Monday, 30 March 2009

First Publication Rights

Most American publishers will only consider a first edition of a book, and while British publishers are a little more flexible on this point at the moment, many are moving round to the American way of thinking.

In publishing, as in so many other areas, there can only ever be one first time. So the instant that you first publish your work you’ve used up your first publication rights: and as you can never have more than one first time at anything, you can’t ever get them back. This is true no matter how that publication is achieved: whether you publish through one of the big conglomerates like Random House, a tiny independent like Salt or Bluechrome (which are growing in stature and reputation every day), whether you self-publish or get to market through one of the many murky vanity presses which lurk on the periphery of the industry: your book has been published and those first rights are irretrievably gone.

Now, if those first rights are granted to a reputable publisher with good editorial skills and a solid sales and distribution system in place, it’s likely to receive a decent amount of promotion and get into a reasonable number of bookshops nationwide. You have a good chance of making a decent number of sales out of that first publication.

If you give those first rights to a vanity publisher or to a disreputable or ill-informed small press, or if you self-publish, you’re unlikely to make many sales at all to anyone other than your family and friends. Even if your book picks up some good quotes or reviews, it is still unlikely to sell in any great quantity. You might find yourself wondering why you didn’t persist in finding a more mainstream publisher to bring your book to the market. And so you start to submit it again, using those good reviews as a selling-point. But you’re in a very difficult position here.

Despite those favourable comments your book has received, you’re likely to have sold relatively few copies of it: you’ll be lucky to have sold one hundred. And although this is many more than most self-published books sell, it’s still not enough to impress the big publishers who will, generally, want to see much higher numbers before they consider publishing a second edition of your work.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Pitch Party!

Pitch your blog in the comments section here, using no more than twenty five words. If you don't want to pitch your own blog then you can pitch another blog that you enjoy, so long as it might interest the readers here. You can write more than one pitch for the same blog, or you can pitch a number of different blogs: the only condition is that for every blog you pitch, you have to leave a comment on at least three of the other blogs pitched here.

To make it easy for everyone to click about, please include a live, clickable link with your comment. There are two ways to do this: if you're anxious about it, you can compose your comment as a new blog post, add the links in the usual way, then copy it, HTML and all, into the comments section here; or you can write it yourself like this, which links to my blog:

[a href=""]name your link here[/a]

Replace my blog's address with yours; add a name for your link; then replace those two pairs of square brackets [] with pointy ones <>, or the link won't work.

Get pitching.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Tainted By Association

A little while ago I read a post on the Authonomy message board in which information was requested about a particular London-based publisher. Was it a legitimate publishing house? I did a little digging and realised I’d already checked out the same publisher for someone on the Absolute Write message board last summer.

On reading the publisher’s website I got the distinct impression that they were a pay-to-play publisher, although prices weren’t mentioned. Most of the site focussed on advising writers how to submit, and how to prepare their work for submission: but surely a publisher should focus on promoting the books they’ve already published? I emailed the publisher to find out more and their reply confirmed to me that they were, in fact, a vanity press. I posted this information at Absolute Write and thought no more of it until a few weeks later, when I received by email a threat of legal action against me. The person who made the threat worked for the publisher concerned, and was upset that I’d put his name up at Absolute Write.

I was happy to edit his name out of my original post: my objection wasn’t directed at him, but at the publishing company he worked for, which was charging writers to publish them; and I do prefer a quiet life. However, I did find it intriguing (and still do, hence this post) that while he asked me to edit his name out of my post, he didn’t make any objection at all to my identifying the company he worked for as a vanity press.

Now, why do you think that might have been?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Authonomy Signings: Another Update

Edited to add: I jumped quite firmly to the wrong conclusion here. Miranda Dickinson very kindly added her own comment to this piece and cleared up my confusion: I apologise to her for being so foolish, I freely admit to having screwed up, and I hope that she’ll forgive me.

