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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Copy edits and, er, cabinets

I'm still in the thick of copy edits. I love this part of the writing/editing/publishing experience. Although, it can be tedious when you're trying to concentrate after a busy day with the home educated kids, the school runs for the school educated kid, laundry, cooking, etc. I confess to only managing an hour or so of useful editing before my eyes glaze over. I am so glad I made the decision not to rush to bring out A Life Between Us...

Author Ros Barber caused a bit of a stir this week with her Guardian piece in which she explained why she would not self-publish her literary work. Self-publishers took serious umbrage! And I don't entirely blame them (us). At the same time I think Ros made some valid points. I won't bang on about it here, as others have voiced their feelings far more eloquently than I ever could, such as Jane Davis's response on her blog yesterday.

I do want to briefly discuss Ros's analogy of a cabinet. She rightly says that you wouldn't just have a go at making a cabinet and then expect to sell it. No, you wouldn't. But a cabinet is a cabinet. Skilled joinery is universally recognisable. It's a specific skill. Bad joinery is as obvious as good joinery. In other words, it's objective.

Writing is subjective. Once you get past the nuts and bolts (sorry!) of spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and the ability to tell a story, all that's left is taste. You only have to look at any book listed on Amazon or Goodreads to see the variety of reviews, the diversity of responses to any given novel. The serious self-publisher (there is such a thing) engages with their inner critic, and gets help with their writing. They craft their work, as does the serious cabinet maker, and they won't unleash on the world anything that is below standard. I know that's not how all self-published authors operate, but I think it's true of many. Novels are not cabinets.

My books in my cabinet. A rather cheap, mass-produced piece of furniture, but it does the job, and lots of people love this kind of cabinet. 

Let's also remember some of the stuff that traditional publishers present to the world... among loads of fantastic books (this week I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and oh my goodness, how good is that...) there are some truly awful novels and self-publishers can't be blamed for those, that's for sure. Some of these books are hyped on Twitter and elsewhere, sometimes to an irritating level. It seems if a book publicist is constantly banging on about a book, that's OK, but if a self-publisher does the same, it's unprofessional. I would argue it is, but then isn't the pushy publicist also being unprofessional? Or just doing her job?

I don't know. I'm just doing what I do, to the best of my ability. I really don't enjoy the "them and us" attitude that seems to prevail in discussions about trad "versus" self-publishing. There are many hybrid authors around, and I'm proud to say I'm one of them. To me it's an adventure - all of it, writing, editing, publishing (trad, assisted or self) - and I try not to take it all so seriously. It's a plural world, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cover images and copy edits

Last week my copy edit for A Life Between Us arrived. It was an exciting moment, but also a terrifying one. I felt nervous opening up the document and looking at those first changes. My finger has been hitting the Accept button like there's no tomorrow... and also the Reject button a few times. I'm up to page 153 and I've discovered a few tics in my writing. I mix up tenses. I get spellings wrong (not too often though). I construct some pretty clumsy sentences. My hard working copy editor has done a great job of going through the MS and pointing out all these infelicities. Before getting stuck into the copy edited MS, I anxiously read through the copy editor's notes page and was delighted that there weren't any major mistakes to fix. I was also hoping, to be perfectly honest, to find a line or two of praise, and I did! That has given me a real boost, which links in to the whole validation issue I wrote about last time. It felt great to read the copy editor's opinion of A Life Between Us and to hear that he enjoyed working on it... phew! It's a start.

I've also been busy choosing a cover image. No easy task when you're not a designer, and you don't work in publishing! The word "amateur" keeps popping into my mind... I want to get the cover, like everything else, right: so I read a few articles about covers and the task they need to perform. I tried to keep in mind that the cover is the first thing readers will see and therefore it needs to attract. It doesn't necessarily have to reflect the story, although most covers seem to, I find, in one way or another. The thing to remember I think is that the cover only really makes sense after the novel has been read. That felt important to me and I was then able to focus on seeking out a suitable image. I knew from the start that I wanted a photographic image and I wanted something striking! Exciting! Different... then I calmed down a bit and popped on my business woman hat for a minute or two. I slowed down, and spent time looking at book covers in my genre. I'm not 100% sure of my genre but I've gone with Literary/Commercial Crossover, or, Serious "women's" fiction, or, Lit Lite.

