Tag Archives: editing

The Birth of a Novel

10 Jan

I buy almost all of Bundoran Press’ novels through an open submission process, though obviously if you’ve published with me before you get to go to the front of the line. But even that is no guarantee of publication.

So how does a novel get from being three chapters in a metaphorical meter-high pile of other submissions (I only accept digital submissions but a sea of electrons isn’t as visually arresting) to being an actual book?

I thought you’d never ask.

Almost every submission I receive is competently written; even the stories and characters are okay. It’s not that they aren’t adequate; they just aren’t special. The truth is, good writing alone will not get you through the slush pile. You need to present something interesting, something ‘fresh.’ Hardly helpful, I know, but it really does come down to that. You have to catch the editor’s attention. The good news, I suppose, is that different editors are interested in different things – but none of us want the same old thing.

The secret is not to write the best copy ever of the last best seller. Trying to be another writer – unless you are being paid to ghost-write a celebrity bio – is not the road to success. Your novel has to reflect you. It may fall into a category of books – LA dystopian thrillers, for example – but it should try to re-define what that category means.

I call it the ‘look-away’ factor. Let me explain.

I’ve read a lot of books in my life. In the last few years I’ve read a lot of manuscripts that want to be books. I apply the same standard to both. If I find myself frequently putting a book down to wander off and check my e-mail, get a snack, wash my hair – there is a pretty good chance that book will go into the ‘did not finish’ pile. If I put it down mid-paragraph, that chance becomes a certainty. It happens more often than you might think.

Manuscripts face a tougher go. They have seldom been edited and are certainly not in as good a shape as the writer thinks it is. So, the chance of me ‘looking away’ from the screen is somewhat higher. Looking away – or walking away – in mid-paragraph is a still pretty bad sign. On the other hand, if I immediately look back and keep reading, there is a good chance I’ll want to see more.

Sometimes what brings me back is pacing. The craft of drawing the reader along in that ‘what will happen next’ kind of suspense goes a long way. I like stories; I like ripping yarns. But it can also be the depth of a character – a character I didn’t see on an episode of ‘Supernatural’ last night – that pulls me in. Or, the sheer beauty of the writing or the cleverness of the central premise.  If at the end of the 3 chapters, I want to know what happens, I then read the synopsis. But only then.

Because before I am an editor, I am a reader.

So, you’ve made the first cut – about 10-15% do. What next? Assuming the synopsis doesn’t go in a completely weird direction, failing to follow the first rule of the novel – which Nancy Kress describes as fulling the promise you made to the reader in the first few chapters – I’ll ask to see the whole manuscript.

Hold it, you say, what’s this about a promise? A novel is not a series of random events. A novel begins by presenting something to the reader – it may be “I am a mystery. Watch me solve it.” Or “This young girl has been placed in terrible peril. Watch her escape.” Or “The universe is falling apart. Watch me fix it (or pick up the pieces).” Or even “Here is a dysfunctional family. Watch them wallow in it.” You can’t then veer off and present something completely different. You can take a meandering path; you can even play tricks on the reader but at the end, you have to deliver the goods.

Of course, the first three chapters are always the most polished. The synopsis may promise more than the writer is capable of delivering. The writer may not even know what their book is about. I heard a novelist on the radio the other day who admitted she didn’t really understand her novel until a year after it was published. Fortunately her editor did.

Once I have a full manuscript in front of me, I try to read it quickly but carefully. I have several questions in mind. What is this book about? Am I interested in the lives of the characters? Do I care what happens to them? Is the plot consistent? Is the background realistic (for SF, that also means is the science ‘correct’ – that is, not patently wrong)?

While the front of my mind remains in reader mode, in the back of my mind, other questions are percolating – editor questions. Is the character arc(s) clear? Is the initial promise fulfilled and, if not, why not? Does everything that’s here belong in the book or are their pieces that are missing? Is the writing good enough to do the job? Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Has the writer shown me – in the best parts of the text – that they have the chops to do more?

