Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Artist Unleashed: INVENTION, REJECTION, AND PUBLICATION, by Margaret Barnes

Although not all writers want to be published, most do. And they want to be published by one of the Big 5.

I am no exception.

But is all I want, as a writer, to see my book in print? Isn’t there more than wanting to hold the book in my hands marveling at the way it looks, feeling the shiny cover and the smell of new paper? Surely what a writer really wants are readers?

Stories told round the fire or at bedtime to a child, only exist if there is a listener and a novel only comes to life when it is read. Writers want to communicate their story to others.

Throughout my career as a barrister working in the criminal courts, I have told countless stories to juries. I would weave the evidence given during the trial into a story about a character, the defendant, interpreting his behaviour as innocence not guilt. A jury speech is immediate; the success of the story revealed within hours as the jury delivers its verdict.

But a novel? The only way I can tell that story is by making it tangible.
How do I get that to a reader?

The traditional way is to find an agent who likes the way you write and likes the story enough to want to sell it to a publisher. They will do that by finding an editor at one of the major publishing houses who likes the book as much as they do. The author will be offered an advance and the rights to the novel will be transferred to the publisher.

What they don’t say is that it must also pass a marketing test. Agents want to earn money, so if they aren’t sure where they can place your book they will turn it down. Similarly, if the marketing people at the publishing house say they don’t think they can sell it, they won’t want the rights to the novel, no matter how well written or compelling the story. In the current climate the publishing houses are in turmoil, they see their traditional marketing model being torn to shreds and their only response is to become more and more conservative. Now they only want to publish sure fire hits, cookery and gardening books, biographies of musicians and politicians, and novels written by celebrities.

I refused to be discouraged and sent my novel out to several agents, attended conferences where I got the opportunity to present my work to agents and publishers. I received rejection after rejection. They ranged from ‘I like this, but don’t feel sufficiently engaged,’ ‘You write well, but I am not sure this is for us,’ ‘I don’t know where I could place this book,’ ‘We don’t do legal thrillers,’ and finally, ‘We don’t think this will be a best seller.’

Hang on, I thought, I don’t think I’m John Grisham. I didn’t think I would be a best seller. I just wanted a few hundred, perhaps a thousand or so, to read my book and enjoy it.

That’s what I want, nothing more.

Today with the advantage of all that lovely technology, I can go directly to the readers and publish my novel myself. The problem with that is, I know nothing about how to produce a book and sell it to the public. I started looking at various websites for advice and soon realised if my book was to be published I would need the book edited, copy edited, a cover designed, and a publishing house with a distribution network. 

Not that easy then.

I began by getting the book edited. As the publishing houses have shed staff, a number of editors are now working freelance and will edit a novel for a fee. A full edit as opposed to a copy edit is a complex affair. I found that the editor I used wanted to alter my book to be more like the ones she wrote. I had to cling on to the fact that it was my story and I didn’t want to make all the changes she suggested. It may have made it more marketable, but it wouldn’t have been the book I wrote. She did however make some very good suggestions about enhancing the main protagonist, so I made those changes.

I then began to research the various companies who provided packages, and to compare the cost. In the end I decided to use one which although more expensive offered more by way of publicity rather than printed copies of my book. They have organised a copy edit, a great front cover, publication by a company that have a distribution network, and have formatted it for print on demand and for all the e-book platforms.

Have you self-published? What were your reasons? Are you happy to just be read by a few hundred fans, or do you want to become a best seller? Why?

Please note: This post reflects the opinions and experiences of the guest author only.

Find out more about 
Margaret Barnes on her BLOG.


CLICK HERE to subscribe to Jessica's newsletter. Every subscriber will receive Book #1 of the Writing in a Nutshell SeriesShow & Tell in a Nutshell, for FREE. And be the first to know about new releases and giveaways!

1 comment:

  1. An interesting post, Margaret, and I had a similar experience with a mentor I worked with last year. Her suggestions were condescending and bluntly phrased, telling me I was incorrect on some of the facts (but she was wrong, I had researched the info), plus once again she was steering me towards her style. This is an important point - all editors aren't equally competent.
    I complained to the writers org and was reassigned another mentor who was much better suited to me and wasn't busy trying to edit her own book at the same time as mentoring (she gave me three days of her time, the new mentor gave me 4 months. Always do your research.


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris