Hey everyone, here’s another cover we’re working on – posted here so I can link to it in forums. More info soon!
Sorry for not blogging awhile. I’ve been attending a friend’s wedding on the other side of the country and it’s taken weeks to catch up. So… what better a writing subject after a longish break than discussing toilets? More specifically, what we do in them and when. Which, according to 99.99% of fiction is nothing – and never.
You see, I was reading a Neville DeMille novel. I’ve been a fan of DeMille for years. In this particular book it’s a fairly typical “chase” story with our hero and a somewhat reluctant heroine racing across the country either fleeing from, or madly pursuing, some villainous dude and, of course, they regularly find themselves holed up in hotels taking stock of the situation. It’s during these occasions that our hero manages to slip into a nearby store and buy some clean shorts and a shirt. DeMille’s slight obsession with our hero’s personal hygiene was intriguing.
To be honest, I’m quite happy to assume my heroes somehow deal with the sticky issue of soiled undies and even taking a dump somewhere without drawing my attention to the realities. I mean, during the God-knows-how-long trek by Frodo to Mordor to ditch the One Ring, was it mentioned at any time that he needed to nip behind the nearest Ent for a noisy Number Two’s? Nope, of course not.
Fictional heroes don’t do a lot of things. Like fart, scratch unseemly places, discreetly pick their nose when no one’s looking… which is a good thing, since most of this stuff comes under the “Too much information” category. Of course, there are exceptions to the unwritten, writing rule and some authors use such moments to advantage, but generally even our most flawed characters don’t require toilet breaks.
They don’t need a shower unless someone plans to stab them through the curtain. They eat about two meals per book. Many of them don’t have to call their mother. They rarely go shopping for normal stuff.
Wouldn’t it be a challenge to write a novel and include all the mundane, everyday things for the sake of authenticity? It’d probably get some kind of major, literary prize.
But no one would read it.
A week or so ago a chap called Hugh Howey, a successful novelist who also decided to self-publish with great effect, published a report that analysed the top 7000 ebooks on Amazon (or something like that- sorry if I’m not quite correct). The trick was – or is – that Amazon doesn’t make public any sales figures, only rankings, so it’s always been a bit of a mystery whether or not these top-sellers actually came with high sales. Like, how many books do you need to sell to be within the top 7000? Only Amazon knows.
Except Hugh had a mate, who wrote some software that crunched all the data, and it came back with some unexpected results. Mainly that self-published authors own a lion’s share of the ebook sales, rather than the “Big Five” publishers they’re supposedly, futilely competing against. It’s all being greeted as a bit of an epiphany – a watershed moment in publishing that proves so-called traditional publishing is dead, or at least dying, and dedicated writers no longer really need a “real” publisher to be successful themselves. A lot of high-profile, self-published writers are crowing a kind of “I told you so,” line and flipping a finger at the big publishing house. They’re saying that new writers should consider self-publishing first, before approaching established publishers and agents. It’s the true path to literary riches. The publishing revolution hasn’t just started – the battle is apparently already won according to some of these guys. I doubt the big publishers would agree. They were slow off the blocks when ebooks began getting serious, but they’ve already adapted very, very quickly and can only get better at it.
Among all the debate and rhetoric it’s rarely mentioned that you still need to write a really good book to find success either way. A really good book. The best thing you’ve ever read, let alone written. Ever.
But okay, for the record here’s my brief summary of the argument and you can make up your own mind.
First of all, there is no argument.
Aiming to self-publish a novel means you don’t have to feel obliged to conform to current, popular genres. You can write and publish anything you like, whereas traditional publishing is always trying to stick to the latest formula (e.g. Harry Potter or Twilight-like stories in recent times). You’re increasing the risk no one will ever read your book, but you’ll be writing with a passion and heart that doesn’t really happen when you’re trying to satisfy a market. That’s a good thing. Heaps of established writers – myself included – are self-publishing works that were originally rejected due to considerations of the market at the time, and even the whim of an editor in a commissioning meeting. However, writing the novel is just the start. You need it professionally edited or at least “read” by a pro editor who can give you objective feedback. A very good cover needs designing – standing out from the crowd on Amazon or Smashwords isn’t easy. Then you’ll need to promote the hell out of your book on social media, websites and such, because among many, many other problems you have to solve, your book will be pushed off the front page of the “latest releases” in about ten minutes flat. Here’s a warning, by the way. A lot of writer’s forums and blog sites are run and patronised by other “writers” who couldn’t string a decent sentence together to save their lives, and as soon as they get a whiff that you’re publicising a new, completed book your post will be deleted and your user name blocked. Pathetic, but true. This social media self-promotion bizzo is a lot more difficult than you’ll ever imagine.
