Monday, December 10, 2018

Guest Nicola Morgan: Five Things to Know about Being Published

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 disappointment

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.

The problem is 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 hundreds more.

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 respect

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 stomach-ache.

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?

Realistic: book fairies…

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 writing.

Copyright © 2018 Nicola Morgan
Photo © Rebecca 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!


nashvillecats2 said...

Most intersting tips to read, will keep them in mind.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Right book, right time, right's all in the timing. Tough to hear but it is.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The large publishers won't give an author much if any say in the cover, but smaller ones like mine do. Although we still have the final say.

Nicola Morgan said...

Replying to L Diane Wolfe: Hi Diane. One of my publishers is Hachette and they give me masses of say. In fact, we are in the middle of fascinating discussions right now and are completely working as a team. I’ve always had lots of say with all my publishers, which have included the tiniest to the biggest.

Pat Hatt said...

haha so true. shit often sells. Right time is a big one.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Really great truths here. And it's so true that getting on something like the New York Bestseller list doesn't mean you won't have a struggle getting a book published later.

cleemckenzie said...

You covered all the bases in this one. It was so right on.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm published by a small press and I get some day on my covers. Mostly, I'm happy with them. I think a lot of new writers think there is a 'secret' to getting published when mostly it's hard work and persistence.

CV Grehan said...

Is there any career that comes with as much angst as writing? Thank you, Nicola Morgan, for easing the angst, at least for a minute or two.

SpacerGuy said...

Kim Stanley Robinson took 13 years to research Red Mars... read it and you'll want to go there, lol

EliasM said...

Great stuff. Thanks for the encouragement and the insight.

J.H. Moncrieff said...

Great post! So often I read these posts about the publishing industry and feel like arguing, but this one was right on the money.

Nicola Morgan said...

So glad lots of you fund it helpful (and honest).
Very best wishes for your writing successes, however you measure them.

Mark said...

Well said! Definitely no typical publishing journey for anyone. I've gone the traditional route and it's still been a wild, unpredictable ride:)

Tanza Erlambang - Every Day Issues said...

I love this point: "Every “successful” author is hiding failure and disappointment"

have a great day

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to find a small press willing to pay the associated costs and roll the dice - and I'll never forget that trust.

Ornery Owl of Naughty Netherworld Press and Readers Roost said...

A successful book does not mean a better writer.
The moment when I decided I might be able to make a go of writing happened while reading a truly dreadful paranormal romance. I started correcting the myriad of technical issues with the story and said to myself: "If this rubbish can get published, maybe I can too."
Maybe this only means I should be a proofreader. However, it was an "aha" moment for me.

Tonja Drecker said...

All points look more than solid to me. Great post and interesting!