I did think of just deleting this whole post but I've decided against it: instead, I'm going to leave this post up because I don’t like to pretend that I never make mistakes; and Miranda’s explanation was so very good-natured and courteous that she deserves for it to remain in place.

You might remember how Authonomy announced a couple of months ago that HarperCollins was going to publish three books which had spent time on Authonomy's shelves. When it was discovered that only one of the books had actually been discovered in the Authonomy slush-pile, and that the other two had been taken on via more usual routes, outcry ensued.

The single book which was reportedly discovered on Authonomy's shelves was Coffee at Kowalski's, by Miranda Dickinson. But in a post on the Authonomy blog today Dickinson writes,
Having said that, submitting my manuscript for the second time was ridiculously scarier than it was the first time. I think this is because when I sent Kowalski’s to Avon last year I honestly didn’t think that I would hear back from them – let alone anything else. This time, much more is relying on the structural edit being good enough – and I felt the weight of that responsibility resting heavily on my shoulders throughout the process, although this was entirely self-imposed!
Bolding mine. Avon is an imprint of HarperCollins. Draw your own conclusions.

How To Write A Press Release

A good press release informs the media of an upcoming event, or of a reaction to something that’s already happened. The press release isn’t a finished article: but if it’s good enough it will be used as the basis of several articles, written by the journalists who receive it, and it might just get you on the telly too.

So, what should a press release contain? It must make clear what the news story is, and who should be contacted for more information: years ago, when I had to write a few week, I would top-and-tail each one with this information.

Between those two things I would write a short paragraph about what was happening, and why it was significant. New books are published every day so on its own a new publication is not particularly interesting: you need a hook to hang it on. When Mary Wesley’s first novel was published much was made of her advanced age (she was 70); little attention was given to the fact that she had already had a long and relatively-illustrious career writing for children; and there was a tremendous fuss when Erin Pizzey made her big career change from running a women’s refuge to writing commercial fiction. Similarly, you need to work out what makes you and your book so very special, and explain it clearly.

Make sure that you include information on why this thing is so significant: link to other events in the news where relevant, or to similar research. And take care to include several quotes which can be used in context by the journalists as they write up their pieces—if you supply just one, and four different publications use it, the coverage will end up seeming overly-familiar, and readers will get bored: if you supply three or four quotes of various degrees of seriousness and quirkiness, then that’s likely to be reflected in the articles which result.

Finally, remember that while a book’s launch provides a good opportunity to send out a press release, that should not be the end of your book’s life in the press. Try to see everything as a potential press opportunity, and learn to write witty and compelling press releases, and your press coverage is bound to increase.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Train Wreck Now Boarding On Platform Two!

This one is going to be good. It's so good I wonder if it's just a staging for an elaborate April Fool's Day Special To Trump All Others. But even so, here it is for your enjoyment just in case it's for real.

An unknown writer called Lady Sybilla has announced that her book, Russet Noon, will be published in September of this year. Despite its odd title it isn't a new form of potato-porn: it's far, far better than that.

It's fan fiction. An unofficial sequel to Stephenie Mayer's Twilight series. And, children, we all know what fan fiction is, don't we? Say it with me:

Copyright infringement.

Lady Sybilla insists that her book doesn't infringe any copyrights because, as she writes in the comments thread here,

The characters in SM's novels were not copyrighted because she never drew them or hired an artist to draw them. Today she shares her character copyrights with Summit. And, no, Russet Noon does not have direct permission from SM to publish this sequel, which is why the article says that it is a "Tribute" or "Unauthorized" Sequel.
Unsurprisingly, Lady Sybilla got a swift response when she defended the book's publication at the Twilight Lexicon and pointed out that other people had also written Twilight fan fic: the Lexicon's owners responded,
So when it comes right down to it, you’re a self admitted thief whose only defense is “well they were doing it too.” (*Insert foot stamp, pouty lip, and flounce here*)
Lady Sybilla is talking nonsense, and is going to get sued from here to Pluto and back if she persists with this publication. Especially if anyone were to sell copies of the book on eBay ahead of the publication date, which someone has tried to do (you'll note, though, that the auction has ended and refunds have been promised: perhaps the lawyers are onto Lady Sybilla already).

