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My Personal Skinny on School Visits
by Margot Finke
Aussie Swagman cork trimmed hat and all
Okay you published writers, I know some of you shudder at the thought of standing in front of a bunch of beady-eyed kids and trying to interest them in your book. But face it, if you want to sell that sucker, and become a well known writer, beady-eyed kids are a part of the price. I know, I know! Great writing talent and phenomenal promotional skills do not always live under the same haircut.
What I am writing here comes from my own experience. 99% of school kids look at you with awe. To them you are a famous author. Just standing there impresses them. And if you go all-out, and offer them fun, giggle time, and some interesting facts to chew over, you become their hero. Teachers also love when you entertain them and their classes, but are sneaky enough to wrap the educational stuff inside the fun.
Coming dressed up as one of the characters in your book, or in the costume of the country you were born in, is also a huge plus. You don't have to dance or sing - however I do enter the class singing Waltzing Matilda, wearing a hobo hat that is cork trimmed, and carrying my "swag" on a pole over my shoulder. A frying pan and a billy for tea complete my ensemble. To say I have their attention from the get-go is an understatement.
Don't let anyone tell you that dressing up or singing, (or dancing if that fits in with your book) makes you seem unprofessional.
Hogwash! As long as the school approves your presentation, and it fits nicely with the theme and characters in your book -
GO FOR IT, MATE!
I bring aboriginal artifacts, an Aussie map, and a real live coconut I picked myself, on a far northern beach in Queensland, Australia - kids love this story. So bring artifacts, pictures, and relics that relate to your book, and tell the class about them. Leave room for the questions that will surely come. Some are so funny it is hard to keep a straight face. After a while, you realize this is fun, the kids are neat, and you are having a good time - and getting paid handsomely for it. Leave time to read at least one of your books.
I have created a fun PowerPoint Presentation, complete with sounds from the animals in my books. If you haven't seen 75 pairs of eyes grow wider than a barn door, as they listen to the screams of a Tasmanian Devil, from a story I have just read to them, then you are missing a huge treat. PowerPoint allows you to present lots of great ideas in color and movement. Kids eat it up.
If you want more in-depth School Visit details, read my April 2007 "Musings" column: "School Visits Can be Fun and Profitable." Or, go to my School Visits page and read more about what I offer each class.
My proudest moments are when I am asked to sign the Artist's Wall in a school's library.
WOW! They really do think I am a famous author!!!
*** Articles About Writing ***
Links to more articles
at the end of this section.
What's In a Name?
Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn and, er Hubert Gribble.
by Jill Mc Dougall
Jill Mc Dougall is the Aussie author of over a hundred books for children. With that track record, she knows a thing or two about choosing terrific names for characters, and about writing for kids. Visit her website to find more writing tips.
<><><><><>Remember that dashing manly hero in Gone with the Wind? What was his name again? Of course - Rhett Butler. How could anyone forget? But what if Margaret Mitchell had named her handsome hero something entirely different - Percy Sprong for example. Or Hubert Gribble? Would you still feel the same way about him?
And what if Scarlett O'Hara had been Enid Snirke or Maisie Brittlebanger?
Names convey rhythm and flavour and shape. They evoke memories and awaken our senses. They roll round our tongue a certain way. Names affect how the reader responds to a character. Here are important points you need to consider when choosing characters' names:
Don't Confuse Your Reader
When I was seven, I was given a book that featured twin sisters. The good sensible twin was called Molly. The naughty one was Polly. Or was it the other way round? I could never remember which twin was which because keeping track of them was a mental chore. I have no idea what happened to Molly and Polly because I never made it past chapter one.
Rhyming names are a problem because they look and sound too similar. Names with the same beginning letter (Penny, Mr Poulson, Dr Paul) pose a similar problem. So do names with similar endings (Cassie, Bonnie, Flossie.)
Don't forget that the reader hasn't lived with these characters as long as you have and any techniques you use to aid character identification will be appreciated.
Keep it Simple
If you choose names that are difficult to pronounce, you create distance between reader and character. If you are convinced that Phiponoughlier is the only possible name for your mad scientist, then introduce the name once and then provide a nickname: "Please call me Phip."
Reflect the Culture
Most Western societies are multi-cultural. Add authenticity and an inclusive feel to your work, by reflecting this cultural diversity in your characters' names. Educational publishers, in particular, will look kindly upon the inclusion of a range of characters with names that are easy to pronounce.
