You’re Not Going to Like This

Bookshelf

Well, you might, but there is going to be a good amount of “reality check” material in this post, so be prepared.

I’ve only been working in the publishing industry for a few years, but through ads and clients and my website, I have come across a lot of first time authors who are trying to take their book to the next level. A lot of times, these people turn out to be flaky in the sense that they don’t want to pay for services, or they want to receive services for a very low price. That is to be expected, since I know that just because you are a writer it doesn’t mean that you are made of money. However, it’s important to be realistic about your manuscript and your work when you bring it to a publisher, editor, or marketer. Especially if you haven’t done anything but write it.

I often hear that authors know that their book will be the next bestseller and that it will go to heights similar to Rowling’s. While this may be true for a few, it is certainly not true for all. The amount of interest your book gleans doesn’t necessarily depend on the content alone, it also depends on the marketability and genre. My point is that you need to be educated on your market, genre, and also be mindful that, although you are unique, there are still a large number of manuscripts circulating right now that are within your genre, market, and area. Be reasonable about your expectations.

Even if your book is picked up by a publisher, your work is not done. You will still have to go on tour, engage your fans, assist with promotions, and sometimes even plan and arrange all of these things on your own. Depending on the publisher’s budget, they may or may not be willing to pay for the marketing plan that you were hoping for. A huge factor in determining the success or interest for and in your book will be the uniqueness of it. It’s not likely that another romance novel (sorry, romance writers!) will be taken to extreme marketing heights unless it really is completely different from everything out there. Fifty Shades wouldn’t be what it is if James hadn’t first received a huge amount of positive reviews and then took it to a publisher. Publishers sometimes want different things than the general public.

Putting no money into your manuscript prior to publishing can damage your success. If you aren’t willing to put money into it, why should anyone else? If you have ever been on Amazon and looked at the reviews, you can understand how picky and nasty people can be about self-published books. People can even be nasty about extremely popular and professionally published books. Those reviews can sting, but if they are legitimate concerns, such as with spelling, grammar, or a major hole in the story, maybe the manuscript wasn’t ready to be published. It doesn’t hurt to have your manuscript reviewed prior to publishing or even submitting to a publisher. Although every publishing house will edit your manuscript, the amount of work it will take to get your book to the right level will influence the likelihood of them taking it on.

Personally, I am less likely to read something that has too many negative reviews in terms of spelling and grammar. Not because I don’t think the story will be good, and not even because I think money should be put into it, but because it seems more to me like a notch on the writer’s belt (bucket list: publish book, check!) than a labour of love. Writing should be hard, and so should editing. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect a certain level of effort since I am expected to put in the time to read it.

There used to be fewer writers. It used to be a profession that could feed your family, get you a decent car, and even a little bit of fame. It’s not like that anymore. There are so many of us out there that publishers can be choosy, and so can readers. What might have passed as a brilliant story years ago might not cut it today because there are ten more like it sitting in the pile. The internet has given us a platform to write, to submit, to publish, to promote, and everything else in between. There weren’t so many writers competing before online publishing became an option, now everyone wants to write a book, even if they aren’t writers.

This post isn’t meant to discourage, it’s meant to inspire you to think realistically about your work and what you want to do with it. Being published by a large publishing house requires drive, tough skin, skill, imagination, obsession, and the ability to get back up should you get pushed down. Even becoming successful as a self-published author requires that. If you aren’t willing to bleed for it (metaphorically) then be realistic about where you want to go with it.

To all of you, wherever you are on your journeys, I applaud you. To start writing is a beautiful thing, no matter why you are doing it. Whether it’s for pleasure, relaxation, fame, or anything else, the fact that you are doing it means something. If you’re struggling with it, just remember that there’s a crazy amount of us struggling along with you.

Where are you with your publishing or writing goals? Where do you want to be with them?

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50 thoughts on “You’re Not Going to Like This

  1. Great article, very thought provoking. Makes sense. I like it when people don’t just feed you the BS you want to hear all the time. Well done…it’s certainly got me thinking, although, I’m more of a realist anyway for the most part.

    • Thanks for the feedback, it’s appreciated. I’m also a realist, so this type of thinking doesn’t really discourage me, it just lays out a plan for me to follow. I like knowing things better than hoping for them.