There's an active discussion about this already at Absolute Write; Lee Goldberg has blogged about it beautifully; Fandom Wank has an excellent analysis in which Lady Sybilla's casting-call for models for the graphic novel edition is revealed; if you want to read the preface to Russet Noon it's been copied into the comments here; and there's even a YouTube reading available if you want to enjoy the full russet-rich experience.

Edited 5 April

Many of the links I provided originally are to pages which have now been taken down. The eBay auctions have been closed ahead of time; the Russet Noon website has been closed, apparently by Lady Sibilla herself. She is now complaining about Fandom Wank's postings about her, but has only encouraged more people to point and laugh. And blogger Dal Jeanis has posted a great Russet Noon Analysis, and another post in which he suggests How to Win the Russet Noon Lawsuit, and points out that titles are not copyrightable. I can feel another Atlanta Nights coming on... anyone?

Where Books Are Sold

Most books are still sold in real, physical bookshops and not online, despite claims to the contrary by many of the vanity presses and self-publishing services.

There are exceptions: few textbooks ever make it into bookshops and are instead sold direct from the publisher to the end-user, sometimes through the university or school. Few self-published titles or vanity-published titles make it into many shops either: most of these books are sold via the internet, or as a result of the authors’ efforts to sell into individual bookshops. But their overall sales are notoriously low, which has a lot to do with the fact that they just don’t get the exposure to their potential readers which comes with bookshop placement.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

When Mainstream Publishers Link With Self-Publishing Services

For years I’ve been advising writers that while self-publishing can sometimes be a route to success, only the very lucky, capable few manage to achieve it: and that unless there are exceptional circumstances surrounding their books, such as an easily-accessible niche market or their own brilliant marketing skills, they’d be better off pursuing mainstream publication if they want their books to reach the widest possible readership. I know that this reasoning holds water because I’ve seen so many writers fail with their self publishing endeavours: and yet I’ve often been shouted down for my apparent failure to recognise that publishing is changing.

Now, several reputable publishing houses seem to be suggesting that self-publishing is the new way forward. HarperCollins’s Authonomy site has teamed up with (which has, in the past, also been connected with Chronicle Books); both the US literary agency, Objective Entertainment, and the UK-based military history publisher Osprey are now referring to writers they reject to AuthorHouse, a straightforward vanity press; and a few weeks ago the independent publisher Accent Press announced its new pay-to-play publishing scheme for its erotica imprint, Xcite books.

This move doesn’t surprise me. We live in difficult times and publishing is suffering: there have been huge redundancies already and I have no doubt that more will follow. There are so many writers in the slush pile who are desperate to be published, but so few who are good enough to succeed: the temptation to steer them towards self-publication and to earn a commission from them in the process must be huge—it’s easy money for the publishers involved and it fills a need in the writer, too. What I don’t like, here, is the way that it’s being done.

It’s being presented as a real route to commercial success and while that might be true for a lucky few, most writers who participate in these schemes are not going to do well out of them. They aren’t likely to make many sales; the writers who pay extra for services like editing and design are unlikely to even earn their money back. And yet none of this seems to be mentioned by the publishers when they refer the writers on.

I suspect that before too long we’ll see many more publishing houses referring the writers they reject to POD-based self-publishing or vanity-publishing imprints. But there are some very obvious conflicts of interest here. Bearing in mind the doubtful quality of most of the books in the slush pile, most of the books concerned will have little chance of getting published in any other way: but is it fair to imply to those that they might do well out of this? And what about the writers who are good enough to do well with other mainstream agents or publishers? If they take the route that’s suggested by these publishing professionals, aren’t they being steered away from potential success?

