From Writer to Author in Easy Steps.
Did I just write Easy?! Let’s delete that word. Everyone knows that nothing worthwhile is achieved without effort, and a certain amount of struggle. In many ways it’s the struggle, the overcoming of a challenge, that is the true achievement. Of course the product – in this case the book, short story, collection of poems – is important. You want it to be read and appreciated. If it turns out to be lucrative as well, that’s a bonus. But we have all read works of questionable literary merit that became – briefly – best-sellers, and beautifully crafted novels that barely saw the light of day. In this series of blogs I am going to share with you what I’ve learned about the process of becoming an author, and some of the things that have worked for me. Hopefully you may find it interesting, even useful. Only time, and your feedback, will tell.
My début novel was short-listed for a competition run by Susan Hill. Susan recommended me to her own agent at Heal Land – a top London Agency. They were delighted to take me on. No contract, no handshake – just an email offer. The contract is not really necessary until a publisher shows a firm interest. In fact it’s in the writer’s interest not to have one before then because it would restrict your ability to take it elsewhere if you are unhappy with the service you’re getting.
My agent was up front with me. She thought my novel excellent but was only prepared to take it to the top four or five publishing houses for crime fiction: Penguin, Harper Collins, Random House, Headline, and Little Brown. The response from each was really good. But, there is always a but, they all regarded my novel as ‘mid-list’. Three of them used exactly that term. What that means is that whilst it deserved to be published, it was only likely to rank somewhere in the 100 to 200 spot on the best-sellers lists, and sell twenty to forty thousand copies. Not enough to justify the time effort, and expense on their part. Publishers, understandably, are only interested in best-sellers. The main reasons for that is that publishers’ margins have been squeezed massively over the past five years by:
- The big three oligopoly book retailers – on the high street and on-line.
- Massive discounting by supermarkets
- Charity shops selling new remaindered books as well as second-hand books in specialist book shops which are challenging the big retailers, and affecting small independent high street bookshops.
- Above all the rise of the eBook, and eBook Readers.
In the light of this they are reverting to quick fire certainties such as:
- Celebrity autobiographies
- Celebrity Chefs Recipe books
- Best selling authors already on their list
- Misery autobiographies in the vein of: “I lost my daughter”; “My living hell”; “Where did it all go wrong?”; “How I overcame abuse”;
- Short term fashion trends such as Vampire series, and Erotic novels.
Consequently, they are no longer willing to take a risk on unknown authors who will take time and money to develop and market. Hence, there are no large advances for new authors, and small and diminishing returns for agents. Worse still, for some of us, they are not keen on older writers who may be less attractive to market, and may have a shorter shelf life. I know this, because the number crime fiction one agent in Britain told me – and a whole room of silver haired writers – that this was the case!
My agent was completely honest. After two years of positive rejections, hawking four of my novels around the above publishers, she said I should stick with it because my books were “… too good for supermarket fodder.” But if I wanted to I could try other publishers myself, and other agents too. I did that, but because by then I had five books completed I decided to self-publish. I had a pension, and I was more concerned that others should get to read my stories than that I should make pots of money. I set myself up as an independent publisher – Caton Books Ltd. Net result: Three and a half years later I have nine paperbacks and one hardback in print, and ten Amazon Kindle eBooks. For the first two years I made a net loss because I was setting up websites, printing and publishing my books. Within a year of putting them on-line as eBooks I had a monthly income way beyond what I might have received going down the traditional route. More importantly I have a growing fan base, and over 200,000 people have bought and read either the paperbacks or the eBook versions.
So…that’s my story, and those were my choices. I can’t advise you on what to do. But in my next blog I will be sharing what I’ve learned about stage one in the process. Writing Your Début Novel.
By Guest Blogger: Bill Rogers
Category:Advice and Information. Tags:Creative Writing,Starting Points, Publishing, Self publishing,