      • I’m with you all the way there mate. 🙂
        It’s not that I know everything and don’t make mistakes, it’s more of a, ‘why the hell didn’t I think of that?’ or ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ when I don’t think through things logically, first off. I’m my own worst critic.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post. Its not often said, or not often enough, that writing a book and editing it — several times — isn’t the end of the process, only the beginning. There should be more articles on how hard, not how easy, it is to write a publishable work. Bravo. BTW, you may want to stop by my blog, Walking the Cat, and take a look. I could use the feedback. Thanks, again, for the post. We need more like this. — Steve

    • Thanks, I appreciate it! I was a little worried that I would get some metaphorical tomatoes thrown at me, but it’s nice to know that you understand what I am trying to say with the post.

  3. Excellent points across the board. The fact of the matter is that you are not a professional author until you’re making enough income to actually support your life with it. That’s kind of what “professional” means. You are also not a bestselling author until your book reaches the lists. When you think highly of yourself before you reach the milestones, you cripple your ability to recognize the criticism you receive as a positive thing and use it to improve your writing.
    One of the hardest places to be as a writer trying to break into the reader’s world is wanting to do things right but not having the funds to do it. Just to use myself as an example, I would love to have the 300-1000 dollars necessary to hire a professional editor and the additional 800-1500 to hire a graphic artist to do my cover design. I don’t, so I make do with what I do have. My hope is to self publish my first short story collection with enough followers to use it to Kickstart the first of a novella series I’ve conceptualized out, by utilizing inscribed copies, handwritten stories, leather bound hand made editions of the first short story collection, and other things as rewards, and then use Kickstarter money to fund proper editing and art for the novella.
    Another resource we can all use, I think, is our network, be it friends and family or people we meet through places like WordPress. Exchanging editing services on WordPress might be one way for writers without the necessary start-up funds can at least benefit from getting an extra set of eyes on their work if they find someone else online with similar needs, as sort of “I’ll critique yours if you critique mine” exchange. Just some thoughts I had. Excellent viewpoint overall!

    • I agree 100% with your point about your ego getting in the way of constructive criticism. I write and I edit (as well as other things) for a living, but I still have someone else edit my work even before submitting to a tiny publisher. I accept the faults in my work as puzzles to figure out. Does that make me a bestselling author? No. Does it help me to be a better writer? Of course.

      Great ideas for your work, by the way. It’s important to “climb the mountain” yourself, and not expect your book to magically make it just because it’s awesome. I think a lot of really good content out there gets lost because of the lack of funding, the lack of drive, and the fact that so many are good writers but don’t understand or want to market their work.

      • Exactly! A writer writes. Writers should not be villainized for not wanting to engage in marketing also. Let the writers write and the marketers market. Cherish the creative talent in our midst and support it. Don’t expect writers to do the hard work of writing and then expect them to do everything else also. There is a janitor who cleans my office and a technician who updates my computer. I am not expected to do my job and then wield a mop bucket and a defrag program as well.

      • It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. If you want your book to go big, you have to write for a market and you have to understand that market. You have to understand your target, show up with a polished manuscript, and be willing to put in even more time after it’s published all while giving up some of your control to a publisher.

  4. I totally agree with your thoughts on spelling and grammar. The least you can do a as a writer is do your best to make your writing “not sloppy.” I find spelling and grammar mistakes to be jarring, and when I start coming across too many in an online news article or even a blog post, I often just stop reading.

  5. My goals used to be lofty. But you’re right, the industry has changed. So while I wouldn’t mind being able to live off my writing, I’ll settle for a couple hundred people reading it and buying copies when books come out.

  6. This is the first 700+ word blog post in a long time which I did not skip the middle and only read the conclusion. Very thought provoking, and inspirational in some weird way – I see the publishing challenges and its nice to have an inside look. thanks!

  7. Yes, maybe not going to like it if you’re so taken up by your book you don’t know how to work on the other realities (sounds like me). Thanks for these good suggestions.

    I have nominated your blog for the Liebster award, if you are interested please see searandyellowleaf for details.

    • I’m pleasantly surprised that you enjoyed the post!

      And for the moment, and probably for the long-run, this is an awards-free blog. I do appreciate the thought immensely, though!

  8. Very good blog post. We should be realistic, about everything in life, also our writing. And I DID like this, even if it contained ‘reality check’ material.

    Where am I with my publishing and writing goals? The honest answer must be: I don’t know. I’m in the middle of a shitty first draft, I think. And still faaaaaaaaaar away from even considering hiring in editors or approaching publishing houses. I’m not a native English speaker and my vocabulary and grammar suffer from it, so I’m still indecisive regarding what language to use, and if I choose to go back to my mother tongue, I’ve got one helluva a translation job ahead of me as well…

    It’s such weird experience, actually. It feels right to tell the story in English. The dialogs and the setting just work better with English in my mind, but I know that I’ll be able to be more accurate and articulate with I write in Norwegian. Decisions, decisions…

    • That sounds tough, but when you are ready, a good editor should be able to give you a hand. Or a few beta readers. I work with a few ESL clients and of course their English isn’t as strong as many writers who learned English from birth, but you can still figure out the tone and style pretty easily. After that, it’s important to suggest words or phrases that may fit better.

