Just recently I was asked an interesting question over on Facebook.
Somebody asked me – “Steve, I’ve been thinking about writing a book and I really want to get serious about it. How do I publish it? How much should I pay to get it published? I’d really rather not pay too much.”
So I answered that question and I’m going to airlift the answer from the Facebook page over to my blog – because we writers are unscrupulous recyclers.
I’m just changing the name of the person in the interest of privacy – but you know I’m talking about you Dean Koontz, now don’t you?
First thing, you ought to finish that book. Finish it right to the last period. It’s very hard for a first-time writer to sell a “work-in-progress”. A publisher wants to buy a finished product – so finish the book until it is done-done-done!
Then, you can start thinking about selling it to a publisher. If it is a good enough book, you will find somebody who wants to buy it.
I want you to get comfortable with those two words – “buy” and “sell” – on account of writing is primarily a business. You talk to ninety-five percent fo the publishers out there and they will tell you that they want a book that they can sell for a profit. So make sure you’ve written a marketable product. The best way to make sure is to read every damn book in the genre that you’ve chosen. If you’re writing a mystery – read every damn mystery you can find in the library. Empty the mystery rack at the bookstore, while you’re at it.
Read new stuff as well as old. Explore the medium. Find out what’s out there.
If you don’t really love to read then you’ve got no business trying to write.
One of the first questions you’ll need to answer is – what the hell am I writing? – on account of that is the first thing a publisher is bound to ask you. A writer needs to be able to sum up what he’s written in a line or two. Think about all of those promo plugs that you used to read in the TV GUIDE. All right, so there isn’t any TV GUIDE anymore – don’t blame me if I’m older than the dirt that grows under dirt. Think about the movie DIE HARD. What’s it about?
DIE HARD is a story of a divorced cop who fights his way through an entire skyscraper of bad guys lead by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) to save his ex-wife.
That’s it. That’s the whole story. You want to be able to see your book that way – in one sentence or less. Once you’ve written the book boil it down to a single sentence and start thinking about things like SUBMISSION PACKAGES and QUERY LETTERS – which would take a whole other five or fifty-eight Facebook entries to explain.
Lastly, do not EVER, EVER, EVER pay to have your book printed – unless you’re honestly only thinking about giving out a few copies to your Mom and Dad and Great Aunt Murbaline. Or, unless you a world-class public speaker who is already being asked to go and speak at dozens and hundreds of public gatherings about the “Ancient Shaolin Technique of Toe-Growing”. If you are already a world-class expert on some field that people will pay to listen to – then – and only then – should you consider paying for a private printing to sell to all of those people who want to learn more about growing toes.
Finally, the other alternative you might look into is putting your work into e-book format – which is another ten or twelve Facebook entries worth of explaining. But first thing – finish that book. Everything else ought to come later.
(I purposefully did not go into this topic on the Facebook page because I’ve already talked a lot about e-book publishing elsewhere – and I wanted to keep this entry strictly focussed on one particular facet of the business. This is a danger of somebody like me who actively writes in both the traditionally-published field and the e-book field. It is a little like being multi-lingual. I might be going on and on in Swahili and suddenly spout out something about Doc Savage in old-school Mayan.)
Lord holy old jello-goggles but I am a windy old windsock…
yours in storytelling,
(if you liked these words why don’t you try reading my latest e-book – a novelette entitled SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME. Take it from me, this is not just any vampire/hockey novelette.) http://www.amazon.com/Sudden-Death-Overtime-ebook/dp/B0077ZR2TS
Ah, so the internet rumors are correct… Dean Koontz will be writing about toe growing in his next book? Cool. I bet it still features an intelligent dog…
Nice post… most new writers get impatient and put the proverbial cart before the horse, or whatever that cliche’ saying is… we’ve all been there, writing the opening line to our epic opus and already worrying about book signings and where to spend that advance money…