Thoughts on Publishing Today

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D J Harrison

(from his blog Northern Writer )

I used to think that writing a novel was the hard part. It takes a lot of energy, true, but it’s something I can do. I can write and I love to write. No, it’s the rest of the process that I find difficult.

Getting published is getting harder and harder. Even if you do win this particular form of lottery it’s no guarantee that you will sell enough books to make a living. It has been estimated that the annual earnings of the average professional writer is less than £11,000 per year. Considering that there are the J K Rowlings and Lee Childs in there, that’s not a whole heap of encouragement for the rest of us.

There’s always self publishing. Anyone can upload a book on to Kindle and hey presto! they’re a published author. But 90% of ebooks sell less than 50 copies, or so I’m informed.

What I’m getting at (slowly) is that creating a novel and selling it involves much more than writing skills. Me, I’m the world’s worst salesman. The idea of taking my books into a branch of Waterstones and asking them to buy some fills me with dread. That’s why I’ve never done it even though I’m told it’s worth a try.

So, what should a poor writer do? Well, this is my take on things at the moment. It’s just my opinion and not something you should take as gospel.

Getting a conventional publishing deal is probably the best route to getting paid for being a writer. Advances aren’t what they used to be (unless you’re Pippa Middleton) as publishers are scared of making losses (like with Pippa Middleton). Also novels are sold rather like seasonal vegetables, if you don’t get success soon after launch your book risks going rotten and so do you.

Let’s face it, the chances of the conventional publishing option being open to most writers are slim to non-existent. If you want to get your work out there you’ll almost certainly have to self-publish. Then you have to face the problem of discoverablily, or lack thereof. Someone described the e-book market as a shitstorm of mediocrity. I’d go further. I’d say 90% of self published books are unreadable and that’s really useful because you wouldn’t want to read them anyway.

There’s the problem, even if you produce a work of stunning quality, your beautiful flower will be amongst acres of towering nettles. Your tiny matchstick boat will be adrift in a tsunami of filth. Your precious jewel will be buried under a mountain of contaminated soil. Readers will be unable to find your work because of the millions, and I mean many millions, of really terrible examples of unmitigated crap.

The gatekeepers have been removed. There really is a free for all going on out there.

There are things you can do to make you book good enough to sell and visible enough to get to your target audience. But they cost money. There are also a lot of people trying to take advantage of writers like us.

It has been estimated that the average amount spent to self-publish a novel is $4,000. That’s a lot of money and bear in mind it’s an average and most of them are very poor quality. In the UK, Orna Ross, director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, estimates that the total cost of a professionally produced book, either digital or on paper, is between £2,500 and £5,000.

The most important item you have to pay for is cover design. This is the single most important thing your book needs if it is to have a chance of selling. Cover design involves an artist and a graphic designer. Good covers are expensive. Bad covers are even more expensive in the same way that cheap lawyers are said to be.

Then there are things like formatting your manuscript as an ebook or a print book, or both. You can do this yourself fairly easily for an ebook. A printer will need a ‘print-ready pdf’ which does need some knowledge and the right conversion software. Some printers will do this for you, but at a cost. However it’s done, it can involve a lot of work to get it right.

There are good people out that can help. There are also many who are not so good, either in quality or intention.


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