to think I can accept that nobody owes me jack.

As a human, I find complete stonewalling, or a terse ‘no’ rude. But then I haven’t 150 other people expecting more than a terse ‘no’ to try and deal with every day. If I did, doubtless I would soon be sending out photocopied ‘no’ messages with the best of them.

So, while I do not condone or recommend it, I understand why wannabe writers; self published or aiming at trad, get pissed off and throw a hissy fit. Because while, as a writer, I accept the stonewall as a sanity saving necessity for publishers and agents; as a human it still feels a bit off. And, of course, there’s the frustration. Whatever path you choose in writing and whichever set of gatekeepers you aim to deal with, you need to learn what unlocks them. You need to learn why they are closed to your book and then you have to learn how you can write a book that they will be open to. It may even be as simple as needing to know that the key is on that shelf up there on the left. Point is you need to know. And in the old days, when you sent your book in, chances were, someone’d point you in the right direction. These days the poor buggers don’t have time.

Where to find out these things then? There are courses, there is further education, there is the internet, if you have lots of time at your disposal. But for many of us there is also real life. Or where courses are concerned, things like child care, and no matter how much time you make, those things put stop to much of that before you start.

So, many of us have to learn how to write work that is commercially acceptable – in all respects, not just a good book – with only one word of guidance. An that word is…

“No.”

That’s OK, I know it’s the deal. As Chuck says in his post. Writing is hard. And it’s the only option they have because I’m one of millions.

But it is disheartening. Especially if, like me, you’re a bit dense and slow to learn from a whole plethora of words let alone one. Yes, it’ll take me a while to learn the things I need to know from the word ‘no’. Indeed, I have to be realistic and accept that it may never happen. So yeh, if you’re a wannabe writer, reading this, thinking, ‘AAARGH!’ I do understand how you might feel frustrated and cynical, or even angry, about that. But try not to. Because you’re a writer and sucking this up is your job.

These people have work to do, the relentless pressure of submissions to read and deadlines to meet and many operate under a constant barrage of interruption in the form of calls from writers. It must be like having their brains stirred with a huge wooden spoon. It’s worth remembering that the terse, ‘no’ or stonewall is probably quite impressive given the provocation some of these people must be under.

It’s not their fault.

It’s not yours.

It just is.

All the sales advice I was ever given talked about establishing dialogue – that’s why the cold callers always ask you how you are today. Then again, there’s little point in doing that if your attempts are going to piss people off.

So what to do? Well, perhaps the way to go is to avoid trying too hard. That surfeit of effort can be misinterpreted as a sense of desperation and that can make people wary or even get their backs up.

So to any writers reading this who are desperate to be heard, here are some pieces of advice that have stood me in good stead dealing with the frustration of learning from ‘no’.

  • Be patient.
  • Write a good book.
  • Avoid the hard sell.
  • Write more good books.
  • Forget about learning to flog books, instead concentrate on learning to write better and harder and with more soul.
  • Self publish and be damned!

You see, the way I look at it, if you get that second bit right, and your books are good enough, then eventually, if you self publish then, when enough people have read them, you won’t need to sell them. That’s right my young Paduan. Your readers will do that for you. This, I believe; passionately, wholeheartedly. Sure I wobble every now and again but I still cling to my deluded belief that cream rises to the surface. I’m going to ignore the words of whichever one of my characters it was who pointed out that scum also rises to the top and often ends up on top of the cream.

So if you’re feeling down, like you’re not getting anywhere, ask yourself, are you spending too much time learning to sell and not enough learning to write? Are you being unrealistic expecting to replicate x, y or z author’s strategy and hit the big time straight away? Because that way madness lies. This isn’t a straight away profession – and maybe that’s where some publishers are going wrong, too. The whole reason there are publishers in the first place is because most authors are a long term investment. They have to write a lot of books before they start to earn.