Most important: Do I want to help this writer make this the best novel they can write? And, can I do it? I once had a pretty good book that I rejected because I knew it wasn’t quite right but I had no idea how to fix it.

Once I do ask for a full manuscript, the chances are about 25 to 50% that I will offer a contract for the book. Not all offers are accepted. The second book I tried to buy was turned down because the offer didn’t satisfy them. I don’t know if the book was ever published or not, but obviously it wasn’t published by me.

Then the fun begins.

Some books are in pretty good shape when I start working on them; others are fairly rough, if intriguing, drafts. Regardless, I now do a second read – more careful this time, taking notes as I go. I may take a week or two to get this read done. By the end I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I will say to the writer. I then I read it a third time to nail down my initial thoughts. Sometimes I read parts of it a fourth time before I send my notes to the writer.

The editorial process varies a lot. In one case I got the writer to cut 1/3 of the first half of the book, providing specific examples and even some red ink to guide them along. In another case, I suggested that the writer should re-write the entire novel making the secondary character into the main one (not as hard as you might think though that is just my opinion). In others, the problem was mainly thematic – the writer wasn’t focused on what their book was really about. I didn’t impose a theme on them but merely pointed out in their own text where the theme emerged. In some cases, all that was required was the deletion of a chapter or two and the addition of some bridging material so the characters’ actions made sense.

None of the books I published looked exactly like they did when they arrived on my desk but, unless I’m being lied to, all the writers were happy with the work I helped them do. Because in the end, it remains the author’s book; their story. My job is merely to help them remove the rough edges and polish the brilliant parts. To help them tell their story in the best possible way.

That’s what editors do. It’s just a lot easier to do when you’re not being paid by the author – when the advice feels a bit like criticizing your boss.

Finally, we’re done. Well, almost. There is still the proofreading to be done – first by me, then by the author, then by me again. We get one more shot at it when the page proofs arrive – when we desperately hope we don’t find too many more typos.

And, of course, there is the cover. I generally ask the author if they have a scene that particularly captures the essence of the book. I always have a few ideas too. These get passed on to our artist Dan J. O’Driscoll – who has already read the book – for him to turn our thoughts (and especially his) into striking images. My authors don’t have final approval for art but I always consult them.

There are plenty of other details to handle – the ISBN number, the Catalogue in Publication (CIP) information for the front of the book, acknowledgements, dedications, bios, blurbs, back cover copy and so on. Then off to the printer.

Once the books are printed, 2 to 4 months ahead of the release date, there is the PR to handle – getting reviews, blog interviews, book giveaways, launch parties, all part of the package here at Bundoran Press.

And 10-18 months after I first read it in the slush, those 3 chapters have become a book. And I get to deliver it into the hands of a smiling author. And they always smile.





22 Feb

Collaboration is a tricky thing for writers and for editors yet it happens all the time.

I had plenty of experience as a playwright; in theatre, the collaborative process, especially for new plays, is quite important.

Frequently, a new play will be work-shopped with the involvement of actors, directors, even designers, all of whom had opinions — often strong ones — about the structure and text. It could be daunting for the playwright and it sometimes felt like everyone was ganging up on you. A good dramaturge — who may have opinions of their own —will usually act as a referee and a defender of the play’s interests (if not the playwright — it’s all about the work). After the workshop, the playwright will often write a new draft. Changes may be dramatic and may incorporate not only ideas but actual lines improvised by the writer. In some theatre companies, there is no single author and the final product is a collective creation.

Still, most plays, like most other creative endeavours, are primarily the work of a single author.

In poetry or prose fiction, the equivalent is the critique group where writers will comment on their colleagues’ work. The writer may come away with new perspectives and ideas but seldom with actual blocks of text. The basic rule is that it is your work and you are free to accept or reject any changes. The final decisions are all yours.

