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A Series of Edifying Comments – No 1

A Series of Edifying Comments are meant to give you a glimpse of what goes on in my mind. They’re not meant to be too serious, but at the same time I hope they are informative and a little entertaining.  If anyone has a subject they would like me to comment on, please feel free to forward suggestions via the Contact form.

My first story was written on one of these.

Things have changed immensely since my first book was published.  Social Media and on-line publishing was barely heard of, if invented yet, and to be published was a massive achievement.  Back then, only the privileged were published – now everyone is doing it.   The process of being published was a slow, labour-intensive process, with more hoops to jump through than observed in a national state circus.  From the moment my publisher expressed interest in my writing project, it took nearly another two years before the actual book was in print and in shops.  It wasn’t what I had expected in 2002 when the first draft of The Book of Alternative Records had been written.  I thought we would be seeing a book at the end of the year, and be planning book two, for the following year.  I am an impatient fellow at the best of times, so the news that my book wouldn’t be out that year (or the following year), was very disappointing.

But, that’s how traditional publishing works.  Publishers put together their printing plans a year or two in advance, allowing time for editorial work, planning marketing, and also, more importantly, their annual budget.  Things are not rushed in traditional publishing, which is why some books succeed and some fail.  When a writer begins a project, its sometimes on a topic that is ‘hot’ at that moment.  A publisher, seeing the current trend, may snap it up based on the inherent success of similar titles flooding the market at the time, thinking that maybe a fast buck may be made.  Then, a year or two years later (allowing for editorial delays and internal politics), said book is released and sells worse than a tray of stale doughnuts.  The market has changed.  What was ‘hot’ last year, no longer is.  Publishing is no different to film making.  Producers of both need to be able to predict what will succeed… years ahead of the game.

I have an example.  Last year, my eldest daughter got hooked on Loom-Band making.  It was a massive fad the world over in the summer of 2014.  My wife, seeing the complexity of some of the bracelets, helped my daughter with designing and making some fantastic bands.  On the back of that she thought it would be a good idea to write out some instruction guides on how to make different loom bands. I agreed it was a brilliant idea, and contacted my publisher about making her guides into a book, but with much more.  I suggested a section for world records and interesting facts.  This was in May, and my publisher thought it was a great idea.  He said he would take it to the next ‘meeting’ where they discuss ideas.  This was for three weeks later.
Three weeks later, and the said ‘meeting’ had been postponed.  Two weeks further on and the meeting had taken place, but there hadn’t been enough time to discuss my stellar idea.

By the time my idea had been discussed, my publisher came back to me to say that, although it was a great idea that would have been ideal for their list, their sales team had discovered that about a dozen similar books were in the pipeline for publication over the next year.  The two month gap had affected things.  As a result, they didn’t think they would have enough time to get a book produced in time to beat the influx.  Had it been discussed sooner, things may have turned out different.

It turns out my publisher was right on this occasion.  Now, a year later, Loom-Bands are no longer the ‘in-thing’.  Had we produced the book, we would have been looking at publishing it in the fall of this year.  How many books would we have sold, I wonder?  Not many…. even if it was the best damn Loom-Band making book in the world (I was going to call it “Il-loom-inating!”).

That’s the problem with traditional publishing.  Publishers need a guaranteed ‘seller’ to want to back it.  Which is why so few writers manage to get a publishing deal.  The other hurdle in getting published the ‘traditional’ way, is getting an agent.  I always believed the catch-22 of ‘you need an agent to get published, but to get published you need an agent’.  I AM published, but can I get an agent to represent my forthcoming series of novels?  So far, that’s a negative. I’m still waiting to hear back from some… but, hey, it’s still possible.  Though I’m not losing sleep.

But why bother with traditional publishing?  Well, once accepted, the process of putting the book together appears to be simpler, and more prestigious.  Well, on the face of it, it is.  As a writer, after the editor has finished suggesting amendments, the typesetting and cover design is all done without the need of the writer.  Obviously, the main negative is the pay.  A royalty of 10%… if you are lucky per book.  That’s a pound for every tenner your book earns. There aren’t many authors making J.K. Rowling’s salary.

But marketing is another issue to think about.  Sure, a traditional publisher has a marketing budget, which they will use sparingly on an unknown author, but most of this work is down to the writer… which is a bit of an obstacle for most people.  Writers like to write.  They’re mostly introverted and don’t like to sell themselves, let alone their books.
I am the same, although I do have sales experience from one of my past ‘day jobs’.

The main positive to being traditionally published, is being taken seriously as an author.  A book published by a traditional publisher looks more attractive to a book seller than a self-published title (an I’m not just talking about the cover).  On top of this, traditionally published books generally are better.

But, unlike eleven years ago, traditional publishing isn’t the only real option available to aspiring writers these days. Self-publishing is now a lot easier than it used to be, much quicker and vastly cheaper.  Gone are the days of unscrupulous vanity publishers who will turn your shoddy manuscript into a room-full of books which you’ll never shift, all for a princely sum.  You can publish for nothing on Amazon as an eBook for Kindle, or go a bit better and publish your book using their Print on Demand option, thus being able to physically see your book in print.  Gone are the issues faced by writers ‘missing the boat’ with trends going out of fashion before their book is released; they can flood the market with the same ideas, cashing-in on the moment.  But, with the many millions of eBooks and self-published titles being produced each year, there’s a lot of dirge to fight through, and it’s no guarantee that it will be massively successful.

But, a lot of self-published books are successful.  Look at Fifty Shades of Grey.  Personally, I would prefer to be traditionally published.  It’s because I’m lazy and don’t really want to spend my money; I would have none of the risks or extra-work associated with publishing (aside from the writing of my books), and can put in as much or as little marketing work as I choose.  However, I am not afraid of going down the self-publishing route… I don’t see it as the quick-fix many view it.  I see it as an investment in my talent and a business venture where I am 100% in control of my book’s destiny.  I would be responsible for everything, from final edit, cover design, formatting, the publishing and finally the dreaded marketing.  I believe that you reap what you sow.  If you put in the hours, you’ll get the rewards… In many respects, self-publishing sounds more like an adventure… and I do like adventures!


*** This was first published on 29/05/2015 ****

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