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Question Time

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Every so often, I publish my answers to questions people have asked in various online hangouts. This week:

What should a writer do to publish their work after it's written?


Why do people automatically think a book is bad if it is self-published?

Q1 - What should a writer do to publish their work after it's written?

First thing’s first: revise and edit. Seek constructive criticism and revise and edit again.

Repeat as many times as is necessary until you feel you cannot go any further with this process without the help of a professional. Once you have reached this stage, thoroughly proofread your manuscript for grammatical and punctuation errors.

Then decide if:

  1. You want to go the traditional publishing route which means finding an agent to represent you and sell your manuscript to a publisher.

  2. You want to self-publish your book which means learning how to format your manuscript, create a book cover (or buy one), blurb and online marketing.

If route 1:

  • Create an account on Query Tracker where you can make a list of potential agents who might be interested in your work. Then research them — find out what kind of books are on their list and decide if yours would fit in with their list. You can’t know for sure, but you can hazard a guess — even a quick look at the type of book covers on their book list can tell you if your book is similar in genre or tone. (i.e. if they have a lot of floral, regency looking covers and you write dark, psychological suspense, it’s likely they are not going to be pitching for your work). Also, use your own bookshelf as a resource — which authors do you like the most and/or have some common ground with your own manuscript? Look in the acknowledgements pages for names of agents and other contacts.

  • Go further by looking up your favourite potential agents online and see what they’ve been saying about their authors, their tastes, even any personal interests they might talk about in their online life. Does anything resonate with your own interests or with any of the themes in your book? If so, add them to your shortlist.

  • Create a killer submissions package with a query letter that will get them hooked on the potential of your product, a synopsis that has them wetting themselves with excitement while presenting yourself as someone who is a viable longterm colleague to work with.

  • Go along to writing festivals and events and get networking. Get in front of agents and publishing professionals and get your face known. Even if they are not personally interested in your project, they might know someone who could be.

  • Join Twitter for networking and publishing opportunities. This is where the industry pros hang out, so be a pro and don’t treat it like Facebook. On Facebook, join groups that will help you get somewhere with your writing, not shoot you down.

If route 2:

  • Learn the aforementioned skills in book formatting and marketing.

  • Hire a good editor for a developmental edit to help you identify any weak areas in character or plot development, or help with pacing and shaping issues, etc., and also with line edits. Then hire a proofreader to give it a final go-over (possibly the same person, but not necessarily. Probably better if it is someone new to the work, TBH.)

  • Get yourself an author website where you can showcase your work or at least a Facebook author page. (Yes, Amazon is the biggest market for ebooks, so it’s up to you whether you want to place your future entirely in their hands or not, but you can just create a page with them and then publish everything through their platform.)

  • Get blogging — not just on your own website but on other people’s too. This is where you can place links to your online sales outlets and to your work.

  • Write short stories and get them published in magazines and literary journals. Again, this is where you have an opportunity to provide links to your work. If people like your short pieces, they will likely want to read more of your material.

  • Start on your next novel and get that published — it’s a well-known fact that self-published series sell better than lone novels and that the first book usually seeds the market and tends to be offered for free (but that’s one strategy you’ll have to learn about with marketing). If you don’t have another project in the pipeline, now’s the time to think about if your current novel can be split into two or three parts and drip-fed to your readership.

And in both cases, be patient. Sometimes, things happen quickly for some authors but mostly it takes a lot of time. Enjoy the journey because in this game no one actually knows where the destination is!

Q2 - Why do people automatically think a book is bad if it is self-published?

Initially, because too many people mistake writing a book and being an editor as one and the same thing, plus they publish before they have even learned their craft. They write a first draft of a novel or self-help book, go through it a couple of times for typos and grammatical errors, design a terrible front cover themselves and then hit the publish button. What they don’t realise is the amount of work and practice it takes to learn how to execute a gripping, well-paced story with authentic characters, or, in the case of self-help books, how to present the necessary relevant information in a logical order, how to identify with the audience, nor how valuable a proper editor is. Ditto for a book cover that sells the work effectively.

There are some great indy authors out there who know what they are doing and are completely serious about their profession, will employ a pro editor to work through their book, etc., but they are unfortunately swamped by the masses of amateurs who have not taken the time to learn all of the aforementioned and who think they can also be a professional editor in the space of one book. This inevitably leads to a lot of inconsistency in quality.

But there is more to it than simply the inexperience. Indy books don’t make it into supermarkets and book shops, so people don’t see these authors as having any real presence or talent outside of their own vanity.

The reason the decent authors cannot get into bookshops has less to do with whether they are any good as a writer and everything to do with not having the resources to pay for the shelf space or exercise a returns policy to the book shops on unsold copies.

Basically, if the marketing strategy failed, a book shop does not want to be lumbered with a stack of unsold copies that they cannot sell and, unlike Indy authors, publishing firms such as Harper Collins, Penguin, etc., take back what isn’t sold and put it down as another statistic in their profits and losses.

The mainstream media will also not review indy books (no idea why at this time).

All this contributes towards the idea that self-published books are not of decent enough quality to be considered ‘proper’, ergo: 'it's bad.'

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