Publishing for Disillusioned Writers (Part 1) – Chris Thomas | Guest Post

All over the world people who think they’ve got something interesting to say are busy scribbling with whatever materials they have to hand, be it on paper, making marks in the sand with a stick, chalk on slate or chiselling the letters on a slab of rock. All such methods have been used at one time or the other and now the computer with a word processing program is the most common medium. Whatever method you employ, dear reader, finally, one day, you’ll have reached the end of your literary labours and begin to look around in the hope that some publishing company somewhere will take enough interest in your work to display it to an eagerly awaiting world as a book to be read and enjoyed.

The Traditional Route
Fat chance! It is at this point in your writing career that the first inklings of the hideous realities of 21st century publishing practice begin to take root in your hitherto innocent mind. Nobody wants to know!
You can’t understand it! You’ll probably be the first to admit that your precious novel (or whatever it is) may not be the ultimate in literary genius but it’s a lot better than much of the stuff you read in many of the books from your local library. The storyline hangs together OK; it’s got a strong beginning and a more than satisfactory conclusion but still it gets rejected every time you send it off to a potential publisher.
What have you done wrong? Nothing, as far as you can tell: after all, you’ve followed all the recommendations given in the “How to get published” books and at your local writers’ group meetings, chosen a publisher that allegedly produces the sort of book you’ve written, composed an irresistible covering letter and synopsis, prepared samples that are double-spaced on one side of the paper, enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope for an answer, posted the whole proposal off then started the long, agonising waiting period that will last until the publisher condescends to contact you – that’s if they bother to do so at all, in which case you’re left hanging; not that they could care less, of course; they’re never short of trash to publish.
It can help enormously if you just happen to know, or are able to get acquainted with, someone in a position of enough stature in a publishing concern, in which case you could easily get off to a flying start just like so many well-known authors (and especially authoresses) have done ever since the publishing industry was born.
If you’re very lucky, one fine day your return envelope might pop through the letterbox. The first time this happens you’ll probably experience a flutter of excitement, until, that is, you open the envelope and discover it’s not an immediate acceptance; just your samples back together with a nicely-worded stock letter on headed paper carefully designed to let you down as lightly as possible. It’s a rejection, of course; one of very many you’ll get in the battle to attract the favourable attention of a bona fide publisher. There’s only one certain way to do this these days, however and that’s to either become famous or to be a “celebrity” from the TV or music scene.
Publishers are in the business to sell as many books as possible and a well-known person like a politician, television “personality” or footballer will always have enough followers and fans eager to purchase the purported “inside story” to make it worth the publisher’s while running up a few hundred (or thousand) copies.
The fact that the vast majority of these books probably aren’t actually written by the person concerned and have a large volume of fiction included to fill the gaps between the bits of verifiable fact is deemed irrelevant : enough copies will probably be sold to cover the cost of production and a bit (sometimes a lot) over for profit. So much for literary worth! As if this wasn’t bad enough, the burgeoning, artificially-manufactured “celebrity” culture of the early 21st century takes up a great deal of the publisher’s capacity that should (in the eyes of many) be devoted to something worth reading. Their trivial, tawdry, ghost-written babble may be of absorbing fascination to a certain section of the book-buying public but it’s of no account whatsoever to any serious reader who likes a good, well-told story.
Publishers generally pick these efforts out of the slush pile first because they know they’ll sell plenty of copies and hopefully keep them in business long enough to occasionally print work that deserves to be printed – and you can’t really blame them for that. What this means in practice is that your story, along with hundreds of others, will be left until a suitable time when there may be a slot in the publishing process which can be filled with other work like yours. This is pretty much a chuck-and-chance-it business and the odds are that your story, with all the other potential rejections, will simply go into the system, most ending up being sent back to the hopeful writers like yourself. The foregoing applies to all the major national publishers (mostly based in London or New York) but you may have slightly more of a chance with one of the smaller regional ones, many of which are heavily subsidise by the appropriate regional arts councils to favour writers living in or writing books about their region.