If a traditional publisher makes you an offer (or even a smaller publisher or digital publisher like my own Momentum Books) just about all the above isn’t your problem, except for the promotional thing. You still have to promote yourself. In exchange for dealing with the difficult logistics of your novel (editing, cover design, etc) , the publisher exercises most of the control over your book and pays you a royalty less than you can give yourself as a self-publisher, depending on the self-published price structure you might have set and the distributors you sell through.
The truth is there isn’t any choice to be made. It’s not a case of one or the other. As a writer trying to successfully publish a book (anybody can whack it up on Amazon and say they’re “published”) you need a business strategy that looks at both forms of publishing. If your novel is a bit “out there” and would struggle to fit into popular genres, then maybe self-publish and see if you can build a readership before showing the results to a publisher. If you’ve written a formulaic crime novel (with your own brilliant twist, of course) it may be worth approaching an agent or publisher straight away – these people are looking for new writers and books, don’t forget. That’s the business they’re in. They just might write you a big, fat cheque.
That’s if you’ve written a really, really good book, don’t forget. Did you forget that bit? Need I mention it again?
Yes, the publishing revolution has started and, according to Hugh Howey, we may be a lot further down that track than we’d realised prior to his clever mate and number-crunching report. My best advice is, don’t be sucked in by the vitriolic and sometimes petty spats you’ll find on the net. When you’ve finally written “The End” under your treasured manuscript (actually, haven’t seen that for years!) and start looking at publishing options, keep an open mind. You can investigate a lot of different possibilities without drawing a line in the sand between self-publishing and traditional publishers.
Ebooks and ebook publishing have certainly been rocking the boat a lot harder lately. We’re still all in that same boat, though.
I’m really happy to announce that I’ve been signed on to Momentum Publishers (the Australian digital publishing division of Pan MacMillan) for all of my backlist of novels and they’re slated for a full release in October. Exciting times indeed! We’re talking here about all four of my horror novels, Ghost Beyond Earth, A Place To Fear, Voices Of Evil and The Devil’s Number, plus my two crime novels Missing Pieces and A Clean Kill, and finally And In The Morning which is my historical war novel. Momentum is currently digitising the books and creating new covers. There is a small downside to the announcement – quite rightly in respect of the deal I’ve withdrawn all these books from Amazon and Smashwords, so anyone interested in purchasing them will have to wait until October. That’s not too far away…
Thanks to my agent Selwa Anthony and, of course, Momentum for creating this great opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Momentum. They’re a super-professional crew who love writing and books in all forms. You can’t ask for more than that!
The best of writing and reading to all,
By now you should be aware that Amazon have launched the Kindle book reader in Australia. I’ve seen one- it’s pretty neat stuff. I used to be anti-Ebook not because of any kind of traditionalist thing, but because I could see they might cause more problems than advantages. Meaning, they wouldn’t become popular. But after having a Kindle in my hands and- more importantly, knowing how companies like Apple will respond by producing something better -I can now see how EBooks will (in my never-so-humble opinion) eventually take over the book industry… and maybe sooner than you think.
Cost is a dominant factor. At the moment in Australia it costs too much to buy a book (and no, we’re not getting into the Parallel Imports argument here) and to walk into a bookstore and make a choice actually represents a gamble- like, a big decision. No one wants to waste $25.00 or more on a novel that turns into a dud read. With EBooks costing around 75% less per copy, let’s say $6.00 a book, the chances of people risking their money will increase enormously. They’ll gamble six bucks on a new author.
However, here’s the rub. Quality control is a serious problem. You can go a respected Ebook publisher’s site and buy a novel with confidence that some kind of story appraisal and editing process was applied to the book- it was worth publishing. But there’s nothing to stop pretty well anyone “launching” their own supposed best-seller from their own website regardless of how good it is. In other words, the danger of Ebooks will be that the virtual bookshelves of the internet will be flooded with crap books written by bad authors who have no idea of their own lack of talent… and there’s plenty of them.
Okay, right now I sound like a wanker, but as a published author believe me that I’ve been approached by many wanna-be writers with manuscripts that are just awful- yet their owners simply can’t see the faults. They’re blind to their own writing’s failings and, in fact, get outraged when you point them out. I once was asked by a friend to evaluate one of his friend’s MS- a monster manuscript of about 300,000 words (say 600 pages) and the whole things was truly bad, I found it incredible that someone could write so much material and never once get a feeling that it had problems. I politely told this writer his MS was crap and threw it away… not out of spite, but because that’s what you do these days. Nobody returns MS’s anymore- the postage costs more than the reprint. It’s pretty standard practise to safely destroy someone’s print-out rather than mail it back. Next thing you know, this guy tops the list of conspiracy theorists and accuses me of “stealing” his story! What a dickhead. When I explained without the aforementioned politeness that his MS was absolute shit and not worth stealing anyway he still didn’t believe me. It took the intervention of the third party, the person who originally asked me to check out the MS for his “friend”, to get this guy to pull his head in.