For these schemes to work well for everyone involved, there will have to be systems set in place to avoid the conflicts of interest inherent in them; and the writers involved will have to be given plenty of appropriate support. But the most important thing here is honesty: the referring publishers must be very clear about the many limitations that publication of this kind involves, so that the writers involved know exactly what they’re up against before they sign up.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

How To Make The Authonomy Top Five

Thanks to the customarily articulate Nathan Bransford for alerting me to this story.

As I’ve discussed in my previous reviews of HarperCollins' interactive writers' site Authonomy, the books which rise to the top of its rankings are not the best ones, necessarily, but the ones whose authors are the most successful at networking. And over this last weekend, this has proved to be true in quite a spectacular fashion.

Last Friday Vineet Bhalla (also known as Klazart), a newcomer to Authonomy, put his book Lesser Sins up for review there and it rose up the rankings spectacularly quickly. He avoided the usual Authonomy route of courting lots of other Authonomists and plugging his book on the message board there: instead, he recruited his 800 or more of his online gaming Facebook friends to join Authonomy and vote for his book. It quickly reached the number one position on the weekly charts: there followed an explosion of message board victory cries from his supporters, and accusations of cheating from some of Authonomy's more regular users.

The organisers of Authonomy have now stepped in and confirmed that he has broken no rules. Despite the continuing protests it now looks likely that the book will grab one of those coveted top five reviews from the HarperCollins editors at the end of the month. Meanwhile, many more regular Authonomists are not pleased, and some are even threatening to leave as a result of Bhalla's alleged manipulation of the charts: not only have the book charts been affected by this, the status of many of Authonomy's top talent spotters has also been affected as few of them reviewed this particular book. As a result, some of the renegade author's friends now have talent-spotting rankings way above people who have spent months cultivating their reputations by writing thoughtful, insightful reviews and backing books which they felt had a degree of literary merit.

I'm not surprised that someone has at last worked Authonomy's system in this way (although I am surprised that it's taken so long for this to happen). But this just proves my point about Authonomy, and the books which do well there. Does Bhalla's book have any literary merit at all? I have no idea; but literary merit clearly isn't a deciding factor when it comes to reaching the top of Authonomy's charts.

Edited to add: Authonomy has now discussed the fun and games on its own blog. The outrage continues in the comments thread.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Publishing Isn't Broken

Because so few books seem to be taken from the slush pile, and even form rejections can sometimes take months to be dispatched, frustrated writers often claim that publishing is somehow broken. They feel that as publishing is not working for them, it can’t be working at all.

The problem lies not with publishing, but with these writers’ views of it.

Publishing is a business, and publishers have responsibilities to their shareholders to run their businesses as profitably as possible (which is why reputable publishers court their potential readers, while vanity presses court their potential writers—they’re both intent on seducing their primary customers into spending a nice chunk of cash). That means they have to publish books with a good potential for turning a profit: which means the books which aren’t going to need too much work to turn them into decent sellers. And this means that not all writers are going to be good enough to make the grade.

Mainstream publishing isn’t broken: it has its flaws, certainly, but it still works. It still publishes books which show clear commercial potential; works to make those books as good as they can possibly be; and then gets those books into as many sales points as it possibly can. Just because it does that by only publishing the very best books from the very best writers, and consequently rejecting the majority, doesn’t mean that it’s broken: just that far too many writers are not yet good enough at their craft for publishers to risk investing their money in them.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Books That I Love

Sometimes I come across a book so wonderful that moving away from the printed page feels painful: the real world is dislocated from the reality that the book has provided for me, and it feels too cold and shallow compared to the richer, more nuanced and textured world the book creates.

The first time it happened to me was about thirty years ago, when I read Doris Lessing's Martha Quest series and realised that Lessing was speaking directly to me. I can still remember lying in bed reading the book late one summer evening, the windows open to the rustling chestnut trees, the light fading from the sky until a shimmering darkness blanketed the windows.