Other target groups to aim for are those publishers that only print and distribute work of a particular racial, gender or religious slant in unquestioned defiance of all today’s “equality” and “discrimination” legislation. It does help if you are within one of these categories and can produce the kind if work they’re looking for; but even then don’t hold your breath!
By the time you’ve got several scores of rejections papering your wall you’ll begin to wonder whether it might be better getting an agent. It won’t be long before you find that it’s at least as hard, if not harder, to find a literary agent prepared to even look at your work as it is a publisher.
The Publisher/Agent Invitation
There’s always the chance that you might strike it lucky, though: one day instead of getting the normal rejection through the letterbox you might find that you receive an invitation to send the complete manuscript to the publisher or agent so that they can have a look at it in more detail. You’ll never get a phone call or e-mail with such an invitation despite the fact that your phone number and e-mail address were on your initial covering letter. Publishers and agents generally tend to keep potential writers as much at arm’s length as possible so that there will be no closer involvement to begin with. This could be your best opportunity yet, so you get the whole thing printed out with numbered pages, parcel it up with a covering letter and return postage then send it off to whatever publisher or agent has finally deigned to acknowledge there may (just may) be something in your work worth taking to the next step.
Now is the time when something might actually happen to get your book onto the shelves, though it’s more likely you’ll get the whole lot back with a nice letter of “Thanks but no thanks”. If the publishers do decide to go ahead then you can safely leave the whole procedure in their hands. Generally speaking, they are very good at looking after their writers and will escort you gently through this mysterious process. You’ll get some free copies and one-day you’ll actually see your work displayed on the shelf in your local bookshop. You may even be asked to attend a book-signing session – a combination of an ordeal and an ego-trip. That’s the occasion you thought you’d never see and some time later it gets even better – you receive your first royalty cheque! There’s always the possibility you may be asked to do further books for the same publisher, but don’t wait for that. If you’ve got another book under construction on the slipway, get on with it and start looking about for a publisher like you did before, starting with the one that produced your first book because that publisher is the most likely to take you up if sales of your first book were satisfactory.
For any other publishers or agents you try, you now have the beginnings of a CV you can include in the covering letter with your sample chapters, synopsis and SAE. Not that it’ll make the slightest difference to your chance of being noticed: you’ll still be up against the familiar block of not being famous or a “celebrity”. Still, you could be lucky once more – and yet again if the Gods are smiling upon you; but sooner or later will come a time when the barriers raised by publishers are simply too high to jump. Your disillusionment and despair will now be increasing as time passes. How do you go about breaking these barriers down? Subterfuge seems to be the only way so you start sending off your proposals under assumed names – like those of people who are in the news at that moment. Using the names of already successful writers is another ploy. When that doesn’t work either, you may try pen-names such as Mickey Mouse, Basil Brush, Wile E. Coyote or Jack Ripper. Still no interest? Disillusionment deepens. There doesn’t seem to be anything left to do to gain the attention of a publisher. By now you are convinced that if the shades of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, or any of the classical old-timers sent in some of their latest work they would get treated with the same editorial contempt you’ve been experiencing. Should you now simply give the whole thing up as a waste of time and try to lead a normal life?
Absolutely not! This is the worst thing you could do at this point in your literary career by permitting them to whip you into cowering submission as they’ve done to so many other talented authors. If you’ve got other things to write about get on with them and keep sending off proposals in the normal way under your own name while you get used to the way you now firmly believe most mainstream publishers seem to work. It seems to you that first they get your envelope containing your synopsis, samples of writing, stamped, self-addressed envelope and covering letter through their letterbox or in a big bag along with the same thing from another couple of hundred hopeful writers. Then the process of selection begins.
