I've moved to another two blogs, one on writing, and one on general stuff like this one. Please come visit! MY NEW BLOGS:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Publishing 4: Goals for Your Writing

I have a few odds and ends to mention before I forget, and then I'd like to talk about goals.

1. I plan another few comparisons of before and after over the next few entries -- Jessica, a great idea. I feel like Jamie Lee Curtis here, showing what the manuscript *really* looks like without makeup or airbrushing :-)

2. I've heard writers say that they worry about someone stealing their ideas. My reaction to this: be prudent, but don't worry. Believe me, it's hard enough to develop an idea, or get the manuscript published, for someone to be tempted to lift it.

3. Speaking of the idea belonging to you, you should know that the moment you put an idea in a fixed form, ie you write it down, it is legally copyrighted to you. You can type a notice on it if you want. An easy way to prove that you are the developer as of this date is to mail the manuscript to yourself, and don't open the envelope. Voila -- legal documentation.


OK, goals. I've gotten the sense at a few conferences that I've attended that many non-published writers look at holding a book with their words inside as the ultimate goal. This is certainly an exciting moment -- I was fortunate to experience this myself last summer -- but it is simply the start of a new journey.

Very few people I imagine are content to write and then stuff manuscripts in their desk drawer, to be found by their heirs 50 years hence. If you want other people to read your words, what audience are you thinking of? I like to divide the audience into two broad, general groups:

1. a personal group. This could be family and friends, a community project, or some other limited readership that you would feel good if you could hand them a book. For instance, I have a friend whose great-grandparents died at the hands of the Nazis soon after Krystallnacht in Germany. She painstakingly researched their last days, and wrote a beautiful book that she published with First Books, a well-known self-publisher. She sold probably 100 copies, and was completely satisfied because she had given the various branches of her family a valuable record of their shared roots.

For this group, self publishing is the best, perhaps the only, option. You can develop a beautiful book at a relatively modest price, or even free, by using one of a number of book packagers.

2. a commercial group. If you want to sell A LOT of books commercially, to strangers who don't necessarily know who you are, because they hear that *this is a good book,* then you have more options that you'll need to carefully consider.

If you are part of this second group, your options divide generally into traditional publishing, or self-publishing. Self-publishing can be further broken down into a quasi-traditional house, a book packager, or developing your own publishing company.

There are definite pluses and minuses to each of these options. It is A HARD ROAD no matter which way you go, and you need to carefully consider the BEST choice for you.

I want to add a thought at my own risk, because it will automatically pull my own book in for consideration. OK, here's my fools-rush-in moment:

The bar for publishable, truly good, writing, is very very high. In my own experience critiquing many writers, I find very few writers who have yet hit this level. There are maybe two manuscripts out of fifty or so that I've read that I would consider publishing under my own imprint -- and these, believe me, I would edit the heck out of first.

I found when I was ready to publish my book, that MY manuscript was not ready. Not by a long shot. I did an enormous amount of work on it, and hopefully have brought it up to this publishable level -- many people have told me how much they enjoyed my book, so I'm hopeful.

I'm convinced that almost anyone can write a competent or better story. But... it takes a lot more work than you think. Just be ready, and don't jump until you've prepared the manuscript as well as you can.


Jessica Thomas said...

Good stuff. Keep it comin'.

Rita Gerlach said...


Polishing a manuscripts before submission is part of the 'golden rule' for writers. Sending in a manuscript to an agent or publisher that is not ready is one of the reasons so many writers meet with disappointment. A manuscript that is not ready will be rejected. It is more than just holding a book in your hand. You can go to Kinkos for that. Aspiring writers need to read everything they can on how to write well, and study editing techniques. The Chicago Manual of Style is what editors use.

One thing to keep in mind is that no manuscript will be perfect, no matter how much editing a writers does. And if you land a contract with a good publisher, the manuscript will go through at least three editing stages and two proofreads before it goes to print.

Andra M. said...

I couldn't agree more about our self-published books being the absolute best if we want to sell commercially.

At the same time, though I initially felt it was ready when I took the plunge, I still wonder if I shouldn't have gone through it one . . . more . . . time.

Amy Deardon said...

When I finished my manuscript, polished it, sent it out, signed with a reputable agent, and entertained interested queries from publishing houses, I thought my manuscript WAS ready! I guess the point is that you can always polish it again. I've said it before, but Jane's critique was truly a gift from God -- she opened my eyes to things that no one else had showed me. While getting ready to publish, I kept working at the ms until it sounded like something Michael Crichton (one of my favorite writers) might have written.

Rita, you have excellent suggestions for editing! There are so many manuscripts out there that having something not quite as good as it could be makes it that much easier for the editor or agent to say no.

Jessica Thomas said...

When I sent my manuscript around the first I thought it was "ready" but I had an itching feeling that if someone accepted it I would have pulled the wool over their eyes. So, do we know when our manuscripts aren't ready, but just "hope" we can sneak them in so we can stop working on the darn things? I think that's what I tried to do. Now, I truly feel like it is ready. Not only that, I feel ready to move on to the next project.

Brandie said...

Wonderful insights, and invaluable. Especially to someone like me, who needs to learn patience. :) Thank you!