What it takes to make it
Article: Robyn Tocker – A&C Editor
If you’re a writer, when you finish your manuscript, you breathe a sigh of relief. There, the big job is over. Wait – what? No, now the fun just begins! You’ve got the manuscript but you can’t just let it collect dust on your desk (or laptop). Time to find a publisher. But just how easy is that? How do you know your book is ready to go to the printer? Do you have the money to afford to publish? So many unanswered questions. But guess what – I’m here to answer them with Saskatchewan’s writers, publishers, and book reviewers.
With any industry, there are myths that people buy into. In the publishing world, that’s no different.
“[Writing students] think they should be Hemingway when [they] should just find [their] voice,” says book reviewer Devin Pacholik.
“People might think that it’s very straightforward to get published,” says Heather Nickel of Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Company. “That traditional publishers are accepting many manuscripts. The fact of the matter is traditional publishers, all publishers, are very choosy when it comes to selecting manuscripts to be published.”
“You’re due for a national book tour and a lot of media attention…that’s just not how it works,” Amber Goldie from Coteau Books publishing company says.
“A lot of people don’t understand how flexible publishers are,” says published poet Bruce Rice.
There are more myths, like the amount of time needed to market your book, how old you have to be to “become” a writer – the list goes on. To be fair, getting your book to the printer can be a daunting task. Having spoken to different writers, their experiences reflect only a few ways writers get the chance to become published.
Annette Bower, a published ebook writer with a third novel on the way, says she first got published by winning the opportunity for a publisher to take her book under their wing in 2011.
“I didn’t know anything about the publishers at the time. I was just happy to have the opportunity. I had been rejected in the past [by other companies].”
Bower mentioned how, when she first won the prize, the opportunity to have her book published in print form was still available, but that changed to only being offered in ebook form.
Rice also got lucky. He was in Fort Qu’Appelle for a summer writing program and the instructor for one of his classes took an interest in the poetry manuscript he was working on.
“I asked what he thought and a couple weeks later he said he wanted to publish it.” Said manuscript, entitled Daniel, won Rice the Canadian Authors Association Award.
One thing to remember when seeking out publishers is there are different ways to get your book out there. A common route is through “traditional” publishing, which means a writer sends their manuscript to a publisher with the hope of it getting chosen to be published. Robin Karpan, who works for the self-publishing company Parkland Publishing, says the publishers would then put up the money to put the whole project together. Traditional publishers provide editors, designers, marketing, and distribution channel. Writers would get paid by royalty.
“[Authors] see [traditional publishing] as the book being viable more in the long-term, plus they want the credibility of a known publisher’s imprint on their book as opposed to the instant self-gratification of having a book in their hands very quickly,” says Goldie.
Self-publishing is on the other end of the spectrum in terms of the publishing world. It’s pretty self-explanatory. You, the author, front the costs to print however many copies of your book you desire (the cost will vary depending on how many you print). The nice thing about self-publishing is all the profit you make, you keep!
“Self-publishing is becoming more popular everywhere and part of that has to do with advances in technology. As a writer, we have access to same layout programs than any of the big publishing companies have. It’s becoming less costly,” says Karpan. Another reason why people get into self-publishing is the time factor. “When you’re self-publishing, you have more control over when it will come out.”
Karpan also points out that who is actually publishing a book is becoming less and less of an issue. Most times, you can’t tell if a book is self-published or not.
Goldie makes the point that, while self-publishing has its advantages, it doesn’t always improve a writer’s credibility.
“When you self-publish, it is still assumed in many quarters that you have to do it because your work isn’t good enough to attract a real publisher.”
Harsh words with (possibly) some truth in them.
Heather Nickel’s company is in between traditional and self-publishing. Wait, how does that work?
“What I do is assist authors to self-publish their work. The manuscript goes through complete editing process and I don’t take on every project. It has to be a viable manuscript…The onus of the expense resides with the author rather than me as the publishing service.”
That’s another thing: money. Students never seem to have enough of it, and if you want to publish, you’re going to have a lot less. For traditional publishing, Goldie says this may be a better route since you, the writer, don’t pay to have your book published unlike with self-publishing. As said before, the costs attributed to self-publishing vary depending on the amount of books you want printed, plus all the fun costs of marketing your book once it’s out there.
In terms of marketing, there are different ways to go at it. Rice says lots of traveling is involved.
“Writers are more expected to help sell their work. Poets who do more readings sell more books than you would though bookstores. You have to get out there and travel.”
The internet is a great thing for marketing. Rice mentions how writers are doing blogs now and will do a lot more publishing on websites.
For Bower and her ebooks though, the internet isn’t always her friend.
“It’s getting noticed that’s the important thing. If you’re out on the great wide open web, how are you going to get your book noticed?”
Learning to download her ebook was a challenge and teaching her friends and family was even harder. She also hired companies out of United States who would promote her book by setting up book blogs and hiring people to interview her. Through this, her book would be promoted.
Having her first ebook not available in print form also hurt her chances of winning a Saskatchewan Book Award.
“They wanted the book in print copy. I got it coil bound and run off on paper. I’m not saying the book would have won, but it didn’t have a good presentation.”
Thankfully, for her second book she has print copies available to make life a little easier.
For the future of publishing, look to ebooks and audiobooks.
“There will continue to be an expansion in ebooks and self-publishing, but the traditional model isn’t going anywhere. Ebooks will become more of an integrated book experience with embedded video,” says Nickel.
“[Writers] know iPhones are in our pocket so if you’re a good writer and you can tell a story, do audio books because that is an untapped market,” says Pacholik
For future published writers, Bower has some advice: “Research publishing well and get the best deal you can.”
“Know yourself. Be really honest about where you’re at and where your writing is at. Get feedback,” says Rice.
Although there isn’t a formula for getting a good review, Pacholik mentions something he looks for.
“Changing and posing questions that haven’t been asked before or addressing things that haven’t been explored from certain perspectives.”
Every writer starts somewhere. So go pull out that dusty manuscript and get ready! You’re in for a bumpy ride.