Value Your Words – Why I Didn’t Accept a Book Deal

Last week a publishing contract landed on my doormat and it took me maybe minutes after reading it to know it wasn’t for me. I’m not going to mention who the contract was with, the money involved, the clauses, etc. I’m just going to say it was a London publisher and they made me an offer after my agent approached them.

If you’ve been self-publishing as long as I have, almost three years now, you might have watched other self-published authors (some of whom are friends) land deals. I’ve watched loads of other Indie authors land deals with all sorts of publishers and some find themselves no better off; alternatively I’ve watched some find themselves worse off, and there are also the few, rare cases of the authors for whom it has really worked out because they have gained a massive, loyal readership from signing with a publisher. After all, gaining a readership is what we all care about most.

In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been warned about a few things:

  • Some publishers will offer you a deal without setting out the parameters of their own efforts.
  • Some publishers are not interested in collaboration.
  • Some publishers fail to pay royalties.
  • Some will give you a worse book cover than what you started out with.
  • Some will edit the life and soul from your book.
  • Some publishers offer a marketing package but often, authors have found it is up to them to do most of the marketing, if not all.
  • Some publishers will take most of your royalties.
  • Some don’t even offer an advance but expect a lot of commitment from the author.
  • Good publishers are hard to find.

I am sure there are lots of authors who see that contract land on their doormat and go gaga, immediately sign it and send it back. I can entirely understand why a lot of authors would be so excited at this prospect, so excited in fact, that they don’t think about not signing because signing seems the answer. It’s every writer’s dream to see themselves on a bookshelf; for most it symbolises respect and official authorship (I don’t believe this at all – we’re authors as soon as we have readers).

HOWEVER!

Landing a deal with a publisher does not guarantee your book will end up on a bookshelf anywhere. The biggest high-street stores are picky as to what they put on their shelves and unless you’re EL James, Dan Brown or Sylvia Day, your book may appear in Asda for a week before it is replaced by the next bestsellers.

So, what does that mean? With all these uncertainties, I mean. So many words in exchange for such small fortune. It means, those of us who are already self-published, have a choice. TRY TO SEE PAST THE SHINY CONTRACT. We always have a choice, no matter what deal comes through the door. Those words are ours and we can decide what to do with them. You have a choice to give your words away and risk losing them altogether, perhaps with only a small chance of getting the rewards you deserve, or you can seek that right publisher for you. The right publisher might not offer you a load of royalties either, but they might offer a package that will nurture you. Some publishers are not interested in this. I don’t know why, but they’re not.

When I started out in self-publishing, I was honest with myself. I am also honest with most people I meet and sometimes, people bristle at this quality but if you walked in my shoes a minute, you’d see why I hate dishonesty, time wasting and hollow promises. So I saw self-publishing as a chance to grow my writing ability, to develop my social networks, to learn the ropes of publishing in general. I was surprised when some people who read my first book (written while I was breastfeeding!) wrote to me to say they had been kept up reading all night, so eager to reach the end! I genuinely love what I do, and anyone else who does, is a bonus. I never will take myself seriously. I know I am a talented writer but I don’t take myself seriously. What I do take seriously is freedom. Don’t get me wrong, it is all a terrific juggling act as I also squeeze in the editing projects that land in my inbox in between my own projects. When a job comes in, I have to down my writing tools and neglect my true love while I provide for other people. This is a fact of life I accept but another string to my bow i.e. editing has definitely broadened my skills. When I finish an editing project, I go back to my writing – and this for me, is freedom. To have that choice, is everything.

This is what I am getting at: if you sign that contract, some choices are taken away. That is what a contract is. In exchange for signing away your words, you might not even see any rewards for losing your right to choose. Self-publishing allows me a freedom of expression that few publishers will because they have to peel a book through all sorts of official processes.

The lesson I take away from getting that contract through the door is that the words in black and white always have more of an impact than words spoken aloud or read on a screen. The words offered to me didn’t match the words I’ve written. I believe so much in my words (Unbind, if anyone is wondering) that I won’t take any deal I am not happy with because Unbind is too important to me. Unfortunately my agent underestimated how much.

One day, some black and white words are going to change my life – and I will be ready for it. I will know when it is right to share myself. Until then, I’m not giving my words away – I’m sharing them and sharing the journey. Anything to hinder the sharing thereof, and I’m not onboard.

I was taught to never take your first offer, just wait for something better. My mum says I seem to have dropped lucky a lot in life because of my propensity to be uncompromising. Well, someone has to be. I’ll let you know if it pays off. Maybe one day soon, eh…

p.s. There is no such thing as vanity publishing anymore, it’s now just about doing it for yourself, and many are thriving without a “publisher”.

