TIPS FOR WRITERS
Writing a book and having it published is a wonderful experience! But there are many unexpected surprises along the way. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your exciting journey.
Woohoo – you have 'finished' your manuscript!
A book often takes longer to write than you expect, and it's a great feeling when it's finished. But before doing anything else, read your manuscript through to yourself out loud. You will be amazed at the number of improvements you suddenly realise you can make once you hear the words flowing through your voice. Publishers work with Microsoft Word so, even if you have written your book in other software such as Scrivener, you will need a final copy in Word.
Ask people you trust, such as friends and family, to read your manuscript and give you their honest feedback. By now, you know your work so well that it is almost impossible for you to notice bits that don't make sense, or that seem to jolt the reader away from the flow. Don't be disheartened by any criticism you receive at this stage – it is worth gold, because it will enable you to make your book even better.
If you can afford it, one of the best things you can do is to send your manuscript to a professional assessor who will give you honest and invaluable feedback. It might cost about $1,500. I sent my initial manuscript to the fabulous Irina Dunn and it was well worth the expense.
Find an agent
It is great if you can find an agent to represent you. Author and writer societies provide members with a list of agents and their contact details, and you can find most of them on the internet. You can also look at the acknowledgement sections of published books where most authors thank their agents, and then search for those agents on the internet. Make sure you follow all submission guidelines exactly – most agents will only want to see a proposal to start with, not your whole manuscript. If an agent agrees to represent you they will contact publishers on your behalf – and publishers pay attention to submissions from agents.
Find a publisher
After putting so much effort into your manuscript it is worth giving it every chance to get published. If you are unable to find an agent, you can submit it directly to publishers, although it is much less likely to be accepted. Publishers receive many hundreds of proposals every year and they only have time to glance quickly at any one submission. But you never know. If you do decide to submit it directly to a publisher, make sure you follow their submission instructions exactly.
When a publisher accepts your work for publication, you will sign a contract with them promising to deliver a final manuscript of a certain number of words by a certain date (your 'deadline'). Publishers work with numbers of words, not pages. Esther is about 90,000 words.
In Australia, royalties are often equal to 10% of the retail price. Only about 50% of authors receive an advance on their royalties, and many of those advances are only about $2,000. Only 13% of advances add up to more than $10,000. Advances are often paid as: one third when you sign the contract, one third when you deliver a version of the manuscript which is acceptable to the publisher, and the final third when your book is published. Once your book starts selling, the royalties on those sales must first pay back your advance before you begin earning anything more – and some books never sell enough copies to completely pay back the advance.
You will probably need to submit an invoice to the publisher for your royalties (including any advance payments) so, if you are in Australia, make sure you have an ABN.
Not done yet
After signing the contract, you will feel that your work is done. Make sure you celebrate this major milestone – you are going to be a published author! But, actually, there is still a lot of work ahead of you, only now you have a whole of team of people whose job it is to get your book to be the best it can be. That team may include an in-house editor, a consultant editor, a copy editor (proofreader), a book designer, a cover designer, a whole marketing team (who manage potential sales) and a PR person (who will manage the promotion of your published book).
It is common for it to take another year after you have delivered your manuscript to the publisher before your book is available for sale.
Even though you have thought carefully about every word and sentence in your book, your publisher’s editor will now read through it and send it back to you with lots of comments, questions and suggestions. They may want more information about a particular fact, suggest that you expand a particular section, or ask you to rewrite the description in another. They may suggest different chapter titles, or remark that one of the chapters is slow and needs more work. Don’t be disheartened! Every bit of this extra work will improve your book. We authors are very lucky to have people who will strive to improve our writing, particularly as we get all the credit for a well-written book.
Your editor’s comments are usually made within the tracked-changes section of Word. If you are not already familiar with how that works, get to know it as soon as possible. It may take you quite a while to address all the comments from your editor, but it is worth working through each one carefully. Sometimes you will come across a suggested change that you don’t agree with. That’s fine, you don’t have to comply with every one. Just talk to your editor about your reasoning and come to an agreed resolution.
By the way, there are no fact-checkers for non-fiction books. It’s no-one’s responsibility to make sure your facts are correct apart from you. An editor will point out something they happen to recognise as false, but it is ultimately up to you to get everything right.
If you are self-publishing your book, I highly recommend paying a professional editor to go through it first.
It is usually the author’s responsibility to source high-resolution images and pay for any licensing fees to reproduce them. Make sure you check the copyright license for every image, receive written permission to reproduce it and make a note of any required acknowledgements that need to be included in the caption. Try to begin sourcing your images as early as possible because it can take some time to find suitable ones and obtain all the necessary permissions.
