When I first started writing, the “Holy Grail” was to get the Big Publishing Contract. Just a modest seven-figure advance would do the trick. Then your life would be instantly transformed and you became a pipe-smoking, tweed coat-wearing “author” who occasionally interrupted a busy schedule of lunches with agents and publishers to bash out the next best-seller. Hmm… didn’t happen a lot, and it certainly didn’t happen to me – although the advances I received were exciting and I did enjoy numerous lunches with editors (without my agent, which sometimes got me into trouble!). So I’m not complaining. I was expected to be what you’d call a mid-list author – someone economically worth publishing, but I’d never be on a best-seller list (well, you never know…). There was a million of us, filling the bookstore shelves all over the world. And we were still successful as such, because even mid-list authors had to sell a reasonable amount of books to make the whole thing financially worthwhile for the publishers.
The new holy grail for writers now is very different. It’s “To Make A Living” and it involves a lot of hard work involving self-promotion and a lot of hours spent on the internet – just like now. A lot of writers dream about selling enough books to make it their full-time job and hell – some of them aren’t helping the system by pumping out a dozen 20K words “books” a year in a shotgun attempt to do that. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.
There’s another holy grail (yes, there’s two). Very different to Making A Living.
I’ve been playing music in bands and duos for many years, and I’ve done my share of playing to near-empty (and even empty) rooms, seemingly wasting my time and energy on a handful of punters. However, as a lot of gigging musicians will tell you, sometimes those small audiences are the best. You create a personal connection from the stage, share a joke over the microphone, and maybe a drink when you’re having a break. You often feel – and get – a damned sight more appreciation from a small audience who are actually listening, rather than playing for a room full of drunks who hardly know where the music is coming from.
See where I’m going here?
Today’s online, ebook, self-publishing allows you write whatever you want and, as long as you write it well, you can enjoy a small, appreciative audience who will support and encourage you with more sincerity than a bunch of faceless Facebook Likes. From there, things can only grow as long as your writing grows, too.
We’re talking about how you write. I’m suggesting you don’t write to attract a Big Publishing Contract, and you don’t write with the ambition To Make A Living. You write to satisfy yourself first (you have to impress the hell out of yourself, that’s very important) then you write to satisfy a potentially small, but very discerning audience. It can be anything you want – any genre you want, right? That’s not an issue any more. Just don’t be tempted into designing and shaping your writing for a large audience – to get lots of sales. You don’t have to sell any amount of books to stay in the game now. Aim for a small, loyal following first. Achieve that and everything else should look after itself.
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?