|Photo © Rebecca Morgan|
For clarity, by “being published” I mean by a trade
publisher. That is one who takes on all
the cost and financial risk
and aims to make a profit by actively selling
your book. In trade publishing, the author is asked for NO MONEY AT ANY STAGE
and it is the publisher’s duty to market and sell the book. Authors do also
join in promotional activities (see Point 4), may choose to buy extra items
such as postcards and are expected to do a couple of unpaid events (always
expenses-paid) but no financial input is ever requested.
However, four out of my five points also apply to
self-publishing. I’ve done both and have had good and bad experiences of each,
but I strongly prefer being published by a trade publisher, with a good
publisher taking a big cut for doing a fantastic job, covering the costs and,
crucially, selling so that I can
devote my energies to writing.
Here are five things to know
about being published.
There is no typical story of being published and
no right way
Each author has a different experience, or even many
different experiences, as the more books we write the more possibilities there
are for successes and frustrations. We may have more than one publisher and
write more than one type of book. One of the mistakes inexperienced (and some
experienced authors) make is to hear a few stories that fit their beliefs and believe
that reflects normality.
You hear things such as, “You need to know someone in the
industry, otherwise you don’t stand a chance.” “Most authors are disappointed
in their publishers.” “Publishers do nothing but keep almost all the money.”
“Authors have no say in their cover design.” “Publishers don’t use editors/copy-editors/proof-readers
nowadays.” “Authors have no control.”
Every one of the above a) is inaccurate
but b) sometimes happens.
All books are different, all authors are different, all
publishers are different, all genres are different, and the book fairy is
wholly unreliable. You can do everything the same and still get a different
result. This is more art than science and long may that remain true.
Every “successful” author is hiding failure and
We are all invisibly bruised and scarred. All bar none.
We’ve had rejections and continue to get them, usually secretly. You’ll hear
that so-and-so-superstar had umptymillion rejections in the past but you won’t
hear the current failures, the times they were overlooked for an award, given a
bad review, not invited to a festival, undermined in some painful way on Amazon
or in a bookshop. To tell those stories publicly either undermines our own
career or someone else’s, so we suck it up and moan in private.
that lots of you will be going round thinking everything is rosy on this side
of the fence, to mix two metaphors. Sometimes it is: I’m in a rosy period. But
I know that ups precede downs and it may be ages before I win another award or
have some other esteem-boosting experience.
I know massively best-selling authors who have angsted and
lost sleep over sales figures dipping from the previous stellar ones, their
editor sending back their manuscript with huge changes requested, not being
shortlisted for prizes, fearing that they won’t get another contract; and not
getting another contract. Twitter and Facebook are shouty with successes and
prizes and every success or prize for one author can trigger angst and fear for
OK, so being self-published avoids the stress about
contracts, but s-pubbing has its own stresses and failures, believe me. We all
need thicker skins than we have; we all have to strive for success.
A successful book does not mean a better writer
Forgive this value judgement about “good” or “bad” books but
let’s face it: shit often sells and diamonds are easily lost between
floorboards. Being successful as an author doesn’t mean writing a brilliant
book (though I hope we’re all trying to do that). It means writing the right book, at the right time and having
it published by the right publisher at the right time and in the right way and
reaching the right readers. And the book fairy not having stomach-ache.
Good publishing is a partnership based on mutual
The times when I’ve had the best publishing experiences – like
now – have been when there’s brilliant two-way communication between me and my
publisher. This works best when it works in the old-fashioned way of the editor
being your conduit to everyone else, or at least always copied in. My
publishers consult me about everything, including the cover. They respect what
I say (or seem to!) and I respect what they say. It’s a genuine team effort. And
my latest book, Positively Teenage, was reprinted several times before
publication, because of all that and because the book fairy didn’t have
Every story I know of dissatisfaction has come about when
that mutual respect has been eroded. When a publisher forgets who actually wrote
the book or forgets what publishers are supposed to do or the author forgets
about the vagaries of book fairy stomach-aches and expects too much too fast.
The happy published writer is knowledgeable;
hard-working; realistic and more
Knowledgeable: we all start not knowing how much we don’t
know and we gradually learn more and more. Always keep learning.
Hard-working: it doesn’t
necessarily get easier. But things that are worth doing aren’t easy. Where
would the sense of achievement be if it were easy?
But the happy published writer is one thing above all else:
a writer. Our job as authors is to be writers first. Write the books we set out
to write in the best way we can. Don’t get caught up on measuring success or
counting contracts or prizes or sales figures or rejection emails: keep
Copyright © 2018 Nicola Morgan
Nicola Morgan is a multi-awarding-winning author
of over 100 books of fiction and non-fiction, including Write to be Published,
and the self-published ebooks Write a Great Synopsis and Dear Agent. Most
recently, she won the School Library Association’s Outstanding Contribution to
Information Books. She is mainly published by Hachette, Walker Books and
HarperCollins. Her feisty advice to writers earned her the nickname Crabbit Old
Bat, via the blog Help! I Need a Publisher! www.nicolamorgan.com
|Photo © Rebecca Morgan|