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How did I become published? Really? You really want to know?

31 Jan

Now, I know for a fact that this is a subject I researched a lot when trying to become an Author. I read blogs, FAQ, publishing sites and googled my little fingers off trying to glean just that little bit of extra magical info out as to how to make it happen.

And since becoming an Author I’ve had people asking me to pass on the sage advice I obviously found in my research. Unfortunately all this does is cause a hunted look to appear on my face and for me to think (occasionally, possibly even say aloud): “Oh God! They’re actually asking me as if I know! What do I say? If I say the wrong thing it’ll all be my fault!” and similar panicked thoughts along that line.

Yes I am a published Author, but no I don’t know if I have any good advice to give you. But I will give it a go and allow you to make of it what you will… as long as what you make of it isn’t to steal it as your own work and put it up elsewhere. Yes, I’ve had it happen. Aint being an online Writer grand?

The basic advice I would give is research the subject for yourself (heaven help you if reading my blog is part of your research 😉 ) and never be afraid to ask questions. I will also add that if you really want to become an author, don’t take the rejections personally and just keep trying. Then again I’m a terrible example as, despite being ignored by all the major publishing houses and all literary agents I approached, I got offered my first publishing contract within four months of starting to pitch my first book. And I got my second offer within four days of pitching my second book. Seasoned, clever and well known authors I sometimes chat with tell me this is a sign I’m a good Writer. I, personally, see it as a sign of being very bloody lucky! 😉

I fear I am maybe glossing over this all a bit too much, I tend to when I really don’t feel I should be seen as an expert. So will try and break it down to the following:

 

  • Look at your work
  • Consider your audience
  • Research – other people’s work, publisher’s and/or literary agents, the lot
  • Use common sense
  • Never be afraid to ask or try
  • Realise only the very lucky make it big with their first book

What do I mean? Here’s the waffle version of these points:

Look at your work

Now I don’t mean painstakingly read and edit it every single time you work on it. I honestly feel if you do that you’ll never get it finished and the most important thing to know, when seeking to be published, is to approach publishers with a finished manuscript! This isn’t a ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ moment. This is a ‘look at me, here is my complete work, love me’ moment. Keep the overall formatting simple (most places seem to like double spaced Times New Roman in twelve point font size – but do check their preference first). Don’t go for super duper fonts hardly anyone has heard of, intricately curved chapter headings or over the top page layouts. From my time as a technical document writer I can tell you that it doesn’t matter if it is a one hundred thousand word masterpiece or a one page instruction on how to change a password – keep the formatting simple! And finish your work before running over the words with a fine tooth comb.

That’s right, once the manuscript is finished, that is the moment you take to edit and proof it. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes as well as consistency and flow. If you’re using something like Word all those red, green and blue squiggly lines under your work can be annoying, but they have a function too. I will always investigate why Word seems to feel the need to add squiggles. Sometimes they are incorrect as it just isn’t used to you using it to write a story… but I’ve found eighty percent of the squiggles were saving me from looking an idiot. Oh for that last twenty percent! *sigh*

If you can, find a friend who is an avid reader and ask them to critique your work. This catches a lot of issues the squiggles didn’t. And please don’t be a diva to their feedback. Constructive criticism is your friend and there to help you become a better Writer.

Consider your audience

When you go to pitch your work, you really need to consider who it actually is you’re writing for. Is it a Young Adult audience? If so, are you sure the work is at a level suitable for them? Do you really know what Young Adult is or do you just have a vague idea? If you pitch your work but aim it at the wrong audience, you will fail as the publishers do actually know what that audience is and what they would like. Just like with feedback from your friend, don’t let your ego get in the road here.

Research – other people’s work, publishers and/or literary agents, the lot

This is a little like considering your audience. You really need to set out at being an author with your eyes open and research what it is to become one. Look out for the pit traps such as ‘vanity press’ sites. These are places that pretend to be a publishing house and will eagerly look at your work, accept it and then list the thousands of dollars you must pay them to make it happen. I believe vanity press sites are slowly fading out as self-publishing grows… but sadly some are just changing their spots to now appear to be a friendly eager group happy to help you self-publish… and then list the thousands of dollars this will cost you.

