Are you lacking confidence in your art? If so, chances are you are lacking the support of an audience.
I know that hard work and patience have been driven into the ground as far as advice goes, but what is your plan if you aren’t going to be patient? What happens if you refuse to work hard? Does this mean your dreams have an expiration date?
If you’re trying to get your art out into the world, then you must know it is a frustrating process. All the while, you must love your art. You must believe in your art. And, you must keep pushing forward.
Unfortunately, you must also believe in the competition. And everyone is competing for attention. I’d like to boil my point down to focus on the world of writing, as this is where I am the most familiar; however, this same lesson can be applied to any dream. Whether you are hoping to be a schoolteacher, a lawyer, a physician, a painter, or a writer, if you have something in mind that is a dream for you, something that would make work not work at all, then you are trying to be noticed in a sea of other dreamers. It takes hard work. And patience.
You cannot quit if you wish to succeed.
There are millions of people out there writing. Almost too many to count. Every time someone decides writing is not for them, three more people pick up a pen. The first step is not to back away, ever. Write every day, even if it’s only a few words. If that sounds like hard work for you, then you might want to reevaluate whether writing is your passion. Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” wrote every single day and received rejection after rejection for over eight years before finding success. That might sound like a long time, but it’s not nearly as long as if he had decided to quit.
But what every publisher on the planet rejected you? In this day and age, self-publishing is an option, but uncountable authors walk away because they are afraid that no one will notice their book if it is not attached to a publisher. On top of that, self-publishing means you are running a business by yourself, essentially. Well, if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. Get on with it. Work hard. I’ve heard people concerned that nothing self-published ever becomes popular. Ever heard of The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Of course you have. And the reason you’ve heard of it is because Beatrix Potter put in the time and hard work to publish it herself. Why? Because no one else would publish it. Seriously. No one wanted that book.
Not convinced? What do Dr. Seuss, William Golding, Isaac Asimov, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, and James Patterson all have in common? That’s right: multiple rejections. In some cases, the rejections were even quite brutal. Even the Diary Of Anne Frank received rejection…fifteen times.
Success is a matter of persistence.
The authors you know are popular because they persisted. Because they believed in their work. And they worked hard. And, of course, they were patient.
If you are unwilling to take rejection, then you are going to have a bad time in any field you take on. Writing is a journey of rejection. But climbing that mountain getting to the top is all the more sweet with a difficult climb ahead. Embrace the resistance to your work. It means you are original, and you simply have to find your audience. Along the way, expect rejection.
I can’t find the source of this quote, but it’s not mine, and I’m paraphrasing:
“An author unwilling to accept rejection is like a boxer unable to take a punch.”
You will have to duck, jab, block, and punch your way through the world of publishing. You will fight because you believe in your work. Listen to constructive criticism. Throw out useless insults. Fight off the negative thought. Always improve.
And you must find your audience. Your audience is out there, you just have to hand your work over to a ton of people who don’t appreciate it until you find those who do.
And that will take…you guessed it, hard work and patience.
Welcome Tony! Your debut novel Dax Harrison hit shelves last October. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about the book and what inspired the story?
Thank you! Well I’m a pretty typical nerd born in the mid-80s. So needless to say, I’ve consumed tons of space adventures from Star Wars to Firefly to Mass Effect and so on. I actually grew up wanting to make movies, not books. So a little while back, I wrote a short scene about a drunk space captain who passes out at the wheel, almost crashes, and wakes up to blame his robotic co-pilot. I thought it would be a fun little thing to shoot with friends and throw on YouTube. Almost immediately though, I started imagining ideas for a full-blown adventure, and ended up with a full length screenplay. But since I don’t have the budget, connections, know-how, etc to make a giant epic movie, I re-wrote it as a small (but epic) book!
Your book is categorized as a space opera, for those who do not know, what constitutes a space opera and how is it different than science fiction?
Don’t call me an expert, but in my opinion, “space opera” has a bit of a throwback vibe to it. Where some modern stories set in space try to steer closer towards a more realistic tone (trying to keep the “science” in science fiction), space opera brings a sort of retro charm connotation. A more free-wheeling, fanciful style of sci-fi where it’s okay to bend and maybe even break the rules a little bit more, so long as it makes sense in your imagined world and the characters make you believe in it with their earnestness.
Tell us about your protagonist, Dax Harrison. Is he inspired by someone you know in real life?
Not so much in real life, but Dax is an amalgamation of my favorite kind of fictional heroes. The rogues, the goofs, the guys looking to save their own necks but maybe find some courage and heart along the way. You could point to any number of obvious examples from Han Solo to Peter Quill and be right. My favorite comparison though is a cross between Ash Williams from Evil Dead and Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. Terribly brash and inept one minute, and pulling through in a pinch the next.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
I really just wanted to write something fun, but I think it’s pretty natural for your personality and opinions to come out in the writing whether you mean to or not. (Mild spoilers) Dax goes from selfish charlatan to actual hero, a phony to the real deal. In a weird subtle way, it kinda reflects my own battle with imposter syndrome. I spent years blabbing to friends and family about pursuing careers in film, music, creative endeavors in general. But other than some scattered and half-hearted attempts, I never quite found the ambition, the discipline (or guts) to make things happen. To me, my little book is a milestone. I made a thing, a thing that I’m proud of! I started what I finished, and it’s not impossible. So if I can do it, YOU CAN TOO! Go make your thing! Write that book, paint that painting, build that IKEA desk despite the inexplicable directions! Learn to believe in yourself and be your own hero. Yeah, I know it’s cheesy. I’m a cheesy guy.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you keep a hold of the reigns?