First, all material from agents is probably placed in its own special pile because no “name” or “celebrity” will have any trouble finding an agent. In fact, literary agents actively seek them out with a view to getting a rake- off from their puerile ghost-written ramblings and many agents and publishers have a list of ghost- writers they can call on to do all the hard work if a likely prospect turns up. All the rest of the submissions are then quickly sifted on the off-chance something may attract the attention of whoever is doing the sifting. Those few “possibles” are then set aside for further scrutiny by another member of staff just in case something that might be worth following up has been missed. Whatever is left over either gets posted back to the waiting supplicants or consigned to the rubbish bin for more permanent recycling.
The Publisher/Agent POV
In a strained attempt to be fair to agents and publishers, let us now spend a few moments reflecting on things from their point of view. Some of them get hundreds of submissions a day and it could take a long time, as well as a big proportion of the available staff, just to sort out all that mail.
All automatically-accepted submissions from the famous and celebrities then have to be taken to an editorial meeting and the decision made for each of them whether to go onto the next step – in-depth scrutiny of the content. Some of the “possibles” will also be included or rejected at this meeting, too, as well as what will be the maximum advance offer permissible in any subsequent negotiations with agents. Advances, of course, are only offered to the already famous.
Your precious submission may never get this far, however. All too often such “possibles” are either shelved for a more convenient time, forgotten about, or simply lost. Even if it does get raised at an editorial meeting it could be some considerable time before anyone bothers to contact you – well over a year in some cases.
Now the publisher’s hard work really starts. The manuscripts will then have to be typed out on a word-processor and copies made. One of each is then given to a professional reader, usually freelance, who has to make a report on what (if anything) needs to be done to make it readable for the general book-buying public. Editorial staff will then go through each book and correct spelling mistakes, grammar, etc. Recommendations from the reader’s report will also be taken into account at this stage in case a partial (sometimes total) re-write is deemed necessary and the whole thing returned to the writer as a “proof” for any alterations to be made.
While all this is going on, other departments are busy struggling to produce a suitable cover design and lay out the book as it will eventually appear in print. When, finally, after a lot of sweat, stress and tears, the whole thing comes together, printing, publicity and distribution can then be addressed.
No, it’s not easy being a publisher, as you’ll probably discover if you follow the sequence in which this article will lead. Being an agent, of course, is a lot easier; all you have to do to be one of them is to know how to compose a suitable stock rejection letter and be pally with the right people to whom you can pass on any submissions that may look even halfway promising for publication.
The DIY Thought and Groundwork
With all your experience of past and continuing rejection and perhaps a book or two on the shelves you may begin to think that you might as well try publishing your own work. It’s not really all that difficult if you’re reasonably competent with a computer and have a reliable professional printer and a bookbinder not too far away. You get the pages and covers printed out, take them to the bookbinder – and behold! You’ve got your books made up as professionally as any mainstream publisher can produce.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as simple as it sounds – nothing worthwhile ever is. Lots of little details will have to be attended to before you can even start doing it as a hobby. Before you begin winding your computer up there are a couple of things you can’t do without; the most important being some ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers). These are important because booksellers use them for keeping tabs on their stock and re-ordering and it’s a lot easier using numbers than trying to do it by means of the book titles, genre or author’s name: in fact, most of the bigger book-selling outlets won’t even bother to stock books that don’t have this all-important number, which is recognized and used worldwide. To obtain your ISBNs get in touch with the agency concerned with issuing them – Nielsen in the UK and Bowker in the USA. contact details are on the last page of this book. They may allocate you a block of ten or even a hundred numbers to begin with. [ED – This is probably changing more now with the growth of e-books and online publishing and distribution platforms that don’t insist on the use of ISBNs.]
Next is your imprint, which is the name you’ll be trading under. Anything will do as long as you don’t try to call your little venture something like Penguin Macmillan, Transworld or Random House – that’s not very good idea, they could get extremely annoyed. Keep it short, simple and if possible slightly amusing, so it’s got half a chance of being remembered. While you’re at it, try to design a little logo to go with your imprint name. Look on the back cover, spine and on the first few pages of any book (this one, for instance) and you’ll see where and how the logo, ISBN and imprint name are used.