The website http://www.babyzone.com has lists of baby names by category including nationality.
Fun With Names
Science fiction and fantasy writers can have a lot of fun with character's names. When creating a whole new world, you want your names to sound different from mere earthly humanoids, but not too different.
Some writers select common names and then change a single letter to create something new. For example:
David becomes Dafid - Amelia becomes Amelira
Names can also reflect the characteristics of an entire race. A preponderance of vowels in a name suggests an ethereal quality and would suit fairies or elves. Try taking a common name of three syllables and swapping some of the consonants for vowels. Thus:
Samantha becomes Eamantia - Jeremy becomes Aeriemy
On the other hand, names with extra consonants sound heavier. Metallic robotic creatures may have a number of hard consonants in their names such as Broddon or Robard, help your reader keep track of characters in a complex plot.
Add Power to Your Picture Book
Names in picture books should be chosen with special care since each precious word must convey tone and atmosphere. For example, the name Digby evokes the slow rumbling movements of a heavy creature. Just perfect for a wombat.
On the other hand, Mirette evokes a certain lightness and agility. Just right for an acrobat.
Jane Covernton , the editor at Working Title Press, suggests that if you can't possibly change your character's name, then it's probably the right one.
Make Your Characters' Memorable
Who can forget that Professor Sprout teaches Herbology at Hogwart's School or that Moaning Myrtle is a ghost? And remember Mr Plod the policeman in the Noddy books?
The names of marginal characters are just as important as that of the prima donna who hogs centre stage. In fact, you can be a little sillier and more creative in naming your bit part characters. An appropriate name helps your reader remember who is who, especially if these peripheral characters flit in and out of your story.
One trick is to make a list of the personality traits of your character. If that wacky teacher is the nervous type, write down all the words that characterise this behaviour. Your list might include: fidgety, flustered, twitchy, jittery, jumpy.
Then play around with these words to come up with colourful combinations
Titch E Finglet perhaps, or Fidge Jigglebottom.
Roald Dahl had a lot of fun choosing appropriate names for his secondary characters. Augustus Gloop is a particularly gluttonous child, Aunt Spiker is mean and vindictive and Headmistress Trunchbull rampages through the school creating havoc.
Choose Names to Create a Catchy Title
I once changed a character's name from Jenna to Jess so that I could call my story Don't Mess with Jess and my short story Smart Alec began with the title.
Catchy titles sell books and character's names can be chosen to give your title that extra edge. You can have a lot of fun coming up with good title/name combinations.
Collect Fascinating Names
I have a notebook solely devoted to my collection of names. In it, I find that memorable cats have been called Rug, Mr Blister, Fibble and Kitten Kaboodle.
A dog was named Handyman because he did little jobs around the house. A friend named his pet crow Stone - as in Stone the crow. A local criminal called Dave Granger was known to his friends as Grave Danger.
Interesting names are found everywhere - on street signs, in song lyrics and CD titles, in the 'hatches, matches and dispatches' section of the newspaper. Absolutely everywhere. Half the fun is finding a good one and then inventing a character to go with it.
So what's in a name?
Next time you are considering naming your dashing hero Claude Clodwamble or your prissy school teacher Madam Slambunger, remember the familiar Shakespearian question, "What's in a name?'
The answer? Plenty.
for another Jill McDougle article on crafting a gripping story.
Some thoughts from ME about what I look for when critiquing a picture book:
When I critique PBs, I look for the following: but mostly, I give personal guidance. I do this by offering examples, explanations, and suggestions.
This means not using ten words when three or four will do the trick. Aim for less than 1,000 words - the younger the child the fewer the words.Think actions and reactions:
Telling is a big yawn. Go for actions, reactions and dialogue. Strong
verbs are needed.Word choice:
Appropriate for the age, new and fresh.
Powerful active verbs that show actions and reactions. (Strong verbs are a
PB writer's best friend)
Evocative, whimsical, and fun. One terrific adjective does the trick!
Adverbs: Occasional use only -- make sure it is not there to prop up a ho-hum verb.
Qualifiers:Most of these pesky and unnecessary words can be ruthlessly pruned.Getting to the point:
Introduction of characters & the setting. Yiikes, where is the conflict,
plot, or reason for this story? Look for a tidy and satisfactory
conclusion. Unnecessary details can balloon what should be a 500 word story
into a 1,500 word marathon. Readers get lost in a jungle of words!
