Category Archives: Getting Published

The Truth About Publishing – 16

PART 2. SURVIVING PUBLICATION


Lesson 15: Is that all you’re printing?

Your favourite author gets a 200,000 copy print run, but don’t even dream about doing the same. She’s spent 20 years building her name and sales. Besides, she got in first, and lots of other authors in your chosen genre have prospered since, and there’s relentless competition from hundreds of thousands of people self-publishing their own ebooks. There’s not much room in the market for newcomers these days.

Print runs are surprisingly low in Australia and other English speaking countries – in fact everywhere. The initial paperback print run for a popular fiction title by a new author in Australia would typically be 3,000 – 8,000 copies. For literary fiction, it might only be 1,000 – 2,000 copies. In the UK, initial paperback print runs for popular fiction by new authors are typically 10,000 or less, and in the US, 25,000 or less. Again, for literary novels, print runs can be considerably lower. If you sell translations, print runs for European countries, except the largest, are likely to be in the range 1-4,000 copies.

In Australia, only major bestsellers are published in hardcover because consumers are reluctant to pay for them. It’s much the same in the UK. A lot of authors are published in hardcover in the US, where it’s a sign that your publisher is enthusiastic about your book. Even there, typical hardcover print runs are 10,000 or less.


My Tortuous Road to Publication

I’m not sure exactly when I had the idea of writing a fantasy novel, though it must have been sometime after July 1977, because that’s when I bought and read Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara.
It wasn’t the story that inspired me, though. I’d read a huge amount of fantasy by then and found the plot to be too close to The Lord of the Rings. My inspiration was the map – but not in a good way.
The map in The Sword of Shannara so irritated me (because it seemed so clichéd, and so wrong) that I sat down on the spot and began to create my own, based on what I believed a real fantasy world should look like. Here’s a small, early version, done in 1978.
This soon became an obsession. At a time when I was supposed to be writing my thesis, I redrew the maps in greater and greater detail, until they were the size of house doors, then began to work out 10,000 years of history (as one does), the politics and economies of some of the countries therein, the peoples and ecosystems.
And then, snatches of characters, many of whom would appear in The View from the Mirror a decade later – Mendark, Shuthdar and the Golden Flute, Yggur, Faelamor, Kandor (who became Rulke), Kyllian the bard, who became Llian the master chronicler, Karan, my favourite character, and Yfanna, who became Maigraith.
Finally, on June 25, 1979, on a train in Finland, I wrote the first snatch of the story – Kyllian leaving Chanthed for the mountain inn at Tullin. Not very good, is it? But at the time it wasn’t intended as part of a novel. It was just a moment that occurred to me.
What with finishing my thesis, taking a demanding consulting job, looking after little children and renovating a lovely but decrepit Victorian house in Sydney, 8 years went by before I had the time to formally begin writing – in longhand. It was September 1987 and I figured if I wrote 3 pages a day, I’d have a first draft done by Christmas.
By the time I was halfway through the story, then called The Mirror of Aachan, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing stories. I finished the first draft 5 days early but, to my astonishment, the story ended on a cliff-hanger with possibilities exploding out in all directions.
A month later I’d worked out that there would be four books to the story, now called The View from the Mirror, their titles and, in some detail, what would happen in each book. I did several more drafts of the first book then, in 1989, looked around for a publisher.
At the time, no Australian publishers were publishing science fiction or fantasy for the adult market – see my post on the Golden Age of Aussie Publishing,http://ianirvine.blogspot.com/2011/10/golden-age-of-publishing.html.