A non-fiction book may require an index. You can pay for a professional indexer to do this for you (through your publisher), or you can create an index yourself using Word’s indexing feature. It is a time-consuming and tedious process but do-able, and if you do it yourself (I managed to with Esther) you will have control over what is included.
Authors are consulted regarding the title and sub-title of a book, but the publisher generally has the final say.
The cover of your book will be designed by your publisher in collaboration with their marketing department, who understand what makes a cover most pick-up-able.
A book designer will be given the job of choosing the font styles for text and headings, and designing the layout of the pages. You will be invited to approve both the cover and page designs. While your opinion will be considered, your publisher will make the final decisions.
Once you have addressed all the feedback from your editor, and you are both happy with the final result, your book will be typeset. This is when the page layout design is actually applied to your book.
A proofreader will read through the typeset pages as a final check that everything is correct, including all the spelling and grammar (that no-one else has picked up). You may receive a printed copy to check through yourself. Only crucial errors can be corrected now as every change will incur a cost.
Placing the index
Annoyingly, the indexing fields in Word are not preserved during the typesetting process, so you now need to create artificial page breaks throughout your Word document that mirror the typeset pages. Then re-run your index to record the correct page numbers. Your publisher will send that new index to the typesetter to include at the back of your book.
Your publisher will want to include some flattering endorsements (blurbs) of your work on your book’s back cover. Let them know of any suitable people to ask – the more famous the better.
This is the date your book will go on sale. Copies may be delivered to bookshops beforehand, but they will not be put on the shelves until this date. Don’t worry if you do not see your book in all the shops on this day, sometimes they will still be transit.
Your publisher will arrange for both Kindle and paperback versions to be available from Amazon. They will appear online for pre-orders some weeks before the publication date.
Your publisher’s PR team will send copies of your book to various media outlets and bloggers in the hope of receiving favourable reviews. They will also arrange interviews and speaking events and expect you to be available for them. This requires a whole new skill set for an author. Even though you may find it daunting, your book deserves the best possible promotion. The following tips will help you to give it your best shot.
If you don't already have one, take the time to create a professional website. I used Wix.com to create this one. It took me one afternoon to create the initial home page and cost about $300, including registering the domain name.
It's also worth creating an author page on Goodreads (free). Then you will be able to follow the ratings and reviews readers give your book on that website.
You can also create an author page on Amazon (also free).
Public Lending Rights
Australian authors are compensated for the royalties they miss out on when their books are borrowed from public libraries. As an author, it is up to you to register your book with the Australian Government's Lending Rights Online.
These days publishers do not usually organise book launches themselves, unless the author is very well known, but they will assist with such things as designing invitations. It's worth organising some sort of event yourself to launch your book into the world.
Invitations: Make a list of all the people you can think of to invite to your book launch. The invitations themselves are a great way to let people know about your book, even if they don't attend the event. Of course, you can begin with family and friends, but also try to find other people who might be interested in the sort of book you have written. For Esther, that included contacting historical societies, museums, local councils, heritage groups, historians, Johnston descendants, family history groups, Jewish groups, school librarians and the publishing team. You can send a digital version of your invitation by email to almost everyone (at no cost). I added a one-page PDF document with information about my book.
Pull-up banner: This is something you can take to all your author talks and events. Give your publisher the dimensions so they can provide a professional design. I ordered a banner from Bannershop and it cost about $120.
Venue and catering: Shop around as most city venues are very expensive. History House in Sydney was the perfect place to launch Esther. It is centrally located, has a fifty-seat auditorium with digital projection and very helpful staff, cost only $60 per hour, and provided morning tea for $5 per person.
Preparing your talk: A book launch talk might last 10-15 minutes. You could talk about how you first had the idea for your book, how you went about writing it, and what it is generally about. If the venue has the necessary facilities, you can include a slide presentation of images to accompany your talk, but don't add text with the images, only brief titles if necessary. If you do choose to have slides, try to test everything works before the event, and bring the file with you on two memory sticks, just in case the first one doesn't work.
Procedure: The venue manager will often welcome guests and make any housekeeping announcements, such as the location of toilets. After that, you want someone to actually do the launching. ('I declare this book launched!'). Try to ask someone who is good at speaking and who has a genuine interest in your book. They might speak for about ten minutes and you might also ask them to cut a ribbon around your book. Then you will speak, possibly including a reading from your book. Everyone will then mingle while they eat, drink and buy copies of your book which you will sign for them. Try to arrange a local bookseller to sell copies at your launch as it will bring your book to their attention and you will be far too busy signing copies to manage sales as well. Remember to bring a gift for the person who launched your book.
