Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Talking Apples and Oranges

Seven years ago, when I received my proof copy of A Small Case of Murder, I squealed with delight. I looked at it’s shiny cover. The artwork was fabulous. It looked even better live and in person. Plus, it was my book that I had written.
It looked great. So I picked up the phone, called the publisher and told him to let it rip. Let’s release that baby on the world.

Days later, I receive a frantic phone call from my mother. She had received her copy of A Small Case of Murder and quickly sat down to read her daughter the writer’s book. To her horror, she found it riddled with typos!

No one told me that the purpose of a proof is to read it to check for errors. I had invested in an editor! I had edited it and proofed it inside and out. How could there be typos?

By the time I had received that proof of A Small Case of Murder, I didn’t want to read it. I had read it so many times that I thought my eyes would bleed if I had to read it one more time. But my responsibility  as the author was to read that proof, or have someone else read it because this was the last chance to correct mistakes before it is released to the public—and reviewers. (That’s another blog post.)

I didn’t know that then. I do now.

I had graduated from college with the Bachelors in English, literature, and journalism. I took tons of classes on writing suspense, the great American novel, point of view, description, etc. I had worked for tenn years as an editor and layout artist for the federal government. But when it came to what to do after writing my first mystery, I didn't have a clue.

Who do I call? A literary agent or a publisher? Do you need a literary agent? Where do you find a literary agent?

Seven years ago, without the benefit of Internet for social networking with other authors and people in the business, I never came in contact with anyone who could instruct me about this mysterious world centered in New York and these faceless gatekeepers and gods who had the power to either make my dreams of being a published author come true or have them wither away like those dreams of so many others.

I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do with a proof except to say, “This sure is a pretty book.”

Most of the mistakes that I have made are based on misconceptions that I had about how publishing works and the motivations of those involved. There’s way more to publishing than can be addressed in one blog post, and I hope to not make it too simplistic, but here it is in a nutshell:

Publishing is a Business.

When you’re writing your book, you are a writer. You are an artist.

After your book is written, and you seek to have it published, then you become an author.

At this point, whether you are seeking to be traditionally published or independently publishing, you are a business person.

In other words, when you talk about writing and publishing, you are talking about apples and oranges.

When it comes to publishing, think about it and treat it as a business. This will help to alleviate a lot of artistic frustration when you’re able to wrap your head around this.

Whether it be traditional publishers or self-publishing businesses, the mission is about producing a product (books) to sell to the public. If the product doesn’t sell, the company (the publisher if the book is published traditionally; the author if it is self-published) doesn’t make money, or even worse, loses it.

Publishers don’t care about art and publishing great literature. They are very different from the way they were back in the days of Hemingway and Steinbeck.
Traditional publishers only care about selling books and making money and right now they are losing it hand over fist for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list of those reasons, poor executive decisions and advances in technology that have upset their apple carts.

Therefore, publishers will only invest in what they consider guaranteed money-makers. That’s why when you walk into Barnes and Noble you see whole aisles devoted to vampire love stories and another aisle filled with memoirs from politicians, and another devoted to has-been child stars who tripped over a literary agent waiting at the prison gate with a seven-figure contract from Random House to write their story. (The ghost writer that will actually write that book was stuffed in the trunk of the limo and will be eating a tuna fish sandwich for dinner while the child star will be sipping champagne.) You will also find books by authors with a proven track record of making big money for their publisher, which is only one percent of the overall author population.
Proven authors, celebrities, and big named politicians have no trouble getting contracts because, financially, publishers can’t take the risk of investing in an unknown quantity.

Whether you, as an author want to fight this battle to get in with a traditional publisher, or go the independent route of self-publishing, you do need to accept that in many aspects, no matter how much it turns your stomach, this part of the publishers’ thinking is right.

Publishing is a business. It is the selling of books to the public. If a traditional publisher doesn’t invest his money in publishing your book in order to put it out there to the public, then the only other option for you as an author is the self-publishing route. In this case, you will be investing your money in it. Unless you’re Bill Gates with money to burn and too much time on your hands, your book needs to be a product that the public will buy.

That means you, dear author, need to make your book salable. By that, I'm not saying your book needs to be the subject matter of the month.

I'm talking about quality. You, dear author, need to do everything in your power and talent to make your book the best it can be in in order to stand up against the thousands upon thousands of books being published every year.

Don't get scared. This is possible.

Even without a big publisher backing you, it is possible to produce a book capable of standing up against the big guys' books. It takes a lot of hard work and diligence, but it can be done when care is given to editing and proofing, and design.

It was after I had this Ah-hah moment, after having been around the block and making a few mistakes (like releasing A Small Case of Murder without reading the proof because no one told me that I was supposed to read it!) that I set up Acorn Book Services. (I have since revised and re-released A Small Case of Murder, along with A Reunion to Die For.)

With four (going on five) books under my belt, I want to pass on what I have learned along the way, which is the purpose of this blog. 

So, now I open this site up to you. What questions do you have about writing or publishing? Remember they are two different things, whichever you want to talk about. Apples or oranges. I'm ready to take them both on.

Send your questions to me and let's get to work.

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