But I probably wouldn’t have sent it there anyway – I’d decided to try Unwin Hyman, in London, publishers of The Lord of the Rings and a number of other great fantasy novels. They knocked it back, but very kindly, saying that they’d be happy to see a revised version, or anything else I cared to send them. However when I sent a much revised version, months later, they had just been taken over by Harper Collins, who had closed their list.
Various other disappointments followed from the UK and US, sometimes after agonisingly long times – one NY publisher took 13 months to respond. I never sent the same manuscript out twice – I always revised it several more times, and kept working on the other three volumes of the story.
In the early 90s, Australian publishers, particularly Pan Macmillan, began publishing speculative fiction. By this time my story was complete – I’d done about 18 tough drafts of A Shadow on the Glass and even 4 or 5 of the final book, The Way Between the Worlds.
Unfortunately, by the time my manuscript of A Shadow on the Glass arrived, Pan had been burned by a number of failures and were pulling back. They wrote me a nice but painful rejection letter, to the effect that, ‘We agonised about whether to publish your book, but decided not to.’
However they also did me a favour by suggesting I commission Dr Van Ikin, the long-time speculative fiction reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald, to assess the manuscript and provide suggestions for improvement. I did so, followed Van’s many suggestions to the letter and when he looked at the revised version he said, ‘You’ve got it! Send it out.’
By this time (January 1996) Harper Collins had had a big success with Sara Douglass’s Battleaxe, so I sent the mss to them, along with a copy of Van Ikin’s effusive letter. They rejected it, saying they’d be willing to consider a revised version. They also included comments from an unnamed external reviewer who thoroughly disagreed with Van’s assessment, and made a series of what I considered to be ill-informed critical comments about the book.
I didn’t bother to send them a revised version; instead I looked for another publisher. My father-in-law, John Rummery, a former English lecturer who had enjoyed the story, contacted a friend and colleague, John Cohen. John Cohen has an encyclopaedic knowledge of fantasy and for many years had been the editor of Reading Time, the book review journal of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (and he still is).
John loved the book and contacted Nancy Mortimer, then the education publisher at Penguin Australia, who asked to see it. In May 1996 I sent her the huge manuscripts of the first two books – a cardboard box full of paper. After looking the manuscripts over, Nancy agreed and gave them to Kay Ronai, a vastly experienced editor who had also edited some fantasy authors, asking for a book report. Kay loved the story and recommended that Penguin publish it. However she didn’t think they would, because Penguin hadn’t published fantasy for the adult market before, and they would have to commit to 4 very large books.
Kay’s report went to Erica Irving, then the publisher for the Children and Young Adults Department at Penguin. Erica wasn’t sure, and asked Isobelle Carmody, one of their star authors who wrote fantasy for younger readers, to take a look. Isobelle read the first book and said, ‘If you don’t publish this, someone else will.’
That’s how I came to be published.
I signed a contract with Penguin in October 1996 and the four books were published between February 1998 and September 1999. Only 11 years after I started writing, and 9 years after I began sending manuscripts.
The View from the Mirror is still in print in Australia 13 years later, incidentally. And in the UK.


My Tortuous Path to Publication

I’m not sure exactly when I had the idea of writing a fantasy novel, though it must have been sometime after July 1977, because that’s when I bought and read Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara.

It wasn’t the story that inspired me, though. I’d read a huge amount of fantasy by then and found the plot to be too close to The Lord of the Rings. My inspiration was the map – but not in a good way.

The map in The Sword of Shannara so irritated me (because it seemed so clichéd, and so wrong) that I sat down on the spot and began to create my own, based on what I believed a real fantasy world should look like. Here’s a small, early version, done in 1978.