Managing nerves: Everyone is nervous about public speaking, but don't let that stop you promoting your book. You are a writer – you already know how to craft a great speech. All you need are three things to help you give great author talks:
Practise. Rostrum and Toastmasters provide valuable opportunities to practise speaking in front of an audience. For all your author talks – including your book launch – practise each talk many times over. This will give you much-needed confidence and allow you to look at your audience while you are speaking, rather than read from notes.
Engage your subconscious. Self-hypnosis can help you manage your stress leading up to big speaking events. Here are two to try: Powerful Public Speaking and Overcome Long Term Presentation Anxiety. They cost about $15 each.
Relax. My best tip for public speaking is to take a beta-blocker about one hour before your talk. You will find lots of information about this on the net, and your GP can give you a prescription. It will magically stop the physical reactions to your fear: the racing heart, sweaty palms and dry mouth. With those in check, you can easily cope with giving your talk.
Signing pen: The pen you use to sign copies of your book is important. The ink should be smudge-proof, non-acidic (so it doesn't damage the paper) and archival (so it won't fade over time). I use a Sakura Pigma Micron ESDK with blue ink, which is a Japanese pen available online at Bunbougu for under $5. Take two with you to every author event. Also provide an ordinary pen and notepad on which people can write their names so you can get the spelling right.
Book plates: As a general rule, there will be about half the number of book sales as attendees at any author event. If you are really lucky, the bookseller will sell all the copies they have brought to an event. While that's great for you, it's disappointing for the people who miss out. So it's a good idea to have some book plates with you that you can sign for those people. Then they can buy a copy of your book later and stick your signed book plate inside it. Make the plates about half an A5 size and include your book's title, your name and an image.
It's always best if you (or your publisher) can arrange for a local bookseller to sell books at an event because it means they will stock your title in their shop. But sometimes that's just not possible. In that case, you can purchase copies from your publisher at a discount and sell them yourself.
To sell books, you will need some way of processing credit card payments. That's easy to do with a Square reader, which costs about $60. Remember to keep copies of all your expense invoices, such as buying a Square reader or pull-up banner) so you can claim the costs on your tax return (and the GST if your ABN is registered for it.)
Your publisher's PR team will probably arrange some early interviews and library talks, and you might continually be invited to speak about your book by other groups as well. Craft a talk that will last 30-45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of questions. You may need a few different versions for groups with different interests. For example, writers’ groups will be most interested in the writing process, while history groups will want to know about your research. Include relevant images in a slide presentation if the venue allows it, remembering not to add any unnecessary text to them.
The more talks you give, the more promotion your book will get. As well as the groups you invite to your book launch, you can agree to speak to local libraries and bookshops, book clubs, writers' groups, service organisations, social groups and writers' festivals (which sometimes plan up to a year ahead).
Remember to take with you:
Your pull-up banner
Book plates for signing if the books sell out
Laptop/two memory sticks with your slide presentation
A clicker (I use a Logitech R500)
Notes for your talk
A copy of your book (maybe to read a passage?)
Two of your special pens for signing books after your talk
Post-it notes and pens for people to write their names on
A bottle of water
A beta blocker to take one hour before your talk
Your Square reader if you are selling books yourself
Change for people who buy your book with cash.
Even if you are not invited to speak at a bookshop, you can offer to sign their shelf copies.
'Signed by the author' stickers are available from Zazzle online, and you can customise the wording, shape and colour. Order ahead because delivery is rather slow. Most bookshops use their own stickers.
Most reviews take a while to happen. Apart from online newspapers (if you're lucky), Goodreads will have some of the first reviews to appear, along with online sellers such as Amazon and Booktopia.
Amazon bestseller lists
There are many categories of Amazon bestsellers and your publisher will probably let you know if your book makes it onto one of them. In Australia, it is usually the Kindle version that bubbles to the top. Your title's Amazon page will show the categories in which your book sales are highest. If you're lucky, you can watch it dance around with the other titles vying for first place.
Apart from the advance, an author often receives no royalty payments until up to a year after their book is published. Remember that the the advance is an 'advance payment' on the royalties due to the author. So it must be paid back from the royalties on sales. Publishers often account for royalties only twice a year so it can take more than a year before any royalties from sales are received. Fewer than half of the books published in Australia sell more than 2,000 copies - but some make it big!
Enjoy the ride :)
I hope these tips will help you enjoy the journey ahead. Don't feel overwhelmed, it all happens quite slowly. I wish you the very best of luck on your writing adventures!