Look for an even distribution of terrific illustration opportunities. The
writer and the artist are a team that compliment each other. The writer
leaves word clues, which the artist interprets, filling the illustrationswith marvelous details.
Painting with words:
Great PB writers paint word pictures. Choose each word with care. The aim
is to say a lot with only a few words. "Less is more!"
Look for a smooth story flow. It does not have to be poetry to have a
lyrical feel. Characters and plot appear real and effortless.
Always think KID. Does the story have kid appeal? Will kids want it read
to them, over and over? Will kids identify with and root for the main
characters? Does it feel right?
Seventeen Minds Trying to Catch Up With One
A Checklist to Help Us Critique Our Own Manuscripts
Compiled by Jane Yolen's Centrum '81 Students
Edited by Anna Grossnickle Hines
SCBWI Bulletin 1981
Note: In the first workshop I took with Jane Yolen these are the comments and questions that came up over and over as she helped us with out manuscripts. At the end of the workshop the seventeen of us sat down together and made this list. You may find it helpful to apply them to your own work.
THE MOST COMMON PROBLEMS: WATCH OUT FOR THESE!
Do the children have power in their own behalf? Do they solve their own problems?
Does the story really start where it starts?
Are the problems solved too easily?
Is the point of view consistent?
Have you tried to do half a dozen things in one story?
Have you used cliches rather than sharp language?
Does the story say what you want it to say?
Have you done too much describing and narrating rather than using action and dialogue?
Show me, don't tell me!
Does everything in the story work or is it cluttered with unnecessary details? Are your characters solid?
Read your story aloud, into a tape recorder if possible, and listen carefully for things that don't work.
Instead of asking, "Is this good enough?", ask, "Is there any way this can possibly be made better?"
"Children's books change lives. Stories pour into the hearts of children and help make them what they become." -Jane Yolen
GENERAL THINGS TO CONSIDER:
Does your story have a theme? Note: The theme is what your book is about. Plot is how you get there.
Does the story fit the format or type of book you are writing?
Is it appropriate for the age level?
Is the way you are telling the story related to what you have to say?
Does your story have something new to say or does it say something old with a fresh viewpoint or in a new way? You need the eyes and ears of the child, coming fresh to things.
Does it have the kind of toughness that children have and need, or is it sweet and sappy?
Children have to overcome a lot because everything is harder for them.
Does it have sentiment (heart) or just sentimentality?
Are you being condescending, talking down to the child? Are you unconsciously trying to do more than one story at the same time?
Are you mixing two or more different styles?
Are you mixing a realistic story and fantasy?
Are you mixing expository non-fiction and an emotional story?
Are you trying to cover too long a time span or too much material in one book?
Do you let your story carry itself or do you try to teach?
Does everything in the book ultimately focus on the same point and work on all levels.
No red herrings except in mysteries.
STYLE: Have you used language economically?
Is the story told in a simple, direct way or is it cluttered with things that don't work?
Are you comfortable with the language?
Are you fluent enough with the style to use it well?
Does the style match the material?
Have you used cliches or good, crisp images?
Avoid the predictable.
Is your language sharp, creating clear images?
i.e.: Use shuffle, tiptoe or stomp rather than walk.
Have you used good, strong nouns and verbs and avoided superfluous adjectives?
If you have two adjectives, take one out and think very seriously about the other one.
Have you repeated something unnecessarily?
If you have shown something through action or dialogue, you don't also have to describe it.
Do you over-use particular words and phrases?
i.e.: he said, she said.
Have you used vivid sensory words and images throughout your story?
Do you have a variety of sentence lengths and structures?
Do you over-use "ing" words?
ie: Told is stronger than was telling.
Do the transitions from one thought or event to the next work or are they jarring? Do you use narration where dialogue and action would carry your story better?
POINT OF VIEW:
Have you chosen the best point of view for this story? If it's concerned with the emotions of one particular character, try first person. If you need the descriptions and information that first person forces you to leave out, stick to third.
Does the language of a character help reveal something about him or her?
Is it appropriate and consistent throughout? Have you given the character any words he or she would not use?
Are all the characters in the story necessary?
Are they all developed as much as they need to be?
Are your characters solid and full-bodied?
Do you really know them?
Even in simple stories, have you given the reader a way to identify them?
