I hope everybody is doing well wherever you are. I've been taking questions on Twitter this week to fill up the space on this blog right here. So, that's what you'll get below. And if you've got your own question, leave it in the comment section, and if I have time, I'll get to it.
Also of note--I'd like to give one of you $100 towards the registration fee of the writing conference of your choice. A whole bunch of details about that can be found over on my website www.benjaminleroy.com
Ok! On to the questions!
@JNEWMANWRITING -- What, in your opinion, is the number 1 mistake authors still looking to get their first book published make?
Being in a hurry.
Without having gone through the process before, it’s not hard to understand why some first time novelists feel like the work is done as soon as “The End” has been typed.
It’s unlikely that a book is ready to go to market after a first draft. In fact, I’ve never seen it happen.
Nonetheless, authors are excited to share the work they’ve been chipping away at for months or years, and are in a hurry to reap the cash money rewards that come to all books ever written by anybody. So, before they break out the revision machine, they bust out the SASE and start firing queries off to any publisher who has ever published any book that kinda/sorta is like the author’s.
This is an unsound strategy.
I’ve been publishing books for a dozen years or so. That breaks down to somewhere around a hundred novels. The debut novels I’ve published have been worked, reworked, and reworked again, before ever ending on my desk. After that, even when we’ve accepted things for publications, there’s still another round of hey, did you ever think about doing something like this instead? or hey, this character’s motivation doesn’t really stay consistent between these scenes, can you address?
The authors I’ve been blessed to work with, have done a lot of hard work before I’ve ever seen the book and then are willing to work on it again even after they maybe think they’re done with it.
Writing a book isn’t hard.
Writing a great book is and that's an important part of planting your literary flag.
It takes time and perspective. It’s not a race. You only get one shot at a debut novel, it behooves you to make sure that novel is the best it can be. If that means a few months away from the book while beta readers go after it, that's ok. If that means you need to write multiple drafts, you aren't the first person. Be as objective as you can in this subjective world.
@MARRIEDWITHDEBT -- I'd like to hear your take on the novella's place in publishing today.
I’ve long been a proponent of a book needing to be as long as it needs to be to tell the story it’s trying to tell. That means that I’ve published books approaching 500 pages. It also means I’ve published books that barely make 150 pages. It used to be (or so I was told repeatedly) that a book needed to be at least 200 pages to be considered a novel. Like many bits of repeated “conventional wisdom” in the publishing industry, I’m not sure where it came from originally.
But, I do know, from having filled out dozens of profit and loss sheets over the years, that a book needs to have a good ratio of production cost compared to cover price. One of the things a publisher has to consider when deciding whether or not he’s going to publish a book is what are that work’s competitive titles and how are they priced? It might cost $.25 less/book to produce a 150 page book than it does for a 200 page book. That’s a good thing. But, if people are expecting to pay a certain price for a 200 page book and you need to charge the same for a 150 page book to keep acceptable margins, you might run into a raised eyebrow from John Q. Consumer. That’s a bad thing.
Further complicating all of this is the EXPLOSION~! of ebooks.
Actually, I think ebooks allow for all kinds of fun experiments in book length. Sure, there are still layout costs and those are based, at least in small part, on book length, but the actual raw materials of book production are not there. It’s easier to keep to margins.
What does that mean for authors? It means, depending on their market expectations, now is a glorious and transformative age that likely embraces the novella more than at any time in the recent past.
@EVANJGREGORY -- Do you think publishers could do more to court self-published successes, and build on their success in bookstores?
I’ll be the first person to raise his hand and say I don’t have any answers, just theories, about how things are going to evolve as it relates to the self-publishing world and its crossover into traditional publishing (every time I utter that phrase, a little part of me dies).
Part of the challenge facing publishers is establishing the veracity of “success.” Numbers, rankings, likes, favorites, reviews, all of these things seem prone to manipulation, some in greater magnitude than others. Until a concrete way of understanding a self-published book’s successes is devised, there’ll likely be some hesitation in making the leap.
Except, there are some folks in positions of power who are afraid of looking like they aren’t on the cutting edge and they’re afraid of being left behind. Those people are going to be prone to jumping in (cannonball, not jackknife) to the available pool. One of them will, no doubt, bust out the checkbook, throw a bunch of zeroes at a self-published project that is “guaranteed” to be a “best seller” that will inevitably fall flat (because that’s a risk across ALL publishing, nobody knows how to guarantee a hit) and then everybody will be gun shy.
