4 Reasons to get published and more

4 Reasons to get published

It's important to be published by a traditional publisher

Image by Terry Freedman via Flickr

In this day and age, in which anyone can publish and distribute their books electronically, or self-publish them by going down several routes (none of which need include the traditional vanity publisher), why should anyone bother approaching a traditional publisher? After all, very few of the thousands of manuscripts that publishers receive find their way into book form, and of those that do, very few hit the big time. There are, in fact, at least 4 reasons to try to get published by the age-old process of going to publishers.

Having a book published:

Marks you out as a REAL author

I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that publishers, on the whole, are pretty hard-nosed creatures. If they think a book won’t sell, they won’t publish it. Why would they? Publishers receive thousands of manuscripts each year from wannabe writers, most of which are rejected. If you’re one of that happy minority whose manuscript is accepted, you can be sure that, in the eyes of a third party who is mainly concerned with profit, it has some merit. (I am, of course, not including academic publishing in this generalisation, nor those small independent publishers who are primarily concerned with “culture”, however defined.)

If this sounds rather uncompromising, think of the alternative. Someone was telling me a few weeks ago that he has led such an interesting life that his family and friends continually urge him to write his autobiography, and he has decided to do so. Why would anyone outside his circle of family and friends be remotely interested? HIs book will probably never be published by a third party, and if by some miracle it is, nobody will buy it. The only sensible route for this chap to go down is to self-publish the book and give copies of it away to his friends and relatives. But the publication will impress nobody else.

Now, suppose you write a book whose subject matter would appeal to a wider readership. If you can’t write well, your manuscript still won’t be accepted by a publisher. Many people think they can write, but they really cannot – and that isn’t just evidence of snobbery on my part, but which countless articles and books featuring interviews with agents, editors and publishers say all the time.

So being published by a proper publisher tells the world that (a) you have something to say which is of interest to a fair number of people, and (b) you have the ability to write in a way which engages the reader.

Establishes you as an expert

If you’ve written a non-fiction work, that is. Self-publishing is also a good way of establishing yourself as an expert, but even these days it is viewed with some suspicion. Having a book published by a “real” publisher indicates that someone besides yourself recognises your expertise too.

Makes you eligible to join professional associations

For example, I belong to the UK’s Society of Authors, which does allow self-published authors to join as full members – if they have sold over 200 copies of a single title in a 12 month period. That takes some doing, especially if your book is fiction, and nobody has heard of you. Being a member of the Society affords various benefits, not the least of which is excellent advice on contracts offered.

Helps you reach a larger readership

It’s true that we can all promote ourselves on the internet, and it;s true that every author complains that their publisher does too little to promote their book. But the fact remains that publishers’ catalogues and/or sales people go all over the place. In education, for example, catalogues are often sent to every school in the country and sales people display their wares in school staffrooms. When a book does get featured by the publisher, it can immensely well. (I know of at least two people who were able to go over to part-time working on the basis of their royalty earnings from a best-selling textbook; it doesn’t happen often, but it’s probably even less likely to happen if you were to self-publish a textbook.)

For these four reasons alone, I think it is too early yet to be sounding the death-knell of the traditional publishing company.

This article was first published in February 2011.


Review of the History and Art of Comic Books

The History and Art of Comic Books is a course at the City Lit college in London. There are several courses on graphic design, and even one for learning how to create cartoons and comics. This one, however, is not so much hands on, but a romp through several decades of comic book art in four weeks.

"Superman loses it!" -- Picture b James Vaughn https://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/I’ve had an interest in comics for a long time, as a reader, a teacher and someone with an interest in current affairs and political cartoons.

Recently, though, I’ve become interested in the history and theory of comics as well, so this course seemed ideal.

I am really enjoying it, I think for two reasons. First, the tutor, John Miers, is clearly a comics geek. He seems to live and breathe comics. Not only does he read them, he creates them and (oh be still, green-eyed monster) is even doing a PhD on the subject.

