Running the Obstacle Course

Being an author presents some very real challenges.  In fact, it’s a bit like running an obstacle course – one created by a particularly fiendish designer.  The problems start at the very beginning.  You decide that you have to write.  Not just essays or other pieces associated with your education.  There’s something inside you, screaming to be let out.  The question then is what do you want to write?  Is it something that comes naturally to you, that’s been engendered by what you’ve read?  Maybe it’s harder to define – a nebulous something that you know is waiting for you but the exact nature of which escapes you.

Having established the need, and maybe having some clue as to subject, you sit down with pen and paper.  The blank sheet stares defiantly at you, daring you to mark it, to destroy its pristine perfection.  Agonising minutes pass, during which nothing happens.  Then, you make that first choice: you can walk away or you can do something as simple as writing “1” at the top of the page.  If you do the first, you may never, ever, return to writing.  Once the blankness of the paper has been overcome, you may find that the words, so long bottled up, come flooding out.  A deluge of ink.  Cascading thoughts.

You’ve begun, and you feel optimistic.  You just know that you have a bestseller in you.  Hang on!  In a moment of utter satisfaction, you pick up the pages you have created and start reading.  What?  Is this series of disjointed thoughts what you thought you were writing?  Surely not! And you know, with certainty, that your spelling and grammar are far better than what you are seeing.  What’s happened?  Has anxiety and haste overcome everything you ever knew about good writing?  This is an unmitigated disaster!  All right, perhaps its better than that, but the chances are that you’ll have your confidence badly shaken.

If you persevere, you’ll eventually find that you need to seriously think about how you create your manuscripts.  Handwritten is all very well, if you can afford to employ a typist who knows how to produce a manuscript that is acceptable to publishers, or literary agents at least.  Typewritten is better, but amendments take so long and consume vast quantities of time and paper.  Ultimately, the only logical option is to use a computer.  Manuscripts can be knocked into shape, amended, re-amended, and so on, without difficulty.  You will also have the digital file ready for any possible need in the future.

So, you have your manuscript.  The world is a wonderful place, full of light and hope.  But, hang on!  What do you do next?  Primary post-writing obstacle.  The obvious thing to do is to send it winging off to a publisher, isn’t it?  Wrong.  The first thing to do is to write a synopsis and a covering letter.  These go, not to a publisher, but to literary agents.  And where do you get them from?  By research.  You can invest in the Writer’s and Artist’s Year Book or you can try to make some sense of internet information, though bear in mind that the latter has many dangerous pitfalls.  These folk get a huge volume of such letters, every one declaring how unique it is, and worthy of risk.  A tiny percentage actually make some headway.  You are, if you’re lucky and you remembered to enclose return postage, about to start your collection of rejection slips…

Perhaps you will now start to understand why more and more people, including some established authors, are going the Indie route.  As an Indie, you basically have plenty of options, and several will guarantee your manuscript will become a book.  There’s “vanity publishing”, whereby you pay the full cost of printing a run of your book, and then have to distribute them, trying to persuade bookshops to carry copies… maybe three?  or two?  just one?  Of course, the big chain book sellers are not likely to even bother to glance at your book.  Sadly, many small, independent bookshops accept reality and won’t risk space on an unknown.  There are plenty of copies of books by bestselling authors that are sent back or dumped to bulk discounters.  Any unwarranted risk is just too much.  Harsh facts.  Much more sensible is to get a reputation as an author before even thinking about seeing your work in a real, live, printed book.  The simplest way to do that is to enter the world of ebooks!  Just how much of the hard slog you do yourself will depend on you, and how much you can afford to invest.  You can do everything or you can get help.  The level of help is very flexible.  At the lowest level, you can upload your document file to a free handler, such as Smashwords, who will produce multiple formats and schedule distribution to various online book sellers.  It’s an excellent place to start, if you don’t mind doing a fair bit of work yourself – especially marketing.  Above this, you get into the realms of employing others.  You can end up paying a cover designer, editor, proofreader(s), epublishers, marketing experts, and on, and on, and…  If you’re very lucky, and hard working, you may even get noticed, and perhaps even liked.  If you get sales of any significance, you may then choose to take the step into print.  Again, you could approach an agent, armed now with a reputation, but the quickest course would be to make use of a print-to-order scheme, such as Createspace (run by Amazon), in which no excess is ever produced, though you do have to pay for any copies you buy yourself.

I have no idea what the world record is for this obstacle race, but it would make the marathon seem like a sprint race!

~ Steve

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About Steve

An author since the age of 13 years, writing again dominates my activities. My "Imagineer-ing" blog is my primary site. Also: Beginner knitter since November 2010. Favourite knitting techniques: cable and lace. Beginner cross stitcher. Beginner jewellery maker. With the promotion of self publication and all the other work that has been going on here, Dad decided around 2am this morning (22/11/2013) that it was time to begin his next adventure. He was seen off earlier the previous evening by myself, my brother, my sister in law, and my sister, as well as his wife (our mum), and an enigmatic being known only as A Lorraine. After this time of story telling, laughing, crying, joking and mickey taking, we saw how tired both mum and dad were, and we decided to leave them under the (sometimes) gentle care of The Lorraine. When Dad found the timetable for his travels, he let Mum know gently, which woke her from her drowsing, then, with the same gentleness he showed in this universe, he boarded his favourite mode of transport, the Interdimensional Steam Train, and set off with a smile and a wave. For those of us closest, that smile was a reminder that his pain has ended, and the wave, an indicator that he will pop in to all those that knew him, from time to time. Usually at the most inconvenient and in opportune moments he can. While we are sad that he is no longer here, we are happy he now has no pain, and is experiencing more extraordinary things that his writers mind will be frantically weaving into a new story. Posted by Son Damien

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