What I’ve been up to

Today has been busy. Impatient to get some idea of what my book might look like once it is finished, I have been fiddling about with formatting in MS Word. With no clue where or what to start with, I found a very helpful website (http://www.diybookformats.com/mswordtemplates/) and have managed to set my margins, my paper size, choose a font, and even make chapter dividers in photoshop which match the feel of my draft design for my book cover. Being an arty person, I am very excited by this small achievement (it looks really cool).

Less encouraging is my page count. Yes, I know my final draft is not yet done, and having carved through about fifty pages today I am fairly certain that it will end up being about 20 A4 pages shorter than it is now. In my new layout however, the book as it is (140,000 words) is close to six-hundred (5.25 x 8) pages. I had assumed that publishing your own book might give you greater freedom concerning word count, but after doing Amazon’s royalty calculator I have discovered that my novel would cost me 50p per book to print in the UK. Not the 30-70% royalties I had in mind!

Before settling on the decision to self-publish I did approach the crowdsourcing website, Unbound. Set up by writers Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard and John Mitchinson, Unbound purports to let the readers decide which books get published through a process in which authors present pitches on Unbound’s website. These pitches then receive pledges (payments) from future readers. Only the pitches that reach their target (of about £15,000 from what I can tell from their FAQs [please do correct me if I am wrong]) get published.

It sounded perfect. But, of course, to avoid being swamped by endless pitches, Unbound do have a submissions process. Great for the works that make it through, but that means those works have (ironically) been chosen by the publisher. There is an eight-week wait to get to the top of the slush pile, so percentage-wise not many submissions seem to make it past the selection process (my pitch was one of them). Basically Unbound seems to be a publisher with the best of both worlds – no upfront costs to publish their chosen author’s works, because the readers (may or may not) cover that for them.

Crowd-funding in publishing still seems to be relatively new, and whilst exploring my options I did come across several other sites that seemed to adopt the same concept as Unbound, with the difference that any pitch is posted. So far however, these websites only seem to publish e-books with a much lower crowd-sourcing target (for one of these sites the target was £500 per book). Others claimed to be free, but with the surprise of pop up adverts in your novel when anyone reads it, and (let’s be honest) no author wants their masterpiece repeatedly interrupted by weight-loss ads.

Unbound was tempting for me, because at 50% royalties as well as a paid-for investment in your book concerning editing, book cover and proof-reading it sounded like the best deal. It’s worth a go if anyone out there hasn’t tried it already, particularly if you have a large social media following – it’s one of the things they ask you when you apply because the more followers you have the more books you’re likely to sell. It is discouraging to find that yet another creative endeavour essentially boils down to a popularity contest (or, you could argue, a large social network), but this is already endemic in many artistic fields and is hardly new. Followers = distribution = wider market = more sales. It is becoming the case in the fashion industry, with models with higher numbers of followers getting booked for bigger jobs. Free advertising makes perfect sense.

Ultimately, the author knows what will be a good fit for them, but unfortunately for us writers we’re not usually the ones who get to choose. I am excited about self-publishing though. It’s a challenge, a test to see if I can do it. Can I be editor, designer, agent and writer all at the same time? We’ll find out when it’s released. I’ve already announced my intention on Facebook, and though my social network is modest I’ve had encouraging feedback (and great encouragement). They’re probably just pleased that I’m finally taking the initiative to get it out there – I have been harassing them all with novel-related updates over the years.

I’m half-way through my revision. I caught a scene that referenced something that had already been resolved earlier in the book, so I think as editor I am doing well. I will post up artwork updates as I create them and closer to the release. In the words of most people everywhere, ‘let’s do this!’

The long haul.

When I first started my novel back in 2011, the first draft took me a total of six weeks. I had an idea I’d been chewing over since 2007 with one short attempt to turn it into something physical, but then, at the end of my university semester and with a long summer ahead of me, I dove in head-first and just wrote it.

How long is too long when working over an idea? Us artists are creatures of detail, and such proficiency bestows upon us great patience. Sometimes we get drawn into an idea too much, and find ourselves unwilling (or unable) to comprehend an end. Does such a predicament matter, however, when one is so engaged by an idea that it feels as if every day spent working on it is entirely new? Often it passes without notice; the minutes become hours, the hours whole days. You work, and you forget to eat, drink or sleep. You’re so enthralled by what you are doing that the pang of hunger or stiffness brought about by an uncomfortable chair can do nothing to hinder you.

I have done several drafts of my book up to date, and naturally each revision was packaged with the exclamation, ‘Eureka! This is it!’ and sent off to the most promising literary agents. Of course with each submission came a rejection, and I would soon succumb to the age-old problem of returning to your own work with eyes changed by time. It happened when I painstakingly drew Christopher Columbus’ ship when I was four. Then, it was a masterpiece! Now, not so much.

A novel, unlike a sketch or drawing however can be edited, and so I embarked on making it perfect. Each time shorter or longer, and every time (I would like to think) better, stronger. My very fast draft in 2011 was written with the estimate I would then spend about six months editing. Then it would be ready to publish. Of course.

Four years later I am on my… fourth? real, complete restructure and rewrite. I’ve read the blogs, I’ve seen the news. I know that most people’s first projects get shelved until they are rich or famous enough through other works to get them published retrospectively. Does it change things if I say that this isn’t my first attempt at a novel? My first idea has been shelved without much input, perhaps for another day.

I think, however, we all have some idea of what works and what doesn’t. We all read and we all have things which we can compare our own work to. My latest draft, I have decided, is going to be my last. I will make sure I am happy with it, and then I will move on. These days debut authors’ options are expanded by the possibility of self-publishing. Now our first novels can be released into the market as they are, as we intended.

This project is a series, or it will be when I’m done with it. After researching the available avenues self-publishing is becoming a real consideration. I have had interest for my idea from two reputable agents, including full manuscript requests and even one revise and resubmit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for them. But I now have a better book as a result, and am less anxious about getting it out there without the traditional route and safety net of an editor or publisher.

I have half my novel left to edit, and then it’s back to proof-reading. Then I think I’ll take the plunge. I’ll let my first novel be one of the ones self-published as it is, and as I intended.

10 things I have learned whilst searching for a literary agent.

  1. The Artists and Writers Yearbook is a must, but with my copy harking from 2013, I have discovered the internet to be just as useful.
  2. At first you apply to three agencies simultaneously, having heard the stories. Then five at once. Then eight at a time. When you start to fear they may all reject you, you begin to wonder how long you should wait until starting from number one again.
  3. Time is slow when you have queries pending, which (assuming you adopt the above) is always.
  4. Checking your emails seven times a day does not make time go faster.
  5. A request for a full manuscript will always fill you with joy.
  6. A rejection after a request for a full manuscript amends your expectations to ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ scenario. The ‘worst case’ scenario is that you will receive an unaccompanied ‘no’. The ‘best case’ scenario is that you will get some usable feedback.
  7. The gratitude you feel when you finally do get tailored feedback is boundless. Agents are busy, we all know, which makes this feedback all the more valuable when someone does find the time to give it to you (thank you, really).
  8. Rejections pass like unusually-shaped clouds. At first they are something to point out, but soon they go unnoticed.
  9. Silence from an agent after a query is no reflection on you, but on the time they have spare to respond. Don’t take it personally.
  10. Despite the above, finding an agent who loves your work as much as you do is still a viable and possible dream. Worrying about what to do should two agents ask to represent you may be premature, but it is an inevitable fantasy.