What impresses me is that he has such a vast knowledge of the subject, and the intricacies of the relationships between various aspects of the art and the people who create it, that the lectures are very rich indeed. To say the content exceeds the time available would be an understatement. Last night, for example, 8pm came and went, with John saying, “If I can just show these couple more slides…”.

The second reason for my enjoyment is that there are other people on the course who know far more about the subject than I do, and they often interject with interesting observations and snippets of information. Me? Apart from the odd insight, I’m just enjoying soaking it all up.

The only criticisms I have are as follows. First, at only 4 sessions the course is too short. A six or even 10 week course would have been much more satisfying.

Second, a longer course might have allowed the tutor to arrange interesting visits, such as to the Kubrick archives or the comics curator at the British Library, or a visit to exhibitions such as Bonaparte and the British, which is currently on at the British Museum.

Finally, I think it’s a shame that different parts of the City Lit appear to not talk to each other. John informed us last night that the college runs “Fast Forward” events, some of which concern comics art and related matters. It turns out that I missed one that I’d have loved to have attended – had I known about it. You’d have thought someone would have had the nous to send an email to all the people on the comics course about it. Mind you, they would have probably have been clobbered under the Data Protection laws. Oh well.

But the course itself is excellent. I for one will be asking for a follow-up.


Playing with context

2CellosPeople say “It’s all a matter of context”. But I think that it’s when you take ideas, styles or objects out of context, or juxtapose them with apparently incongruent other ideas, styles or objects , that things start to look interesting and exciting.

The work of Gay Talese is a good example of this. He adopted a fiction-writing style in his factual essays. His Frank Sinatra Has a Cold is an excellent example of this approach, which came to be known as “New Journalism”.

In my own small way I have tried to push the boundaries of the blues harmonica. As well as using it to play different kinds of blues and jazz, and folk of course, I’ve done hard rock, Vivaldi and Handel. I am pretty sure that those two were twirling in their graves, but I thought it important to test the limits.

A brilliant example I came across very recently was the one shown in the video below. It features the group 2Cellos, and is complete with a baroque setting and what seems to be a classical music concert. But appearances can be deceptive.

I can’t say I am unequivocally in love with this music, but I admire what they’ve done.

What contexts and conventions are you going to deny and defy in your writing?



The hidden costs of EU VAT law to readers

Like many people I suppose, when I have written about the effects of the new rule on value-added tax, I’ve done so from the point of view of myself, as a seller of ebooks. But what of the costs to readers?

Just to recap, or put you in the picture for the first time, the new ruling states that sellers of digital goods have to levy the rate of VAT that pertains where the buyer is. That in itself poses all sorts of difficulties, such as knowing what rate to charge if the buyer is an English national attempting to make a purchase while on a train travelling to France.

There’s a lot more, especially the terrifying potential to get snarled up in dealing with tax queries from several member states of the EU if you make a mistake.

OK, you might say, cue the violins. But it does affect readers too, in at least three ways:

Withdrawal of products

Before VatMOSS...... After VatMoss

Like many people, I’ve stopped selling ebooks while I try to work out what the best way of dealing with this is. I’m not the only one: I’ve read about, and know of, several people who have either shut up shop, or decided not to open up in the first place. That represents a cost to readers in terms of fewer products to enjoy and benefit from.

A slower service

To give you an idea of how arcane some of the regulations are, we are allowed to sell digital products as long as they are emailed manually. So, you pay by Paypal, say, and then I send you the file by email. But I wouldn’t be able to send you a download link, because then that would count as a digital service, and therefore be subject to the new rules.

And apparently, its being OK to manually email the file only applies in the UK, because other countries have a different interpretation of the rules.

So, you might think, well, that’s not too bad: a little patience never hurt anyone.

But what if you are in the USA 8 hours behind me, and pay for the product at noon your time? I am trying to get into the habit of switching everything off by 7, so I won’t even see your order until 12 hours later.