Having got the basics organised, you’re now ready to start travelling the long, tortured road to actually seeing a book in the bookstore that you wrote, designed and produced yourself.
If you haven’t already got your book on a computer using a word-processing program then type it in. If you haven’t even got a computer or don’t know how to use one then you may have a serious problem unless either you obtain one and become computer-literate or can prevail upon someone else to do the job for you.
A least one word-processing program is needed, the most popular ones being Microsoft Word or Works, though there are several others just as versatile. You’ll also require a good graphics capability like Photoshop or Serif PhotoPlus and you’ll find a simple basic one like Microsoft Paint, or an equivalent, very useful. The only other program you’ll need to do desktop publishing is one that will lay your book out for you ready for printing. Both Serif PagePlus and Microsoft Publisher are ideal for this and can also double up for much of your word processing and graphics work. [ED – Scrivener is also very popular as a writing and formatting tool for authors.]
One last tip on the programs you’ll need – once you get really familiar with the way it works you could find that Microsoft Word is capable of producing results very suitable for many online publishing platforms (Kindle, CreateSpace, Lulu etc), including simple picture formatting.
So let’s start from the point you have all the text of your book typed out in a word-processing program and saved on the hard disc with a backup disk in a safe place in case of accidents. Now bring up the publishing program of your choice on the screen; they nearly all work pretty much the same way and various configurations of pages are usually offered (book-fold, etc).
Select which sort of publication you want to work on and transfer all the text of your book to the pages so that they will print out nicely ready for binding together whether you print them out on your own printer or take your work on a disk to a professional print shop to be done for you. Don’t forget to put in the page numbers and any other headers and footers you’d like included. You’ve got all your story text down now but you haven’t finished yet. Sorry!
Now you’ve got your book nicely set out in your publishing program with pages numbered and the text in text boxes the size of the finished book (five inches wide by eight inches high is a useful book size), check the beginning of any recently published paperback and you’ll probably find there isn’t any of the main book text for quite a few pages. The collective name for these initial pages is “prelims” (short for preliminaries). [ED – Also front matter.]
Whatever order they occur in your sample book, create and add them into your own book in the following way unless you’d prefer to follow what’s done in the sample book. You’ll need to add at least four pages in front of the existing text, though you can leave two of these out if you really want to. The two you can’t leave out are the title and verso pages. The title page speaks for itself – it’s just the title of the book, written by whom and maybe the name of the publisher (your own imprint) and logo (again your own). Try to design this page so it looks good in black and white because that’s how it’ll turn out anyway when it’s printed Use whatever fonts and font sizes you like to give it an appearance you consider attractive. The verso page is always on the reverse side of the title page and usually has on it the copyright details (with year of publication) and the ISBN. Sometimes the publisher’s imprint and logo is included and occasionally details of the printer. Towards the bottom of the page is one paragraph asserting the rights of the author, sometimes another disclaiming all resemblance to people and places, and usually a third promising dire repercussions if the author’s copyright is infringed in any way.
If the sections of the book have their own headings, other than just chapter numbers, etc, you may think a “contents” page would be useful to the reader. In the prelims of some books you’ll find a “dedication” page on which the author thanks people or institutions for their Assistance and support during the trauma of writing the book. This can be simple with just a line or so giving tribute to a single person or packed with all sorts to whom the author wishes to express gratitude.
These are the basic prelims though in other books you may find pages with maps, diagrams or a list of other books written by the same author: this latter one, actually, is often best placed at the very end of the book text where it can sometimes be squeezed in at the bottom of the final numbered page. “Characters” or “Personae Dramatis” pages are sometimes put in just before the start of the story text; so is any Glossary though this can be put in at the end, as are any “Author’s Notes”. If your book needs an index then this is inserted last of all, but be aware that an index is a difficult thing to compile properly so you may need to enlist the services of a professional indexer. Along with all this you might find the occasional blank page that doesn’t seem to be there for any particular reason. There is, however a very valid reason for the inclusion of these and we’ll come to that later on. [ED – Many publishing platforms and digital printers also provide templates for authors.]