So, thinking along the ‘buyer beware’ line of things – Writer’s beware! If it looks too good to be true, as with pretty much everything on the internet – it is!

Other things to research are other already published Writers. See how they write, how they lay out the story, how it is formatted and so on. No, not saying attempt to write just like them, hell no! Be yourself at all times is my biggest motto. But do look at how it is done in published books to ensure your writing style is true to the saleable format. Because when it all comes down to it, becoming an author means becoming a seller of your wares. The best part about this line of research is all you really need to do is read. How good is that? And, yes, if you don’t already know this… the best way to be a good Writer is to be an avid Reader.

Why do you need to research all this? So you know how to sell yourself and your work… which is what being an Author is all about. You don’t want to sell, stick to being a Writer. Want to be an Author? Time to sell, sell sell! And to do this you need to know what publishers are looking for, what types of things they publish, how they want your work submitted to them, and so on. Some publishers only accept pitches on certain days of the week or month, you need to know when this is to ensure your pitch is at least seen and not rejected as you obviously didn’t research their prerequisites.

The thing to remember is that publishers, like literary agents, have to be very strict with what they ask for. This is because there are millions of us Writers out there, we outnumber the publishers – just like we do the literary agents – and they are there to make money… not help us achieve our dreams. Sometimes they do help us, but that’s only when we’ve learnt to sell ourselves juuuust right and they can make money from us too.

Use common sense

Yes I know the saying common sense is not so common anymore, but do your best. Using common sense is basically required to sift through all the information you’ve gathered via the other points I’ve made. Research it all, look over it all and use common sense as to what you will then do with this information. I mean, if you’re like me, you will have read a lot of conflicting information… Sort through it and take from it what best suits your needs. Remember – there are millions of people out there trying to get published and seeking advice on how to make it happen. Therefore, in typical human nature, there are nearly just as many out there who will try and make money from those wanting to get published.  Common sense is, if you have to pay for advice… is it really worth it? I wouldn’t pay to learn how to write or get published unless I was interested in one of those university degrees, or what not, in creative writing… I’m not, I am self-taught instead. And I’ve gotten a lot of good free advice from Writers and Authors alike, so just think before you do anything. Find what fits you as you’re the person who knows you best of all.

Never be afraid to ask or try

I know a lot of people don’t like my cynical attitude when I say ‘How will I know I’ve failed if I don’t at least try’ but it’s the truth. If you don’t try, and aren’t prepared for the possible rejection, you will never know and never learn how to do it better the next time. They’re not wrong when they say we learn from our mistakes.

This goes for competitions, pitches to publishers, enquiries to literary agents – try your best, and don’t take their rejection as the end of it all.

A perfect example of this is when I first started pitching my first book. After all my studious research I decided to pitch to a literary agent before I went to the publishers. First person I sent an enquiry to replied to me within a day. Asked for a bio, synopsis and sample of my work.

Now, I thought I had studied it all and you know what? I had no clue as to what a synopsis should look like. How green was I? In a mad panic I googled and got conflicting answers. As I had to get this information back to the literary agent ASAP I turned to twitter for help. And a twitter friend (who I had just discovered was also a Writer) Ann Cleeves stepped up to the plate and coached me through it all. With her prompting I gathered more information from the agent as to the length and detail of the synopsis. Ann also talked me through the dos and don’ts of synopsis and away I went…

I was rejected at the second hurdle by the literary agent as, despite my skill at writing, my work was not in a tone that they felt they wanted to represent. Their words, not mine.

So yes I was disappointed as I had such a quick flurry of interest… only to be turned down as quickly as I was picked up. This has happened to me several times now by publishers, newspapers, Writing groups, the lot. To me, it’s all part of the dance. And I have learnt so much from these experiences simply because I wasn’t afraid to ask or try.