In conclusion, here are two articles I found very interesting:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michaellevin/are-there-5-reasons-to-st_b_5569189.html?utm_hp_ref=books&ir=Books&utm_content=buffercbec0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-murphy/indie-writers-are-doing-it-for-themselves_b_6919906.html?fb_action_ids=10152621244792038&fb_action_types=og.comments

Words for Readers, Editors and Writers

Every year I write some sort of roundup of my experiences of the past year; my thoughts, feelings and new things learned. So here it is, 2014, in a nutshell… or three.

2014 has been spent mainly editing books, both mine and others’. I also read a lot for leisure but reading underpins everything and is as much a part of my job as everything else. Reading is a superpower. Writers who don’t read 10 times more than they write are really missing out. It is essential.

It’s interesting therefore that this year, I have read some badly edited books and still enjoyed them. Sometimes you just pick up a story and find something in it that rings true. Mistakes are an inevitability of life, not every book can be absolutely perfect. Sure you may begrudge paying a decent amount of money on something littered with mistakes, but there are a lot of books out there which are 99 cents or less and sometimes, you give them a shot based on recommendation from a reviewer. Often some of those books turn out to be gems.

A lot of people from all walks of life come to me with their words and say, “I’m an accountant, not a writer, please sort this out for me…” or whatever. I always tell people that words are words and if they are your voice, what could be wrong with them? After all everyone has a voice and a story to tell, so what if you don’t sound clever or literary? Every story is worthy. My granddad died an illiterate man but even now, my mum remembers stories he used to tell – so what does that say? If you don’t tell your stories, you might never tell them. Do it. Now. Don’t hesitate.

For every variant of writer, you’ll discover ten different readers who prefer your genre but sometimes cross genres for variety. It’s the variant in genre that usually attracts attention because it represents something new. There is room for everyone in the book world because variety is embraced and is becoming more embraced all the time!

Some readers love to have every detail of a scene described to them, from the colour of a sofa to the smell of the room. Other readers want everything left to their imagination except the dialogue and action. This is subjective and OPINION. It is all opinion. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone also has a mood. Sometimes you read a book and it doesn’t gel, perhaps just because you’re not in the right mood. Everyone else might be raving about it and you feel so bad because you can’t see it! Perhaps coming back to it at a later date will help.

There are even readers who cannot stand the writers they love in real life, but they just love the stories they write. Bizarre? It proves to me it’s not always about likeability or popularity. I always thought the whole point of being a writer anyway was that you didn’t want to be an actor or a model or any kind of public figure but you wanted to put out great stories, so you spent your time behind a keyboard rather than in front of a camera! That is what pseudonyms were invented for. Right? Hmm.

It is important to remember it is only FICTION.

More important is this: EASY READING IS DAMN HARD WRITING. Most readers read to escape. I am one of those. I love a book to wrap me up in its clutches and swaddle me until the final word. I want to have everything taken care of and not be forced to move while I immerse myself in someone else’s work. Which is strange, again, because the books I write aren’t always those kinds of books. Speaking to someone the other day who I know does a particularly stressful job, they said to me, “I don’t want to think when I read a story or see a movie… I want stupidity and nonsense to pervade my brain!” It made me smile, it was just another reminder… not everyone wants the same things from a book/film.

It’s strange also that even though I’m a writer, it’s not my most natural inclination. I was always better with numbers at school, like, much better. My daughter’s first report home from nursery school showed me she also has this early ability with numbers and her grasp of computers at three years old is crazy. So perhaps these skills of mine explain to some extent why I often write puzzles, why I see stories as equations, why the meat doesn’t go on the bones until I have the equation laid out! Seriously, don’t ever step inside my head, it’s really scary! Not everyone is going to get what I do, what I’m about, and that is one of the hardest things to accept as a writer and is yet your simplest and most powerful tool.

They say life is for learning and this year, I haven’t stopped learning—from my mistakes, from other people’s and more importantly, from the things we’ve all done right. The things we do right are the things that don’t teach us anything new but do teach us how to move forward. Moving forward is something we all need to do and separating from the babies we create in our books is hard, but must be done.

A lot of people think writers are mostly crazy people. They are. Most of us are. My social networks are clogged with angry, angry people who are angry, angry, angry about being unheard and unloved. As an editor, I’ve stepped on some shoes (gently) but in the end, my colleagues looked at the end product and knew I was right to tell them how it was. The process always begins and ends with the author. We’re the ones with our names to that work and that is a difficult thing to comprehend. Writers have to be self-editors (without hacking the heart away), conjurors, adventurers, believers, faithful followers, dreamers… the list is inexhaustible. The buck stops with you. So if you don’t agree with an editor, shout up, say why. Compromise if you have to. Tell them no if you feel passionate enough. Argue for what you believe in. Sod them. There are always people around to support, but at the end of the day that book is yours and represents you. Another great tool to have is to be able to take a step back, view your work as a “work” and not a love affair you’ve dreamt up. It is being able to look at it and recognise that other people don’t have a plug into your mind and they need to be able to see all you can see and more. Above all else, listen to your gut. Writing isn’t a science, it’s pretty much a game of contradictions and explosions of mind, but the gut knows. Oh, it knows…!