Similar rules are supposed to apply when the writer begins to work with the editor. Editors generally respect the integrity of the work and make suggestions to help it achieve the writer’s intent. Still, when an editor makes a suggestion, the writer needs to take it seriously and recognize that sometimes the editor knows better what works in a story than the author does. Contractually, the editor is not supposed to change anything without the permission of the writer. On the flip side, the editor generally has a final say when the work is ready for publication — if ever — and, so, when the writer will be paid.

While it is not uncommon for other people to have input into your work, actual formal collaboration where two or more parties share the creative process and generally have reciprocal vetoes over the others’ work is much more rare. Still, it can be done and, when it works, will often result in a stronger story than any of them could have done alone.

I’ve collaborated on two pieces with my wife over the last couple of years — one of which was published. The other was designed as a performance piece and we’ve presented it a couple of times in the last six months.

But since this is the publishing blog and not the writing one, I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

For the last year I’ve been working with my business partner, Mike Rimar, (whom I’ll encourage to blog about this separately) on an anthology called Second Contacts. It is Mike’s first crack at editing but other than a few suggestions from me to get us started, we’ve played a completely equal role in the process.

I drafted the guidelines but Mike made a number of substantive changes in them before we finally posted them. Before we even started receiving stories, we agree on a process for reviewing them as well as a system for the initial evaluation.

One of the rules we agreed on was that we each got to choice two stories, even if the other editor didn’t like them. This ensured that each of our individual visions would be reflected in the anthology. For the other stories, we had to come to a consensus, recognizing that some choices would be obvious and others would require some discussion. We also agreed that we would take, at most, two reprints — which in the end was how many we took.

As stories came in, we divided them up equally. We had agreed on some guidelines to evaluate the stories that took into account the writing, the strength of the story, the science components and the adherence to the guidelines. Every story was read by one editor and if it scored more than 65% on the guidelines (stories scoring less were rejected without a second read) was usually passed on to the other editor. The one exception to that was when stories clearly weren’t “second contact” stories — that is, they didn’t fit the stated guidelines. Then it didn’t matter how well written they were — they weren’t suitable for the anthology.

Once stories were passé don to the second editor, he had the choice to keep it for further review or, if they really didn’t like it, to reject it at that point. Since all the stories needed two yeses to get in, there was little point in keeping it if one editor didn’t want it. While it is possible we could have exercise ‘editor’s choice’ at this point, it didn’t happen at that phase.

It was clear from the start we were going to keep more stories for the final round than we would be able to actually buy. That’s not a bad situation to be in.

Once we got to the second round, we decided that the simplest way to proceed was to rank the stories in our order of preference. We then averaged the scores to come up with a consensus rank. There were stories that I ranked high and Mike ranked lower (and vice versa) and we both indicated our willingness to invoke our selection privilege — but in the end all of those stories were rated high enough on average to make the final cut.

The real argument — such as there was one — came with the last few choices. We had about 3-5 slots left based on our word count limits and about 8 stories that were roughly the same in rank. Some Mike liked more than me and some I liked — but we were agreed that all of them were worthy.

Discussions now ranged around whether these stories were too similar to one we had already chosen. We also wanted to have some variation in style and length. Stories that had a distinctive voice or a somewhat experimental style had a real advantage. In the end, we went back a forth a few times before coming up with our final choices.

The things we didn’t discuss we didn’t discuss was country of origin or seeking diversity. Both Mike and I were committed to finding the best story. While I can’t speak for Mike, I didn’t even really look at who the author was until the choices had been made.

In the end, we picked 18 stories by 19 authors (our collaboration picked one collaborative story). There were 11 Canadian writers, 4 Americans and one each from Mexico, United Kingdom, Israel and The Netherlands. There were 11 men and 8 women.

We are now in the final stage of work — the actual editing of the stories. Again we agreed on a process that allows us each have some input into the process while preserving a certain degree of individuality in the end product. In effect, we divided up the stories and each provided the other with general comments that they should consider in making their final editorial suggestions.

