Publishing Pitfalls

J K Rowling is worth £1 billion.

A friend of mine has written a book about her experiences in Japan. It’s a warm, caring account of an emotional journey. It’s taken a long time and a lot of effort to write, and it shows. It’s a quality book.

She sent the manuscript out to various publishers and agents but became used to receiving gentle and polite rejection letters. It seemed her work was destined to remain unpublished.

One day, a letter came. It began with the words ‘We have read your submitted manuscript and liked it very much. We would be happy to publish it.’

She was understandably over the moon. She rang her friends, told them of this wonderful news. Felt a great relief and unbounded joy that her words would at last be read.

Because that’s what we writers need; to be heard.

It’s all very well sitting there, labouring over a hot keyboard, agonising over every word. There needs to be an end product, otherwise the frustration builds.

Not so very long ago, we had a publishing industry that wasn’t afraid. It meant that lots of different types of books were given a chance. Publishers weren’t looking over their shoulders to see the grim reaper poised to strike. They controlled book production and distribution and could afford to take an overview, allow one book to subsidise the next in the interests of diversity. Sometimes they were surprised, now and again this surprise was very pleasant indeed.

Amazon has ripped the guts out of publishers, squeezing their margins to the extent that they are closing down imprints, consolidating businesses and generally taking less risks. This is bad news for authors, particularly mid-list authors, who rely on the publishing houses for their livelihood.

Amazon has also opened the door to self-publishing, a much derided route previously referred to as vanity publishing. It achieved this by demolishing the hurdles to book distribution previously controlled by the big publishers.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold 100 million copies.

To continue the story, my over the moon friend was brought down to earth when she finally read the whole letter. The gushing praise for her work eventually subsided and the real truth was revealed. ‘Send us £9000 and we’ll get on with the publishing process.’ They said. She nearly did. The only thing that stopped her was the inconvenience of not having nine thousand spare pounds at the time. The letter was very optimistic regarding the prospects of sales far exceeding that measly investment and she was inclined to agree. Her disappointment was complete until she found out that she could get published for much less than this so-called publisher was demanding. That there were people out there willing to help at a cost that she could afford.

We all need help. Sometimes it’s not the first sort of help that’s offered. Make sure its the kind of help that suits your situation.

There’s help to be had at www.opencirclebooks.com, but there’s lots of other places you can find it as well. Don’t be seduced by potential sales figures, bear in mind that few self published books sell more than fifty copies.

photo credit: Will Lion via photopin cc

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The First Paragraph

When I write, I often find that I take a little while to warm up. The first few sentences, or even chapters, are not always where I need my reader to begin. It’s as if I need to start a bit earlier, get my thoughts in order, before the story can begin at its proper place. This is one reason why a good editor is vital.

Opening paragraphs are very important. They can make a big difference to a book’s success.

There’s a school of thought that you should drop the reader straight in to the action, have our hero in a life threatening situation at the outset. Cut to the chase, in other words. This can be a problem, though. Unless the reader has some emotional connection with the protagonist it’s hard for them to care. Then there’s the difficulty of starting with a climax. Where do you go from there?

So, establish character first, then.

It depends on how you do it. There’s nothing more off putting than the ‘getting out of bed in the morning‘ opening. Some years ago, I heard a literary agent bemoaning the fact that more than half of the submissions he received began with someone waking up. When I looked at the first sentence of the novel I was thinking of submitting to him, I read ‘As the insistent drilling of the alarm clock roused him half sensible…’ I hoped he might make an exception in my case but, to be on the safe side, demoted this scene to the second chapter and promoted the giant lizard priest in the damp crypt to prime position. In case you’re intrigued and eager to read more, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This particular novel did not get published. I could send you a copy if you insist but I’m certain you have better things to do with your time.

So, get your character out of bed before the reader gets to meet them. Sounds eminently sensible to me.

The opening should encourage the reader to read on.

My new Jenny Parker novel, Limited Liability begins with:

‘Jill Williams?’

My nod of agreement is fractionally late. I’ve been Jenny Parker for most of my adult life and no matter how much I’ve practised for this moment hearing my new name still takes me by surprise.
Let me know how this works for you.

photo credit: Charles16e via photopin cc