Tomorrow I am presenting to small groups of Grade 7 and 8 students, as part of Family Literacy Day activities at a local elementary school. Other authors have been invited, but out of the participants I apparently have the greatest familiarity with eBooks and the current trend toward self-publishing so will be focusing on that. May as well kill two birds with one stone and make my blog double as my notes for the students.
To simplify the publication process to its barest elements, a book starts with an author, moves through an editor (possibly an agent beforehand, but since agents are a rare species in Canada I won’t dwell on them), is built by a designer, flies with a promoter, runs through a printer, travels with a distributor, and finally sells through a vendor.
I visualize a steep staircase, with a tiny stick figure at the bottom peering up to where clouds almost obscure the golden gates of the vendor’s retail store. Other tiny stick figures are clinging to the sides of steps where they have lost their way, manuscript in hand, frantically waving their little arms to get the attention of one of the many gatekeepers on the climb to retail presence. …perhaps I won’t use that analogy with the kids, too depressing.
The author has their wonderful, incredible, amazingly unique idea for a story which is sure to be the next great bestseller, and will make Dan Brown look like the poor country relative. Comparisons between their work and well known authors are thrown around like confetti used to be at weddings but of course is not done now because of the environment. Same should be said about some manuscripts, save the environment, don’t print the darn things…but, anyway…I digress, and I am sure there are those who would say that about my MS since reading is so subjective. Aye, there is the rub. One man’s – or woman’s – joy is another’s pain. Every author has something that has been an investment of their time, energy, possibly money, and it has great meaning to them. That it might not strike the same sense of wonder in another person can sometimes be baffling to the creator, leading to hostility, defensiveness, or withdrawal. I plan to reinforce to the kids tomorrow that every written creation does have intrinsic value for themselves at least, but that most businesses must make decisions based upon economics which means that very, very few new authors are added to the industry by big presses in any given year. The new phenomenon of print on demand, and of digital publication, is changing that and instilling hope in large masses of emerging authors. But, by doing so, these authors have thrust upon them the roles traditionally held by publishing houses, and those roles are not always comfortable for the artist. From a personal perspective, having operated businesses with six figure revenues, I’m quite familiar with and comfortable in, the entrepreneurial hat.
Editors either work through publishing houses, or as freelancers, to get manuscripts ready for publication. The first step involves proofreading for basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you are aspiring at all to be a writer, do not overlook this important first impression when submitting a manuscript to an agent or a publishing house. No, it is not their job to correct things for you if you don’t already have a contract with them! So, get it clean and ready before submitting, to impress them with the fact that they will have less work do to if they do happen to sign you on! Second reading will be for five “C”s of copy-editing: clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent. They look for awkward sentences which could be re-written, they make sure you are using Canadian spelling throughout the manuscript if you reside in Canada, that sort of thing. Finally, a last round of editing involves truly reading the manuscript – checking for character development, plot advancement, pace, subplot analysis – can sometimes be the most challenging for an editor if the genre is outside their forte or enjoyment. Books heavy on facts should have verification of their information, often by referring to experts in the relevant fields, because nothing is worse than reading a book and knowing the author/editor/publisher has the wrong bit of information.
A designer takes the rough manuscript and makes it pretty, with an appealing cover. Flourishes at the bottom of pages or beginnings of chapters, proper page margins and numbers, etc. fall within the province of the designer, although usually a graphic designer will take responsibility for the cover art. Anyone self publishing must be crucially aware of the fact that just because an image is on the internet, it is not public domain. Buying the rights to royalty free clip art is an easy and responsible answer to cover art, as is finding an artistically inclined friend to create a cover masterpiece. There are plenty of page layout templates for various book sizes, available online.
The promoter creates the buzz about the upcoming release. News bulletins, advance review copies, announcements in magazines, all of that promotion creates advance orders and generates interest. A promoter will book radio and TV spots, garner interviews at other venues, and schedule book signings as well as a release party.
The printer takes the print-ready manuscript and puts it on paper, most of them do nothing more, nothing less. There are some differing packages offered in the industry to assist with design, editing, etc., but the most economical is the print on demand method where a digital copy is kept on file at the printer, and when a copy is ordered, it is printed then shipped. No overhead, no books collecting dust, and reasonable pricing. Unfortunately, POD is not readily available to Canadians, and so most end up having to obtain print runs, at higher costs and a large original outlay.
Distribution is an almost insurmountable barrier for both micro-presses and self-published authors. Dependent upon which printer is being used, there may be some catalogue listings provided, but usually limited. Distribution is the process of getting the printed copy of the book into the hands of the retailer. Distributors take a cut of the cover price (often 10%), on top of the steep discount required by resellers, meaning the actual revenue which makes its way into the hands of the small press or indie author is minimal. Canada is especially bad for this, because of the geography distribution ends up being more costly.
Finally, the retailer is the last stop for every print book before it gets into the eager hands of the reading public. When you walk in to a bookstore, it is amazing to think that not one single copy of those books on those shelves have been paid for. All of them there are literally on consignment, awaiting a sale or getting returned to the publisher. This stumbling block makes it very difficult for indies or micro-presses to get through the doors of many brick and mortar bookstores, because that shelf space is invaluable to the store, and the bill for the books must be borne by the indie until the book sells. Many people cannot afford to print copies, have them sit on a shelf for four months, then have the book mailed back to them at their own expense. This is why many, many people will wait months, years, even decades for the representation of a large publishing house – because they do not have the time, money, or inclination to take on the various roles required to become their own publishing team. If you are fortunate enough to have personal connections in one of more of these areas, your chances of success increase with each contact you utilize.
Writing a book, bringing it to completion, is something to be proud of. Even if that book never sees the light of day nor darkens paper, the sense of accomplishment is to be savoured. Taking the next step, to see it in print, is the beginning of a journey which can at turns be frustrating, disappointing, intimidating, exhilarating, and exhausting. The method of the journey will depend on the author’s own skillset, patience, confidence, and experience but the prospective author should never underestimate the value of friends – word of mouth can create such a flow of success that a photocopied manuscript can end up making the NYT bestsellers list.
Hmm…not quite what I’ll present tomorrow, may need to water it down a bit for 12 and 13 year olds, but it’s a start. I’ve notes about the eBook phenomenon, but that will make a good topic for tomorrow’s blog post.