I think I kept the reigns fairly tight because it was my first book and I was laser-focused on simply trying to put the pieces together and have everything make sense. As I’m outlining the next book though, I’m discovering some fun ways for these now established characters to grow, and I definitely didn’t plan on some of the character arcs that are brewing now. I’m excited and I want to share, but spoilers!
The cover for Dax Harrison is very unique, in that it was an originally an oil painting. Can you tell us a little bit about why you went that direction and what the process was like?
Again, this was my first book, and I had no idea if I would ever do this a second time, so I figured “go big or go home”. I wanted something memorable that would capture the old-school adventure vibe, like an old Struzan or Frazetta painting. By sheer luck I met an amazing artist, Jessica Van Huelle (theladyjessica.com), at a local event where she was live painting for a charity auction. We exchanged emails soon after, I gave her my thoughts, some examples of other art pieces and elements I liked, etc. She pieced together a mock-up of the idea, I gave a thumbs up, and she went to work! She sent the occasional progress photo, but nothing compared to seeing the finished painting in person. I love it. It’s in my apartment still waiting for a frame because I’m lazy and scatterbrained. I will most certainly be going back to Jessica for the next one!
Ah! And I also cannot forget my awesome friend Seth Kinkaid (sethkinkaid.com) who perfectly solidified the retro sci-fi book design, with the big bold titles, sharp red back cover, and aging effects throughout. Is it bad form to gush obnoxiously about your book cover? BECAUSE I LOVE MY BOOK COVER! 🙂
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
For me? Just sitting down and writing. I’m not a “write every day” writer. I wish I could be. I’m not sure if I have a “process”, but I can tell you that Dax 2 has been mostly outlined for months. I chip away at it, then leave it, binge on books and movies and TV shows for a while, get a really cool “a-ha!” moment in the shower and then work on it some more, rinse, repeat. Speed wise, I’m the George R.R. Martin of silly sci-fi.
What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you?
If you’ve got a fantastical story with plenty of laughs, then it’s right up my alley. A few of my first favorites: Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne, Monster by A. Lee Martinez, and Christopher Moore’s Vampire Trilogy (Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, Bite Me)
What other genres do you enjoy reading?
I collected graphic novels for years, but I had to stop and be a financially responsible adult, haha. Right now I’m reading a bunch of suspense/horror thanks to my wife’s book club. I’ve also been on a kick with memoirs. I love first hand accounts from people I admire, especially comedians. Bruce Campbell, Chris Hardwick, Kevin Smith, Whitney Cummings, etc. When funny people spill their guts, they have a knack for brutal honesty that can make you laugh, cry, cheer and maybe even make you learn a little something about yourself, all at once.
Which fictional character do you most resonate with on a personal level?
I honestly have no idea. A weird, artsy Mexican nerd with warped humor and disgusting levels of optimism? If you know one of those, let me know!
Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?
Not that I recall.
Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?
I try to, because it’s so easy for me to be distracted otherwise. I have to be that stereotypical guy with a laptop in a coffee shop working on “my next big thing”. Otherwise, I’ll find a zillion distractions/excuses trying to work at home.
Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?
Rich and famous sipping a margarita on a beach somewhere, of course! Pshhh! No, seriously, I hope to have at least two more books under my belt. Dax 2 for sure, and either Dax 3 or a fun fantasy story that I currently have brewing in my head. Maybe both.
Tell us about the trailer for Dax Harrison(show below). Did you make it yourself, and did you find that it has helped with marketing your book?
I did make it myself. I’ve edited video for fun since I was a kid, and I’ve always enjoyed making fake movie trailers. For the Dax trailer, I searched several stock footage sites for anything space, bar and booze related. I came up with a little speech for Dax introducing himself (played by me recording myself in my car as a sound booth). Add some royalty-free music for a small one-time fee, sync the video edits to the music beat, and boom! Trailer. People responded really well. I’m not sure if it boosted sales, but I had fun doing it, and I’d love to make more for future projects.
What other marketing strategies have you found helpful? Any resources you would recommend to other authors?
I searched high and low for marketing advice. I didn’t have much of a budget, so other than a couple social media ads, I didn’t pursue much. In the end, every author blog and advice column ended up circling around the same point: Just keep writing. “The best marketing for your first book is your second, and your third, etc.” So Dax 2 is where I’m focused for the time being. Once I have a publishing date for that, I’ll start panicking again about marketing strategy.
Thank you Tony! What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?
Dax has a home at daxharrison.com. I’m @rockhollywood on Instagram, @rockhollywood8 on Twitter. You can DM. I don’t bite.
More about Dax Harrison
Well, this is a damned mess…
Dax was so close to leaving the hero business behind him. He’d done his duty, saved the galaxy a time or two, and made out like a bandit with the movie and merchandise rights.
Now, Alliance HQ is forcing him to be the poster boy for their “ten years of peace” hoopla. If that’s not enough, a disgraced alien general-turned-war-criminal with an unpronounceable name has escaped from an inescapable prison planet, and he’s got Dax in his crosshairs!
