Time to Take
I’m going to give you a list of qualities and
characteristics you will need if you are going to succeed at this writing
business. It won’t be complete, but it will give you an idea of how well-prepared
you are for the next steps. So go through this list and check off the items you
can claim for yourself. Then we can start talking about them in more detail.
And remember, it’s not just important to know what you can do. You also need to
understand what you can NOT do.
What kind of a writer are you? How’s your
grammar? Did you get A’s in English class? When you read a book, do you see
other writers’ mistakes?
What about spelling? Can you use a dictionary,
or are you one of those people who can’t look up a word because you don’t know
how to spell it?
What about punctuation? Do you have a firm
opinion about the Oxford comma? Do you even know what an Oxford comma is?
How’s your manual dexterity? Can you type? [I’m
assuming you don’t have a private secretary to do your dirty work.] Can you
What about other computer skills? Have you
mastered Microsoft Word? [The answer to
that is “No” because they just put out a new version and we all get to learn it
over again!] Can you convert a document into a PDF file? Do you already have a
favorite word-processing program?
Is your computer new enough to run the latest
programs? And does it have enough memory to store several versions of a
Do you have access to a library? Do you have a
library card? Have you ever used it?
Do you have a place to write, a desk you can
call your own, not a corner of the dining room table?
Do you have the time to write? Can you look at
your day-to-day schedule and identify some time that belongs to you alone?
you write because you can’t imagine not writing? Or does the idea of actually
having to put words on paper scare you?
These are elementary questions, but this is where we need to
start. What if your answer to some of these is “No!” That’s OK. You are
identifying the areas you need to work on, not receiving a final rejection
notice on your qualifications.
Take some time this weekend to think about your weaknesses
and what you might do to correct them. Then next week, if you’re still around,
we’ll tackle some other requirements.
is your goal for this book?
Fame and Fortune. I want to hit the
best-seller lists and do a coast-to-coast book tour.
Really? Good luck! Here’s what else you’ll need:
(1) A contract with a Big-Five Publisher
[see answer A to last question!] Why? Because the New York Times only counts books
sold by major publishers in major book stores. They don’t care how many copies
your Grandmother buys.
(2) Major publishers
don’t send first-time authors on whirlwind book tours. Is your name James
Patterson? J. K. Rowling? No? then you’ll need to tell your grandmother to save
some of her book-buying money to pay your bus fare.
I’m writing a book about my family. I only need
enough copies to pass out to everyone at my next family reunion.
These are the people who knew you when you
were ten – hair pulled back into pigtails, shiny braces on your teeth,
coke-bottle lenses in thick pink plastic frames perched on your nose, and scabs
on your knees, right? They loved you then. They’ll love you now. Have fun with
your project. Find a friendly local
printer and make yourself a book.
C. I’m not in this for the money, but I don’t want
to bankrupt my family, either. I want to self-publish a book and make enough
money to pay the bills.
It depends on what
bills you’re talking about. You’ll probably never make a living wage. But it is
possible for self-published books to pay their own way through the publishing
process, with enough left over to finance a fine dinner out or a quick research
trip. [See answer B to the last question.] You can do this if you are willing
to do the hard work . . . and if you have enough of a bankroll to finance the
process before the royalties start coming in. We’ll be talking about how much
you’ll need in a couple of weeks.
Tough question! But here's the first thing you need to ask yourself:
How much of a hurry are you in to see your book in print?
All the time in the world.
Really? Then you
have time to try the traditional publishing route. That means trying to find agents who are taking new clients; pitching your book to maybe thirty or forty agents; waiting
for an acceptance; waiting for your agent to pitch the book to publishers;
sorting out the details of a contract; making all the changes the publisher
demands; waiting until your book can fit into their publishing queue.
Probably so. And you’ll be keeping your fingers crossed that agent or publisher
or editor does not go out of business, transfer to another company, or die.
Does that happen? Oh yes. When I was
trying to find a publisher for “A Scratch with the Rebels,” my first editor
took a better job with a different kind of publisher, the second got herself
into a fight with the managing editor and had all her projects cancelled, and
the third was forced by his university to take mandatory retirement before the
book’s contract had been signed.
Still, if you can afford to wait -- you're young, healthy, happy with your life, and gainfully employed outside of the publishing business -- then it's probably worth your while to give the --> agent --> big-time publisher route a shot. if you win the lottery, you'll get an advance, and the publisher will take over all those tacky details of editing, designing, and marketing your work.
Is there any reason not to go that route if it becomes possible? Well, you'll loses control of your book. The publisher will probably change the title and make major demands for other changes so the book will appeal to a particular market niche. How big a control freak are you? Can you turn your "baby" over to someone else and get on with your life? Then go for it.
B. How about next month?
You’re kidding, right?
I need it within the next couple of years.
Good. Then you can devote those next two or
three years to learning what all goes into self-publishing. You can do this,
but it will take both hard work and a fair amount of money. You'll have to build your own team of sub-contractors (like cover and lay-out designers, copy-editors, publicity hounds, marketing experts, digital formatters, lawyers, accountants, and several other specialists ) to perform all the tasks a traditional publisher would have taken off your hands.
If this is what you need, you've come to the right place. You can do it. Your book can hit the market within the next year or so, and we'll show you how.
Tomorrow's question: What is your goal for this book?
Heavens! It's the last week in July, and as I look at my desk calendar, I'm seeing that I'm already overbooked for August. What lies ahead? Here's a partial list:
1. Coming up first -- our annual Auction and Dinner for Mid-South Lions
Sight and Hearing Service on August 8. I'm procrastinating this morning
on this one. I have a buffet filled with items for our silent auction,
which (somehow) have to be transported downtown to our main office. The
biggest problem is (that) a couple of them are too big and/or too heavy
for me to carry. Getting them from the dining room to my car involves
going through a couple of doors, which I can't open or close while
carrying said objects, and which can't be left open because the indoor
Katzenhaus Kats will make a break for outside and cause even more
problems. And then cramming them into my (little )2-door coupe with its
tiny trunk - - - ummm. Waiting for a guardian angel to show himself!
2. I'm already editing the preliminary draft of "Yankee Reconstructed," which involves round after round of reading and searching for careless errors. i have a bad habit of using meaningless words as transitions and fillers. So I have to search through the pages, looking for these gremlins: that, all of, absolutely, really, very, always, never, just, maybe, perhaps, stuff, things, quite, and got. I do them one at a time and usually find I can (just) do without them. It's a good way to tighten the prose, but also tedious and time-consuming. Deadline? I've promised the complete manuscript to my editor by the end of August.
3. I'm a judge for a (rather) large book contest -- a responsibility I take seriously because i know how important the results can be for new writers. I have six books sitting here, all waiting to be read and evaluated by August 24. I'm reading the first one in those periods when I can't bear looking at my own writing any more. I'm grateful (that) several on the list are short and quick reads. But there's also the 530-page one that weighs four pounds in paperback! (Just) holding it up will be a problem for my arthritic thumbs!
4. I'm working on a proposal for publishing a local history book for a nearby county museum. It would be lovely for Katzenhaus Books to add it to our catalog, but many unidentified minefields lie ahead.
5. Finally, rolling around (in the back of) my mind (and late at night) are ideas for the second edition of "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese." Self-publishing has changed drastically in (the past) five years, and a rewrite is (absolutely) necessary. The project in #4 above has suggested (that) the first step in that process needs to be a rigorous self-examination. So in the coming days, I plan to offer a series of questions directed at those who are still trying to answer the big question: How Do I Publish This Book?