Have you revealed them to the reader through the use of ...
physical appearance? No mirrors, please!
gesture and. mannerisms?
dress? actions and reactions?
Are they stereotypes?
Are the names just exactly right?
Is your villain, if there is one, as strong and real as your hero?
Does the main character grow or change through the course of the story?
Have you kept introspection to a minimum and shown the emotions through the actions, reactions and dialogue that keep the story moving?
Is there an emotional range with high highs and low lows or just a boring gray?
Do you have a plot or just a series of incidents? Do you get your character up the tree so he has to come back down, or does he just come to the tree and walk away without anything really happening?
Does the plot build appropriately or just meander?
What is the problem to be solved or explored in the book?
Do you get right to it in the beginning?
Do you begin at the beginning? Start with the action?
Does the story keep alive with the suspense, the curiosity to know what happened next?
Do you have cliff hangers at the ends of the first few chapters to get the reader hooked into reading further?Does the child face and solve, or at least help to solve, his own problem?
Do you believe in it yourself?
Does it have its own logic and have you followed it consistently?
If there is magic, does it have consequences? Is it tough magic?
Does the hero have honesty, courage, goodness and love?
Is his problem or foe big and tough and evil?
Is there a sense of justice?
Does the hero have to make fateful, heart wrenching decisions?
Does it have an appropriate style?
Is it poetic where it needs to be poetic?
Does it have the feeling of the old high language, if it's that sort of tale?
Does it make use of work plays, puns and jokes?
Is your story based on an emotional involvement rather than a "hot subject"?
Do you really deal with the character and not just the problem?
Do you offer some direction or ray of hope or just expose a problem, rubbing the wounds raw?
Would you feel comfortable with your own young child reading the book?
If not, can you change it so that you would be and still have it work?
Does the book open the child to something new or tell him something he or she vitally wants to know?
Is it accurate?
Is it clear? ie: without jargon or terminal cute-less.
Is it complete within the realm of what you're trying to do?
Is it written with movement, style and wit?
Does it speak to the child's sense of wonder rather than being pedantic?
Does it lead the child on to other discoveries?
Does the story deal with one simple concept or story line?
Are there enough and appropriately spaced visual images to illustrate?
Will it fit into the format of a 32-page book?
Is the language bare-boned and economical but still full of style?
For serious writers, the question isn't, "Is my story good enough?" A better question is, "Is there any way I can make it better?" These questions can help you answer that question.
NOTE FOR READERS:
If you want to write for children, Anna Grossnickle Hine's column, "Articles & Talks," should be read and re-read. Her site also holds fascinating remembrances of her climb to published author - and beyond! Go and share her joys and fears. Go with her as she learns the writing ropes. Her memories of "getting there" are full of darn good advice and a pleasure to read.
The rest of her website is pretty neat too!
This clear Grammar Explanation comes from Jan Fields - Kid Writers Magazine, CW member and moderator.
Gerunds and participles work because (in the hands of a talented writer) they add spice and interest to a sentence. They can sometimes be a bit attention getting and if used poorly they can be wordy but there is nothing passive about them.
Passive is a voice that occurs only with transitive verbs and occurs only when the subject of the sentence isn't doing anything in the sentence and is being "done to" instead:
"My dog was shot." <-- passive
"Someone shot my dog." <-- active but weakened by the addition of a indefinite pronoun that is not defined. Adding a weak subject never strengthens a sentence.
Many people have condemned passive voice. The "evil" of passive is that it can be draggy and wordy. The construction itself is no worse than any other. I have seen people become so frightened of passive voice that they will change a strong sentence in passive voice into a weak sentence using indefinite pronouns just to avoid passive voice.
Writers are best served to dump all of these "evil construction" rules and simply judge writing on a sentence by sentence basis. Does the sentence drag? It is awkward? Is it wordy and to convoluted for the reader? If we change every sentence to a direct active indicative construction with no stray clauses or unusual forms, you'll end up with writing that is too harsh and too similar. That's dull too and a lot of newer children'swriters are wrecking their own voice by trying to do it.