This soon became an obsession. At a time when I was supposed to be writing my thesis, I redrew the maps in greater and greater detail, until they were the size of house doors, then began to work out 10,000 years of history (as one does), the politics and economies of some of the countries therein, the peoples and ecosystems.
And then, snatches of characters, many of whom would appear in The View from the Mirror a decade later – Mendark, Shuthdar and the Golden Flute, Yggur, Faelamor, Kandor (who became Rulke), Kyllian the bard, who became Llian the master chronicler, Karan, my favourite character, and Yfanna, who became Maigraith.
Finally, on June 25, 1979, on a train in Finland, I wrote the first snatch of the story – Kyllian leaving Chanthed for the mountain inn at Tullin. Not very good, is it? But at the time it wasn’t intended as part of a novel. It was just a moment that occurred to me.
What with finishing my thesis, taking a demanding consulting job, looking after little children and renovating a lovely but decrepit Victorian house in Sydney, 8 years went by before I had the time to formally begin writing – in longhand. It was September 1987 and I figured if I wrote 3 pages a day, I’d have a first draft done by Christmas.
By the time I was halfway through the story, then called The Mirror of Aachan, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing stories. I finished the first draft 5 days early but, to my astonishment, the story ended on a cliff-hanger with possibilities exploding out in all directions.
A month later I’d worked out that there would be four books to the story, now called The View from the Mirror, their titles and, in some detail, what would happen in each book. I did several more drafts of the first book then, in 1989, looked around for a publisher.
At the time, no Australian publishers were publishing science fiction or fantasy for the adult market – see my post on the Golden Age of Aussie Publishing, http://www.ian-irvine.com/the-golden-age-of-aussie-publishing/.
But I probably wouldn’t have sent it there anyway – I’d decided to try Unwin Hyman, in London, publishers of The Lord of the Rings and a number of other great fantasy novels. They knocked it back, but very kindly, saying that they’d be happy to see a revised version, or anything else I cared to send them. However when I sent a much revised version, months later, they had just been taken over by Harper Collins, who had closed their list.
Various other disappointments followed from the UK and US, sometimes after agonisingly long times – one NY publisher took 13 months to respond. I never sent the same manuscript out twice – I always revised it several more times, and kept working on the other three volumes of the story.
In the early 90s, Australian publishers, particularly Pan Macmillan, began publishing speculative fiction. By this time my story was complete – I’d done about 18 tough drafts of A Shadow on the Glass and even 4 or 5 of the final book, The Way Between the Worlds.
Unfortunately, by the time my manuscript of A Shadow on the Glass arrived, Pan had been burned by a number of failures and were pulling back. They wrote me a nice but painful rejection letter, to the effect that, ‘We agonised about whether to publish your book, but decided not to.’
However they also did me a favour by suggesting I commission Dr Van Ikin, the long-time speculative fiction reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald, to assess the manuscript and provide suggestions for improvement. I did so, followed Van’s many suggestions to the letter and when he looked at the revised version he said, ‘You’ve got it! Send it out.’
By this time (January 1996) Harper Collins had had a big success with Sara Douglass’s Battleaxe, so I sent the mss to them, along with a copy of Van Ikin’s effusive letter. They rejected it, saying they’d be willing to consider a revised version. They also included comments from an unnamed external reviewer who thoroughly disagreed with Van’s assessment, and made a series of what I considered to be ill-informed critical comments about the book.
I didn’t bother to send them a revised version; instead I looked for another publisher. My father-in-law, John Rummery, a former English lecturer who had enjoyed the story, contacted a friend and colleague, John Cohen. John Cohen has an encyclopaedic knowledge of fantasy and for many years had been the editor of Reading Time, the book review journal of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (and he still is).

John loved the book and contacted Nancy Mortimer, then the education publisher at Penguin Australia, who asked to see it. In May 1996 I sent her the huge manuscripts of the first two books – a cardboard box full of paper. After looking the manuscripts over, Nancy agreed and gave them to Kay Ronai, a vastly experienced editor who had also edited some fantasy authors, asking for a book report. Kay loved the story and recommended that Penguin publish it. However she didn’t think they would, because Penguin hadn’t published fantasy for the adult market before, and they would have to commit to 4 very large books.

Kay’s report went to Erica Irving, then the publisher for the Children and Young Adults Department at Penguin. Erica wasn’t sure, and asked Isobelle Carmody, one of their star authors who wrote fantasy for younger readers, to take a look. Isobelle read the first book and said, ