Novels, Publishing and Craziness – Part 1

I know I’ve been neglecting the site, and I aplogise deeply for that. I have been finishing off my newest novel The Shadow Man and Other Nightmares for publication. Talk about a crazy, but fun, ride!

Let’s talk about what I’ve learned over the last few months.

Traditional vs. Indie
It doesn’t matter, in the great scheme of things, which method you choose. Just know that you will work your ass off if you decide to go the indie route, but it’s not that difficult. All the help and information you need is available free of charge all over the internet, and once you have the basics down you can do most of the things a traditional publisher does, and do it faster.

While traditional publishing certainly gives you some credibility, and it’s great for distribution purposes, they rarely (if at all) do anything in the marketing department. Authors I consulted told me how they had to set up their own speaking engagements, signings and presentations. They work themselves to death doing marketing, and in the end, they only get 10% – 15% in royalties. One author signed a four book deal with a very big, well-known and respected publisher, and he now says he wish he hadn’t. They gave him no advance on the first two books, and he said if he knew then what he knew now, he would have done it himself.

There is room in the publishing world for both indie and traditional publishing. I will never discourage an author from submitting their manuscript to a traditional publisher. If that’s what you want to do, by all means go ahead, but if you don’t get a bite (and odds are you won’t, because publishers get thousands of submissions a month), don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean your book is bad, it may just be that you’re not right for that particular publisher. While on the self-publishing journey, keep submitting your new manuscripts to traditional publishers if that’s what you want to do. If your indie book sells well it’s an added bonus and publishers like to see that you have the potential to be a big seller, but from what I’ve seen, some of us get to the point where we just don’t even bother anymore.

Watch out for scams
There are plenty of ‘self-publishing’ companies who prey on our ignorance. Some of them are legit, but a great many of them are only out to make money. I’m particularly thinking about AuthorHouse (also known as Author Solutions and in India, South Africa and Singapore as Partridge Publishing). Traditional publishers joined forces with these self-publishers and they ride the coat tails of their big name publisher’s brand. DO NOT fall for it. The traditional publishers have no idea what their self-publishing branch is doing, and don’t care. They just want to rid you of your money, and charge you eye-watering fees for things you can find cheaper elsewhere, or do yourself.

I’m not saying don’t use self-publishers’ services. By all means, if you have the money, do use them – they take care of a lot of the small details that will take up your time, but do your due diligence. The most expensive, doesn’t mean the best. Start here (The Independent Publishing Magazine). They present indie authors with a lot of relevant information, and reviews of self-publishing companies.

What about an ISBN?
You need one (or five). It’s as simple as that. Some online retailers won’t list  your book if you don’t have an ISBN. Most countries charge for this service, and it’s expensive, so use a reseller who can buy ISBNs in bulk, and then resell the numbers to you at better price (the more numbers you buy at once, the cheaper it is per number but very few authors have the need for, or the money to buy, 1000 ISBNs at once). There are some countries who issue their ISBNs through their national agencies free of charge, and if that is the case, don’t pay someone to do it for  you, just to it yourself. All it takes is an e-mail to the relevant agency (you can find your agency here). Remember that each format of your book requires its own unique ISBN, so for one title you’ll need an ISBN for paperback, hardcover and each file format for your e-book, including PDF. I’ve decided to publish The Shadow Man as a paperback, .epub, .mobi and .pdf – that’s four ISBNs for one title.

Don’t rush it
I can’t stress this enough. Do not rush your novel to the shelf, virtual or otherwise. Draft and re-draft, then proofread and proofread again, until it’s as near perfect as you can get it. Don’t just chuck your first draft out there, and ask people to pay for it. You should have more respect for yourself as an author, and much more respect for your readers. If you keep doing it, you will eventually get a bad name, and even if you have 100 novels on your Amazon page, your sales will be non-existent.

You need an editor
Even Stephen King needs an editor. If you can’t afford one, don’t despair, there are some things you can do that will improve your odds. After you’ve finished your first draft of your manuscript, put it away and forget about it for 4 – 6 weeks. During that time, write a few short stories if you want, but do not start another novel (unless you can finish it in 6 weeks). After the “rest” period, you can return to your manuscript with fresh eyes. We tend to correct our mistakes in our heads while we read our own work, and won’t pick up even the most glaringly obvious typo, but if you put your novel aside for a few weeks, you’ll find those mistakes much easier. Plug up the gaping plot holes, fix the typos, grammar & spelling mistakes, and for heaven’s sake, don’t be afraid to remove entire chapters if they bog down your story. William Faulkner said, “In writing, kill your darlings!” Do not be afraid to wield the red pen.

Once you’ve done your second draft and another proofread, ask two or three friends who are proficient in English to do a proofread and point out mistakes you have missed (and I promise you, there will be a lot), ask them to mark the places where the story slows down too much, or where more information is needed, where you can restructure sentences or where you’ve just written something stupid. Ask them to be honest, and don’t be an over-sensitive drama queen (or king for that matter). If you are one of those writers who thinks your work is perfect and above reproach, and when someone disagrees you throw a little hissy fit, you are in the wrong business. After your friends have had their say, and you’ve fixed even more mistakes, do a final proofread to make sure all mistakes have been fixed. Only then should you publish.

Accept that mistakes will slip through. I’ve found them in even the biggest authors’ novels. At some point you have to stop, say “this is as good as it’s gonna get,” and put your work out there for others to read, and hopefully enjoy.

The Shadow Man and Other Nightmares is scheduled for publication in November 2014. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter, for up to date news.

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