The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

JACK THE HACK: Advice to all you expat writers: Publish and be damned!

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsJack Scott is back with his monthly column for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs (or cum-novels?). For those who don’t know, he was a Random Nomad for the Displaced Nation way back when we started this site. After an expat experience that was literally something to write home about, he and his partner, Liam, have traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back home in the UK.

—ML Awanohara

After months of burning the midnight oil, neglecting the sprogs and denying your long-suffering partner their conjugal rights, your memoir masterpiece is finally done and dusted. Whether you’re pleased with the result of your hard graft or just relieved, pop a cork. It’s quite an achievement.

So what’s next? Well, obviously you want to launch your labour of love onto an unprepared world—but how?

Essentially, you have four choices:

1) The big boys—the Holy Grail

Who wouldn’t bite the hand off a corporate suit offering a fat advance cheque, certainly not me. It sounds tantalising. Let the big boys do all the work—edit, design, promote and distribute—while you sit back and watch the royalties land on the mat. And you get to feel like a ‘proper’ author. Easy.

Except, it isn’t.  I know of no traditional publishing house that accepts unsolicited manuscripts, so don’t waste your time and money.

Mainstream publishers have cosy relationships with literary agents who filter out the dross so they don’t have to.

So, your first task is to bag yourself an agent who’s willing to take a punt on you (and a cut from you).

That’s not easy either. Agents receive thousands of manuscripts every year and few make it past the receptionist’s in-tray.

Keep the Faith. There are things you can do to avoid getting your memoir filed in the bulging bin:

  • Carefully read what an agent is looking for. Select only those who fancy a trip down memory lane. If you send your book to anyone else, you’re toast.
  • Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. If they want it double spaced in Times Roman 12, a full book proposal and a copy of your grandma’s marriage certificate then do exactly what it says on the tin.
  • Develop the patience of a saint, do not expect a quick response (if any) and don’t hassle.

2) Half-way houses—stepping into the breach

As we all know, the traditional bricks and mortar bookshop is under seize from the growth of on-line retailers (particularly Amazon), print-on-demand services and electronic books and they are transforming the market. A number of smaller publishers have sprung up to take advantage of this brave new world. For an upfront fee (often with set menu and a la carte offers), these smaller outfits will work with you to prepare your book to a professional standard (both print and e-versions) and get it onto the virtual shelves.

In return for a higher royalty rate, you will be expected to do most of your own promotion.

The advantage of print-on-demand publishing is that you can keep a stock of books in your bedroom for direct sales (to local bookshops, through your Web site and by emotionally blackmailing your nearest and dearest). The disadvantage is that most major book chains won’t give them shelf room.

3) Vanity publishing—the blind leading the desperate

We’ve all seen the “Authors Wanted” ads popping up on Google placed by companies who trade on a writer’s desire to see their name in print. For the right price, they’ll print almost anything. I’m not saying they are necessarily unscrupulous or misleading, but the quality of the written word isn’t their bag. Unfortunately, the line between the vanity publisher and the half-way housemate is becoming increasingly blurred. For me, the main distinction is selection and control. Be careful.

4) Self-publishing—the DIY approach

If your story is fit for publication (that is to say edited, proofed and formatted with a snazzy cover), why not self-publish as an e-book? It’s easier than you might think. Open an Amazon Kindle account, upload your file and let them do the conversion and listing.

And there’s always Smashwords, which will convert and distribute your e-book to all the main online retailers (including Amazon). Formatting an e-book for Smashwords is a bit fiddly but they do publish a handy style guide to lead you by the hand.

The advantage of self-publishing is that you get to keep full control over your work, including the price, and you’re paid direct without a publisher’s cut.

If you really want to see your precious words in print (and there’s nothing like the smell of a brand new book), get a printer to set the presses running. Many offer their services online and deliver to your door so you don’t even have to leave home.

Amazon also provides a print-on-demand service called CreateSpace. This way, people can order a print copy direct from them and, if you get the look and feel right, no one need ever know you did it yourself.

Postscript: Bedtime reading

Especially for expats with UK connections: The Writers and Artists Association has a comprehensive list of UK and overseas agents and their requirements. You’ll have to register first but it’s free. Their site also contains a well of advice about all aspects of the publishing business.

Which leads me to …


Publish and be damned!

