The Cynic’s Guide To Publishing

Written a book have you? Your first, I hear you say? Well done you! No, truly, congratulations. You’ve spent long, lonely hours banging away on your computer with only your cat (or dog, if you’re of the canine persuasion) for company. Your friends and family think: (a) you’ve emigrated to Outer Borneo; (b) you’re dead; or (c) lost your wifi and/or phone connection (which is as good as being dead anyway). You’ve survived on more caffeine than is healthy for your liver (and other soft tissue organs), nicotine (if you weren’t a smoker before, you’ve most probably flirted with the idea) and dreary ready meals (by the way, how is it that microwaved food can singe the roof of your mouth and freeze your tongue simultaneously?).

Now, if you will, cast your mind back. To the day that you first, (perhaps misguidedly), decided to write the book you always said you would. You thought of an ingenious title and proudly opened a file on your computer. You hunted dementedly online for a cover picture, and then typed those magic words that were going to reinvent your life as an author: “Chapter One”. Your initial enthusiasm may have been somewhat dampened when, diddling around on the internet, you stumbled upon the fact that you needed to write at least 80 000 words to publish a credible novel. However, determined to follow your calling (an overrated idea, if you ask me) you toiled on and on. Word followed word, sentence followed sentence, paragraph followed paragraph etc. (you know the drill) until (after dawdling around a tad aimlessly mid-plot), you typed those words that filled you with unrivaled joy: “The End”. You felt like Cathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone. Remember how she typed those words with great satisfaction, then opened a celebratory can of tuna for her cat (and topped it with a spring of parsley, yet?). That feeling.

Aaw bless. Now you’re envisioning thousands of copies of your novel in its snappy cover gracing the shelves of the most illustrious book shops throughout the world – it will, naturally, be translated into 50 languages, including Tagalog (Google that, I had to). You’ve practiced your signature for book signings for your adoring fans, and maybe even dared to go so far as mentally choosing a designer gown/suit for the red carpet on your way to collect your Pulitzer or Oscar (oh, and you’re also eagerly awaiting that call from Steven Spielberg offering you a movie deal). In other words, you’re on the cusp of literary uber-stardom. Step aside Ms Rowling and Mr Ludlum, your successor has been born!

But first. You need a publisher. Aw aw. There’s the snag in your stocking, the kink in your computer cable and the klaxon giving you an aneurysm mid-meditation. With the repetition normally reserved for those blighted with OCD, you begin the soul-squelching search for a literary editor. You will, by now know that publishers do not sully their gracious inboxes with drivel – that job they leave to literary editors who do their dirty work for them. Publishers, it would seem, consider any work by unpublished authors to be drivel. Which begs the question, how exactly does one become a published author if you can’t get your work published because you’ve never published before? Even Harry Potter was published only because a secretary shoved JK’s manuscript under her boss’s nose and said: “You had better read this!” (and that after he had told her to send JK a rejection slip – never having bothered to read the work). There are, no doubt, agents and publishers who abruptly changed career paths after turning Ms Rowling down (or they jumped off the nearest high-rise).

But I digress. You will fire off more manuscript submissions than spammers send spam. You will meticulously follow their every instruction diligently, i.e. please send synopsis (one page), the first 20 000 words, and your author’s bio (I most certainly would, if I had one, but you first have to publish my work, dear). However, these instructions are as varied as there are coffee concoctions at Starbucks.  Have you had that same response – a copy and paste “we are not looking for new writers at this time”, or “your work is not a fit for our agency” or “we apologise  but we actually haven’t read your work, however, we’ll be jumping off the nearest high-rise if you become a best-selling author” (not really, but that thought enlivens me no end). As a rule, these responses  arrive two months after your hopeful submission.

It is at this stage that you turn to the Last Resort for Rejected Manuscripts – eBooks. Oh the joy, the relief, knowing that finally, finally, the whole world will recognise your genius and you’ll become fabulously rich (and annoyingly famous). You will! You will! Here are a few salient facts;

  • The most successful online books tend to be written about the most popular of all searches on the internet – sex. So, unless your book contains nudity (lots) and an inordinate amount of activity by people with compatible body parts, you may want to reconsider.
  • Did you know that, as at October 2013 (I had to Google that too), there were 11 273 000-odd eBooks for sale by the most popular eBook publisher? And there you were, thinking you were one of only a handful of writers with a book to hock. This eye-watering number means that you have to do something, anything, to get noticed. And all the while you thought that your fine story, with an imaginative plot, good grammar and syntax and exemplary punctuation would draw attention. Especially seeing as a recent bestseller (with a movie deal and all sorts of other goodies promised) seems to have been written by a dyslexic chimp with an unhealthy addiction to sex.
  • The champions of online publishing who wax lyrical about the rewards to be had for authors online, tend to be authors of books about … the rewards of online publishing. I’m sure you can read between the lines as to what that means.
  • You will have to spend a ridiculous amount of time futzing around on social media sites to market your book to improve book sales. These sites are normally visited by … other authors visiting the sites to improve their book sales. It’s kind of like a stall holder waving his bananas in the air, shouting: “Buy my bananas! Buy my bananas!”, and you waving your bananas in the air at him/her, shouting: “No, buy my bananas! Buy my bananas!” I rest my case.
  • But it gets worse. Even when you do manage to flog your eBook, your book needs reviews to climb the rankings. You become, in essence, a review whore. And woe betide if your ex is still in a snit with you about grandma’s soup tureen you claimed in the divorce settlement – he/she can post a less-than-flattering review and award your book a vengeful one, measly star. In short, your ex can put the kibosh on future sales and have your book languishing at the bottom.
  • So, now a jaded eBook author/publisher, you recognise that you to spend an unhealthy amount of time online trying to market your book (and an unhealthy amount of time sidetracked into watching dumb youtube videos and generally pootling around) rather than writing.  So, you engage the services of a book promoter (which costs you a fair amount of dosh). After all, dammit, you need to get your next book finished! At first, you and your promoter go like the clappers, setting up a facebook page for your book, starting a blog and generally making a nuisance of yourself online. (On a personal note – my deepest apologies to my friends, facebook and/or otherwise, for the constant, annoying feeds featuring my book, my face, or both.) So, immediately you begin checking your author’s account for sales, only to find that sales appear about two months after they have been effected, leaving you in the dark as to whether people (other than sympathetic friends and family) are buying your book. Groan …

However, to end this hissy fit, there is good news, surprisingly enough. I have found that, in my dogged search for some sort of recognition as a writer I have, over the years, become a far better writer, better than I had ever dreamed I’d be. Something magical happens as you write, write and write again. Whether it is in the writing of your book or sending emails, posting blogs or comments on facebook, you will find that the quality of your writing becomes more eloquent, fluid and entertaining. How it happens, I’m not sure. But it does.

Trust me on this. Someone once said that writers should keep on writing and, when they’re not writing, read other author’s books. Yes, it would be easier if we were singers – sing a two minute crap song on Idols and Simon Fuller will politely inform you that you’re godawful and tell you to get a job and never sing again. But for writers, it can take months, even years, to finish a book (and then spend months, maybe even years, again, to panelbeat it into something worth publishing). But, it’s what we do.

And you will also meet fabulous people online, people you would never normally be in contact with. I was lucky enough to meet up with Alice Frances of New London Writers who (wait for it!) love, love, loves my latest book! Fancy that! A real, live editor who actually read my work! And she loves it! For now, that’s enough for me (at least until I read about some author who’s bought a house in Beverly Hills and is now a close personal friend of Steven Spielberg). So, I will carry on writing and do the best I can do with what I know. Hopefully, Alice will be able to pummel a publisher into submission and get them to publish my book. Then maybe, just maybe, I will see thousands of my book on bookshelves in their snappy covers in illustrious book stores across the world in 50 languages (including Tagalog).

7 thoughts on “The Cynic’s Guide To Publishing

  1. Thanks for this entertaining post. I love writing and will continue to write while I have breath in my body. I am, however grateful for the day job which keeps body and soul together. I am a dog rather than a cat person by the way. I have nothing against felines, its simply that I prefer canines. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

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