They say everyone has a book inside them. Sounds painful. But just because everyone “has” one doesn’t necessarily mean they “should” write it.
There are over one million books published every year, thanks in the main to self-publishing, with Amazon in particular driving a market that exists mostly for vanity, but hidden away in that lot are some real gems. How do you find them? Well, that’s the problem for any author. Discovery is essential to success.
There’s a lot of vanity inherent in writing a book anyway: hey everyone, listen to me! Read my words! But what self-publishing allows, and it’s a modern phenomenon, is this: all those manuscripts that publishers would normally turn away are now out there. In a way it removes a layer of quality control – assuming publishers somehow innately know what’s hot and what’s rot, which of course is nonsense; but what Amazon and others have is a transparent rating and review system to help readers make their minds up.
Traditionally, large publishers sit at the top and feed off the smaller ones, while literary agents provide those publishers with books they think might suit them. Overall it’s an exceedingly snobbish, elitist and jumped-up way of dealing with talent but at the same time, they are only human beings and some claim to receive upwards of 300 submissions a week!
So the chances of your book succeeding are slim to none, frankly, unless you’re either simply lucky or manage to catch the attention of an enthusiastic agent who’ll work on your behalf.
As an author myself, signed to a small indie publisher, I’ve witnessed all this first hand, and while it pains me that something as shonky as Fifty Shades of Grey can capture the hearts (and money) of millions, the fact is your book is only commercially as good as people think it is.
Is it worth the trouble then? While non-fiction can be of any length in theory, traditionally a novel needs to be between 75,000 and 120,000 words and then there are short stories (say, up to 6,000 words), novellas and episodic releases.
Books take a lot of time and effort to write, and even more so to do them properly, so if you have a cracking idea then you might as well sit down and get on with it. Speech recognition might seem an attractive shortcut but I wouldn’t recommend it. The best way to write a book is to sit in front of a screen and type it out. Give life to your characters, as if they’re real people. Treat your secondary characters the same as the main ones. Dialogue needs to be authentic. Describe situations and scenes well enough to create the visual image but don’t over-egg it. Keep track of your plots. Then end it. Draw a line under it. Too many books meander and fizzle out, so you want to keep your writing sharp and satisfying.
Then read and re-read and re-read, tighten and polish, then tighten and polish again. After that, if you want to get your book the best it can be, find a good editor. They’ll find plot holes, lazy passages, things that don’t quite add up… and make your book better.
But if you don’t care about any of that (in which case I’d say why?) then there’s nothing stopping you from putting your unbridled gibberish on the net for all to see, hopefully pay for and recommend to everyone else.
You’ll certainly make more money that way, in theory at least, because books are expensive to print. Publishers aren’t going to print 100,000 copies and get them into bookshops if they aren’t guaranteed to sell. Bookshops take a big cut (and demand a big discount from the list price) and so the author gets very little at the end. With self-publishing though the percentage is higher by default.
It’s also a long game. Although one of the biggest selling books of all time, The Bible, is a one-off, most authors write a good number before getting anywhere. But things are changing. Just as YouTube is creating a new kind of celebrity, so self-publishing is a viable alternative to the traditional routes.
The key is promotion. No one knows about your book if you don’t tell them. Without a marketing budget you simply must be comfortable with blowing your own trumpet. And if your book is good enough, maybe you’ll get there…
One final point: people do judge books by their covers!
Christopher Ritchie is a novelist, journalist and musician based in Walton-on-Thames.
A lifelong Elmbridge resident, his two children are at school in Hersham and he hopes one day to be able to afford to move back there. His novels, House of Pigs and The ordinary, are available at all good online stockists as paperback and eBook.
He also produces free soundtracks for his books, which you can find at http://bubblectro.bandcamp.com
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