THEY INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:
* Verbs Rule
by Margot Finke
A Second Article:
* Three Simple Steps to a Gripping Story
by Jill McDougall
3 Terrific Articles
by Suzanne Lieurance
* Top Ten Writing Mistakes Made By New Children's Writers
* A Hard Look at Easy Readers
* Six Simple Ways to Make the Most of Any Writing Workshop or Writing Class
4 Great Articles
by Multi-published Writer
* Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice
* A Little Bit of Me, A Little Bit of You
Our Lives as Fiction Fodder
* Dealing With Your Family
* How to Tell Who WON'T Make It in Writing (and How Not to Be That Writer)
Note to readers about Simon Hayes 2 articles on
Self Publishing and Agents.
I came across Simon Hayne's website, and the following two articles of his, when I went looking for Manuscript Tracking Software. Someone recommended I check out his Sonar2. I ended up downloading Sonar2 and taking the time to browse around his enlightening website. That's where I found these two succinct, down-to-earth articles, one on finding an agent, and the other on self publishing - some of the best I have ever read.
The rest of his site is well worth browsing through too - especially his free software.
DISCLAIMER: Simon tells me that ALL his articles are organic and frequently tweaked. So, if you want to make sure you are reading the latest version click here.
What is a literary agent?
An agent will (try to) sell your manuscript to a publishing house, will handle contract negotiations and will stand as a buffer between you and the publisher. Without an agent, there can be a lot of friction between a writer and publisher - their primary goal is to make money, your primary goal is to get your book into print without having it butchered in the process. And you might want to make money as well. (I can't speak for all writers of course.)
An agent will oil the machinery: one party will moan and whinge to them, and they will magically translate this into a polite request for the other party. E.g. Author sees first draft of cover and tells her agent it sucks. The agent informs the publishing house that the author was doubtful when first shown the artwork. The publishing house informs the agent that the cover is a 'take it or leave it' situation. 'You know, it does grow on you,' says the agent to the author.
Why do you need an agent?
An agent will shop your manuscript around publishing houses, using their inside knowledge to place it with the right editor. For example, they know editor X doesn't buy fantasy trilogies. No point sending it to publishing house Y. (You could spend six months finding that out.) Editor Z has a full list, and isn't buying at all. (Just saved you another six months.) When Editor W agrees to take a look, your manuscript will likely zip to the front of the queue, since Editor W trusts your agent's judgement. (If they don't trust their judgement, you may need a new agent.) So, to save yourself a lot of time sending a manuscript to publishers who cannot buy it, you just have to get an agent. Right?
Getting an Agent.
Find out who the agents are for writers in your genre and then scan the web for their home page. Are they accepting new clients? If so, submit the first three chapters, a brief (1 or 2 page) synopsis and a short cover letter asking them to represent you. State your previous publication credits, if any, and also what other work you have in the pipeline. (Agents don't want a one book author.) Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for their reply. That's the general idea, but you should check their guidelines for more.
The bad news is that agents are just as flooded with manuscripts as editors, and therefore they have to be just as picky. Don't be surprised if you have trouble at this stage. A lot of trouble. The good news is that there are more agents than publishing houses, and once you get an agent they can make a better approach with your manuscript than you can. If you burn up all the publishers with your manuscript, what are you going to do next? Think of getting an agent as a step or two up the ladder of publication... an agent will only sign you up if they believe you have something they can sell. And they're in a better position to sell it than you are.
If agents are so great, why don't you
A fair question. I was offered a contract by Fremantle Arts Centre Press after a sales rep saw my self-published science fiction books in a local Dymocks store. The contract was for three books in the series, and having studied every clause and compared them to examples in a couple of books on contracts, I decided it was author-friendly enough for me. I also decided not to spend six months trying to find an agent while the publisher went out and found another author. If my books do well and my future work is in demand, I will reconsider whether I need an agent or not.
How much does an agent cost?
Up front... nothing. In fact, if an agent wants money up front you've probably fallen into the clutches of a scam artist. Whether it's reading fees, copying fees, placement fees or a special on doctoring your book, you don't want any of them.
No, the way agents make their money is
by copping a percentage of everything you earn from the books they're
representing for you. 15% seems to be the going rate these days. Of course,
an agent might turn down your proposal and advise you to get your novel
edited into shape. Unless they push you towards their brother-in-law 'Honest
Bob the Book Doctor' or offer this service themselves, you should take
the advice on board. For example, once I decided to publish my books I
realised it would be a good idea to have a pro cast her eye over them.
