What is the point of a publisher? After all, anyone these days can, without much effort, put together a reasonably presentable manuscript in PDF form and upload it to the likes of Lulu or CreateSpace and – bingo! – they’ve published a book. Not only have they ensure that their cut of royalties is a much higher percentage than if they’d gone via a traditional publisher, but they’ve retained absolute control of the process. Sure, self-published books will struggle to find their way into bricks and mortar bookstores, but there are plenty available on Amazon (and hang on, isn’t CreateSpace an Amazon venture anyway?) And we haven’t even begun to talk about e-publishing yet …
So why bother with a publisher at all?
There are good arguments to be made from the point of view of marketing budgets and distribution muscle (although these obviously apply less to smaller outfits than the big boys) but to me the key factor is credibility. Even if your book is, frankly, of a rather silly nature, you still want it to be taken seriously (well, I do anyway). Generally speaking, there are two things that usually militate against the credibility of a self-published book: an awful cover and lousy editing.
It’s true that not all books put out by publishers have fantastic covers (here’s a truly appalling story about When Covers Go Bad), but one of the things that made me so excited about being picked up by a subsidiary of Salt is that Chris Hamilton-Emery’s covers are (or certainly ought to be) legendary – and he’s certainly come up with the goods for Mrs D. So that’s one win already in the bag. But when I signed my contract, I still wasn’t entirely sure what would come out of the editing process. Sure, the feedback I’d had on the first three chapters that I’d submitted indicated that Proxima completely understood what kind of a book it was, but I had no idea how this would work out in practice.
Before continuing, I’d like to digress first to my previous career as an author of software books. The way that my publishers, Wrox, worked was that I’d send them my copy for each chapter in turn and they’d then send it off to up to a dozen of their tame experts, all over the globe. These experts would then plaster loads of comments over the text and I would then have to sift through this lot and re-write. In the case of the first couple of chapters of “Professional DCOM Application Development”, this amounted to 200-300 individual things that needed fixing per chapter. It got better in later chapters, partly because I’d got better by then, but mainly because the subjects were sufficiently arcane as to mean there were fewer experts around. But it was awful. The process came close to costing me both my health and my marriage.
Relatively speaking, this time around it’s been a breeze. My editor at Proxima, Steve Haynes, aided and abetted by his wife, Jane Holland (who runs Salt’s Embrace imprint and has just signed a rather impressive publishing deal with Transworld in her own right) has essentially done most of the edits himself, leaving me simply to nod or to object. The attention to detail has been incredibly impressive and I was initially quite taken aback by the sheer number of tweaks. But the result is that the whole thing flows much better than it ever did and all my writing tics have been excised.
Ah, those tics. My characteristic tic used to be the word “eventually”. Once that had been pointed out to me, I managed to get rid of it. Eventually. Although I do have to be on my guard. However, this time around, it was mainly eye-rolling and nose-tapping. I was in fits as I read through the edit and found yet another one that had been removed. It never occurred to me at all when I was writing the thing.
Of course, there are some more fundamental re-writes that have needed to be done, and these have resulted in some (entirely amicable) exchanges of views. One scene was completely re-written between the initial submission and the full, another before the final edit and there’s one more that I’m going to have to do this week. I’m going to put the originals up on the “Mrs Darcy” website after publication, incidentally, in a special “deleted scenes” area, just for interest. But we’re getting very close to a final edit now and with any luck we should be done by the end of the coming week.
Good article Jon; whilst I agree that a sharp editor can remove flabby plotting and habitual writing ‘tics’, one has to be careful that the actual ‘feel’ of the work is not lost in the rush to make it seem more…(edited from a longer version)
Haha. Nice. Yes indeed – I think that was one of my greatest concerns here. But a good editor should be able to steer their author towards something that’s consistent with the author’s intentions and not impose their own view of what the book should be. And on that basis, I definitely have a good editor.
OMG just saw that cover for first time. Classic – in every sense!
Yup, a publisher is all about credibility and knowing you’ll get a decent product ( content and look). Glad it’s all working out.
Brilliant article – as always. Entertaining and informative. I have the leaning towards trad publishing, simply because it proves, if accepted, that someone is impressed enough by my words to pay for them and take a gamble. There’s nothing quite like that buzz on receipt of a letter from Ed to say they like your magazine story or book enough to send you a ‘contract’ with an First British Serial Rights para 🙂
There are other literary pieces, that don’t quite enthuse publishers enough to make them write out a cheque. Anthologies often come into this group – so without the self-publishing route, many brilliant little books that raise money for good causes will never be read.
@AliB It’s great, isn’t it?
@June G I’m certainly not denigrating self-publishing. There are plenty of good self-published books out there – and generally speaking, these are the ones that have spent time and money on getting the cover looking good and actually getting someone who knows what they’re doing to edit the text.
The problem I’ve come across with self-pubbed authors is that they think they’ve just written the perfect book “so why would it need editing?” And that is the attitude that gets self-publishing a bad name. Whereas, although I *know* my books are perfect, sometimes my editor manages to make them just that little bit *more* perfect! (My tic-word is just. You can tell, can’t you?)
Exactly! (And nice of you to drop in – hi!)
Personally, I have many tic-words. And tic-phrases. Luckily my editor at Transworld is being amazingly gentle with me and has not run a hot red pen over my bumbling efforts.
Or not yet, anyway. But maybe she’s leaving the really dirty work to the copy editor.
Of course, back in the Real World of independent presses, the ‘senior editor’ is also the ‘copy editor’ and the ‘submissions reader’ too (and the teaboy and the charlady to boot, but let’s not depress ourselves too much over this).
It’s true that Steve is occasionally abedded by me (sic) but my aid is pretty thin at the moment, due to other pressing concerns on my time. Not least having the difficult task of deciding how to spend my own ill-gotten recent gains. So all the editing honours here should go to Steve.
Basically, if anyone is to be probed in this matter, it should *definitely* be HIM.
No probes necessary, Jane 🙂 As I’ve intimated above, I’m very happy with the way it’s going so far!
Smashing cover Mr Pinnock, Sir. Oh yes. I knows a good cover when I sees it.
And as for nediting. I am in the throes of nediting my own novel. Or editing my ovel – who knows? Not much, nitty stuff, wee bumps in the road outside said ovel. You know? And all done in the best possible taste!
That Mister Hemery, he dun’ half do a good alien. Oh yes.
He dun’ half indeed 🙂