The next thing you really must do now is design a nice cover for your book and you should be able to do this on a separate file in whatever desktop publishing or graphics program you intend using.
Unless a bookshop displays your book with the front cover facing any potential purchaser, the only thing they’ll see is the spine, so as well as designing a striking font cover the spine has to stand out in a row of other books to attract initial attention. Use your imagination, any pictures you have and suitable fonts to lay out your cover, which consists of three main sections – the front and back covers with spine sandwiched between them. [ED – Always use images of a least 300dpi quality and ensure you for the rights and permissions to use the images.]
On the front cover you’ll need the book title with any sub-titles, the author’s name and any appropriate background.
The back cover can be somewhat more complicated: check out some of the recently published book covers in your local library and you’ll see the diversity. One thing is a must, though: on paperbacks most of the back cover space will be taken up with the “blurb” and this is what most buyers tend to glance at first to get an idea of what the book’s all about. Basically, it’s nothing more than a very short synopsis of a hundred words or so about what’s inside the book. This is obviously very important so take a great deal of care over this to get it right. Sometimes the back cover will have a small picture of the author, usually at the top, with a potted biography of about 50/60 words nearby in a small font. Below the blurb you’ll often find the publisher’s logo and imprint then, at the bottom, will be the price, the genre of the book (crime, S/F, romance, etc), its ISBN and a barcode. Nowadays the barcode is quite important as a lot of the larger booksellers won’t stock any titles without one because the code is used at the cash point and recorded to assist in stock control and reordering. Unless you’re a computer whiz you may have a bit of a problem creating your own barcodes so take the ISBN along to a printer and see if someone can do it for you and put it on a disk so you can load it into your computer and transfer to the back cover as a picture. There will probably be a small charge for this service, but it’s worth it!
You should now have all your text, prelims and a nice cover filed in your computer so join together the text, prelims and any other pages you want to appear in the finished book in a program like Microsoft Word or Publisher, copy it onto a disk and take it to a local printer (or upload the completed file to a POD printer) to see what can be done with it. You can also take along the cover on the same disk but if you’ve got a decent colour printer print out a sample and decide whether to print your own covers – it’s cheaper! When you’ve got the pages printed out in the correct order and a few covers made up, the last job you could do is take them along to a bookbinder who will produce maybe a few experimental copies of the finished book for you It’s a very special feeling when you hold in your hands a book that you’ve created yourself (with a little professional assistance) and well worth all the effort you’ve put into your first self-publishing project.
Assuming that the experimental books have worked out to your satisfaction, you can now think about having many more books produced with a view to selling them to an eagerly-awaiting public. Now’s the time to look back over the text and cover files on your computer and correct any mistakes you’ve made. At the same time, decide (and alter on the cover, if necessary) the final retail price you want to sell it at and also what will be the publication date. Inform the ISBN Agency of these and the other details about the book by filling in their form (you can now do this on-line if you want) and take the revised disk(s) back to the printer and have as many sets of texts and covers run off as you think you’ll be able to sell. One more visit to the bookbinder and you’ll have a bunch of nice new books ready to show the world.
Now what do you do?

Part 2 of Publishing for Disillusioned Writers will be posted on TIPM next week.

Author Bio

Chris Thomas is an author and contributor to numerous articles and books on fishing in Wales, a series of science fiction books (Gildas series) and an informative book about Sacred Welsh Waters.

Enraged by unscrupulous publishers, he also set up a micro-publishing company, Wuggles Publishing, to publish his books and ended up saving numerous authors from the clutches of the sharks. A rare and virtuous author and publisher!

A lover of justice, ale, fish and cats, he continue to promote awareness amongst as many fellow authors as he can.  

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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