One thing this year taught me is that writers who write for themselves will never learn but those who write for others’ enjoyment and delight, well, the possibilities are there for the taking and with the right attitude, the future might just hold endless stories…

Happy new year! Always another chance, always…

Why Do I Write? A Blog Hop…

Thank you Charming Man for asking me to do this Blog Hop. Pay Charming Man, also known as A S Wilkins, a visit to see why he writes! I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his comments on this subject, and more besides.

I too have been asked a number of times to explain why I write. I have even wrote poetry about why I write! It does seem to vary from writer to writer but ultimately we all seem to have the same goals in mind: we have something to say, we have a shared enjoyment of forming stories and we wouldn’t mind one day seeing our words on shelves.

I have written professionally since my early twenties and now in my early thirties… well… you get the picture. My words had been out there for years before I began writing creatively. When I first started getting paid for writing, I thought it was such a novelty because writing has always been something I have enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t ever get paid much for writing. Not unless you drop lucky with the right thing at the right time. Those stories are very few and far between. Apparently the average novelist earns about £11,000 a year but that is of course an average. I earned more than that writing TV magazine features.

Why I write? I guess writing is installed in me like WiFi is in nearly every home in the land these days. I was told from a really early age that I could write and I knew that how I felt when I wrote was what made it special, because… this is where it is hard to explain… it feels good to write and it feels, basically, REAL. It’s hard to put it into words even though I am meant to be a wielder of words! LOL. Like I said, so many teachers actually sat me down and said with a restrained smirk, “You do know you can write?” I would sit and gawp, inwardly think they were deranged, and ask, “What do you mean I can write?” Then they would say, “Not many people can write.” Over the years I got to realise exactly what they meant because the formation of sentence structure and all that is really a struggle for some whose brains are wired differently, but obviously my brain is wired toward words. Don’t ask me why. I know I am certainly not wired properly in other ways… not that I am crazy! Okay, maybe just a bit! I just can’t sing and I don’t think I will ever be able to draw.

My story began on maternity leave. I wrote a sci-fi series with a baby attached to me. It was an idea that had been brewing in my mind for so long and when I gave birth, it brewed some more and when my daughter began sleeping, it got put down on a page. Writing those books was like breathing, to me, and not writing them was not even a possibility. I had to write those books. Even when I went back to work, I found time to write. I made time. It was hard but I enjoyed it so much. Whenever I finish a novel, I think, “Not again, not again,” but if an idea starts to brew and I start to think about where I could take it, that’s what pushes me on to write again. So I guess one of the essential reasons I write is that there are always paths to venture down and you never know where you may end up. I like writing stories a little differently, sometimes… testing what I can and can’t get away with in terms of exposition. It’s the pattern and the puzzle and the arrangement I like. That’s what I can get involved with, anytime, anywhere. That’s how I know wherever I am, whatever point in my life I’m at, I’ll always make time to write even if it’s just a few paragraphs each day. Because it’s having that chance to explore and play with words—and that is something I truly, truly love.

One thing I will say is that it took me a long time to snap from journalist to creative writer. As a journalist you are taught to shed all the nuances of your writing and to hone everything so that you present the details in as few words as possible. That was a hard thing to learn and to some extent, I had to unlearn that when I came to writing novels. Writers are told they should start small and work their way up from say short stories or poetry but I honestly just had this story in my mind that was so big, I had to get it down and there was no build-up—the result a 100,000-word beast that was my first novel and my first creative outing too.

My latest book features a journalist. She is happy enough to plod along until someone says, “You know what? You can do better.” I think writers write and continue to write according to response and approval, too. Many writers would argue they only improve through their readers and from feedback. That is why I think writers just have to keep writing and why every word counts, because it could lead to a monumental paragraph or sentence, even. If you stand there thinking, Shall I pick up the pen? you probably never will. I know that I wouldn’t have kept writing novels with such verve unless I’d gotten such positive feedback. Some people have even come to me after reading A Fine Profession and said, “I am going to change my life now after reading that.” Some books aren’t easy books but you just know that it feels right to write, at that point in time.

The mind of a writer and a writer’s life is explored in more depth in, UNBIND… for details visit http://wp.me/P39fPt-aB or Amazon here… http://mybook.to/unbind ‒ RELEASED ON OCTOBER 20th!!

I now hope these three authors will tell us more about why they write. Find out more about their writing here:

Traci Sanders: www.awordwithtraci.com

Stevie Turner: http://www.stevie-turner-author.co.uk/

Blake Rivers: blakerivers.com

Sarah Lynch is attending the Orchard Book Signing in March next year. Visit their website for more details… http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/orchard-book-club-author-event-ball-tickets-11853288505