I knew Sarah Endacott through her fiction magazine,
and I knew she ran a manuscript assessment service called Edit
or Die. Now, I sent her three chapters and she got in touch
to let me know that I didn't need her services. Not that my books didn't
need editing, just that the samples were written well enough that I didn't
need to pay for editing prior to seeking a publisher. (Who would want
to edit things anyway) I've never forgotten that - here's someone who
could happily have taken my money, but who gave me an honest opinion instead.
(Hey, either that or she thought they were so bad it would take thousands
to fix them up... :-)
Back to the money. An agent takes a percentage, and it works like this: The publisher pays your royalties to the agent, and the agent pays you the amount received less their commission. You don't write cheques, money comes out of your earnings. (That's 'checks', for US readers).
Someone once said that all you need to be an agent is enough change for a phone call. There's no agent school, agent license or agent screening service. So, here's a good rule of thumb: good agents don't need more clients, so they don't have to advertise. If an agent is taking out large 'buy one get one free' type adverts in the back of writing magazines, you probably don't want to be one of their clients. Here's another hint: check their client list. If you've never heard of any of the authors mentioned (assuming the agent handles your chosen genre) then you should either search google on a few of the listed names to see who they are, or seek another agent. Yes, you expect any agent to have little known writers on their books. But they should have a couple of bigger names as well.
There are a couple of sites you can check for recent info on dodgy agents and publishers: Preditors and Editors and the Bewares and Background Check topic on the Absolute Write forums. After all, if you spent a year or more writing a book, you can afford to spend a couple of hours researching your chosen agent. Right?
If you live in Australia (or intend to publish here), here's a list of Literary Agents from the Vicnet pages. It's dated 2001, which is probably why many of them don't have web sites. Either that, or they're wise enough to realise just how much of a time sink the internet can be...
Please note, the advice on this page
is worth what you paid for it. Don't make career-level decisions without
backing up my advice with other reading. For example, Holly
Lisle's Questions About Literary Agents
and About Literary Agents. For the record, Holly is published AND
has an agent. And she has 100,000 plus words of free articles on her pages
Read about the author at the end of his next article.
Simon tells me that his articles are organic and frequently tweaked. So,
if you want to make sure you are reading the latest version click
What is self publishing?
For whatever reason (most of them outlined below), an author decides to get their book into print. Traditionally, they would shop their manuscript around agents and/or publishers in the hope that one of them offers a publishing contract. Traditionally, most agents and publishers send the manuscript straight back with a 'no thank you'.
Reduced to a single sentence, self-publishing is where you lay your manuscript out like a book and have a company print and bind x number of copies for you. The end results vary wildly - from grammatical disaster areas which fall apart the first time a reader cracks the spine to professionally produced items which major publishers would be proud to call their own. What you end up with depends on the effort (and money) you put into each stage of the process.
First, who does self-publishing work best for?
Non-fiction writers with a well-defined, captive audience. For example, someone who holds seminars of some kind (on any topic). There are plenty of opportunities to tell your guests that copies of your book are available at the back of the room, and you have no competition. In this case, 250-500 copies of a self-published book could be a wise investment. Self-publishing also works for fiction writers who just want a handful of copies for family and friends.
So, who should consider self-publishing only as a last resort?
Fiction writers. Unknown writers. Anyone who thinks they can walk into a bookstore at random and walk out with a firm order for a dozen copies. Let's break those down: Fiction writers. You'd have to be mad to self-publish fiction. (Yes, I did it myself. Nowhere on this web site do I declare myself totally sane.) First, agents and publishers will sign you up if your book is good, and if you're writing in a genre which has a book-buying audience. 'If the book is good' is subjective - you may think it's terrific, but the professionals will know by page three if you really can write... and they'll often have a good idea by the end of the first paragraph. Even if you write well, the technical details (character, plot, dialogue and so on) all have to fall into line too. And if it's not good enough to interest an agent or a publisher, do you really think it's a good idea to slap covers on it and sell it direct to the public? 'Having a book buying audience': I mention this because even if you write a good book which is technically competent, it could be rejected simply because the publisher doesn't believe enough people will want to buy a copy. It may be that your novel is a science fictional thriller and a romance all rolled into one. How do they sell that? Who do they sell it to?
Unknown writers & optimists. If you have no presence in the market, it's going to be tough convincing readers to lay down $20 to $25 for your book. It's also going to be tough convincing bookstores to carry it ... Many titles published by the big guys don't sell, so how is a self-published book by a complete unknown going to do?