Scrambling to avoid the madman’s swath of destruction, Dax finds himself stuck with a crew comprised of an overly enthusiastic fanboy cadet, an aging physician, a suspicious and tough-as-nails lieutenant, and a possibly malfunctioning AI. And they are all looking at Dax to save the day… whether he likes it or not.
Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.
When embarking on the editing process with my first novel, it became apparent that some of my holdover habits from working as a freelance writer for most of my adult life were hard to shake. I’ll be the first to admit, transitioning from non-fiction writing to fiction writing resulted in an ingrained habit of telling instead of showing.
I set about searching for a writing craft book that focused on tuning into character emotions. What I landed on was The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Mass.
Showing and telling are only part of the picture. But, they are not even the most important part. As we will discover, readers may believe that they’re living a story along with it’s characters. Actually, they’re not. Readers are having their own experience that is merely occasioned by what’s on the page.
The book touches on topics such as Me-Centered Narration, Stirring Higher Emotions, Connecting the Inner and Outer Journey, and Why Readers Really Fall in Love with Protagonists. It was a valuable buy, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly when I’ve felt stuck and needed a nudge to approach a scene from a new angle.
When readers feel strongly, their hearts are open. Your stories can not only reach them for a moment, but they can change them forever. I don’t care about what you write, how you write it, your choices in publishing, or what you want out of your career. What I want is to feel deeply as I read your work. I want to want to feel connected to you and your characters in the way I do to the most memorable classics and the most stunning new titles I’ll read this year.
The book is a quick and engaging read, and the author pulls from other literary works to provide examples so that readers can see certain techniques in action.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a writing craft book that is not only inspiring as you read it for the first time from cover to cover, but one that is also handy to reference in the future. My favorite feature is the “Emotional Mastery” exercise, such as the one below, that Mass has included at the end of each section.
Pick a point in your manuscript in which the predominant feeling is large and primary. If you’re unsure, choose the moment in which your protagonist feels the greatest fear.
What are small signs that indicate something large is happening? What details, hints, indirect clues, or visible effects have you used?
What repercussions of what’s happening can the reader immediately see?
What does your protagonist or POV character feel that is not immediate? How will she change, do something differently from now on, or see another person, or anything at all, in a way that’s forever altered?
These exercises could be completed in order while combing through an entire manuscript, or could be pulled out when you feel stuck on a scene.
I was thrilled with this purchase, have flipped through the book more than a few times now, and recommended it to multiple friends. If you think you need to dive deeper into how you are conveying your character’s emotions to your readers, then I highly recommend.
Have you read this writing craft book?
Share your experience and tag @writing_bloc on twitter!
Are you querying agents or publishers and wondering what to put in your book proposal? We’ve got twelve things for you to consider that may make a huge difference. Check it out!
Like a lot of the publishing process, writing a book proposal can be daunting. What do you include? What do you leave out? Last year, I was incredibly lucky to attend a master class by Bradley Trevor Greive, the world’s best-selling humorist, having published 24 books and sold more than 30m copies in over 115 territories. He shared with the class what he puts into his book proposals and gave me permission to blog about it. Note: I’m not trying to recreate the master class content here, you’ll need to attend one of his classes for that (I highly recommend them). This is a condensed summary that I hope you’ll find useful.
As we drop into this, remember, your book proposal is a sales document, a fact that should sit foremost in your mind as you craft it.
What goes into a book proposal?
There are three parts of a book proposal:
A cover letter.
The actual book proposal.
A writing sample.
The cover letter is exactly what it sounds like; a letter of introduction you write to the agent / editor you are pitching to. Outside of your book, this is the most important thing you write; a bad letter can kill your submission. “If you can’t write a letter, you can’t write a book.”
The purpose of the cover letter is to:
Introduce your book.
Make them want more.
The key to your cover letter (and every other part of the submission), is to be brief and compelling. These people receive hundreds or even thousands of proposals each year, do not waste their time. “Get in, get out, delight.” Some basic rules:
No more than 300 words.
Don’t share your life story (that first time you read Harry Potter and knew you wanted to be come a writer? It isn’t going to make them buy your manuscript).
Do tell them why you want to work with them.
Getting a book published can be a lengthy and complicated process (see here). To maximize your chance of success, you need to do more than convince the agent / editor you have written a good book, you need to make it easy for them to sell it up the chain. The book proposal should include all the information and selling points that will:
Sell the book to your agent, and
Help your agent sell your book to your editor, and
Help your editor sell your book to your publisher, and
Help your publisher sell your book to the publishing board.
The following is a basic outline of what the book proposal should include:
Book title and author’s name.
The elevator pitch / longline. A brief, compelling description explaining what your book is about (genre and subject). Keep it very short but try to inject your personality into it.
Compare your book to two best-selling titles that your work resembles in some meaningful way. If you haven’t seen a “comp” before, they tend to be in the format “Puff the Magic Dragon meets The Walking Dead”. Ensure that at least one title is a current or recent release.
Who will purchase this book, what is your primary audience? Demographic information on who reads books in your genre may not be easy to obtain. Search the internet, read book reviews of similar books. If all else fails, put
“women 18-45”. This is the largest demographic for books overall and is the “default.”
Note: you can list more than one demographic.
Does the book require anything specific to be produced? Colour images, special paper stock, finishes, or new technology?
Additional resources needed to complete this book
Is there anything you need the publisher to provide to help you finish the book? Photographs, illustrations, a paper engineer?