We will need to have some further discussions on copyedits — though it is clear that with the majority of stories coming from Canada and England, Canadian spelling with prevail.

Then, it’s a matter of writing the opening and closing essays — and we’ve already decided who will do which — and determining who does the work of putting the whole package together.

It has been an interesting process and I think we’ve both learned a bit about working together and about how to improve our own editorial processes.

And Bend and Stretch and… Ouch!

24 Nov

Publishing a good book is not a one-man band.

I’m not saying that a person can’t publish all by themselves – Amazon is cluttered with people who do – but their books are all too often as entertaining as the aforementioned band. It’s a novelty that will hold your attention for a minute but hardly for a full concert. Put another way – when it comes to dancing bears, the wonder is not at how well he dances but that he can dance at all. There are exceptions I’m sure – people who can write, edit, design, illustrate, complete e-book formatting, market, publicize, and do it all professionally or, even, competently. I just haven’t met them. I know I sure as hell can’t.

Most writers understand this or soon learn it: It takes a village to raise a book. And that’s a good thing.

One of my biggest rewards as both a writer and an editor comes from the collaborative process. Notice I said ‘reward’ and not ‘pleasure.’ That’s because collaboration isn’t always easy and it’s frequently not fun. Writers and editors sometimes (often) butt heads over what works and what doesn’t. The editor is not always right but he or she is not always wrong either. Writers are blind to their own weaknesses: if they weren’t they would fix them. Editors may have an agenda of their own – stylistic preferences, their own secret story to tell, marketability, etc. – which is why sometimes the writer-editor partnership doesn’t work. But when it does, when the writer is open to change and the editor is genuinely motivated to help the writer be the best writer she or he can be, the result is often magic. I’ll say it again, for perfect clarity; the job of the editor is not to change the writer or the book but to help them be more fully themselves in their writing. A bit like therapy without either the couch or the judging.

I suspect one of the hardest things to do for a self-publishing writer is to find an editor who can actually help them. It’s all about the direction the money flows. If a writer hires an editor, the money flows from the writer to the editor; the editor owes their living to the person they are supposed to edit. As such, it will be tough to be tough – even if the writer asks for it. It’s like going up to your boss and telling him his decisions are stupid. It may work out, it may be productive, but you probably don’t want to do it every day. If a writer sells to a publisher, the money flows from the publisher to the writer – and to the editor (even if the publisher is the editor, this is still essentially true, only more so). The editor has complete independence from the writer and can be completely frank about what they think needs to be done. The writer retains – usually through contract – the right to disagree and, even, veto suggestions. But the relationship will be one of equals.

But that isn’t the end of the process. As a publisher, you have to engage in all aspects of the production and eventual marketing of the book. Again, no one person can do it all. Not and retain their sanity.  Still, someone has to be in charge.

Take cover art. A good publisher will try to find the right art to represent the book. Small publishers like Bundoran and CZP, may use the same artist for all or most of their books as a way to create brand recognition. But it is not simply a case of handing the book to the artist and waiting to see what happens. I often consult the author to see what image they think of as most representative of their book; I may have my own ideas. The artist may fix on something else entirely. Discussion ensues but just as the author is the source of all inspiration regarding the text, the artist needs the freedom to create as well. They produce a ‘draft,’ some editing is proposed and a final design is agreed on. Who gets the final say? Usually neither the writer or the artist – the publisher makes the decision. If the publisher and the writer are the same person, it’s important that they try to wear different hats in making the decision. After all, it is the cover art that causes many people to pick up a book by an unknown author, especially in genre fiction.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. Everyone has their own best destiny. Writers are best at writing; editors at editing, artists at arting, I mean, painting, designers at…. and salespeople at selling. It’s not that we all can’t do other things but division of labour and relative advantage does make it more efficient and more effective to assign the tasks to the experts.

The good thing is: collaboration is good for you. It’s like going to the gym. It may require a real effort of will, it may force you to stretch yourself until you hurt, but in the end it makes you into a better person. Though, unlike the gym, it usually doesn’t make you thinner.

