I am delighted to introduce Helen Hollick and my favorite pirate, Jesamiah Acorne. Jesamiah cannot always be trusted to show up in good fashion, but he appears to be reasonably sober this morning. Even better, he seems to have had a bath or two within the last month. Whew! So please take a look at Helen's rollicking pirate series and make both of them feel welcome by commenting below. Everyone who leaves an e-mail address will be entered into a random drawing for a free copy of Sea Witch, the first volume of this trilogy.
Carolyn Schriber: I've been posting a lot about self-publishing lately, and I'd love to hear your reactions. Now that you've made the switch, how do you feel?
Helen Hollick: It annoys me when I hear people say that self published books – in whatever form, vanity, literally self published or assisted published – are a load of rubbish. Some are, yes, but there are also mainstream published books that should never have wasted paper and ink.
There is absolutely no reason why a self published book cannot be every bit as good (even better) as one published by traditional publishing houses.
Authors self publish for a number of reasons, the main one being that their work has been turned down, often several times. Yes, I hear what you are saying – this is probably because the MS is not well written…but remind me again? How many times was J.K. Rowling initially rejected? Maybe the work does have all the typical mistakes and errors that “wanna-be” writers make. But equally, maybe it has the potential to become a darn good book if only someone would show the writer where, he/she has gone wrong.
The problem is, the big companies and literary agents no longer have the time, or financial resources, to nurture authors up to a publishable standard. If, today, I was to submit the stuff I was writing almost twenty years ago, I doubt I would be accepted by an agent. The point of view changes, author’s voice, long and rambling run-on sentences…. Back then, my editor at Random House saw the potential of what was to become The Kingmaking, and showed me how to structure my work. Mind you, in a very recent re-edit, I am stunned by the over-use of exclamation marks and repeated words and phrases!
The commercial publishing companies of today are businesses, not writing schools. They are looking for the next best selling hit; editing, re-editing and re-re-editing takes time and money. A good freelance editor can charge anything from £500 upwards for even just a basic copy-edit here in the UK (what is that, something like $900 in the US?)
As a matter of sheer speculation I would dearly like to see Ms Rowling’s pre-professionally edited first submission work. I bet it has all the errors mentioned above and more! But she was lucky; someone read that first Harry Potter draft and realised that under the newbie bloopers was a fabulous read. Or, did she, after amassing enough rejection slips to not worry about buying wallpaper for the next century, decide that she needed a complete re-edit and do something positive about the “encouraging but not for us” comments she had received?
You see, this is where mainstream and the majority of self published books differ. The first are professionally fully edited, copy edited and then proof read. The second, usually, are not. And I mean not edited. Period.
Carolyn: Is editing the key to successful self-publishing, then?
Helen: Over and again I hear authors who intend to, or already have, self published say: “Oh but editing is so expensive.” Believe me, not editing is even more expensive in the long run, because the book you pay to be put in print will not be at its best. You will get readers who say “I enjoyed this” – but will they read it again? Will they rush to buy your next book? Or will you have copies sitting unsold on Amazon for weeks, months….
Editing is not merely a suggestion, not just important – it is an essential part of the publishing process. And by “editing” I do not mean asking ‘Our Sarah who is a teacher’, or ‘Aunt Jane who is a company secretary’ to read it through. I agree, these are probably perfectly OK to make sure the commas, full stops and speech marks are all where they should be, but unlike a professional, qualified, editor they will know nothing of technique or publisher’s requirements. Then there is sentence structure, continuity and what makes a written book into a readable book. Family and friends, for all their endearing qualities, rarely give honest opinions when it comes to your precious labour of love.
That too, can be the downfall of many a writer – self or mainstream published. Don’t ask for an honest opinion if all you want is a positive answer.
Through these last few years I have discovered how to separate the real writers from the self-deluded ones. The real writers – those who will go on to write fabulous books that sell, and have readers eager to buy the next one, and the next….and the next (and go back and read all the others while in-between waiting) are the writers who ask for an honest opinion because they want to hear an honest opinion.
I get two kinds of e-mail; “Hi Helen. I’ve written a book, I’d be honoured if you would read it and give me an honest opinion.” And: “Hi Helen; I want to know why I’m getting rejection slips. Can you give me an honest opinion and show me where I am going wrong?”
I always try to be positive and constructive. But what is the point of ”Wow! This is fabulous!” when, clearly, it isn’t? If the structure is wrong, if the continuity is all over the place or non existent – if the characters are “head hopping” I will say so. Yet I have had authors respond with, “Yes I know the continuity is wrong, but no one will notice.” Believe me they will! These are the authors who will never be successfully published because they do not take enough care in producing the best end result possible. Authors who genuinely wanted my help have gone on to write fabulous books because their response has been, “Oh I see – of course! Thank you!” They have taken advice and found themselves an editor.
Carolyn: Good advice. But what about your recent switch to self-publishing? You have a long history of publications with a major publishing house. What changed?
Helen: Not everyone who self publishes is a new, novice writer. Some of us have been published mainstream. I have recently ‘self published’ my books here in the UK with an assisted publishing house based in Bristol, SilverWood Books. I am traditionally published in the US – indeed I learnt a short while ago that one of my historical fiction books had made it into the US Today bestseller list – so I am officially a bestselling author now. It has taken me not far off twenty years to get here though!
Originally published by Random House UK, my backlist was dropped because of poor sales (because of virtually non-existent marketing.) Simultaneously my agent and I parted company. I managed to find a small, independent company who published my books in their even smaller mainstream imprint. The quality was not as good as I would have liked, but at least I was “mainstream” and in print.
So why have I opted for self publish now? Unfortunately that small company ran into financial difficulties. I could have tried to find another mainstream to take my books, but by doing so I was looking at weeks, months, possibly even more than a year of being out of print. I could not afford, in the marketing sense, to drop out of sight here in the UK. I had a small legacy from my mother’s estate, so I put it to productive use. SilverWood Books offer a professional service and the end result is proving to be equal to quality publishing standards.
I am also reaping the benefit of having control over my books. The mistakes are mine (even after numerous edits there are bound to be typos. I am convinced they remain invisible until that final print run) Helen Hart of SilverWood Books has advised me with cover design, text layout etc, and I have agreed her suggestions because, after all, I am paying for her expertise, but had I wanted to I could have said no. Unlike with a mainstream company, who once they have paid you that advance, virtually own the book. It takes a brave author (or a Rotweiller of an agent) to challenge some of their decisions.
So, I get annoyed when literary people sneer at self published work. They occasionally have justified cause – but with care, dedication – and good editing – most of us authors who have opted to produce our books, our way are doing our best to prove them wrong!
For writing hints tips go to Discovering The Diamond http://www.helenhollick.net/culpa41.html
You are also welcome to visit my website www.helenhollick.net join me on Facebook - www.facebook.com/helen.hollick or come aboard the Sea Witch page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Helen-Hollick-Author/101822116574750
Carolyn: Helen, my readers and I are grateful that you have taken time to visit with us. I think we've learned a lot from your examples. Good sailing to you and Jesamiah as you make your way around the globe.
Readers, don't forget to leave a comment below, along with your e-mail address, so that I can enter you in the drawing for a free copy of Sea Witch from Helen herself.