Who would credit it? Yesterday I admitted I couldn’t post a comment a week on my blog, and now, I’ve done two in two days. As I said, a time to every purpose . . ..
I am trying to write two novels and I am now also paddling in the shallower waters of short stories; I’ve written a whole two of them, with more to come. The point is, with my novels I intend to try the traditional route: get an agent, who will then get me a publisher. Simple. Well, actually, not that simple—a lot of hard work needing to be done and a dash of luck needing to be added as well.
If a writer travels that path successfully, they don’t need to worry their pretty little heads about editing, (beyond what they’ve done to get an agent) advertising, promotion, cover art and the story’s title. Yes, the publisher actually may want to change your beloved title to something that will promote the book more effectively. And, if the book finally becomes successful, there will be book signings, interviews, film options and a whole raft of other things that your agent will negotiate for you while you work on your second book deal.
If you can’t find an Agent, in today’s digital age there is no barrier to people self-publishing their work, no matter how bad it is. There are no gatekeepers in the e-pub, self-publishing world to winnow out those whose works are not so good, so readers are swimming through a huge amount of dross searching for those small droplets of liquid gold—a damn good read. How can you ensure that the work you put out there for all the world to see is the best it possibly can be and also hook those swimmers as they pass you by?
You need to spend money.
I’m not talking about vanity publishing; I’m talking about paying for professional services. The first thing you need to do, and all it will cost you is some time, is to join a critiquing group. This is where you submit your first, second and further drafts for people to critique. When doing this you need to keep two things in mind: first, short stories will get many more critiques than novels and, second, don’t believe everything everyone says about your work.
Personally, I use the critique group to fine-tune the structure and pace of my stories until I’m ready to submit the next draft. I have also found a couple of people whose input I value over most others and I consult them on occasion, and hopefully not too often to be annoying.
So, you get to the point where you’ve written your final draft, had it critiqued and now you’re approaching agents and trying to get one to represent you. You keep trying for a year or so and no one is interested in your story; now is the time to re-evaluate your work. Is it any good, really? You convince yourself it is, so what’s the next step: self-publishing? You agonise over this and finally decide yes, I will self-publish. Then, what are the next steps?
Hire a professional Editor who specialises in your story’s genre. And do what they say. Even if they tell you to kill off your favourite character, do it. They know more about the writing process than you do, and they also know what works in the real world of publishing, not the one in your head. The rates charged by editors vary, but are usually based on the number of words in your manuscript, which is an incentive for you to do a pre-edit and cut, cut, cut.
Hire a professional Cover Artist who specialises in your story’s genre. This is very important, in fact, the cover of your story is more important than the words behind it. The cover is the first barb in the hook that will entice a prospective reader, just browsing, to pause and take a look. Do your research; you want to get someone whose work you like. You also want someone who will allow you to have some input through the design process on into the final image. Pay as much as you can afford. The cover art should clearly indicate the genre, but it should also hint at the theme of your story without being overt. You want to entice that passer-by to pause, take a look, and perhaps read the blurb underneath the thumbnail image on the screen.
The back-cover blurb is the second barb in the hook that you have to catch prospective buyers with, and it needs to be damn good. First off, read all the blurbs on the books in your own library. If you’re like me you will have a collection of stories in the genres you write in. See how they’re structured and the economy of words. Just what is it about the blurb that prompted you to open the cover and read the first few lines? Can you do the same thing for your own book? Usually, the answer will be no.
You may be great at writing a story, but the back-jacket blurb is a completely different barrel of fish. Its purpose is to interest and tantalise, not tell the reader about the plot, the characters or even the story. Its purpose is to tell the reader what the story is about and to do it in a manner that will excite the reader. And someone else should write the first draft. Why? Because the author is too close to the story and most can’t resist the urge to explain the important points in the story. Or what they think are the important bits; they wrote it, so they should know, shouldn’t they? Ah, no, actually.
Get two or three people you respect to read your final draft and then write the back-jacket blurb for you. Once you get them back, analyse them for similarities and differences. Query the differences with each of your contributors and see if a consensus can be reached. This is then your draft blurb that you will work on. And I mean work on it to heighten interest and intrigue—not add stuff your helpers didn’t include, even your favourite things.
Remember, writing the story is the easy part, getting someone to part with their hard earned money is another thing entirely. The only tools you have at your disposal to get them to just look in the first place are the visual image on the cover and the words of your blurb. If neither of those grab the reader, no sale. And all this is just to get them to read the first sentence of your story.
Good luck, you’re going to need it. But hard work makes its own luck, doesn’t it?