11 January 2013

Business as UNusual: Inside Publishing

When you get right down to it, being an author is one of the few occupations almost everyone feels they could do. “I’ve been thinking about writing a book.” If I had a little cash for every time I heard that, I could retire to that castle I’ve been dreaming of. Maybe because of what it’s called—writing—most people genuinely believe it’s not that hard. After all, most of us been writing since we were in grade school!

Uh-huh…and although most of us learned to speak in infancy how many truly, wonderfully articulate people do you know? Or, as my husband said of a family member, people able to speak in Technicolor?


Even if you have that rare ability to write a good story, no matter what anyone says you still need to learn how to write properly. Natural talent is excellent and a great start, but it isn’t everything.

Publishing is in a constant state of flux but some aspects haven’t—and shouldn’t—change. The majority of readers still expect value for the money and time spent buying and reading a book. Agents, editors and readers now too, since in many cases the buffer between producer and end-user is no longer there, still expect not just an enthralling story but a well written book.

And no, that’s not what editors are for (although as a freelance editor maybe I shouldn’t say so). To authors there are several reasons why taking the time to really learn the craft makes sound business sense.

Knowing how to properly craft a story means you can produce more, quicker. You’ll know, instinctively and intellectually, whether a story concept is viable, what will make it really exciting and how to frame it effectively. You’ll find beginning to write a story and not completing it will happen less frequently, and it’s easier to get quickly from concept to final product.

In addition, if your story is poorly written there is only so much an editor can/will/will want to do with it, and this will affect you in a variety of ways. Firstly, if you’re trying to break into a publishing house and your book needs extensive line editing, chances are it’ll be rejected. In the present climate editors may be willing to work with you on plot and pacing but expect you to know the basics of grammar and syntax. Having the ability to properly craft a story gives you a definite edge on the competition when you send out submissions.

Secondly, if you want to hire a freelance editor, you may find yourself paying more than the person who’s taken the time and has the ability to self-edit. Many freelancer editors ask for a sample and use it to determine how much they’ll charge—poor writing = higher fees. Economics dictate you should spend only what you must to produce your book, and if you can save money on editing, that’s something you should be seriously considering.

And, of course, if you decide not to hire an editor at all before publishing your book, and it doesn’t sell in the numbers you were hoping for because it’s poorly written, not only have you lost the opportunity to sell this book, but potentially the next, and the next. Readers have long memories and most won’t give an author a second chance if they feel they wasted their money the first time around. This crazy business we’re in can be unforgiving!

You’ve heard the expression, 'Old age ain’t for sissies'? Well, I’m thinking the weird, wacky and wild world of publishing isn’t either. Arm yourself accordingly!
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