News of the Week

As previously announced, Bundoran Press has signed Darusha Wehm to a one-book deal. The working title is “The Wheel” but I suspect that will change before we’re done.

An interesting article about the resurgence of long novels – nothing new to lovers of genre, of course.

One man’s opinion about the future of publishing. The most cogent point: no-body really knows.

Check out our books on Kobo, Kindle and our own web-site: e-books reduced in prices, some trade paperbacks, too.

See you at SFContario.

Writing Fast, Thinking Slow

10 Nov

November is here once again. All over the world men are growing mustaches for money. The usual complaints about the extension of the Christmas season (and its endless commercialization) are plastered across the media – social and otherwise. And thousands upon thousands of writers are participating in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – the annual marathon of scribbling where millions of words are written to get that novel out of your head and into a digital file.

Some of those books (or substantial portions of books – the standard 50,000 goal is bit shy of a regular length novel) are not bad. A few, after considerable revision, re-writing and editing, are publishable. Quite a few more actually get published – it’s all so easy to do these days.

I have no objection to fast writing. As a former winner of the 3-day novel writing competition, I’ve obviously benefited from it. A Circle of Birds (Anvil Press, 1992) was a mere 33,000 words but it was written over the Labour Day weekend so I might be forgiven for its brevity. But it did have a beginning, middle and end and got decent reviews in Books in Canada and Geist Magazine. It was recently translated into French and published in Quebec.

But here’s the secret. I had been thinking about many of the scenes in the book for months, composing them over and over in my head during my summer –time runs along the Bow River. Those were the days, before the knees went and the weight went up, when I could go on 8 or 12 kilometer runs and think about nothing but writing. I suspect all that running helped – writing 11,000 words a day, even for three days, is a physical as well as a creative marathon. I certainly couldn’t do it now.

And, of course, after the book was chosen from the 200 plus entries, I worked with editor, Brian Kaufman, for several months to make substantive improvements to both the story and the writing. The final product was much better than the original (very) rough draft. Yet, despite the changes and improvements it was still the book I had written. It’s a lesson I often reflect on – the job of an editor is not to change a book but to help the author to turn it into the best book it can be. It’s what I try to do – though Brian set a high standard. One’s reach should always exceed one’s grasp.

I still use the techniques of fast writing to solve certain kinds of writing problems and at certain stages of the writing process. But I don’t use it every day or to solve every problem. And neither should you.

Fast writing – just putting words on paper without thinking much about plot, style, continuity, grammar or, I guess, anything but the immediacy of the creative act – works well for the first ten thousand words or so. The reason is obvious – at least to me. It is the part of the book that you’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about. You know who the characters are. You know what problem they face. You’ve thought out the opening setting. It’s all there in your head. And, once you get experienced, you know that at least half of those words won’t be in the final draft. Less investment makes it easier to be cavalier about the process.

After you get that first blast down on paper, however, it is important to slow down for a while. This is natural and happens even if you don’t plan for it. Read the diaries of NaNoWriMo writers and you often see this big burst at the beginning of the process and then the struggle over the next week or two. It’s not just fatigue; it’s their brain kicking into gear. It is after those first 10-20K words that you really start to know what the book is about; where it’s been and where it’s going. It’s a good time to take a pause and put those conclusions on paper. Even if you have a plot, you shouldn’t be tied to. You are not baking a cake from a recipe book; you are inventing an entirely new dish. The creative burst has to be put to use – and the best use possible is to think about the book you’re writing. Edit those first 20,000 words, re-write the plot, figure out the next 10 chapters, delete or add characters.

Then write like mad for a couple of weeks (or months). By then you will have reached the crisis point. The novel is on track but has started to wobble. The ending you dreamed of seems to be eluding you. Time to spend some time thinking again. Go back and fix some of those structural problems to avoid derailment. Figure out the ending that was really promised by the beginning. Narrow your focus and tighten your aim. Then write your way to the natural conclusion.