For example, if you have a specific illustrator you want, name them. If there’s a specific style of illustration you want, provide examples.
When will the manuscript (and / or your illustrations) be finished? The correct answer for a new / emerging author is typically “now.”
Launch / Promotion
Marketing advantages and suggestions to maximize the impact of your book. This is your chance to be creative and come up with ideas.
Media / Social Media Presence
Do you have a media profile of note? How big is your social media following? How strongly do they engage? Do you have a strategy for building that platform?
Could your book be the basis of TV / Film / Theatre Production, toys, greeting cards, video games, board games, apps, clothing, etc?
Note: this can be useful, but keep it all “on brand.”
What else do you have planned? If you’re planning one or more sequels, talk about it here (none of these projects need to be completed). If you have unrelated projects planned, you can talk to those too. Ideally, you want a long-term, positive relationship, so show them you have more than one story in you.
Keep it short and surprising. The least important part of the submission. Unless you’re famous, or there’s something in your story particularly important to the current story (e.g. a PHD in the topic of your non-fiction book), it isn’t that important.
This is your actual writing — the thing you want them to publish. However, when submitting your initial book proposal, you don’t give them the whole thing, only a sample. If they like what you’ve submitted, they’ll ask for more.
The length and format of your writing sample will vary publisher to publisher. Each will have a guide for submissions and you must follow it. If your proposal is for a novel or other long-form work, you will likely be asked for a synopsis as well. Again, each publisher will have their own expectations for a synopsis and you must follow their guidelines. Look up these guidelines online — if you can’t find them on the publisher’s website, check writer’s marketplace.
The sample itself is fairly explanatory — select a section of your work that best shows your writing style / skills. It doesn’t need to be from the beginning. Follow the guidelines for length and format and you’ll be right.
Synopses can be more confusing, and a search of the internet will reveal countless authors complaining about them. At their heart, a synopsis is a breakdown of the story, showing the structure and key events and proving you’ve planned everything out. Some publishers like a relatively long, detailed synopsis, others prefer a two to three page “cliff notes” version. Either way, the goal is to summarize the important plot-points of the novel. There is a huge amount of discussion and material on synopses out there, and I’m not going to reproduce all of it. The best piece of advice I’ll relay is this:
A synopsis may be heavily summarized, but it is still an exercise in story-telling. Try to inject your voice into it and give it personality.
Don’t focus on the physical events (though you will include the important ones), focus on the drama. What are the impacts of those events, what choices are the characters faced with?
In summary, for the writing sample:
Read / follow the submission guidelines!
Do not send your entire book.
Choose the best sample of your work, not the first chapter.
Keep your synopsis brief, showcase structure, highlight drama.
Add your personality to everything.
Less is more.
Final Submission Checklist:
Intro letter (300 words or less). Compelling intro / sales document, not your life story.
Book proposal summary (less than 2 pages).
Writing sample as per submission guidelines.
Additional flourishes to set you apart / make you memorable (no gifts).
A very small selection of credible press clippings and / glowing reviews. One, maybe two.
Don’t forget to include your contact details.
How to submit
Electronic submissions are fine. If you are submitting a physical submission, don’t use regular mail.
If you have a contact you are targeting (agent / editor), don’t send to the standard submission address — you’ll go straight into the slush pile. Send it to the person you are pitching to.
Join the conversation!
Have we missed something? Do you have an experience to share? Chat to us about it on twitter!
Traditional publishing vs. Self-publishing: What is the real difference?
I spoke recently on a panel on “The Art of Publishing” alongside a self-published author, an author with books both traditionally and self-published, the editor of a weekly newspaper, and the owner of a small press. More than anything, this conversation led me to consider the labels we use when discussing different means of publication. A vast amount of information is available on “ traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. ” You can consider the pros and cons of each, their histories, statistics, and anything else you could possibly want to know to help you decide which road to go down. I certainly imagined myself standing at a forked path with manuscript in hand while I was obsessively pouring over those sites.
What these blogs and Facebook posts don’t convey is that these are not the only two publishing routes that exist, and that increasingly, the other options are blurring the boundaries between what seemed like two distinct choices.
Traditional publishing used to just be “publishing.” There were a limited number of people in the world who had access to the physical resources needed to print and distribute a book. If you wanted to publish your writing, they acted as the gatekeepers. Of course, people have hand-written and distributed writing for a long time, but publishing houses, with Richard Hoe’s patent of the first rotary press in 1846, could circulate paperbacks, introduced to the United States only one year earlier, widely.
Technology– accessible word processors, printers, computers, the Internet—made it possible for a vast number of people to create, replicate, and distribute their work on a broad scale. The self-publishing/ traditional publishing dichotomy was born. Large publishers were no longer required in order to access these tools, and their role changed to that of a content filter and voucher. They came to be seen as quality control—a way to sort through the enormous sea of work that was now available around the world.
But there is more good work out there than the Big Five publishers can publish. Small publishers began challenging that monopoly and filling some of that gap. Even with the numerous small presses that now exist, there is still more great writing, and potentially great writing, than they can manage. Publication sometimes relies on politics—who you know, how much money and access you already have, etc., as a filter because publishers are humans and humans can only read, edit, design, market, and distribute so much. But anyone has access to these tools. People can publish their work themselves. And a lot of it is good! What challenges outdated ideas about the connection between publishing and quality even further is that increasingly folks are choosing to publish their work independently not as a compromise or act of settling, but intentionally. There are a number of reasons some prefer to publish books themselves, including viewing it as a middle finger to the politics and gatekeeping of traditional publishing.
So publishing is no longer necessarily about who can physically publish and distribute a book. And it’s no longer necessarily an indicator of quality. Where does that leave us?
With choices! Here we are again at that fork– You can pursue traditional publishing with a large house or small press or you can publish your book yourself. But there are choices now that blur the line between these two. My first novel, Rock of Ages, is in production with Inkshares, a crowdfunding platform for books. In this model, authors who secure 750 preorders within a set timeframe receive publishing services from the company including cover design, developmental and copyediting, marketing and distribution. Crowdfunding puts the key to that golden gate in the hands of authors. Instead of standing like a sentinel in front of the opening, platforms like Inkshares step aside and ask “Can you reach high enough to unlock the gate yourself?”
The new venture Writing Bloc is taking on, the cooperative publishing model taking that a step further. We’re working as a team to write, edit, design, market, and distribute our own work. Like self-publishing, we’re eschewing the need for someone to do it all for us. Instead, we’re utilizing the expertise and work ethic of our group as a unit to publish our own quality content. We are taking ownership of the gate and everything inside. But at what point does this kind of venture become more like traditional publishing than self-publishing? After all, we are developing contracts, establishing content guidelines, and hopefully will eventually be distributing royalties. As Robert Batten writes, “publishers are people.” Batten is emphasizing that in order to get in with the company, The Entity, you must first win over the people who make up that entity, but remembering that publishers are people also challenges their hegemonic power. Publishing houses are not gods. They no longer have a monopoly on resources and they’ve never had a monopoly on quality. They are groups of people who remain the gatekeepers simply because they’ve appointed themselves such and we’ve continued to go along with it. So does it matter when we cross that line when the line is increasingly arbitrary?
What it boils down to is that the labels are becoming irrelevant. I made a comment on the panel that had all of the participants nodding. One of the amazing advantages of having access to many means of publishing means that you don’t have to write to a target audience if you don’t want to. You can write the book that you want to write—the story that needs to be written—and then find your target audience. When you put your book out into the world you want editing, design, marketing, and the validation that comes from people enjoying your work. Increasingly, those are at our fingertips in a number of innovative configurations. You may not have an audience of tens of thousands. But amongst the billions of people in the world, you probably have an audience of at least hundreds. What is important is creating exceptional books and getting them into the hands of people who will find meaning and value in them, however, we do that.
How a manuscript becomes a book by Robert Batten is a refresh of one originally posted on robertbatten.net late last year.
September marks the beginning of Spring in my home state, and the arrival of the Tasmanian Writers’ Festival. Last year, I was lucky enough to score a place in a masterclass on publishing for authors, run by Bradley Trevor Greive. If you don’t know the name, he’s the world’s best-selling humorist, having published 24 books and sold more than 30m copies in over 115 territories. That’s a lot of books — if anyone could help me understand the publishing industry better (and how to get my books into the world) it’s him. So I turned to him to clarify for myself, exactly how a manuscript becomes a book.
The session did not disappoint. My debut novel has been picked up by a publisher, but it got there through a fairly non-standard path, leaving me clueless about the traditional process. I still have a huge amount to learn, but I know a lot more than I did before the session.
The great news is BTG is a wonderful person who gave me permission to share his most useful tips on my blog, so here we are. Absolutely all credit goes to Mr. Greive, who not only shared this content, but was generous to donate his time at the festival so the proceeds could go towards the local writing community.
Note: the following has been written by me from the notes I took during the session, it isn’t an exact reproduction of BTG’s words (nor the entire course). I feel the need to point this out so you understand: a) any genius here is all his; and b) anything that doesn’t make sense, or is plain wrong, is my error.
Further note: if you ever get the opportunity to attend a masterclass with BTG — I strongly recommend doing so.
Yet another note: this post is entirely concerned with understanding the traditional publishing process. It doesn’t look at self-publishing or any other model, but that isn’t a judgment on non-traditional publishing.
Without further prevarication, I give you the most important tips and takeaways from the session (according to me).
Be a pack
“There is no such thing as a lone wolf.” I’m paraphrasing BTG here as I can’t remember the exact words, but the message is important (and mirrors my experience); making a book is a team effort. Even if you write a perfect manuscript, there are a myriad of tasks that must be done to make it a successful book. Self-published authors take on many of the activities usually handled by a publisher, but even there, the most successful usually rely on others for at least part of the process. So, if you accept you need to work with a team, it behooves you to know who they are…
When I started this process, I had little idea how the publishing process worked, nor how publishing houses were structured. Here are the basic departments:
Editorial: your editor, editor’s assistant/reader, publisher, etc. all live here.
Design: responsible for the visual design work. The level of exposure and author will have to this department depends on the nature of the work. A novel will typically be mainly about the cover whereas a children’s picture book will be much more involved.
Production: these are the people who actually print the book.
Distribution: gets your book to warehouses and retailers.
Marketing / Publicity: self-explanatory.
Legal: handle your contracts, ensure you stick to it, and protect it in different regions.
Finance: handle and pay royalties.
There are a range of publishers out there, both large and small. Don’t be surprised if smaller publishers, in particular, outsource some of the above.
