Jack 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.
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 …
WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 3:
Publish and be damned!
With all of the options out there, what are you waiting for?
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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.
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Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com