Will the book you’ve written in 30 days (or, in my case, 3 days or 4 months) be finished? Not anywhere close. But if you’ve spent some real time thinking about the book before you started and you let your critical faculties play a role in the process (without letting them block you), you may be a lot closer to a final draft than fast writing alone will give you. And that will make any editor who has to work with you happy beyond measure.

News of the Week

Bundoran Press has reduced the prices of some of their print books and all of their e-books, which you can purchase here. Note that e-books sold off our web-site contain both the ePub (Kobo) and MOBI (Kindle) versions. Or you can buy them directly from Amazon and Kobo. Until November 15th, Kobo users can get Tom Barlow’s I’ll Meet You Yesterday at the low price of $3.99.

The Table of Contents for Strange Bedfellows has been finalized and posted several places – including in a previous blog post. It will be released in April 2014.

Bundoran Press will be hosting a party at SFContario in Toronto on Friday, November 29th. Look for signs at the Con. Books will be on sale – bargains galore. Bring cash.

The Political Economy of Anthologies

13 Oct

When I was applying for a scholarship to go to university, I was asked to write a thousand word essay as part of the application (even though I was planning a degree in Chemistry and Math). I began the essay with a quote from Samuel Johnson: “None but a blockhead writes except for money.” My argument must have worked as I was awarded the largest scholarship the university gave – it covered tuition, books, room and board and about $100 left over for incidentals. All I had to pay for during my first four years of school was beer, music and the occasional pair of pants. To this day, I believe writers should get paid for their work – despite the frequent requests to do it for the honour or for ‘exposure.’ If I want exposure I can go to the park.

The Strange Bedfellows anthology recently closed for submissions. Final choices haven’t been made but will be soon. Throughout the process I noticed some interesting patterns. The guidelines said:

We are considering stories in the 2000 to 7500 word range with a definite preference for 4-6000 words.  Shorter and longer stores MAY be considered but no more than two stories shorter than 2000 words will make the book and no more than one over 7500 (hard maximum 12K). Payment is 5.5 cents per word (Canadian funds) on publication, plus one contributor copy.

To me, this was pretty clear. I wanted stories for the most part in the 5000 word range, plus or minus a thousand. There is even a hint that shorter is slightly preferred to longer. While I didn’t keep exact stats, I did find an inordinate number of stories in the 7000 to 7499 range – much more than you might expect from random chance. I even received more than fifteen stories over 7500 words in length. There were perhaps 7-8 stories shorter than 2000 words.

The economics of this seem pretty simple. If you did succeed in selling a 10K word story it’s a pretty decent payday. For some people, that higher payday was worth the increased risk of not making a sale at all. After all, if the chance of selling a story is only 1 in 17 (5000 words out of 84000 in the anthology) anyway, why not go for the gold even if your odds are now one in 271? Others tried to limit their risk while maximizing their payday – coming in that magic range of 7000 to 7500. Not that I think people deliberately aimed for that length. Rather, they probably had longer stories and stopped editing as soon as they fell below the threshold.

And there is the problem for me as an editor. A flat 5.5 cents a word encourages people to do the least work possible. Why edit your story to the proper length if it means you will make less money? Clearly that is not in your economic self-interest. Except, of course, a bloated over-written story is less likely to be chosen in the first place. The more experienced the writer, the less likely they are to make that mistake. Making a story exactly as long as it has to be – and no longer – is one of the hallmarks of good writing. Hemingway is famous for saying: Write drunk, edit sober. What that really means is write with abandon and edit with care and thought. The real way to maximize your income is to actually sell the story.

I did think that I could offer a graduated scale: 2 cents for the first 1000 words, 3 cents for the next 2000, 9 cents for the next 3000, then 1 cent for every word above 6000. But despite having a minor in math, it seemed like an awful lot of arithmetic just to make the free market work as it should.