Then there was Margaret Drabble, whose earlier novels accompanied me through my teenage years; Penelope Lively's The Road To Lichfield; Sybille Bedford's Jigsaw; Janette Turner Hospital's Charades; The People Of The Black Mountains, by Raymond Williams; Ian McEwan's Saturday; Julia Leigh's Disquiet (ignore the Amazon reviews: this is a gorgeous book), and her earlier book, The Hunter; Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and the fabulous non-fiction book The Snakebite Survivor's Club: Travels Among Serpents by Jeremy Seal which I read just before it, which added so much to the Kingsolver text.

And now it's happened again, with Sue Gee's Reading in Bed, a glorious book which Sally Zigmond likes just as much as I did. If you can’t get hold of a copy of this one then just buy any of Sue Gee’s books: she’s such a wonderful writer that I bet even her shopping lists are good; and tell me which books remain with you, years after you've read them. My bedside pile is down to just double figures now, and I feel a need to restock.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Book Army

HarperCollins' new website for readers, Book Army, is now open to all. Anyone can join and comment on the books that they've read, and add links between books. Working on the reasonable premise that someone who enjoyed reading Maggie O'Farrell might also like Sue Gee, it's hoped that Book Army's users will create an intricate network of links which they can then refer to in order to discover even more books to enjoy.

The problem is that there is no restriction on the links that can be made. Book Army isn't restricted to HarperCollins books and lists anything with an ISBN: I quickly found Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea, and Crack of Death by Sharla Tann (which are respectively the worst book and the second-worst book ever written) and linked them to one another. But while those two books fit beautifully together, I could just as easily have linked them to a car repair manual, A Brief History Of Time, or to Pride And Prejudice. It is very simple to link entirely inappropriate books to one another: it probably won't be too long before someone links the Satanic Verses to the Koran, because there don't appear to be any controls in place.

That lack of control means that anyone can join the site and create links between any books at all. That might not sound too bad, but I don't think it's going to be long before links start to be made between highly-successful commercially-published books and some of the truly dreadful unedited ravings that have been self-published over the years. There's nothing to stop people with grudges linking competent authors’ books to dreadful books: and if you don't think that's likely to happen, just think of the internet flame-wars which erupt out of nowhere every day.

At present there's little new on offer here for readers, who can find more information and lots of dense book-to-book linking on Amazon. Which means that in the short term at least, Book Army's main users are likely to be the less-successful writers, particularly those who are solely responsible for the promotion of their own books: the vanity-published and self-published writers. And while there are some excellent books in this category it has a larger share of dreadful books and a higher proportion of angry writers than you'll find in any other publishing sector.

So: is Book Army a good idea or a bad one? Anything which encourages people to read more, and more widely, has to have at least some good points: but the lack of monitoring and control in Book Army's system leads me to suspect that while the intentions behind it are good, it is unlikely to achieve that aim for some time yet.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Writers Should Know Better

Last week, Editorial Anonymous blogged about a very foolish writer who seemed intent on shooting himself in the foot as many times as he possibly could. And as usual, I have my own version of this story to tell.

A few weeks ago a writer complained to me about the lack of help available to struggling writers. He had submitted his book widely but he had received nothing but standard rejections, with no indication of why his work had been rejected. He had edited and revised it as much as he was able to and simply had no idea what was stopping him from moving on to the next level with his work.

He seemed genuinely frustrated and keen to improve so I offered to take a look at his first one thousand words to see if I could spot anything obvious. I promised him a no-holds-barred opinion, warned him to brace himself: and he seemed grateful.

I should have known better.

The first clue came when he sent me his entire novel because (as he mentioned in his email) he didn't have time to mess about separating the first thousand words of it into a new file. This irritated me: not only did it imply that his time was more important than mine, it also clogged up my internet connection because, living out in the sticks as I do, we don't have access to broadband and so I rely on a very slow dial-up service to connect to the outside world. His book was over 750 pages long (single spaced...), and it took nearly forty minutes to download.

