It would be nice to think that all there is to writing is putting the words on the page. But even some of our greatest writers have done much more than that. Let’s look at Virginia Woolf as an example. She wrote, but she also collaborated with the Bloomsbury Group, ‘that intellectual group of writers and artists’. She even got involved in publishing her own novels via the Hogarth Press, which she founded in 1917 with her husband Leonard. An early example of self-publishing perhaps?
One hundred years on and it seems to be more important than ever that when you decide to be a writer you need to also make a commitment to learn several ‘add-on’ occupations.
Tell someone you are a writer and they may imagine you spend your days enjoying the solitude of a log cabin or cosy study, letting your creativity explode onto the page. Then it’s just a case of tidying it all up, doing a spell-check and sending it off to a publisher. Isn’t that what fiction writing is all about?
If you are a writer, or if you know a writer, then you will have a clearer idea of the reality of the situation. There’s the writing, which may be enjoyable, some of the time, but may also be tortuous if the muse is taking a break. Then there’s the re-drafting and editing, which may take months (if you’re lucky) but more likely years. Then there’s the problem of getting your manuscript in front of readers. You have invested months and maybe years of your life in your story. You have dreamed about the characters, you know them as well as you know your own family. You are certain that your story will bring pleasure to readers, but how do you find them? The reality is that you need many more skills than merely the ability to write.
There are two main routes to publication – the traditional route, or self-publishing/indie publishing route. Let’s briefly consider each one.
There are some independent publishers who will accept direct submissions, but many publishers will expect an author to be represented by a literary agent. If an agent accepts your submission, they will then approach publishers on your behalf and negotiate a contract for you. Did you enjoy researching your novel? Well, that’s a bonus, because there is an awful lot more research you need to do once you have finished writing it. There are hundreds of literary agents out there and it can be daunting to know just where to start. That’s where Agent Hunter can help. This clear and easy to navigate website allows you to search for UK agents, agencies or publishers, with useful search criteria, such as genre, number of years’ experience, number of clients and so on. It really offers a helping hand, which I’m grateful for, because this is just the start.
Once you have found an agent – or several – who you feel might be interested in your work, and in you as an author, then you need to use your best writing skills to compile an introductory letter/email. Agent Hunter also offer a service where they will look over your introductory letter and synopsis, which is certainly worth considering. Most agents will also ask for a synopsis of your novel, plus either the first few chapters, or the whole manuscript.
If you are lucky enough to be accepted and your agent successfully negotiates a contract for you with a publisher, then your next set of skills need to come into play. You need to understand the law – or at least know just what you are signing. Once again, there are plenty of organisations out there that can help you, so don’t be afraid to take advice before signing on the dotted line.
Okay – so now you have a contract, an agent and a publisher. Inevitably there will be further editorial work needed for your manuscript before it can be let loose on potential readers. There is also the important matter of the cover design. Your publisher will have their own ideas, but it’s important that you are happy with the finished product – after all, it will have your name on it. So, while you don’t necessarily need graphic design skills, you do need to know what will work for your genre. One easy way of getting a feel for colours, typeface, images and so on, is to spend some time in your local bookshop. What better excuse to while away an hour or so looking at books? Look at covers that grab your attention and work out why. What works and what doesn’t?
Then the joyous day arrives when you take receipt of your printed novel. It is pristine and perfect. You can relax now, can’t you? Wrong. Now is the time when you need to be as busy as ever, exploring yet another skill set. Marketing. You can’t leave it all up to the publisher. You need to get out there and spread the word. Social media is great for this, but there is so much more. Think about blog posts on your website (oh yes, you’ll need to have a website), articles in the local press, talks in the local library, visits to local bookshops.
We’ve considered some of the additional skills you need as a writer who chooses the traditional publishing route. Let’s look now at indie publishing. You will need everything mentioned above and more. Research, of course, to know your market. Marketing in spades, as you are the only person who knows your book exists – until you get out there and tell others about it. It’s been said that if you choose the indie route you need to spend as much time on marketing as you do on writing.
However, you need to a few more things besides. You need to be able to compile your manuscript into the correct format(s), and ensure the layout is perfect. You may choose to pay a graphic designer to create your cover – to your brief – and you may pay someone to do the final formatting of your text. But, if you are fairly confident with IT, then it is worth taking a look at Scrivener an extremely versatile piece of software designed specifically for authors.
There are plenty of professionals out there who will help you with editing, but it’s all at a cost. If you are lucky enough to know other authors, then you have the perfect opportunity to create a mutual support network, which can enrich your skill set, without emptying your pocket.
It might all sound a bit daunting, but it’s exciting too. Even though you might spend hours beavering away on your own, becoming more and more frustrated, with a feeling that you are moving one step forward and three back, don’t give up. Just remember that there are lots of writers out there, all learning their craft and learning all those other skills along the way!
What experiences have you had on your author journey?