Be a Writer – Part Three: Publish or Be Damned

Once you’ve decided that you are going to be a writer, and you’ve got your idea past the “is this actually going to be useful/interesting/inspiring to my audience?” test, it is time to try and get your words into print. In the Olden Days (about ten years ago) you could only really do this if you published via a traditional publisher, or if you paid money for someone to publish it. These days self publishing is not only an option, it is free. Self publishing is not particularly difficult, especially if you are reasonably adept with computers. However, if you’ve never published anything before it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that writing the book is all that matters, when it actually forms only a small part of the equation. It is very important not to overlook how important editing, proofing, production, design, marketing and so on are, in the success of a book. Publishing a book is not about you, the author; it’s about them, the readers. You’re likely to need some help figuring out how best to appeal to your audience, especially at first. It’s wise not to assume an expertise that you do not yet have.

A publisher will do some, but not all, of the work for you. Obviously you have to write the book, but a good publisher will support you in editing, production, design, marketing, publicity and sales. If you’re not self publishing, the first step is to find a publisher who will like your idea and who you trust to do a good job of publishing your book. Not all publishers are equal, so think carefully about the author you want to be. Get hold of a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and look through the entries. Which publisher publishes books that are in a similar style to yours? Who is most likely to have a space for your work on their list? If you’re writing fiction what you need is an agent. If you’re writing non fiction then you’re probably better off without. The yearbook explains what you need to do to make a proposal – many publishers will have a proposal form that you need to fill out, that you must submit along with some sample material and a contents page. Once you’ve submitted your proposal, and it has captured the publisher’s interest, it might go through some kind of review process before being accepted.

Writing a proposal is a great discipline for a writer – it forces you to think about your idea in a clear headed way – so take it seriously (and try your very hardest not to make typos when you write it). The proposal will ask you about all the things that you forgot to think about when you were dreaming of “writing your book”. The market, the competition, the chapter headings – all the stuff that makes writing a living rather than just a hobby. Not all publishers ask for a detailed proposal – it tends to be the larger ones. But whoever you publish with you will eventually be asked questions about how your book is going to sell. Do not approach more than one publisher with the same idea at any one time – it’s bad manners and it will not win you any friends. Once your proposal is submitted, my best advice would be not to wait around for it to be accepted, but to get on with writing the book that you said you wanted to write. Because the only way to write a book is to write a book, so you might as well get on with it while you’re waiting. If your idea gets accepted for publication, after a short period of jumping up and down in excitement, shouting “where do I sign!?”, you are going to need to learn to read a publishing contract. But don’t worry too much about that – The Society of Authors will help you understand it and I’ll cover the basics in the next blog.

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