Persistent, Polite and Persuasive

This weekend I received a new book in the post. Actually I received three, but only one is relevant for this blog post.

 

I regularly get books posted to me. Sometimes it’s a pain, especially when I’m in the middle of a book myself. Why? Because when I’m sitting at my desk trying to write 5-7,000 words a day, I can’t afford the distraction of another book that will tempt me away from my own work.

 

Disraeli once said “when I want to read a book, I write one”. One thing is certain: when an author is writing, it is absolute death to his art to read another person’s work. I can’t. If I do, my writing takes on that writer’s style. There’s some sort of osmosis that seeps into the keyboard or something.

 

However, I have been persuaded to read The Ravens of Solemano by Eden Unger Bowditch. Why? Well, because this woman is a keen writer. She has written another book (Atomic Weight of Secrets), and she has contacted me personally to see whether I can give her a

plug for it.

 

I'd rather be writing in ink.

I’d rather be writing in ink.

It’s damn hard to get a book known out there – as I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog (that was sarcasm, in case you missed it). Books are written, sent to publishers, and occasionally the better ones are taken up and appear in print. However, the problem is that the marketing budgets in large publishing houses are all taken up.

 

The cost of advertising nowadays is prohibitive. Publishers spend a lot of money bringing a book to market. Just today I received the latest version of a map for Tournament of Blood. It is brilliant, a new way of looking at the area, and rendered in a delightfully medieval manner. For me, it makes the scene come alive. But it cost someone several man-hours, and those man-hours had to be paid for by my publisher.

 

Then again, publishers have the expense of editors, copy-editors, proof-readers, and even secretaries and receptionists to cover. They tend to have large brick-and-mortar sites to house all these thoroughly industrious chappies.

 

Without them, life would be much easier. I could go and write three books a year, no problem, and stick them up electronically.

 

There’s no surprise that people complain about publishers.

 

After all, what do publishers do? They take money in, and pay it out at six monthly intervals to the poor devils like me who do all the real work. Not hard.

 

Aha! I hear you say: then why don’t you go straight to electronic books and cut out these middle-men?

 

And the answer is: simple. I don’t want my books to sink without trace.

 

Everyone can think of authors who are richer than they deserve. Many will point at EL James (confession, I had to look up her initials in case I used the initials of one of my own favourite short story writers, MR James!) and tell me that there are authors who don’t need all these editorial wallahs. All they need do is put a book on the web, and rake in the spondulicks.

 

Yes. Some authors are very lucky. Some can write perfect prose without the need for intervention from another writing professional. Some literary types (which tends to mean independently wealthy and without the need to earn a crust) don’t need help. Some earn ridiculous sums for their work. However, for every one author who makes it and makes it big, there are 5,000 who drown. There is a rule of thumb, the 80:20 rule, that in any profession the top 20% earn 80% of all that profession’s income. In writing, it is more like a 95:5 rule. That means that of all the income generated from writing, 95% is taken by only 5% of the authors.

 

A pile of proofs. All checked yet again.

A pile of proofs. All checked yet again.

It used to be the case that if a writer started writing a book, there was a less than 10,000 chance that it would be published. Now, it’s easy to get published (on the web). However, it is infinitely harder to get read.

 

There are plenty of people who try to write. Many are very poor story-tellers. That’s my opinion, but I am a publishing professional – I earn my money from writing – so my view is valid. I believe that too many people write something and fling it at the internet in the hope that it will garner such favourable reviews that they will be proved to be the next Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades superstars. Well, I’m sorry, but they won’t. Very, very few people earn enough from  their writing to be able to keep a mortgage, and the number who can do so is reducing as the money dries.

 

The thing about publishers is, not only do they help create much better work by honing it, they also provide brand awareness – a fact which is growing in importance.

 

If you go to the internet and look up a book, it is quick and easy. However, if you go to browse, hunting for a book – well, from personal experience, you might as well go and dunk your head in a barrel of wine, for all the good it’ll do you. At least the wine will get you drunk. Searching for books, when you have no idea what it is you’re actually looking for, and you’re only looking for a diversion for a few hours, is painfully difficult – at least, it is for me.

 

You can search for cheapest titles first, and you will be presented with a couple of hundred thousand free books. Or go the other way, and wade through all the books at $30 plus, trying to get to the books that are $8. It’s impossible.

 

When you do buy a copy, and get it loaded on your kinoobo reading doohickey, you find it’s full of typos. There are repetitions of the same word in the same sentence, the same paragraph, or the same page. There are misspelled words, there are missing commas, missing (Dear God, I hate this) or misused apostrophes, confusion between the use of “their”, “there” and “they’re”, and any number of other failures. They are there in the work when the author has edited, copy-edited and proofed their own work. You cannot escape it. It will happen.

 

That is why publishers are there. They often fail to edit as well as they might. If a book is published in the USA, it will come to the UK without amendment, and will look odd to Brits as a result. But it’s still got that conviction, that brand-confirmation. The publisher will always produce better-crafted work than an individual: the fact that a book has been put out by a publisher means that it has been approved and improved by professionals. And that is beginning to matter.

Ebook only for now. But I can hope!

Ebook only for now. But I can hope!

 

For the author, there are ways to avoid the copyediting errors. My own modern thriller, “Act of Vengeance”, is a well-produced book because I paid for an editor, a copy-editor, a cover designer – basically, it’s got everything that a published book should have.

 

So, I believe that publishers are still very important to books. But they have their own costs to cover, as I said.

 

Now I come back to the point, at last, and the point is this: authors who put themselves out and try to get their books marketed deserve all the help they can get.

 

The latest proofs done. Back to trying to write again!

The latest proofs done. Back to trying to write again!

Many writers finish the book, send it off, and expect publishers to immediately cobble together a budget of half a million pounds to market it. Well, it doesn’t happen like that. Most of the budgets are already tied up with the latest book by the author the publisher is pushing. Why push that one? Because that author was given a £200,000 advance, and the publisher is determined to get the money back somehow. Blowing part of the marketing budget to ensure the firm sells loads makes sense.

 

When I was a computer salesman it was always said that “no one got fired for buying IBM”. In the same way, no marketing or PR professional got fired for promoting, say, JK Rowling. Think about that. Was anyone unaware that her latest Harry Potter was coming out? And yet every time, Potter Mania would be stoked by the vast resources of Bloomsbury, while the mid-list authors who brought in the bread-and-butter money that paid for the buildings and long lunches for the publisher withered with no promotions.

 

Authors have to look to their own resources when it comes to marketing.

 

The thing is, when someone wants to get their book marketed, there are only so many friends and members of the family who can be asked to promote it. It’s a bit embarrassing to keep on asking for the favour (and if you think it’s bad with one book, you should try asking for people’s help with the thirty-second!). However, if you won’t get moving and try to get some publicity, you’re like a shark that stops swimming: you sink.

 

So, when I was politely asked (and Eden was very polite) whether I would consider reviewing her book, I said no. I was hellishly busy. And when she kept up a conversation over some months until her new book came out, I eventually submitted to fate. I want to help new authors – I’ve been doing so all my working life. I’m busy again, it’s that time of year, but she was persistent, polite, and persuasive.

 

It works.

 

Once story I like to relate is that of my friend Chris Samson. When he started out, he had no knowledge of the industry. All he had was a damn good manuscript. He sent it to a number of people, asking if they would read it and give him any comments.

 

One lady he wrote to was PD James. She did look at it, and liked what she read. She liked it so much, she gave him some suggestions, but also sent a copy to her agent, who took on Chris, and sold it for a large advance (more, in fact, than all my advances put together over the last twenty years – not that I’m bitter …).

 

Sadly, I don’t command the same influence as someone like Chris. But if I can help new writers, I’d like to.

 

Only not just now, please. I have my own book to write. Pick on another author more suited to your work!

 

For those with an interest in such things: currently proofing STICKLEPATH STRANGLER and DEVIL’S ACOLYTE, writing a piece for Medieval Murderers Tenth Anniversary edition, writing a new novel, and trying to fit in real life in-between …

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Comments
9 Responses to “Persistent, Polite and Persuasive”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Michael you are a genius.

    “One thing is certain: when an author is writing, it is absolute death to his art to read another person’s work.”

    I’ve often wondered why since taking up writing full time, my normal rate of reading has seriously diminished. I thoroughly agree with Disraeli. I write books that I want to read. ;)

    Like

  2. SJAT says:

    Very nice piece there, Michael. I recognise that I have been remarkably lucky with my books (a fact that always astounds me and still makes me blink and recheck the figures) but I don’t put it down to the quality of the work as such, but more to the fact that I hit the self-publishing boom at its very start and managed to become established before it was swamped with people who are very likely better than me! :-) But also, some of that has to have come from the inordinate amount of time, effort and money I have put into publicising what I write. It has been said often and very accurately that writing the book is the easy bit. Selling it is the tough part. In fact, over the years I have managed to put together a cadre of professional and gifted amateur friends and contacts that take on a number of roles one would find in a publishing house, often for a pleasantly negligible sum or even free! I am pleased to see your daily word target is very similar to mine, too. You’re a damn hard worker, Michael.

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    • Cheers, Simon – I think people assume that authors can sit back and laze around all day. Certainly I’ve never found that! You’re really lucky to have so many friends who can help. I have to admit, I was reluctant to go that route with, for example, Act of Vengeance, but I did find that my best critic was actually my brother Keith, who displayed surprising insight! He is a man of hidden shallows!

      Yeah, I think that if you got in at the early stages, probably ebook publishing is a bit better. The problem for so many now is they expect 50 Shades successes with their first attempts, and as you and I know, success builds over time. Generally a lot of years, not a single novel!

      All best!

      Like

  3. Andy Millen says:

    Read MY book Mike it is brilliant … actually, what I have out probably does have a lot of those errors you mentioned, I have tried as much as I can to eliminate them. But, you are right, It is the marketing that is the toughest part. There is only so many times that you can post it on social media, only so many websites and forums you can plug it, and you do run out of ideas. I write as a hobby, I enjoy both that and the research behind it, But the point of writing is story telling to me, and story telling is nothing without an audience, hence why my book is self published, Yes, I will try going round agents with my work in progress when it is finished being edited.
    Sadly, I am all to aware that the publishing world is all about sales, (hence the Galbraith/Rowling story a publicity thing if ever i saw one) and big names will sell books, which, as you said, allows the publishers to keep smaller authors going – they also sell books but to a lesser extent maybe.
    So, back to my original statement, I am not seriously pitching to you, I wouldn’t want to (sorry) but maybe you have given me some hope and pointers within that post to push me further to improve my editing skills, and my self marketing skills. Hmmm

    Like

    • Sorry, mate – I’m not trying to do anyone down here. My main point is, if you can, get the book to have the best chance it can have. For me, that means spending some money in getting a professional to read it through and edit. I spent the money on Act of Vengeance, and it was worth it. But getting a book spotted in today’s market is a matter of luck. How on earth, when most people will look at Kindle or Smashwords, can you make your own book stand out, that’s the question. Obviously there are social media like this … but that to a large extent is only a work displacement activity if you’re a writer.

      There really isn’t an easy answer. On the errors, well, I’m proofing my original series for republication now, and I can still find plenty of errors, typos and writing that makes me groan in despair. It happens to all of us!

      Happy writing, Andy!

      Like

      • Andy Millen says:

        I wasn’t saying you were .. you hit the nail on the head for me, End of the day, Amazon are making a few quid off of me (they are the publisher after all) I have yet to see any. (I expected that!) But with sales in double figures, and not just to people who know me (MY 1 5* review is from someone who bought it who doesn’t know me from Adam which makes the ego go massive!) I am taking pleasure in that.
        As for the editing, well, will sit on that and think on that for a while longer, I want it out, but not rushed..
        Happy editing Mike!

        Like

      • A five star review is always rather delightful, isn’t it? I will try to take a look at your book – but just now, I’ve nine review books to look at, which is restricting my general reading!

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