Publishers are people, not companies
This is important, and will be mentioned again later. There are two parts to this:
Terminology: a Publisher is a company that publishes books. However, a Publisher is also the title of a senior member of the editorial department.
Strategy: people decide who they want to publish. You need to win over an editor and a publisher (the person) before you get near the publishing board. Every single one has their own tastes and personalities. Within a single publishing house, one editor may dislike your work whilst another loves it. Always remember you are working with people.
Know the steps
This was an eye-opener for me. The process from submission to book publishing in a traditional publisher is likely longer than you thought. Here’s what the process may look like:
You send in your submission.
Submission goes to a reader. This may be an assistant editor, the reception staff, or a volunteer. If the reader likes your submission, they pass it to an editor.
If the editor also likes it they’ll make contact and probably ask for more.
If the editor still likes it, they take the book to their publisher (the person).
If the publisher likes it, they may choose to take it to the publishing board. Note the “may” here — the publishing board is competitive, so if the publisher has multiple “good” manuscripts from their editors, they may only take the one they think has the best chance of succeeding at the time.
The publishing board is made up of the publishers (7-10), plus advisors from other departments (marketing, finance, legal). Each publisher competes against the others, arguing why their book is the one that should be published using the limited funds available in the budget.
If the publishing board decides to go ahead with your book, you receive an offer which you / your agent / your lawyer negotiate and accept.
Editing happens. You forget what the outside world is like, rewriting over and over again, until finally…
3-18 months later your book is published.
How long each step of the process takes can vary greatly, but here are some rough guides to set expectations:
Submission: 4-8 weeks.
Offer: Up to 12 weeks.
Contract Process: 2-4 months.
Editing / Rewrites: 3 months – 2 years.
Production: 3 – 9 months.
Publication: 9 months – 2 years. Note: there’s usually a clause in the contract which provides a window of time the publisher has to release the book before you can keep the advance and go elsewhere.
There’s a heap to unpack here — people have written numerous books on this alone, so again, these are only the top tips I came away with. First up, your overarching strategy:
Understand your motivation. Know what’s important to you.
Understand the process (above).
Know who you are speaking to (the reader, the editor, the publisher, the publisher’s board). You need to keep each of those people in mind when crafting your submission.
Give them what they need to succeed. Understand the process and write your proposal to support each step. Make it as easy as possible for the publisher to prepare their argument for the publishing board (i.e. write it for them).
Don’t waste their time. Include everything they need, nothing they don’t. Your submission is one of thousands, if yours is too hard they’ll move on to the next.
Be a sniper
Sending out your manuscript to every publishing house you can find like the wild spray of a machine gun is considered unprofessional and can burn bridges. If you want to go down the traditional publishing route, you are looking to build long-term relationships. Do your research, select your target, hunt them down, one by one. No simultaneous submissions.
Remember, publishers are people, not companies. Finding the right editor/publisher is much more important than the imprint they work for, so do your research, build a hit list of editors you would love to work with, and approach them specifically — regardless of which imprint they work for, even if some work at the same publisher.
How do you identify the editors you want to work with? Research your favorite contemporary books from a relevant genre. Who were the editors? Often, the author thanks them in the acknowledgments, so check there first, but the internet is a vast and beautiful resource. Build up your list, identifying the publishing house they’re currently at (for contact details, and to ensure you obey the submission guidelines). When you submit your proposal to them, don’t forget to include why you want to work with them.
As an author, your relationship with your editor (and agent) is the most important professional relationship you will have. Pick these people carefully and treat them with respect. Which brings us to a very important rule: “Never sign on with an agent/ editor/publisher whom you wouldn’t invite home to dinner.”
Hold on to your rights
The big publishers have broad capabilities across multiple regions, but in many cases, your offers will come from publishers who operate in a specific country (or a small number of countries). They may ask you for global publishing rights, but you should be hesitant to grant this. Generally (rule of thumb here), you are better to only sell the rights to publish your book in the regions they operate. Why?
Capability: a US publisher is equipped to produce and sell your book in the USA. But if they have no presence or network in Australia, how can they push your book? An Australian publisher will be better equipped to get your book on shelves in Australia.
Distribution: the publisher will typically have distribution channels optimized for their region. Take the previous example once more: your US publisher may work with major distributors such as Baker and Taylor or Ingram, who distribute to Australian bookstores, so there’s no barrier to Australian bookstores ordering your book. Or is there? Bookstores have arrangements with distributors that if they can’ sell all the books they order, they can return the unsold copies. This allows bookstores to take a chance on new authors. Basically, all Australian bookstores will have accounts with US distributors like Ingrams, but the hidden catch is they can’t / won’t return unsold stock due to the shipping costs. This means they’ll be much more conservative about ordering copies of these books compared to a book with an Australian distributor.
Income: sell your manuscript to a single publisher and give them global rights and you get one advance. However, if you sell to a US publisher and only grant them the US rights, you’re free to then sell it to a UK publisher and get a second advance, then to an Australian publisher for a third advance, and so on.
That’s it for now. The session covered a lot more, including detailed tips and guidance on how to structure and write a proposal and what to watch for in publishing contracts. Again, I want to acknowledge and thank Bradley Trevor Greive for donating his time to the Tasmanian Writers’ Festival, and for giving me permission to share my takeaways. Buy his books, and if you get a chance take one of his master classes
(Read through to the bottom, where there is a link to a free novella by Jason Pomerance!)