Heck, another example is with my second book. From what I had learnt pitching my first, I sought out independent publishers more than the major publishers and what an ego boost it was to not only get two offers, but one within four days of starting my pitch. If you don’t know, you’re lucky if you even get a rejection within a month of pitching, let alone being accepted so quickly. I tried; I succeeded and actually didn’t go with that publisher after all. Not because there was anything wrong with them, but because I decided to go with the offer from Hague Publishing as I was already signed to them with my first book. But I wouldn’t have had this good experience if I’d been too afraid to try after all the bad moments.

Realise only the very lucky make it big with their first book

Although I never expected to make a lot of money out of my first book, I was arrogant enough to think it should have been snapped up by one of the major publishing houses for being so good. Yes, I do cringe over that now as yes it’s a good story… but come on! It got the attention it deserved and earns me the brownie money I crave. I do wish it would sell more often as I do believe it’s a great story… but I’m happy with the attention I’m getting from it so far. It’s a first book, it’s an eBook of commercial fiction and I’m a no name who’s a Writer and not a Salesperson. Realise this could pretty much be me summing you up when you get published.

I’m not saying don’t be afraid to dream and aim high – I still pitched to the major publishers. But don’t go all diva and angry when you get rejected. And never turn down considering a legitimate offer from a smaller publisher. A break is a break! Don’t pout  when your work makes a pittance. You just need to try harder, work harder on your next book and keep at it.

One thing to remember if you’re becoming an e-published author is this: You’re earning more from your royalties than paper authors do on their first book. Seriously, author friends of mine (mostly via twitter) like Ann Cleeves, Cath Staincliffe and Michael Jecks all became authors in the age of only paper. An era where an author got between three and five percent of the sale of a book as their royalties. Me, as an e-published author, I currently get about forty five percent. No, that doesn’t make me a gazillionaire as my book is only sold for five dollars or under and I’ve maybe sold forty of them… do the maths. Per quarter I have been able to just scrape together enough for my brownie and hot chocolate but now all my friends and family own several copies I’m sure that amount is going to drop. 🙂

Becoming an Author isn’t instant fame and fortune for the majority of us. Some very, very lucky writers win the literary lottery and make it big first time… but that is a minority. The rest of us just get the privilege of being able to call ourselves an Author and then get on with our normal lives.

But don’t be disheartened by this, oh no… A very sage Writer (yes one I’ve mentioned a few times in this post) sat with me over coffee one day and said it’s better when you start small, keep at it, keep adding the books to your name and slowly get there. You learn the ins and outs of being an Author, of publishers, the lot. We absorb it over time and grow and get better. Those who do get lucky and get the major book deals for their first books start at the top end of the scale and then must work their bums off to stay there. The rest of us just keep plugging away at it to climb to the same rank.

And what happens to these Author starlets who make it rich, spend all their royalties and advancements on houses and cars and things but then fail to make their next book do so well? They are dropped like hot cakes and next to no one in the publishing world wants to meet their eye from that point on. They plummet well below where we struggling brownie seeking Authors are and then need to relearn everything and start all over again while carrying the weight of their instant success and sudden failure around with them.

This is why I am happy just aiming for brownie. 😉

Okay, so there it is! All my wise and sage advice on how it was I became an Author. Someone with a published book, who still struggles to pay the bills, is rarely ever recognised in the street and has only ever been asked for my autograph by a well-meaning friend. Hey, as long as those who read my book (soon to be books plural!) and enjoy them as much as I want them to… and I get my brownie money – I am honestly happy. I did it, I achieved my dream, I learnt it is an awesome thing to be… While really not making me any different than how I was before. I highly recommend anyone who wants to be an Author to become an Author. And I do hope my advice helps… even if it is once more the type of advice to take and do the total opposite of for success. 😀

Until next time,

Janis. XXOO

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in Writing

 

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