If he had been submitting to a publisher he would have earned himself a swift rejection right there for the tone of his email and for ignoring the submission guidelines which I had provided. But I had promised to look at his work, and so I kept my word. I read his first chapter and was not impressed: his writing was patchy, cluttered with clich├ęs, and very passive in tone. However, his premise was intriguing and despite the problems his writing did show promise: some of the better patches were quite good, and could have been very much improved with just a little bit of rewriting.

I emailed him my thoughts, along with my annotations to his first chapter and my reasons for suggesting such changes: and in reply he told me I didn't know what I was doing and that rules are made to be broken. He made it quite clear that he disagreed with everything I had written, and would not be making any of my changes.

So I e-mailed him back just a few words: "I'm sorry I couldn't be more help." And he sent me back a long, detailed email in which he called me names, accused me of being a racist (even though I hadn't been aware of his colour until he made his accusation), and said that I’d completely missed the point of his book.

And that's why so many editors and agents are no longer prepared to give personalised rejections.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

In Search Of Perfection

Heston Blumenthal's latest book, The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, has a cover price of £125 and is, by all accounts, an exquisite work (I can't comment on it directly as I've not seen it: but if his publishers would like to send me a review copy I would be very grateful indeed).

I can't help feeling that Heston missed a trick here. With his obsessive attention to detail and his constant search for perfection (I love that book), he might have been better off approaching the Ivory Press to publish this particular book.

Ivory Press’s books are exquisite. Each title is an individual work of art, and is produced in a strictly limited edition. I have only ever held one of its titles in my hands and the quality of production and design was outstanding: it was in one of my favourite independent booksellers, Wenlock Books in Much Wenlock. I saw Blood on Paper: Artists and Books on a shelf and when Anna Dreda (whose shop it is) noticed me looking at it she sat me down and lifted it into my hands and the two of us gazed at it, enraptured.

I won't spoil the experience for you: go to Ivory Press's website and look at the books for yourself, and make sure to read the descriptions carefully. The books are beautiful: every single one.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Sales Statistics

There's a very useful analysis of self-publishing via the POD route on the Writer Beware website. While this extract discusses sales statistics, the complete article is far more extensive and essential reading for everyone who is considering self-publishing their work.

Sales Statistics

Despite some highly publicized successes, the average book from a POD service sells fewer than 200 copies--mostly to the authors and to "pocket" markets surrounding them--friends, family, local retailers who can be persuaded to place an order. According to the chief executive of POD service iUniverse, quoted in the New York Times in 2004, 40% of iUniverse's books are sold directly to authors.

POD services' own statistics support these low sales figures. AuthorHouse's online Fact Sheet, updated in September 2008, reported 36,823 authors and 45,993 titles. According to the New York Times, AuthorHouse reports selling more than 2.5 million books in 2008, which sounds like a lot, but averages out to around 54 sales per title.

iUniverse's most recent Facts and Figures sheet reports that the company published 22,265 titles through 2005, with sales of 3.7 million: an average of 166 sales per title. Obviously some titles can boast better sales (Amy Fisher's If I Knew Then sold over 32,000 copies)--but not many. According to a 2004 article in Publishers Weekly, only 83 of more than 18,000 iUniverse titles published during that year sold at least 500 copies. And in a 2008 article in The New York Times, iUniverse's VP, Susan Driscoll, admitted that most iUniverse authors sell fewer than 200 books.

As of 2004, stats for Xlibris were similar. According to a Wall Street Journal article, 85% of its books had sold fewer than 200 copies, and only around 3%--or 352 in all--had sold more than 500 copies. Things looked up in 2007: according to Xlibris's own internal reports, recently obtained by Writer Beware, 4% of its titles had sold more than 1,000 copies. However, the averages still aren't good. As of mid-2007, Xlibris had 23,000 authors and had published 23,500 titles, with total sales of over 3 million--around 127 sales per title.

