Advice for Writers III

Parts one and two of this series are here and here.  On to Part Three.  

Rule Three: Publish

If you want to become a published author, then at some point you need to get around to the publishing part. For most writers, this is not something they look forward to, and for good reason. While trying to get a book published should take you much less time than writing it (if not, something is very wrong) you now have to count on other people. This can be fairly painless or very painful, and the newer an author you are, the more it tends towards the painful end.

The first thing you have to do is choose a publishing route. Broadly speaking, there are two: using a publisher, or self-publishing. I’ll take a brief look at both.

The Traditional Approach: Using a Publisher

Once upon a time, unless you were rich or famous, going through a publisher was the only realistic way to get something published. That’s no longer true, but it’s still the route most authors choose. Here’s what it involves.

• Step 1: Get a good agent. Trying to approach a traditional publisher without one is an uphill struggle, since many publishers won’t look at unsolicited manuscripts at all and the ones who do will pay them far less attention. You can find lists of literary agencies online or in the Writer’s Handbook – submission process varies by agency.
• Step 2: Apply (preferably, have your agent apply) to publishers. Wait.
• Step 3: Wait some more.
• Step 4: Continue waiting. The publishers may get back to you. If they do, they’ll want to discuss rewrites and changes. More likely they’ll tell you no, or won’t contact you at all. Silence is the most common type of rejection here.

You may have noticed a theme here involving the word ‘wait’. Once you’ve sent off your submissions (be they to an agent or a publisher) things are pretty much out of your hands. You can chase them, but it’s very unlikely to help. You’re better off spending the time writing a new book instead.

The 21st Century Approach: Self-Publishing

Self-publishing means no submissions. You take your book and put it up for sale, and that’s it.

Of course, the catch to that is that you need a book, not a manuscript. What’s the difference? Well, editing, copy-editing, design, a cover, and proofreading, for starters. Self-publishing means you have to do every one of the jobs that a big publishing house does, and manage and co-ordinate them all yourself. In exchange for that you get to keep most of the profits . . . assuming there are any.

This is the option with the lowest barriers to entry. While turning a manuscript into a book and using a self-publishing service is a lot of work, it’s absolutely doable. You aren’t going to get turned away the way you can (and will) be with the traditional route: if you want your book self-published, you can get it self-published.

Which to Choose

So which one is best for you? There are lots of articles online that will debate the two, and most will look at it from a business perspective. I’m not going to do that, because I don’t have enough experience with self-publishing to make an informed comparison from the numbers point of view. However, I will make two points that I don’t often see discussed.

First, self-publishing removes gatekeepers from the equation. This is useful if you have a manuscript that would be publishable if it just got on the shelves but which the traditional publishers aren’t willing to run with, whether due to some kind of prejudice on their part or just being lost in the crowd. Unfortunately, if a publisher is telling you your book isn’t publishable, odds are they’re right, because the sad truth is that the vast majority of self-published stuff is terrible. So think carefully before you self-publish in response to rejection – there’s a good chance the publisher is actually doing you a favour.

Second, self-publishing involves many different jobs. A self-published author has to wear a lot of hats, most of which have little to do with actually writing a book. In a lot of ways being a self-published author is rather like being a small business owner, and the authors who make a go of it tend to be the ones who also have some talent as an entrepreneur – they know how to market, do their own admin, and deal with contractors. These skills and the qualities described in Part Two, while not mutually exclusive, don’t go together very often, which is probably the main reason that successful self-published authors are rare.

Of course, none of this is directly relevant if your main worry is becoming a successful published author, i.e. selling books. We’ll cover that part next week.

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3 Responses to Advice for Writers III

  1. Nicola says:

    From what I read, many authors have a dim view of fanfiction, but this might explain why there’s so much of it around.

    Though most of it frankly awful, and what little is readable is probably unpublishable, it gives an outlet to those who’d like to be published but don’t pass muster.

    If this is not an offensive question, may I ask what your take is about the topic?

  2. Benedict says:

    I think fanfiction’s fine. Obviously a lot of it is going to be bad, but there’s some really good stuff out there too, and as you say, it gives fans an outlet.

  3. Nicola says:


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