Apologies for not posting last weeks blog, found myself tied up with various over last weekend.
My last blog ended with a promise to discuss the issue of what happens once you have finished your book. This is probably the most challenging stage for a prospective writer, in that, prior to this stage only yourself and possibly family/friends have viewed your writing. It is at this stage that you are putting your work out there for professionals within the writing/publishing industry to look at your book. If you have done your homework, you would know that it is unlikely that you would be taken on by a literary agent or have your book published when presenting your first piece of fiction. I had already drawn together a Plan B to use if Plan A did not succeed. Plan A is the conventional route, which I took, sending my completed manuscript for consideration to 25, mainly literary agency firms and one independent publisher. Now, you must remember that the maximum amount of your work accepted by agents and publishers when submitting for review is three chapters, but it can be as small as 3000 words which means the author is under real pressure to capture the reader in those early sections of the book. This is very hard for the writer, you have written the book, and you want the literary professionals to view the manuscript in its entirety, it's not going to happen!!! With this knowledge in mind, you need to prepare your manuscript with the intention to grab the reader from the off and hold them throughout; I guess that's part of what the agents/publishers want from a book so get used to it. It feels a bit like a literary version of 'Dragons Den,' without the opportunity to stand in front of the professionals and pitch.
After emailing the 25 manuscripts to various Literary agents and one independent publisher, I started preparation for Plan B - which I will come to later. Be prepared; it can take up to six months to receive responses to your submissions, and some of the agencies won't even bother to respond which happened in 11/25 of my communications. The rest was a mix of standard email replies, but some were more personalised with words of encouragement implying that the book had potential and that I should continue to pursue trying to get the work published. It was beneficial to receive support from professionals as it made me feel I was on the right track. Why did I choose 25 agencies to send my manuscript? No reason, it was a nice round number. There are a large number of agencies, and I guessed that if I could not get a bite from 25, I probably was wasting time and effort sending to more, so move to Plan B
Being a realist and pragmatist, I had pretty much convinced myself that Plan A was unlikely to bear fruit, so I had already started work on Plan B which was self-publishing. When I had begun writing the book the self-publishing world was very different to what it is now, and that is primarily due to the growth of ebooks and in particular, Amazons, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
My publisher, Taryn Johnston, Creative Director for FCM Publishing re-posted an excellent article on the status of self-publishing, predicting that it was on the wane and heading towards its inevitable demise. Due to just having my first novel published perhaps I am in a good position to step back and evaluate my experiences of dealing with the publishing industry first hand on both sides. It is evident from my experiences outlined in this blog that the traditional route to getting your book published is extremely tough with the writer having to navigate the gatekeepers to the publishers, the literary agents who pretty much decide who is worthy of consideration for publication and who is not. I understand the need to maintain professional standards and the fact that the Literary Agents are inundated with 100's ney 1000s of manuscripts on a weekly basis and must have a process of deciding which prospective authors they wish to take on. One agent responded by saying they must feel a passion for the work you are presenting to them to be able to give your book the attention it needs, and that makes sense to me. It is a robust industry, and the professionals have to be selective about what they want to support because ultimately it is the passion for the book shown by the author, agent and publisher that is more likely to result in success.
What about the publishers? Most publishers will not accept direct approaches from a prospective author and only deal with Literary Agents. But, if you cannot secure a Literary Agent where does that leave you? I was lucky enough to secure a publishing contract with an Independent publishing company, FCM Publishing which gave me the opportunity to have my book published by conventional routes. Perhaps, it is the independent publishing companies that have a significant role to play in identifying and promoting new authors and giving them the opportunity to have their work published via conventional routes. The only other option left open to a prospective writer is self-publishing and when you consider the number of budding authors that have their work rejected by the literary/publishing agencies you can see how Amazon, KDP have identified a demand.
I have read numerous articles by self-publishers v literary agents/publishers all making valid points. Self-publishing authors have commented that there is a snobbery about literary agents regarding the type of book and author selection and literary agents often describe self-publishing as vanity publishing which seems like mudslinging from two different sides of the fence. Although, I introduce this issue with a mild degree of humour, what lies at its core is serious issues associated with the writing and publishing industry which has been blown wide open by the introduction of Amazon KDP. From the perspective of the author that has struggled to have their book taken on by an agent or publisher, it is the best thing since sliced bread. To the literary agents and publishers, it is a development that is potentially damaging to the industry. The KDP allows an author to publish his book with minimal cost and just to put it out there. However, there are no safeguards to ensure the quality of the content; books are often not edited, proofread. They are primarily ebooks without much in the way of production costs and are sold at low prices and are promoted often via lending or free distribution to push the books up the rankings. I was chatting to one writer who was publishing via KDP. He was detailing his experiences as an international lorry driver. He openly stated that he never worried about spelling and grammar, commented on in reviews, he never had his books edited or proofread and was happy to make a small amount of money, enough to pay his tax during his retirement. He had written and published many books via KDP and broadly smiled when describing himself as a published author. It is this type of publishing that can saturate the market with books of varying standards. It also makes it difficult for a prospective writer who is serious about developing a career as an author to publish via KDP even when they have taken the time and invested in publishing their book. Serious self-publishers are not vanity publishing they are often putting their work out there after failing, as many do, to interest a Literary Agent or publisher. They are often self-publishing in the hope of attracting the attention of a publisher or agent. However, as previously stated although a viable alternative route to publishing is desirable to those writers who are committed to developing a career who fall outside the conventional routes a saturation of the market with poor quality pieces of work can only be damaging to the industry.
In my opinion, your mindset is everything when deciding whether you are going to try and write a novel. You have to ask yourself, right at the beginning; why am I doing this? My answer to the question was because I enjoy it. I am lucky enough to have a job which provides me with an income allowing me to write without the pressure of making enough money to pay the bills. It must be tough for prospective writers trying to make a living from writing without any other source of income. It is common knowledge how difficult it was for J.K.Rowling, financially, and how many rejections she had before her Harry Potter book was finally accepted for publication. J.K. Rowlings example is another part of the mindset, expect rejections from the agencies, have plan B's. You need to develop a thick skin, and you cannot allow yourself to be sensitive to constructive criticism which you are going to get at some stage by rejections, people comments etc. Learn from these experiences utilise anything that is going to help with your writing. The other big question is what do I write about? I stuck to what I knew. It is much easier to write about subject matter that you have knowledge and experience; it doesn't guarantee success, but it helps.
Most of all write because you enjoy it not because you need to make a living out of it and see where it takes you. You don't want writing to become a chore, where is the pleasure in that?