Once independent companies, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Xlibris are now all owned by the same company, Author Solutions. In a New York Times article published in early 2009, Kevin Weiss, Author Solutions' CEO, put the average sales of titles from any of the company's brands at around 150., one of the most popular and cost-effective of the POD services and still independent despite the apparent trend toward consolidation among POD services, is explicit about its long tail business model. In a 2006 article in the Times UK, its founder identified the company's goal: " have a million authors selling 100 copies each, rather than 100 authors selling a million copies each." A Lulu bestseller is a book that sells 500 copies. There haven't been many of them.

Many thanks to Victoria Strauss for giving me permission to use this piece.

Monday, 16 March 2009


Ten days ago Colleen Lindsay (who blogs over at The Swivet, and is a literary agent with the USA-based Fine Print Literary Management) organised Queryfail Day: a day-long Twitterfest. Colleen was careful to advise those taking part not to post anything which might indentify any of the writers whose queries were being discussed; and she warned that the exercise was not being done to make fun of anyone, but was an attempt to show, in real time, how overwhelmed agents and editors are with submissions and why so many of them fail.

I thought that the concept was potentially useful, very interesting and funny (although I haven't read it all and I didn't participate—I'm not one of the Twittering classes). However, plenty of people take the opposite view and many seem to feel that those who took part ridiculed the writers concerned.

In a few days I'll post my own response to Queryfail: Publishingfail. Expect it to move slowly, as most things in publishing do. And to keep you going until then, here’s some further Queryfail reading.

Editor Unleashed discusses The Queryfail Trainwreck; Justine Larbalestier leads her own excellent discussion; Book Publishing Today discusses Queryfail too; and even The Guardian gets in on the act.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Big Question About Self Publishing Successes

If self-publishing is such a brilliant thing for a writer to do, why is it that most of the writers who are said to have achieved true success through self-publishing have only done so after their books have been republished by a mainstream publisher?

Friday, 13 March 2009

Red Nose Day

Comic Relief does amazing work.

Donate now.

What Gets Rejected

It’s true that a lot of excellent work gets rejected by agents and editors.

Perhaps they don’t think it’s commercial enough; perhaps the story is good but the writing isn’t, or vice versa. Perhaps it hasn’t been submitted to the right agents, editors or imprints. Perhaps it’s too similar to something else that has already been published. There could be all sorts of reasons why good writing gets rejected. But if it’s good enough then it’s almost certainly going to be published eventually, so long as the writer (or his or her agent) persists.

Most of the work that gets rejected doesn’t fit into this category. Most is of vastly inferior quality, which is why it gets rejected. What few people appreciate is just how truly awful most of the slush-pile is: I don’t mean that it’s awful in that it needs a little tidying up, or a bit of an edit: it’s awful in that the bulk of it is incomprehensible and unreadable.

To paraphrase James D Macdonald: if you can write something that’s grammatically correct, which doesn’t contradict itself too many times and which shows a reasonable understanding of both spelling and punctuation then you’re already in the top ten per cent of the slush-pile, with a good-to-excellent chance of getting read—and getting published.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Legalities Of Ghostwriting

In a recent post in the Bookseller Blog, Freya North discussed the likelihood that good books by unknown writers are being rejected in favour of books by celebrities, which are more often than not ghostwritten. It's an important point which warrants further discussion but a second point was made in the comment stream to that blog post, which is the one that I want to address here: that of the legalities of ghostwriting.

Discussing the news that Cheryl Cole has now been signed to write a series of chick-lit titles, a commenter by the name of Charles Hale (who states that he's a QC, no less), wrote,

I am a lawyer, and with regard to the Cheryl Cole book situation, there is no question that if properly legally challenged, publishers would find themselves in trouble for their implication that Cheryl Cole wrote the books. It is, to be blunt, against the law to pass off a product sold as being anything other than that which it is.
Do you think that publishers which bring out ghostwritten memoirs and celebrity books are misrepresenting their products? Does anyone actually believe that the celebrities concerned really wrote their books? How complicit are we, as readers, in this apparent deceit? And does anyone think that publishers will ever be challenged on this front?