He is the sort of person who will find a way to publish his masterpiece of crap as an Ebook and put it out there as a worthwhile read… and what’s to stop him? What will warn you, the book-buyer, that his novel is shit?
Maybe that’s the role of established publishers in the future? (Because they will lose the job of printing and distribution). Publishers will act as a marketing and promotional company as alway- and it’ll be tougher -but their best reputation may lie in providing quality books. Publishers will become the “quality control” filter for Ebooks written by new authors.
Meanwhile, established authors like myself will get to enjoy the best of both worlds for a while.
Soon I’ll be releasing my backlist as Ebooks from my website. There’s more in-depth details about these books on my home website at www.graemehague.com.au . I’ll give away some of them for free- there’s that marketing thing again. I reckon it’s going to be a very, very interesting time over the next few years.
What do you think?
If you look at my “About Graeme Hague” page you might agree- hopefully a little bit -that I should have some idea of how this crazy writing business works. To be honest, I’m no Stephen King or Dean Koontz, but I’ve got a few books out there and I reckon this gives me some small insight into what can, or can’t be achieved.
It certainly often makes me the recipient of that dreaded question that all published authors are asked by aspiring writers- how do you get your novel published?
Well, the answer is simple. All you have to do is write the best novel ever written. Just write the best book ever.
Ah… now you’re saying, “Thanks smart-arse. I thought you were going to say something useful. Very funny.”
But hang on a second- think about it. Specifically, think about what’s stopping you from writing the best book ever. Like, do you have to lose half your body weight? Learn how to fly a helicopter? Scuba dive? Do you need to go to university (I didn’t)? Do you have to live anywhere in particular? Maybe New York or London?
The answer to all these is no. Okay, if you live in a goat-skin tent in the mountains of southern Mongolia then chances are you’re going to be slightly disadvantaged compared to some others, but since you’re reading this blog then we can assume you’ve got something going for you.
The point is, the only real obstacle to getting your novel published is you- yourself. Your talent and how determined you are to use it, grow it, perfect it… Nothing is stopping you from sitting down in front of a keyboard and typing a great manuscript.
Admittedly, it can seem hard to break through the barriers that many publishers and agents put up in front of them, but those barriers are there for a reason. They stop the absolute deluge of crap, boring and tragic manuscripts that are produced by the millions of wanna-be writers who own a word processor and don’t work hard enough. There are ways to get around those closed doors- but I’m not going to tell you here. Not now.
Because you haven’t written the best novel ever yet. Despite what you think, no matter what MS you’ve got lurking on your hard drive or printed out and stored in your drawer, it’s got a long way to go.
It’s a fact of the book industry that a brilliant manuscript will always find a publisher or agent. If it’s a piece of genius, you’ll get more than one (like, some overseas, too). If it’s the best novel ever written then publishers will be fighting on your doorstep and Steven Spielberg will be jamming your voicemail. Don’t forget, they’re in the business of publishing books. They need new writers. The old ones, like me, won’t last forever (especially the way I like a cold beer). In fact, if you’re good enough, you’ll get me fired and kicked off their lists- thanks a bloody lot.
The only real problem you face towards getting published is just how close you can come to creating that perfect manuscript.
If you can write anything- then you can write anything. Get it? It’s up to you how hard you want to work on your writing, your story, your plotting… hey, I didn’t say writing was easy. I only offered a simple solution to getting published.
Here’s another truth- if you do get someone to look at your manuscript, you sure as hell don’t want to blow the opportunity by showing them something sub-standard. This business doesn’t offer a lot of second chances to new writers.
All right, let’s be really sensible for a moment. If you have written a great story, there are a few things you should consider before trying to get a publisher or agent to read it. I’ll go into those later (and they aren’t any huge, secret tricks). The idea I’m trying to put in your head right now is that the quality of your writing is the only thing standing between you and the dream of having a novel released by a reputable publisher- I should point out that self-publishing and EBooks are kind of a different subject.
Write something awesomely brilliant, a piece of genius, a thrilling and riveting story… and it will get published.
And if Steven Spielberg calls, mention my name will you?