"It's better not to be published at all than to get published in an inferior way. Doors begin to close if you try to take shortcuts. Instead, take your time to do things right. Accept no compromises. You will be much unhappier with a published book that has gone awry than with an unpublished book that still has potential."Thing is, the zen which EA asks us to conjure up is nigh on possible, and she acknowledges that it is at least very difficult. As writers desperate to get our writing out there, we desire publication and we desire it NOW. Or sooner if at all possible.
But every bit of her advice is absolutely right. Difficult or impossible though it is, we must put that burning desire aside in favour of another burning desire: to get the right book published in the right way. Successful publishing is not just about this one book: it's about you as a writer, and you will carry your first book with you for the rest of your writing life. Yes, if you go on to be stunningly successful, you may not mind too much, but a poor first book nowadays can make it difficult to go forward, partly because poor sales figures can no longer be hidden. Thanks, Nielsen Bookbloodyscan.
EA says, crucially:
"Book publication is affected by many factors. A book may deserve to get published, but the market may be wrong. A book idea may be wonderful, but the execution may not be really up to snuff and need more work. The author may be a fantastic writer, but maybe this particular manuscript isn't the best book on its own, or maybe it's a good book but not a good debut. In all of these cases, if the author pushes, pushes, pushes for publication no matter what, they will damage both their future career as a writer and their relationship with their art."Those are the very good reasons why your very good work may not have achieved publication. Yes, it's maddeningly, teeth-gnashingly, finger-chewingly, gut-wrenchingly horrible when we can't get published for these reasons. (Remember that I have been there: 21 years of anger and desperation gnawed at me while I failed to be published but somehow succeeded in smiling at the world and pretending nothing was wrong.)
The problem nowadays, more than ever, is that it's actually easier than ever to get published - if we include being published badly. What do we mean by "published badly"? There are two main ways:
- when a genuine publisher doesn't know what it's doing. Anyone can set up a publishing company and it's a very laudable thing to do, but it's a case of Author Beware. If it's brand new, what relevant background and back-up does the publisher have? How do they plan to get your book into shops? If it's not brand new, what sales figures, reviews and exposure did they achieve for previous publications? How aggressive are they in the industry? (They need to be. An example of a good small and newish publisher - about five years old now, I think - is Strident Publishing. Strident by name and strident by nature! I know Keith Charters well and he's tireless in selling his authors' books and has a business background behind him, as well as being an author himself.) Crucially, ask about copy-editing, proof-reading and design processes - does your proposed publisher outsource and pay properly for this?
- when a company masquerading as a publisher is actually part of the self-pubbing industry - there's nothing wrong with decent self-pubbing, as long as it isn't masquerading as something else. (Google the name of the company plus the word "self-publishing"; and, just in case, with the word "scam"...) Too many authors don't know the difference and then laud their "publishing deal" as though something more had happened than that they'd paid for a service. Note: if you pay anything for publication or have to sell your own books rather than receiving a % on each book sold by the company, you have not "been published"; you have paid for publication. This is not just a matter of semantics - I explain below why you should be careful.
Only if the book is a success. And I cannot tell you how unlikely this is. Have you any idea how hard the book-selling process is? It is hard enough for big publishers with their sales forces and marketing departments to achieve good sales, and often they fail. But it is far harder for anyone else. On the rare occasions when you hear of a runaway success from self-publishing or from a publisher who doesn't know what he's doing, there's always something untold in the story: for example, the author may have put many thousands of his own money, or at the very least had huge chutzpah, annoyed the hell out of every bookseller and librarian on the planet and had no time for writing or living. Or the author already had a background in sales / marketing and was perfectly willing to spend time and money using it. And certainly the author had some way of engineering many events to sell the book. Runaway success like this is enormously rare, which is why you hear the same-old-same-old few examples trotted out every time. I'm NOT saying don't self-publish, but I am saying go into it with eyes wide open because success comes rarely and at a huge price - if you're a writer, you are likely to love writing, not selling. And you're likely not to understand the business. If you do, and you do prefer selling to writing, and you have lots of money to invest in paying for help, fine.
I know, I know. Trust me, I do so know how you feel. But another aspect of bad publishing is that it probably won't be between lovely covers. It will be between crappy covers, looking all limp with cheap paper and print that goes too close to the edge because the publisher was cutting costs. It will be full of typos and weird fonts and widows and orphans and peculiar layouts. And the back cover blurb will make everyone laugh, for the wrong reasons. (I have several examples on my shelves, sent to me by authors furious at what has been done to them and their beloved books by unscrupulous companies masquerading as publishers.)
Oh, and it won't be in a shop. Most books published by most publishers are not in most shops. For self-pubbers, multiply that ten-fold.
And when you then write another better book, how you will wish that the first one wasn't published! I offer you Editorial Ass's wise words again:
"Some projects, however good they are, never need to see the light of day, because they've been stepping-stones on your road to self-development. They are what will train you to write the book that really matters."The book that really matters. Isn't that what really matters to you? The thought that the book you are trying to sell now, that you have slaved and sweated and angsted over, may not be the book that should be published, is a terribly difficult thought to bear. But the moment when you come to that decision and start another book, gently wrapping the first one up and laying it to rest with an ausible sob, could be the most important and positive moment of your writing life.
You may be interested to know that I have two such novels, and about a week ago I realised that I am now ready to write them again, and properly. I have realised how to make them work. And gosh am I glad they were not published! I shudder at the thought.
I'd also like to you to read this older, excellent post from the Kidlit people here. Please. It underlines all the above.
Now, it could be that the novel you are writing or submitting now IS fabulous and will be published well and for all the right reasons. But it is statistically more likely that it isn't and that you are still at the practising stage. Think of it as being like wanting to be a concert pianist: you wouldn't want to go on stage before you were good enough, would you? You'd wait till your teacher said you were ready. Well, consider the distinct possibility that this piece of writing is not the piece that will happily launch your career, but that it is very usefully making you better, until you will one day be ready, and then you can launch your career, knowing that you really are on the way to success and that you will look at your first published book with pride.
And that right time might not be now because this book might not be the right one. But it will make you better.