This is the export edition of my first novel Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase. Letters feature in the novel and this cover clearly reflects that. I think this cover is mysterious and feminine, and understated. Also, a little cliched... but that's OK because the cover is fulfilling its expectations and it reflects the nature of the novel. The story inside "does what it says on the tin (cover)" and I think it's beautifully designed. 

I realise that in order to attract readers I need to go with a cover they might expect... it sounds a bit same ol, same ol, but from a business POV it makes sense. I want to sell my novel and I need the cover to help me do that. I decided if things go well I could always re-issue the book at a later date with a truly off-the-wall cover. But for its first outing it needs to "fit". I was delighted to read an article in The Bookseller this week (about the Academy of British Cover Design) which discusses that very thing. It's a timely corroboration of my thoughts. Phew again...

I won't of course be designing my cover, I'm leaving that to the designers at Matador Books. I can't wait to see how they incorporate the image I've chosen. It's going to be a huge moment... and of course all will be revealed in due course...

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Don't look down...

Last week I wrote about my tussle with vanity while deciding whether to self-publish my second novel. I've kind of got over worrying about vanity now... well, all right, I'm still a little worried about it. And the reason is, I have nobody backing me up with this project. With my first novel, while most publishers weren't falling over themselves to buy it, one of them in the end did, and it felt absolutely amazing. The publisher, although I wasn't truly aware of it at the time, provided a huge safety net. There was that oh-so-important validation from a publisher willing to take a chance on the book and pay to publish it. It's the one thing that scares me about self-publishing more than anything else. With a commercial publisher the writer gets that first seal of approval: we like this novel, hell, we love it. We believe in it. We are going to stump up the cash to publish it and what's more, we are going to pay you the author an advance and royalties.

As a self-publisher, it's just you and nothing much beneath you but solid ground. I can forgive myself the odd spell of dizziness, nausea and weak-kneed terror.

Don't look down...

Once A Life Between Us is out there, I'm prepared for the reviews citing my work as a self-published vanity project. I know that accusation is going to be thrown at me, and I'm prepared for it. It won't be nice, but it will be expected. In one sense it matters not a jot... every book ever published gets one star reviews from readers who, for a myriad of reasons, just didn't enjoy it. OK, our first one star review is bewildering, hurtful... even a little bit soul-destroying. Actually, all our one star reviews hurt, but I've learned not to take them personally. I also remind myself that I don't write my novels for those particular readers. I write for the readers who enjoy my writing and who sometimes kindly leave 4 or 5 stars, or even 3.

I've also learned to tell the difference between a genuine one star review - somebody who reads but doesn't enjoy the book - from a fake one star review: those "readers" who would give it one star regardless, those who in all probability haven't even read the book, the plain trolling one starrers... they exist, sadly. My first novel received a two star rating before the proofs had even been printed, let alone sent out.

Yet, commercially published authors have a sense of refuge. Our publisher brought out the book, not us. We can blame the publisher if sales and reviews are poor - they didn't market the book properly; they didn't market the book at all; they didn't work hard enough on the editing; they picked an awful cover. Whatever. There is somebody else there, often the might of a Big Five publisher, and the burden of responsibility is shared, or even lifted completely. Not so when you go it alone. Even with assisted self-publishing, there is little validation. OK, assisted publishing firms don't take on every single manuscript that comes their way, but nor do they have acquisition meetings where an editor fights tooth and nail for a novel they love and believe in.

So what to do about this lack of validation? I think all I can do is ensure I bring out the very best novel I'm capable of. Nobody can ask for more. Some readers will enjoy it and that will be the most valuable validation of all. It's all about the readers in the end; they are who we write for.

Next week I'll talk about my experiences of the self-publishing process so far, including my favourite task to date... helping to choose the cover image (but no reveal just yet...)