For me, the challenge, historically, has been that once a book has come out (in any form), it’s no longer able to be reviewed in the trade publications, and those are a huge part of our process. Those publications (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus) may have changed their policies and/or make exceptions for special cases, but I haven’t updated my thinking.
With all of the other day-to-day tasks in front of a publisher (at least one of our smallish stature), I’m not sure who would look around for self-publishing successes. I keep pretty good tabs on what’s going on elsewhere, but I’ve got an inbox full of queries from agents and others that nearly overwhelms me just thinking about it. It’d be one more thing.
Does that mean I’m going to possibly lose out on working with a super awesome self-published author who has a book that I would love to pieces? Certainly a possibility and one that I’m comfortable with at this point.
I believe we’re still in a transitional phase and the future hasn’t settled. I’m doing ok right now doing the things I’ve always done, and I’m not much for jumping just because some dude next to me is jumping. He catches a fish, I’ll give him a high five. He breaks his neck, I’ll send him a card. Either way, I’m just going to hang out on the bridge a little bit longer.
@MCVLADIE -- How do you find a good editor and/or is it standard to submit your work with professional editing? Doesn't publisher do this?
I’ve got no scientific evidence to back up my first claim, so either trust me or don’t when I tell you that in the last fifteen years there has been a marked increase of freelance editors available to authors. Some of them are qualified. Others, err, not so much.
One problem authors encounter while trying to separate “good editors” from “other options” is that anybody, anywhere, at any time can hang a shingle outside his/her door and say, “I’m an editor now. And I’m available to read your book for money.”
There’s no test to take. No license to acquire. The barrier of entry to the editing market is non-existent.
Things you might ask editors when you’re trying to sort them.
(1) Can I have a list of books/authors you’ve worked with in the past? If you know the names and know something about the particulars, great! If you don’t yet, you might invest in a book or two (if available) and see what you think about how it reads. If no books are available and the names don’t mean anything to you, well, I ain’t saying it’s necessarily a dead end, but I’d definitely turn on my high beams before stepping on the gas pedal.
(2) Do you have any relevant experience in the publishing world? There are plenty of people with real world publishing experience who are available to edit your book. My old colleague, Alison Dasho, before starting her new job at Amazon this week, was doing freelance editing work. Although she couldn’t guarantee anybody a publishing contract anywhere, she does have extensive experience with getting books ready for the market, as she has been doing editing in the publishing industry for more than a decade. There are other Alisons in the world (and I've got a list of some if anybody needs one).
I’ve seen some freelance editors cite their love of reading books as, essentially, their sole qualification for being an editor. This is a super dicey proposition. Theoretically, everybody editing books loves reading. I love playing softball, but I shouldn’t be giving Major League (or Minor League) baseball players tips on how to properly field the shortstop position.
That’s my answer to the first part of your question. Now to the second, and this is one that gets brought up quite a bit at the writing conferences I attend.
Phrased differently—If Publishers aren’t going to do any editing, just what do they even do?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been a part of the publication of approximately 100 novels. Every single one of them has been through in house editing (editing done at Bleak House or Tyrus). But it should also be noted that when we agreed to publish them (by signing contracts and paying advances), they were already in excellent shape. In most, if not all of those cases, the book was polished and edited by the author (and in some cases, the author’s agent). Books had been through multiple drafts.
Some of those authors worked with writing groups. Some of them used beta readers they’ve learned to trust. Some of them worked closely with his/her agent.
The important thing I want to highlight is that somebody, besides the author, went over the book to provide feedback, make notes, gently tear things to pieces, etc. Not all aspiring authors have connections to helpful critique groups or beta readers, and may seek the advice/opinion of a freelance editor.
Does a publisher expect an author to have necessarily paid for a professional editor to go over the book? No. But a publisher is only going to consider works that already meet a minimum threshold of quality. We don’t care how an author gets there, but it’s necessary they’ve arrived.
And then the publisher will get out a box of red pens and start the process anew...
Ok, that's it for this week. Seriously though, if you're even thinking about going to a writing conference, you should stop by my website and leave a comment because I'm giving somebody $100 towards the registration fee of the conference of his/her choice. Why? Because, among other things, I want to dispel myths and fears about the publishing industry and I want you to become friends with other people on similar paths.