What if I’m away working, or laid up in hospital? The delay could be even longer. (If I do reinstate my ebooks, I’ll make sure I write copious instructions so that Elaine can fullfil the orders too, so hopefully that won’t be too much of a problem. But you can see how the service would become slower, at a time when we all expect instant gratification in terms of online purchases. Not so much back to the future as forward to the past.

Cheaper if you’re in a low tax area?

Not necessarily. My understanding is that if I were to throw in the independent towel and sell everything via Amazon, I’d set the price of the product, and then Amazon would deduct the correct amount of VAT according to where the buyer is. So living in a low tax part of the EU wouldn’t necessarily benefit readers at all in terms of lower prices.

The paradoxical thing is that many of us will probably end up selling through Amazon, thereby making that company even more powerful than it already is. Given that one of the reasons for the new legislation was to bring such companies to heel, at least as far as charging different VAT rates is concerned, that is rather ironic in a bitter sort of way.

As it happens, I would probably go through Amazon eventually anyway, because of the marketing advantages it offers. But I’d rather do so out of choice, rather than from a feeling of not having much choice at all.


If you as a reader are concerned about the VAT issue, please take part in the Twitterstorm taking place today, at 9am-10am (GMT) and 5pm-6pm (ditto).


The get-rich-quick itch

I would love to be able to write blog posts or conduct my social media affairs in such a way that I became an overnight sensation, as verified by an astronomical rise in my bank balance.

That’s why I tend to read a lot of adverts that say things like “How I turned my blog into a licence to print money in just three months!”

The trouble is, though, I just can’t bring myself to do it, and the reason, I think, is to do with authenticity.

I always read the adverts, and the blog posts of the person or people behind them, and they all seem to have the same three characteristics.

First, they are extremely formulaic. I don’t have a problem with so-called “linkbait” posts myself, as a general principle, because they can be quite useful. Articles with titles like “5 ways to improve your blog’s appearance” seem OK to me. But when every article is “10 ways to do X” or something similar, then it starts to look very stale. And it’s even worse if there is a formula like:

Title: 8 words, 3 of which are search engine optimised

First paragraph: 27 words, and so on.

There’s a spot on article about this by Seth Godin: Trapped by Linkbait.

Second, they write in short sentences. Very short. It can be irritating. I know. I’ve been irritated by it. And so on. Now, I’m not one of those people who favours complex sentences involving long words just to impress everyone with how erudite I am. But I find that after a minute or two of reading that sort of staccato text I’m virtually catatonic from boredom. Why in heaven’s name would I want to embark on a programme that taught me to write like that, no matter how much money I would (supposedly) make from doing so?

Third, the architects of such schemes always seem to use phrases like “How to write kick-ass prose” and “Why your mailing list sucks”. Well, I don’t use such expressions in my personal life, and I would never ever use them in a professional context, so why would I wish to associate myself with someone who does?

The bottom line, I think, is that I would like my writing to be authentic, and none of that sort of stuff seems authentic to me. Someone else expressed it as resonance:

I was chatting with a few writers this week in a course I am running about developing an email newsletter, and the idea of “list building challenges” came up. One author’s conclusion:

“I signed up twice for list building challenges … the how to build a list of 10,000 type… and took zero steps because it just didn’t resonate.”

That word “resonate” is a powerful driver of action – or inaction. It forces us to consider: are you willing to do what it takes, even when it doesn’t resonate?

(From The Attention You Give; The Experience You Create by Dan Blank on the Writer Unboxed website.)

In fact, that article helped me a lot. Before reading that, I thought there must be something wrong with me, or that I was too bone idle to want to put the effort in when it came to the get-rich-quick schemes.

I wish it were different, because I’d really love to get rich quickly! I feel like the eponymous hero of Portnoy’s Complaint, who said:

I have desires that are repugnant to my conscience,

And a conscience that is repugnant to my desires.

Admittedly, the context is different (he was referring to his sexual fantasies!), but the principle is the same. Ultimately, you have to be true to yourself.


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