To my amateur (and probably very gauche) eye, the problem throughout the entire publishing industry seems to be the fact that because a few people have been overnight successes, there is now this daft idea that everyone has to be and that anything else is failure. Surely, historically, it has taken time and work(s) for authors to make money. They’ve needed someone who is prepared to believe in them, and pay enough money up front to prevent them dying of starvation while they art their arse off. Someone who’ll foot the bills (while the author writes enough books to get enough momentum) in return for a share in the profits, when they start to earn it back. A venture capitalist, in other words.

To be honest, I haven’t run across many venture capitalists, but the few I have are strikingly pragmatic. They take risks and spread their resources knowing that many of the businesses they invest in – however great the idea – will fail. Perhaps I’m wrong but I have this notion that there was once a time when, instead of giving a huge advance to one or two authors, or spending 90% on the marketing budget on a handful of big names, publishing houses spent a little less on several authors and hedged their bets. It’s like the football clubs who train up young players. It’s win-win for everyone when you sell them to Real Madrid.

Yes, success comes straight away for some of us, but for the rest of us, it takes as long as it takes. And that may be a very long time. Overnight stardom is the exception, not the rule. In a world of screaming noise, sometimes silence stands out.

Write those books, youngling. Create them with love, craft them with care and set them gently on the waters. They may float away to a far off place but if they are good and honest they will not sink.

As Mr Wendig says, ‘art harder motherfucker!’

Oh and did I mention patience?

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News for the famous. Writing a book is NOT obligatory.

I just noticed this courtesy of Neil Gaiman’s twitter thingummy doodle.

I could imagine Jonathan Ross had always wanted to write a graphic novel, more to the point, I could imagine he’s been practising for some time and it might actually be quite good.  He’s a man who lives, sleeps, eats and breathes graphic novels so he’s not actually an example of what I’m annoyed about but he’s reminded me why I am.  I guess he’s just knocked the scab off the wound allowing my suppurating bile to spill forth into the benign world of the blogosphere.  Being who he is, of course, getting published – and strong sales – are a given regardless.  Sigh.

Ok so he’s probably one of the ones who deserves it.  Some of them do. As Ian Jury said, “there ain’t half been some clever bastards,” yeh, “Lucky bleeders…”

Look at Ben Elton – clearly he was just too talented at too many things.  Maybe the stand-up thing was an accident, you get the impression he’s always considered himself an author… But there we all are thinking he’s an edgy comedian and then a novel comes out and suddenly we all realise how much of Blackadder he wrote…

Years ago I did stand-up for a while, I didn’t want to be a comic but I seriously believed I had more chance of making it as one than I did of getting my book published by merit, alone. And I reckoned that if I made it in comedy, getting my book published would be a great deal easier… Yeh, I was young and naive… or was I?  Probably, yes, about making it in stand-up but about making it in publishing?  Even then, no.

In the end I got married and staying out until 3 o’clock in the morning on a regular basis got complicated so I sat down.

I do get a bit pissed off, though, with the idea which seems prevalent at the moment,  that anyone famous can write a better novel than the rest of us or that somebody of 21 can turn “I got famous really quickly and it’s been a bit of a gas!” into an interesting autobiography.  The idea that there’s a book in everyone and writing it – or at least having somebody write it for them – is easy.  I take issue with the idea that publishing somebody’s work because it’s not bad and they’re famous is a good idea. Just because we readers know somebody’s name it doesn’t make them a good (or ‘ready’)writer.  Unless they’ve spent most of their lives honing their writing skills the way any other author has to, the chances are their work isn’t going to be as good.

Could I do Lewis Hamilton’s job as well as he does without any training or a lifetime learning my craft the way he did?  No.  But ask the same question about an author and suddenly the answer to that question is “oh yes, of course you can, it’s a piece of piss”.  Clearly writing well is deceptively easy…

And all this celeb writing blocks the rest of us.  When somebody famous gets their novel published because of who they are another unknown author is turned away.  For every Jordan who ‘writes’ a book a new author who might have been published some years ago stays unknown…

Does this sound like sour grapes?

(Pauses for thought.)

Well, OK, yes, it is sour grapes.