A Belated CanCon Report

It was a great Con.

I guess I could add a few details. I was editor guest of Honour at Cancon in Ottawa. With a table in the Dealers Room, a party on Saturday night and MCing the Aurora Awards on Sunday – along with regular programming, I was kept pretty busy. One highlight for me was my joint interview with Robert J. Sawyer where he revealed he won’t have a book next year (don’t worry he’ll be back in 2015) and that he recently signed a deal to write a screenplay of Triggers.  My big news is that Rob and I will be guests at Northwords Writers Festival in Yellowknife next June. An even bigger highlight was awarding Rob his lifetime achievement Aurora on Sunday morning. You can read his acceptance speech here. And you can see pictures of the Con here. Oh yeah, I won an Aurora, too. For editing Blood and Water.

My third big time highlight was launching Tom Barlow’s first novel, I’ll Meet You Yesterday, coming in November to a store near you. Tom gave a great reading at the party and we all had a great time until a grumpy neighbour complained and had hotel security shut us down.

And we actually sold a lot of books.


Aurora Award

7 Oct

Aurora Award

Hayden Trenholm wins Prix Aurora Award for Best Related Work for editing “Blood and Water” anthology from Bundoran Press

A Publisher May Work from Sun to Sun, but a Writer’s Work is Never Done

17 Feb

The e-mail has landed in your in-box (or perhaps it’s even a phone call) – a publisher has offered to produce your book. 

Or perhaps, you’ve decided to go the self-publishing route.  Your manuscript is done and you feel ready to go. 

In either case, your work has just begun. 

Since I’m a publisher, I’m going to focus on the first case.  For self-publishers, everything I say applies plus you’ll have to find a way to do everything the publisher does, too.

You read the e-mail several times.  The initial euphoria starts to fade.  That’s all they’re paying me for my year or more of struggling with this bloody manuscript!?  I’ve dealt with this before – advance payments for first novels (or even second, third or fourth novels) run from a few hundred to perhaps as much as ten thousand dollars. 

An advance is a payment against future royalties (a percentage of the sale price of the novel, somewhere between 8 and 15%).  It is usually paid in three installments – on signing the contract, on final draft and on publication.  Suppose you get $5000 against an 8% royalty on a $10 mass paperback.  The publisher has to sell 6250 books at full price before you see another dime.  Most first novels don’t sell 5000 copies.  Fortunately for you, you don’t have to pay back unearned advances.

In fact, for small presses – which often only print 500 to 1000 copies of a trade paperback – we would be thrilled to pay you more money.  It would mean we actually had sales large enough to not only pay our costs but to make a little profit, too.  Which we could use to subsidize those books that don’t sell as well as either we or the author might like.

But enough whining about my life – let’s whine about yours for a while.

You’ve accepted the offer, signed the contract, cashed the paltry cheque and treated yourself to your favorite libation.  Whew!  Now I can get started on the next book.  Indeed, you must start writing immediately – because if your novel is a success the publisher is going to want another one twelve months from now. 

Of course, maybe your dream has now been fulfilled.  You’ve had a book published – time to move on.  I knew someone who thought that way.  He sold his first book and then basically quit writing!  Fair enough.  Life is full of adventures, after all.  Of course, the publisher now hates him.  As do most of his writing buddies. 

Why?  Because publishers don’t invest in novels – they invest in writers.  The first novel is a big risk and almost never makes much money.  But if it makes a little or even comes close to breaking even, then maybe the next few books will do better and everyone can get paid.

So get writing that next book.   Maybe you’ll make some real progress before the request for re-writes arrive.  (How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?  I’m not changing a GD thing!)  Some will be minor – too frequent use of an expression or phrase; some grammatical clumsiness; suggestions about sentence length – others will be major – there are too many characters; eliminate that delightful sub-plot; cut the first six chapters. 

A friend of mine was shocked to get 350 editorial comments on a 300 page manuscript.  In the end, he accepted most of them and felt it made for a better book.  But at the time he threatened to quit writing several times.

