10 Things You Didn’t Know About Becoming a Published Author
By: J. L. Lawson
When I was in my late twenties, in between contracts in California, and only had an old Remington typewriter, loads of copy paper—“borrowed” from a previous employer—and my local Boulder Creek Library as my tools for writing—there wasn’t a world-wide web or extensive internet yet—my first forays into putting together entertaining, evocative narratives based more on fact than fictions was tedious to say the least. There followed a lot of just plain life for many years before I finally, actually, started writing as a vocation. That was by then rather late in life, relatively speaking. By that time, well after the advent of the internet, POD, social media and other such marvels of industry, getting published had become a relatively simple matter of formatting one’s materials properly, choosing a reliable and efficient printer and bam, you’ve got a book published. But that’s not the end of it by any stretch—unless one is content to merely have one’s own shelves populated with one’s own books and have no exposure or audience beyond that.
TEN: Do your research. No matter if you’re writing about totally imaginary worlds devoid of seemingly any touch with reality, in order to connect with an audience you’re going to have to get your facts straight. Even if you are making them up as you go along, everything needs to be at least internally consistent. Most fiction and all non-fiction, however, requires a more constant reality check. In my youth it was the library that stood as the bastion of facts and data, history and general information. With a laptop and the web, constant trips to the local branch aren’t the impediment to sound research any longer. But you must still check and cross-check your data. Just because there’s a lot available out there doesn’t mean it’s all valid, even correct.
NINE: Make sure you say what you really want to say. That may sound obvious, but unless your thoughts are clear in your own mind, what comes across to the reader will be a fog of notions. Take the time to hash out your ideas, opinions and most importantly: storyline, so that there are no loose ends, no internal inconsistencies, no circular logic sabotaging your best efforts to bring your story to an expectant audience. See my blog: Preparing for Interviews, How Writing is Therapy… section.
EIGHT: You gotta have style. You can put one word after another in a convincing manner, but would the average reader recognize your writing from, say, their own or some other writer’s hand? I will not encourage anyone to adopt the bon ton paradigm of the day: the overpopulation of crude language, steamy and out-right explicit sexuality or the omni-present tone of disdainful cynicism that appears to pervade the marginalia-made-book-form of some contemporary ‘literature’—Unless that’s actually your chosen genre! What you must attempt to cultivate in any event is your own voice. Your writing style will follow as surely as night follows the day.
SEVEN: Nothing new under the sun. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but whatever astonishing “new” idea you have for your “best-seller” has very probably, most very likely been written… many times before… to death. Cold facts. But here’s the kicker: Shakespeare didn’t come up with anything new either! His plots were already old and moldy before he picked them up. What breathed new life into that staleness was: HOW he filled them out; WHO his characters really were; with WHAT cleverness, depth and flow he imbued their dialogues and soliloquies. So take heart. Even “Boy-Meets-Girl” can come to new life in your hands—just make it your own.
SIX: So you have your narrative. Your friends and family grudgingly read through it and are pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t stink. Then the other foot falls: you need some editing—not just proofreading for typos and the odd transposed word or out of place homonym—seriously cut, move stuff around Editing. If you’re brave (or masochistic), you can post it on your blog and open it up to readers’ comments. Probably better however, and less demeaning, is to have a professional dispassionately make your work shine as it was intended. It may cost a bit, but what’s the price of avoiding Professional Embarrassment?
FIVE: Judging a book by its cover. That little phrase is still with us because it’s more than a splinter of truth in this business—it’s axiomatic. I assure you that I have built my own covers, was pleased at how they appealed to my eye, but set them up next to others in their genre and they were the red-headed step-children. Sad, disheartening, but true. Look at what’s catching the eyes of Bookstore customers—brick-and-mortar stores or the on-line variety—there’s always a “Here’s what others are looking at…” section to be inspected. What catches your eye as you look at those shelves? That should be a clue.
FOUR: Knock on the biggest door. Unfortunately, major publishing houses, almost without exception, do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. You’ll need an agent to go there in your stead. What? Not enough budget for hiring and retaining an agent? How about a publicist, a marketing analyst, a distribution agency? No? Don’t give up just yet. How about utilizing an indie press and taking on the marketing, sales and distribution with your own sweat and tears? It has been done successfully. In fact, that’s likely why you’re reading this right now—you ARE using the available means at your disposal and spending as little as possible to make your title a household word.
THREE: Location, location, location. It’s the marketing of published work that creates the greatest challenges and forces the most attention and creativity an author can muster. There are now an over-abundance of resources and advice out there. Let me offer a shamelessly promotional example: I am writing this now, because I am part of Orangeberry Book Tours because Pandora Poikilos has connections and know-how I don’t. I have contracted with Substance Books for other branding and marketing efforts for the long haul because Hajni Blasko has the experience and expertise I don’t have.
I work at Voyager Press who utilizes: KDP, iBooks, Bowker, CreateSpace, for print and eBook production, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GreatReads and many other outlets for distribution—including their own online VPDirect Store. For Industry exposure they contract with the Jenkins Group and Combined Book Exhibit, as well as those firms affiliates. The gist of this note is that networking with those who have the know-how, the connections and talent is how to put together a winning team.
TWO: Which brings us to the penultimate Need-To-Know item in Publishing: It takes a Village!
Just like raising children or getting a mom-and-pop store out of the red, getting a book into the hands of potential readership takes all the talent, experience and relationships you can garner and gather around yourself from the very beginning. Anyone who thinks they can go it alone in this most highly interconnected world village of today is either fabulously wealthy already and can buy their way into a reader’s hands, or is, as was suggested at the outset of this article: “…content to merely have one’s own shelves populated with one’s own books and have no exposure or audience beyond that.”
ONE: Simply put: In the end, a writer has to make informed decisions and never let loose of her/his pursestrings all too easily for un-researched, un-validated, un-verified printing, editing, developing or marketing avenues constantly bombarding email portals with wildly fantastic claims for success. Keep it Simple—Read, Research, Review, Write, Re-write, Request—those are the new R’s of publishing success in this day and age. But be prepared: Change is always a day away—it wasn’t long ago there was no interweb…
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Becoming a Published Author