Monday, 9 March 2009


When you see a book with a celebrity's name on the cover, or a memoir about someone’s appalling life, you shouldn't automatically assume that the person named on the cover wrote the book alone. Chances are that they got their publishing deal because of their celebrity status or amazing life story, and their publisher quietly arranged for a ghostwriter to give them whatever help they needed to get the book written.

The level of help received can range from a little editorial assistance to writing the whole thing although it is usual for the “author” to participate in the process, perhaps by spending time discussing their ideas or their life story with their ghost, or providing journals, letters or emails to provide something more personal than can be achieved by the usual background research.

I once saw Katie Price, better known as Jordan, insists that while her children's books were ghosted for her she'd done all of the difficult stuff herself by coming up with most of the ideas; while when Naomi Campbell was asked what her novel was about, she notoriously replied, "I don't know, I haven't read it yet."

Sunday, 8 March 2009

I'll Be Back Soon!

Apologies for my absence: I have a lot of work to finish, and I'm having a bit of trouble with my RSI so I've not posted much this week. I should be back very soon, but meanwhile I have three little requests to make.

Sally Zigmond is writing an article about writers and criticism for Writers' News, and has asked for "comments, anecdotes or opinions about the outcome of any honest criticism you have provided or received". If you'd like to make a contribution, and are an agent, editor or published writer, you can contact her via her blog.

I like to visit and comment on the blog of everyone who follows this one: it seems only good manners (and I'm curious to know who reads me: some of you are very strange!). But over time I suspect I've missed a few of you out, and since Google/Blogger recently changed how following works I'm sure I've missed a few more. So if I've not made an appearance on your side of the internet do post a link in the comments to this thread, and I'll pay you a visit as soon as I can.

On the right-hand side of this blog there's a list of all the different websites and blogs which link back to here. I've added as many of you as I know of but I suspect that the list is still not complete. So, if you've got a link to this blog on your own blog, or on your website, but don't appear in the list then do please let me know: post a brief message in the comments, along with a link, and I'll sort it out.

Normal sporadic blogging will return over the next week or so. Meanwhile, it's snowing here again, and I just heard some thunder. It's lovely weather for March.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Short Story Competition

The literary magazine The Yellow Room has today published a plea for more entries to its forthcoming short story competition, which closes on 20 March.

The Yellow Room is Jo Derrick's latest project: she also founded the literary magazines QWF and Cadenza. I was lucky enough to be awarded prizes by both of those titles (you can read the story which won the QWF prize here, and the Cadenza prize-winning one here), and the experience was very positive: not only was the prize-money very welcome, the exposure brought me into contact with many new writers and readers who I would not otherwise have reached.

Go and write something for The Yellow Room prize. Do it now. You have nearly three weeks to get your entries in.

On Writers And Writing

I don’t often directly discuss writing here because this is a blog about publishing, not a writing class. But last week I read several excellent blog-posts elsewhere about writers and their attitude to writing which were so good that I didn’t think you’d mind a temporary diversion.

We all know that some writers—especially novice writers—find it difficult to accept criticism: some find it so painful that they blame the messenger, and react with anger and hostility to the slightest hint of criticism. While many writers learn to overcome their feelings and to learn from any negative comments, others never do: and guess what? As a direct result, they never really progress as writers.

Don’t take my word for this, though. Read Sally Zigmond discuss it here; or read JA Konrath’s views here; or try blogging newcomer Moccasin, here. And if you’re still not convinced then read Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing in which he discusses this in far more detail.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Writers’ Groups

Writing is such a solitary profession that it’s often difficult to know if you’re doing it right when you receive no feedback or advice. So it makes sense to try to find a local writing group where you can discuss your work and perhaps make a few like-minded friends.

Just don’t expect it to always work out as you’d hoped.