      I wish you luck, it sounds like a tough project, but you’ll get there. 🙂

  9. I so agree with you. I see my writing as a craft. I don’t want to be second best nor do I want my book to be just another book in the cheap bin in a second-hand bookshop. I don’t want to be just another second rate writer, who has self-published because agents and publishers hasn’t seen what their families and friends has seen – i.e. ‘I have the x-factor’.
    When I worked full-time I got very fed up with people saying ‘When you are the next J.K remember me’. I don’t see myself as the next anything. I know that I have a long road ahead of me and nothing happens overnight. My drive to become a writer is born out of the fact I wasn’t any good at writing when I was at school and left poor educated. At 39 with my next big birthday just around the corner I decided to see if I could get something into print by the time I hit fifty. Now I could have made it easy on myself and self-published, but that was too simple and not very rewarding.
    No, for me the challenge is to be published the hard way and to have a book I’m proud of, now whether that becomes a bestseller we will have to wait and see.
    So far I have completed two books, but I’m not happy with these. The storylines are great, but I’m not convinced by them and I feel they need more work. I’m working on my third book and this one has something special about it. All the elements of the other two which I liked has seemed to come together at last. I’ve found my writer’s voice at last.
    Hard work and determination will make you a writer… with hell of a lot of good luck, plus a brilliant book 🙂

    • I appreciate the comment. It’s nice to hear from someone who is striving to reach “ultimate writer status” after having self-published. I hope that you are satisfied with your third book, and if not that one, than the fourth! 😉

      • I think you misunderstand me. I’ve ‘never’ self-published. I meant I could take the self-publishing route, but that would be too easy. Self-publishing is great for others if that’s what they want but not for me.

      • Oh, I see, my bad! Still, it’s brave of you to avoid it because you don’t feel it would be enough. It’s not a bad thing to self-publish, I don’t think, it just depends on your goals and your drive. My apologies! 🙂

  10. Good points in all the comments. Someone worked out that it takes something like 10.000hrs to become skilled at anything. That works out at 3hrs a day for 10yrs at least! Not sure if it can be applied to writing exactly but it is the old adage of 90% perspiration – 10 inspiration! 😉

  11. Thanks for the insight. I have dreams of writing a book one day, but now, I know I must be patient with my book and myself. I want to create a memorable work, and now I know that creating such a work must take a great amount of time, love, and effort to complete.

  12. Reblogged this on Counting Stars and commented:
    This post is just more information for my friends who are thinking about writing a book. Just think about some of the things that he brings out about the publishing industry when you are considering writing your own book.

  13. I actually find this post inspiring…because I know I have what it takes. I love my stories so, so much, I adore my characters…my ultimate goal is for someone else to love them, too. Someone I don’t know. Someone I’ve never met. Even if I only sold one book, if I could know one person read the tale twice because they liked it enough, I’d be happy. I’m willing to put in the time, and the effort, to roll past the despair and ride what waves of ecstatic joy I can find. Hearing hard fact about the industry isn’t hard when you can, in response, nod and say, “I know. And I can do it. I am a writer. I was born to tell stories.” The hard truth shouldn’t be scary – just a sizing up of the obstacle, taking inventory so the brave adventurer can make the best strategy to tackle the trial.

    • I don’t know if I could like this comment more than I do now. It’s so refreshing to hear someone who understands and accepts the hardships, and is willing to overcome them. Your words sum up how I feel about it. I think it’s only hard to hear when you expect success to be easy.

  14. I think this is excellent advice. As much as we’d all like to be the next JK Rowling, we have to be realistic and accept the fact that it’ll probably never happen. That’s not to say that there are not a great many decent writers out there, because there are, but it is a game of chance more than anything and much like any other career. There will be hundreds, possibly thousands, of writers who SHOULD make it but don’t simply because they were not at the right place at the right time.

    But a writer can increase their chances by stacking the odds in their favour by investing a little money in their dreams. If a writer isn’t willing to invest in their story, then why should a publisher?

    Sometimes you have to spend a little money to make a little money….

  15. that’s very thoughtful! i wanted to ask you this question ! have you ever wrote a book and published it before? or you’re just an editor? i like the posts you write and i can imagine a book written by you as a really good and smart book 🙂

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