Oh, and by the way, we need those changes in six or eight weeks.  But we still love your book!

Then comes the second round of changes (actually the third – if you’ve already gone through this process with an agent).  Less substantive, more picky, still painful.  But when they are done you get that second cheque.  Yay!

Great!  Now back to the new novel.

But there are still copy edits.  If you’re lucky and your publisher can afford to pay for them.  These go through the book line-by-line, questioning your grammar, spelling, word use, style, even your facts (because even fiction has a factual component).  It is often copy-editing that makes prose really sing, plots vibrate, worlds take on that rare quality of verisimilitude.  They will also leave you tearing out your hair – if you have any left – and questioning you ability as a writer.

Finally done!  Well, except for the author’s proof-reading, literally reading the ‘proofs’ before they go to the printer or the e-book programmer.  Only to discover six typos that somehow have escaped everyone’s attention and desperately wanting to re-write a scene (too late now!).  And feeling guilty about it because every change at this point costs the publisher money.  Well, you should feel guilty.

Meanwhile, the publisher has paid the editor (or done it themselves) hired the copy-editor and/or proofreaders, commissioned and paid for cover art, designed the book, obtained an ISBN, hired and paid a printer, arranged shipping to the distributor (who will deal with getting the books into stores). 

Nothing now but to provide an author’s bio, maybe a professional photo, do a few pre-launch interviews.  And did we mention you should have a web-site (paid for by you), a Facebook, Twitter and other social media presence?  No, well, get on with it.

Finally, the big day comes.  Your book is in your hands (along with that third cheque)and an official launch is announced.  Of course, there isn’t actually any money for that – or only a couple of hundred dollars.  You have to help if you want it to be a big success and a fun party.  Do you have an acquaintance with a bookstore, bar or art gallery?  Will they donate the space?  How about catering?  Can you get it for free or crowd source it from among your family and friends?  How about sending out invites to everyone you ever met?  If it is starting to sound a bit like selling insurance or Amway products – that’s because it is.

Bit of a rough go, especially if like many writers you’re a bit of an introvert.

Of course you don’t have to do any of this public relations stuff.  Whether you go the traditional route or the self-publishing one, you can just throw your book out into the market and hope for the best.  Good luck with that.  Or, you could be like lots of people on Twitter and shout “Buy My Book!” every minute of the day for a month.  Of course, most of the thousand or ten thousand people who follow you are too busy shouting “No, Buy My Book,” to notice. 

Sorry, audiences are not built by being annoying.  They are built by writing good books, accepting editorial comments that turn them into better books, defending your vision but not sweating the small stuff.  Making sure the book itself – whether print or e-book – is attractive in itself.  If you self-publish you have control over that and it will be as nice as you can afford to make it.  As a writer, you may make the quality of the publisher’s product part of your decision when you get an offer.  After all, it can’t possibly be about the money.

For science fiction and fantasy writers, there is another opportunity for promotion.  Most cities have a local SF convention.  Make sure you go – it’s a chance to meet the people who buy your books or who might in the future.  You also get to meet a lot of fellow writers for both social and educational purposes.  If you go, try to be yourself.  If you happen to be a jerk, try to be an entertaining one and avoid doing really stupid things.  If people like you or, more importantly, find you interesting, they may well be willing to give one of your books a try.  After that, it’s all up to the writing.

And that, ultimately, is why you did it in the first place.  And if the writing is good enough – then a few books from now you actually will be making enough money to quit the day-job (or at least go part-time).  It seems a modest goal – but a reasonable one.  People who start writing because it will make them rich are a lot like people whose retirement plans are based on winning the lottery; it can happen, but you better not count on it.


P.S If you’d like to support our latest project – an anthology of political science fiction called “Strange Bedfellows” – consider donating to our Indiegogo project.  There are lots of nice benefits and it’s sure to give you a nice warm feeling.