With all of the options out there, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another in our NEW vs OLDE WORLDS series.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen /; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk /; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats /

19 responses to “JACK THE HACK: Advice to all you expat writers: Publish and be damned!

  1. Helena Halme (@helenahalme) June 5, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    So many people say they could write a book about their life experiences. Now there’s no excuse…!

  2. Anne O'Connell (@annethewriter) June 5, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Hey Jack,
    What a great overview of all the options available! After two years of researching all the changes going on in the publishing industry (which are ongoing) and a year of querying agents, I decided to self-publish my first novel using Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing for eBook and CreateSpace for POD). No matter what you pick, there are so many moving parts (and options within options) that you’ve got to ‘gird your loins’ for sure 😉

    Happy writing,

  3. Jack Scott June 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks Anne. We can all go round and round and never get anywhere. You took the bull by the horns and just got on with it. Well done!

  4. Veronique June 5, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Great post Jack ! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and advice. I think I am going to give a try to self publishing next time. I’m still writing … in French this time!

  5. Jack Scott June 6, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Power to your pen and I wish you the very best of luck.

  6. Jack Scott June 6, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Reblogged this on perkingthepansies and commented:
    More irrelevant writing advice from me. This time on the publishing lark.

  7. Roving Jay June 6, 2013 at 8:45 am

    It’s a tough decision to put your words out into cyberspace and open yourself up to criticism .. but don’t let fear stop you from publishing a book. I went with the do it myself option, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your book available to purchase, and then receiving your first positive review.

    I decided to write a Travel Guide book for an area in Turkey I love, and foolishly thought it would take be a couple of months to write and a month of so to prep for publication. But The Bodrum Peninsula Travel Guide: Turkey’s Aegean Gem, actually took closer to 7 months to complete.

    The biggest challenge I faced for my book, was “when is enough, enough?” I could have kept writing and expanding, and tweaking and re-writing -in that constant search for perfection. But at some point you have to say… STOP! and then just publish it!

    The great thing about ebook publishing is that you can edit your book and republish it as often as you want! Obviously you should make sure what you initially publish is of the highest quality, but you’re never going to achieve 100% perfection. So at some point you have to just DO IT! (Thanks Jack for this dose of reality – your support and personal guidance through the process of writing my first book, was invaluable.) You’re a Star!

    • Jack Scott June 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      You’re very welcome. I’ve have a ball being involved in the launch of your book. And it’s a great book, a must-read for anyone visited that corner of Turkey.

  8. butimbeautiful June 6, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    You put it in a nutshell!

  9. Let's CUT the Crap! June 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    You have such a way with words, Jack. Good advice, well mapped out. Even I understand it.

  10. Jack Scott June 9, 2013 at 5:52 am

    I do my very best! 🙂

  11. davidgeebooks June 9, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Jack, you need to impress on your Followers that whatever label is applied to it, ALL self-publishing is the same as vanity publishing. For every success story like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY there are thousands of self-published books which almost nobody sees. Quality is not a guarantee of success: mediocre books hit the jackpot while quality writers languish on the scrapheap. Life’s a bitch!

    Marketing/blogging/etc is crucial. I’ve written about my own self-publishing adventures on my blog – three books self-published so far and a fourth in production. My main piece advice is: DO NOT spend too much money. The best person to promote your book is YOU.

    • Jack Scott June 10, 2013 at 7:39 am

      This is the best advice. Some people are happy to chuck money at their project. Unfortunately, unless my scratch card comes up, I’m not one of the them! I published my e-books myself with no financial outlay. The publishing lark is a one big game of chance (a bit like my scratch card).

  12. cindamackinnon September 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    The “Half-way House” you describe was my answer, after flooding agents and publishers with queries and only getting nibbles – save for one agent who tied up the ms for 6 mo and then declined! I don’t mind plugging Virtual BookWorm as an upfront company that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and held my hand through the process {I found my own editor and cover designer -see my logo 🙂 }. I also did an eBook. I just got my first two checks for my novel, A Place in the World, which was published in April. Not sure I would accept a traditional offer right now if they asked me!

  13. jamoroki September 8, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I seem to use this article as a reference and keep returning to it as I wade through the minefield of self-promoting the self-produced work I self-published. Sounds a bit selfish doesn’t it. But, honestly, it has helped me a lot.

  14. Pingback: Workers of the World #11 | The Working Traveller

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