There’s a novel out now called “Women Like Us,” and it deserves your attention. It is a wonderful tale of a broken family picking up the pieces, trying to find compromise amidst dysfunction. Each character is wonderfully crafted, and the tale itself will move you to laughter as well as tears. The novel first caught my eye on inkshares.com, as its prose is honest, emotional, and flowing. I was caught up in the story immediately, and when I finally received my copy last month, the book did not disappoint.
“Women Like Us” is the debut novel of Jason Pomerance, who is no stranger to storytelling, being an author of screenplays (as well as a filmmaker). He was kind enough to grant me an interview, and I hope you enjoy getting to know this emerging author.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Jason.
I’m just your typical writer/reader/food-obsessed sometime chef and surfer (although I’m a much better surfer in my head than I am in reality. In reality I sort of suck at catching waves. But I just keep at it!).
What was the inspiration for Women Like Us?
I’m a huge fan of road trip stories. Maybe because there’s such great potential for transformation. There’s just something about being on the road that seems to have meaning in terms of growth and change for characters. So the original inspiration was to do a story about a mother and son on the road. In fact it started out as a screenplay, but the more I wrote an outline version the more it was feeling more like a piece of fiction so I just kept going.
How long did the novel take to write/what is your writing process like?
It’s hard to say exactly how long because I didn’t sit down and write it start to finish all at once. I’d pick it up, but then be pulled onto some other project and I’d go back to it when I’d get the chance. My process is not to outline too much or think too much about it ahead, but just let it flow. In fact I have to say on this book, the characters totally took me by surprise.
Edith Vale, for example, is the character who many people say stands out the most, but she started out as just a minor player. Then she sort of took on a life of her own and the plot diverged from where I thought it was going — so it became not just about mother and son but also about mother and slightly demented mother-in-law! I have to say also Mrs. Vale sort of came to life fully formed — I’m not sure what I was channeling but it was very clear early one who she was and what she was about.
Are there any autobiographical elements to the novel?
I think there’s always a part of us in whatever we write, so I’d say yes, for sure. Susan, for example, is a chef, and although I’ve never worked in a restaurant kitchen, cooking is big part of my life. There’s a little bit of surfing in the book and, like I said, I try to surf as best as I can. Like Edith Vale, I enjoy the occasional Manhattan (well, for her it’s pretty much nightly) and like Edith I can be a little persnickety about the way I think things should be done!
Do you have any advice for other authors and artists?
This might sound a little cliched but just follow your gut and follow your voice. There’s always going to be plenty of people telling you that you can’t do something, or you’re doing it wrong but if you believe in what you’re writing (or whatever you’re working on, if it’s some other art form) it doesn’t matter. The nay-saying is just noise. Also, never quit. Never give up. Just find a way to forge ahead no matter what because in the end it will pay off.
Like with Women Like Us. There were points I never thought this book would see the light of day, but now I can hold the book in my hand, which is such a great thing. I’ve seen it on the shelf in a couple of local bookstores and I see people writing reviews of it on Amazon. It’s all very gratifying but if I’d listened to the doubters it never would have happened.
Do you have any other stories or projects you are currently working on that you’d like us to know about?
Yes. I’m trying to get to the finish line on another novel. CELIA ON THE VERGE might fall more into chick-lit territory (for some that’s a good thing, for some not so much!). It’s about a woman who thought she had her whole future planned out but everything becomes upended when a package arrives in her mailbox 40 years late! When Celia tries to complete the delivery to its rightful recipient, many complications ensue!!
You are a filmmaker as well. Tell us a little more about your work in film.
I’d hesitate to say filmmaker because I’d reserve that for directors and I’ve never really felt the pull to direct. But I’ve been a Writers’ Guild-card carrying member of the movie business for a long time. I’ve sold a couple of pilots on the TV end, and worked and many studio projects. But it’s always tough seeing anything through to its final form — kind of like the book business but maybe even tougher because as a writer you have very little control.
I am a co-producer of a project that’s been a passion — it’s my screen adaptation of Charles Dickinson’s novel THE WIDOWS’ ADVENTURES, which until recently was set up with Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda attached to star. I fell in love with this book from page one, and somehow I am determined that the movie will come together at some point. It’s another crazy road-trip story, which makes sense because as I said I love them, but in this story, the one who does the driving on a cross-country journey is blind while her beer-swilling sister gives direction (they only drive on backroads in the dead of night and very, very slowly!).
The book, by the way, is available on Amazon in both physical and eBook versions — Anybody who likes road trip stories should check it out, or one of Charles’ other novels. He’s an extremely talented writer.
You are donating a portion of your profits to the Beagle Freedom Project. Tell us about the charity and what inspired you to work with them.
I’m not sure how I stumbled onto the Beagle Freedom Project, but we already had one beagle when I heard about the work they do — I had no idea beagles were even used for medical and cosmetics tests, and what The Beagle Freedom Project does is negotiate with the labs to get them released when the labs are done with them. Whether or not you are for or against animal testing, I don’t think anybody could condone what most labs do, which is euthanize the dogs (or other animals — BFP also works to free cats, rabbits, pigs and other animals).
