Ok so you’ve finally decided to pluck up the courage of your convictions to make your passion for writing a fulltime career. Before you even begin, the one question you have to seriously take into consideration is this. Do you become an independent author, or do you try to break into the world of traditional publishing?
If you decide on chancing your arm with the latter, after first avoiding the tempting adverts from vanity press and some of the other fly by night options out there, like the plague, bearing in mind that every one of them is waiting to fleece you while masquerading as legitimate traditional publishers, you will immediately be confronted by what the industry commonly refers to as gate-keepers. What are they? Simply put, they are the publishing houses’ often seemingly impenetrable lines of defence, designed to extract the occasional gem for serious consideration from among the monumental piles of utter rubbish that cross their desks on a daily basis. If by sheer good fortune they want to publish your work, depending on how it sells, either they will offer you a contract or end the partnership.
To begin with your manuscript will have to appeal to the first of the gate-keepers, otherwise known as a literary agent. Always providing of course that you find one prepared to take a chance on you in the first place, based on the fact that they like what you’ve written. Even so there is still no guarantee that they will be able to sell your story to any of the top publishing houses. When it comes to it, like any other business, traditional publishing’s raison d’être is to make money. To that end they are extremely picky when it comes to choosing from the thousands of new manuscripts on offer. Cold hearted reality dictates that unless you have written an absolute blinder of a potential best seller, the product of all your hard work will wind up in the garbage bin along with all the others from hopefuls like you and me.
Then there is the question of the contract they will offer you if they decide they want to employ you. Are you up to the pressure that will be placed on your shoulders by signing a two, three of four book deal for the promise of a monetary advance? Many aren’t up to working within the confines of an often highly restrictive contract. I know I wasn’t. I was far too bloody minded for the traditional publisher I was contracted to.
Does all of this sound extremely tough and one sided to you? It should. By its very nature our business is a merciless one. There is no room for the starry-eyed day dreamer, or for that matter anyone foolishly labouring under the false assumption that having a book published, guarantees them instant fame and fortune. It rarely if ever does. Even choosing to follow the independent route is still no guarantee for success. In either case it always involves a lot of hard work on your part.
Out of the nine titles written by me so far since nineteen ninety-five, only one came close by Indie mid list standards to being considered a best seller at 100,000+ copies. I live in the vain hope that my latest offering might at the very least equal it. But only time and the vagaries of this business will ultimately determine its fate.
Being a true Indie requires a much higher degree of self discipline and bloody-mindedness on your part, more so than for an author in any traditional writing stable. Anyone who thinks it is the easier of the two publishing options, seriously needs to think again. Mind you there are no easy options…
While its true that any Tom, Dick or Harriette can come up with a story, that is only the first step in a long and often tortuous road to get it noticed in the first place.
If you are a true Indie, by the very definition of the word it means that you must go it alone, literally doing everything for yourself. Even the traditional publishing houses these days require their contracted writers to do far more than merely write a novel to justify their advance.
If you feel you are incapable, you can always take the easy way out, paying lip service to the notion of independance by opting instead to spend a lot of money to employ others to edit, format and market your book for you. Always bearing in mind of course that before you even begin to earn royalties, you first have to recoup your often expensive initial monetary outlay, a factor than many of today’s indie’s simply choose to ignore, let alone fail to grasp.
Like all true independents I choose to rely on no one other than myself, and a handful of individuals I consider to be competant beta readers of anything I write. To follow in my independent footsteps, you must become accomplished in a number of disciplines. The first of these involves every writer’s nighmare – editing. To make your story stand out among the millions already published, it has to appeal from the very first sentence. While there are a lot of competant people out there prepared to assist you at a price, there are also many charlatans. Like all things we encounter in our daily lives, shopping for an editor or publicist is always a case of buyer beware. Ask them for samples of their work along with the names and email addresses of those they profess to have helped before employing them.
I’m still amazed by the number of Indies out there who have convinced themselves that an eye-catching cover is guaranteed to sell their book. It doesn’t! Yes it’s true it will help. But on its own its nothing more than the literary equivalent of eye candy. Ever since the first printed book rolled off a hand operated press hundreds of years ago, what has always sold the book to the reader is its content, never its cover!
Still want to become a published author? If the answer is still yes, good luck. Just remember that you must be prepared for a hell of a lot of hard work, harsh criticism from your fellows, competition, jealousy, envy and heartache.
Do I regret becoming an Indie? Not for one moment. Remember this, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well…