But it’s taken me since 1997 to write a novel I am actually proud of.  I’d be fairly mortified if my first effort had made it to press, so it’s lucky my bid for domination of the comedy circuit failed, but now… Well, I know this one’s not bad but with the right help and guidance it could be good… maybe better than good.  And I want it to be the best I can make it.  With the help and advice of a decent agent and editor, I could cover the next 10 years’ worth of struggle and effort in about a third of the time.  I learn fast but I’m rubbish at the dissection part, someone else does that, shows me and we have a scales from the eyes moment and I’m set.  But with all that celebrity bollocks out there, it looks unlikely that I’ll have that opportunity.  Yeh, as the Americans would say I’m pissed.

Do you detect a swing back towards the e-book…? Yes… when I hear the results of my latest submission.  In the meantime, I must sort it out with a decent cover.

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Filed under General Wittering, winging author

Dammit…

I liked these people, MCA… but despite being listed on querytracker.net as looking for my genre, the agent mentioned in the listing is not actually looking for sci-fi or fantasy.

So… querytracker.net gets a big thumbs down from me… one to avoid unless you’re in the US I suspect.

Looking for a new agency to submit to but not doing too well… many, when asked, express an aversion to fantasy… maybe I should pitch it as a comedy and forget to add the word ‘fantasy’, that’s a bit cheeky though.  Better to be straight.  And although it’s crap that there are so few agents dealing with my genre in some respects, on the up side, the fewer there are, the sooner I’ll know if I’m stuffed.

I really would love to find an agent though.  You know, a real one.  Someone who could help me hone my work, somebody who could open my eyes and turn me from a reasonable writer into a really good one… But at the same time, I’m kind of intimidated… the more agency websites I research, the more Oxbridge  English graduates, with MAs I find… I can’t see these literary rocket scientists going for an eccentric middle-aged, middle-class Mum with a bad Art History degree and a huge pussy* cat.  Hmm… it’s going to be a long search.

Never mind.  My submission to Snow books is good to go… what a pity my book isn’t (guffaw).  No, I’m not that disorganised, I just need to finish the last chunk of editing which is marked up already.  Then I can send it.

Perhaps it’s time to write another free e-short.  I have had 39 downloads in a month… not going to set the world on fire but not bad and I suspect it won’t get much better unless I keep up some momentum… wondering if I can manage one a month… or perhaps I should do a reading and sell it as an aural book.  That would be a scream.  I am a massive ham!

On that subject… the speaky thing, I mean not being a monster ham; since there’s a lot of speech in my novel ( “is it a play?” one agent asked me) I’m toying with adapting Few are Chosen for radio… just following the models of people who have succeeded at writing varietals of the stuff I do.

Well… it’s a thought.

* This joke was brought to you by the Mrs Slocombe appreciation society.

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Filed under Finding an agent, General Wittering, Marketing Ideas

Advice re agents…

Here’s an excellent piece of advice I was given about finding an agent, today.  Find the agents which fit your writing/genre, then look down your shortlist and apply to new agencies, ie anything under 5 years old.  The bonuses are clear…

Most new agencies are started up by experienced agents from larger agencies gone solo.  As an unknown, fledgling writer, you won’t get a graduate trainee or somebody with one year’s experience.  If they take you on, your agent is likely to be a great deal more knowledgeable than anyone you’d get at a larger agency.

They’ll try harder, they are out there to make a name for themselves as well as you.

They will be less well known so you may only be up against a thousand or so other writers pitching for that one slot rather than the two or three thousand you’ll be up against pitching to a larger agency.

This advice came from a London publisher – he publishes text books but he’s still a publisher.  He also recommends writing consultants, you pay but they, too, are often go-it-alone publishing professionals with excellent contacts among agents and publishers.

Food for thought, anyway.

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Filed under Finding an agent, Good Advice

Small Publishers…

I’ve read somewhere that it’s easier to get published by a small publisher and then try to find an agent than to do so “cold”.  On top of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and similar publications, here’s another handy resource, the Independent Publishers’ Guild.  There’s advice andinformation – for writers as well as publishers – along with a searchable list of members.

Definitely useful.

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Filed under General Wittering, Useful Resources