Anyway, we signed up to foster and then adopt one of these dogs. Derric was part of a group called the Midwest 10!! He’d been in a lab for the first five years of his life. These poor guys have spent their lives in cages and don’t know how to do anything (never really even been outdoors) but he’s been a joy to have and I can’t imagine life without him! During the pre-order phase of Women Like Us, I did a couple of contests that were connected to a Beagle Freedom Project donation, so I just decided I’d continue it as a thank you, because there are a lot of supporters of the group, and they were very supportive of Women Like Us. Their link, by the way, is http://bfp.org
Cari Dubiel has been a librarian for twelve years, and currently has her first book, How to Remember (a novel billed as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets What Alice Forgot) in production for a 2019 release. Cari was kind enough to answer a few questions for us!
First, I want to say congratulations on receiving a publishing contract for your book, How to Remember. Is How to Remember your debut book?
Yes! I’m so excited to have achieved my crowdfunding goal with Inkshares. I met the goal for the Quill imprint before it was sun-downed.
Can you tell us a little bit about the story and where you drew your inspiration?
The story follows Miranda Underwood, a neuroscientist, and Ben Baker, a computer programmer. Both of them set out to solve their personal mysteries one year apart. Miranda searches for the cause of her amnesia in 2017, while Ben fills in the blanks in 2016. He’s investigating his mother’s suspicious death.
Most of my stories spring from my frequent crazy dreams. I woke up with this idea, and I started to wonder what would happen to someone who found herself with this affliction, especially if she was an introvert who didn’t have many friends. Cut off from her job – with a company that’s complicit in the situation – she has to reach within herself to find inner strength.
What does your daily writing routine look like? Do you always write at the same time each day?
I have two little kids and the schedule of a public librarian (a lot of evenings and weekends). Every day is different! I write at least one chapter a week, about 2500 words. I squeeze the time in when I can get it, either in the mornings before my kids get up or when they’re in bed. Then there’s the rare glorious time when my parents take them for the weekend!
In addition to being an author, you are also a librarian. As someone who is surrounded by her pick of books, who are your favorite authors? Any underappreciated gems that you have stumbled upon?
That is a tough one. I read widely – picking favorite authors would be like picking a favorite child! I’ll highlight a few of my recent favorites, though. I just discovered Tom Sweterlitsch (The Gone World,Tomorrow and Tomorrow) – he writes about bleak, dystopian futures, time travel, alternate universes. He explores the dark heart of humanity, which sounds depressing, but both books illuminate the human spirit as well. I also recently finished a preview copy of Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway, a character-driven mystery in the style of Agatha Christie. I couldn’t stop rooting for the protagonist, Hal – yes, a likeable narrator in a thriller – they still exist!
Being a librarian, have you always known that you also wanted to write? When did you begin?
I’ve been writing since third grade. The two things I love the most in life are reading and writing, so I’ve always known I wanted to be a librarian and a writer. Of course, as a child I did not know that a librarian’s job is not, in fact, reading books all day. But we do get to talk about books, which is exciting!
What should new authors know about getting their books into the various library systems? Is the process different for self-published authors?
The first rule is to treat librarians with courtesy and establish a dialogue – a genuine, authentic conversation. Focus on why readers will like your book – make the librarian want to read it!
If you are traditionally published, the librarian might just buy the book for her collection. But for small press, indie, and self-published authors, you may have another hurdle to jump. It always helps if you are able to donate a copy, but if that’s not possible, make sure she knows where she can purchase it. You can also offer to present a program, but again, come prepared with the “hook” for potential attendees.
Always ask your librarian what you can do for her! Tailor your approach to each library as needed. I suggest starting with local libraries or those you have a personal connection with. Get the book into enough readers’ hands, and if it is a quality product, it might go viral.
Are there ways for authors to help each other out in regards to achieving a library presence?
As more authors make connections with libraries, they can share information about how individual systems operate. Libraries are so different – they have different resources, funding, populations. They offer services and programs based on the needs of their communities. Some writers’ organizations also have library outreach. I was the Library Liaison for Sisters in Crime for five years, and we did a lot of work helping authors connect with their local libraries and vice versa. I know the Horror Writers of America has a similar program.
Is there any additional advice you would give to new authors who wish to have their books in libraries?
Look into electronic distribution! Electronic media in libraries is growing more every year. In my library, the most popular services are OverDrive and hoopla (with the small “h”). Every library has different subscriptions, though, so check to see what your local library offers.
Our podcast started in 2007, when my coworker, Beth, and I decided we needed an outlet to talk about books we loved. Back then, podcasts were not as sophisticated, though they were popular. The Wall Street Journal described us as “two girls talking on a bus.” We’ve retained that format, although we have revised our website, gone on many tangents, and had four kids between the two of us. We also took a break last year, since Beth got a library director job and I became a department head, but we’re back with new episodes now.
Podcasts are booming. What needs do you think creative podcasts are serving in the literary world?
I have to admit I’m not much of a podcast listener – not surprisingly, I prefer audiobooks! But I love the idea of podcasts as a way for creative people to produce and distribute their own media, amplifying diverse voices that may not otherwise find an audience. I’d like to seek out some writing-related podcasts to help me stay motivated, so I can hear those voices!
Thank you for your time, Cari. Any other parting advice that you would like to pass on as someone who is immersed in literature in both her day job and her personal life?
To stay sharp, I like to play outside with my kids – I hope better weather will come to Northeast Ohio soon! I also play the bassoon, and I love nerdy stuff, especially board games. The literary life is fantastic, but as with any job, breaks are essential.