I want to point out right now that I'm
not trying to put anyone off. However, having self-published three books
I know something of the pitfalls and the reality of self-publishing, and
I don't want anyone wasting a lot of money on a fruitless endeavour.
I haven't put you off yet? Ok, let's
Self-publishing takes many forms. The cheapest method is to print your document, staple in the middle and fold into an A5 booklet. Countless clubs and organisations print their newsletters this way, and it's ideal for a small number of pages (16-20 sheets of paper) where the information is more important than the presentation. At the other end of the scale you have hardback books with those nifty little placemarker ribbons and your name in gold foil on the cover. (They always look like Readers Digest condensed books to me, but then again I write science fiction so what would I know?) These are ideal for memoirs, where you want them to last through several generations.
In between these extremes you have a variety
of sizes, from A-format mass-market paperback up to Crown Royal.
A lot of self-published and small press books use A5 (which is A4 cut
in half). A or B format are the most common, with 'B' format used for
more expensive paperbacks from well-known authors, and 'A' used for just
about everything. Often, a book will appear in trade (B) paperback size
first, only to be re-released as a mass-market (A) size a year or so later.
Why? Because trade paperbacks command a higher price, allowing the publisher
to recoup more on each one sold. Readers won't pay big dollars for unknown
authors though, so don't rush out and print your self-published title
in the biggest format you can find.
Publishers use perfect binding (a kind of hot-melt glue) to hold the book together. I recommend this method if you want your book to look professional. Alternatives include spiral binding and DIY comb binding, which are okay for how-to manuals, but not for fiction. You can pay a print shop or a specialist to run your printed books through a perfect binder... bear in mind the cover flats will have to be at least 5mm bigger all round to allow for cropping afterwards. (Books are bound then cropped to size. This leaves nice even edges all round.) A typical beginner's mistake is to roll up to the binders with an A5 sized book and A4 sized covers - once wrapped around the book, the cover is too short to reach the edges, and you still won't have enough left over for cropping. The answer is to print the book pages smaller, or the covers bigger.
Get the pros to do it.
I've mentioned binding, finished sizes and printing books out, but I haven't covered professional printers and print on demand (POD). With the former, a company will accept a file from you containing the book (ready for print) and another containing the cover. How you get the book and cover art to this stage is up to you, but I recommend professional help if you have no idea what you're doing.
If you go ahead with the printer's quote,
they will produce the specified quantity of books and ship them to your
delivery address. Then you have to sell them, which is going to be the
subject of another article.
On the other hand, if you go the POD route
you can expect to pay a setup fee but afterwards you can order books one
at a time. Expect to pay a much higher price per book, but it's cheaper
overall if you only have a small market. Some of these companies will
also list your book with online retailers like Amazon and Barnes &
Noble, giving you a way to sell online. Lulu
seems to be getting good press from those who have used the service.
For a short run of books (e.g. 200+) in Australia, try Griffin
Digital (formerly Dbooks)
Please bear in mind that self-published books (particularly fiction) are regarded with suspicion by booksellers, reviewers and other industry professionals. A book from a major publisher is guaranteed to have gone through one or more filters, even if it's just a tick in the 'Big Name Author' box. On the other hand, a self-published 'novel' could be the same shopping list printed over and over on 400 consecutive pages... and no book store owner is going to sit down and read every self-published book offered to them. Plus many of them will only deal with distributors, who in turn only deal with established publishers. So, if you want your book stocked in more than just your local bookstore, self-publishing is not the way to go. POD publishers is a term now used to lump together all the companies which will happily print illiterate scribble provided they get paid. Cluey bookstore owners know the names of all these companies, and will be reluctant to order books from them unless it's one copy for a customer who pays up front. (One of the problems with POD is that bookstores cannot return unsold books, something all major publishers allow.) There's a longer article on this phenomenon here.
Self-publishing is a huge topic, and I've only scratched the surface. In 99% of cases you're better off persisting with agents and publishers, who will give you distribution self-publishers can only dream of. As mentioned earlier, self-pub is ideal for non-fiction books sold to captive audiences. It's definitely not the best idea for fiction, unless you only want to impress close family and a handful of friends with your novel.
About the author
Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, and is also a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine where his duties include reading submissions, maintaining the web site and subscription list and mailing out every issue. Simon also wrote all the software on spacejock.com, most of which can be downloaded for free.
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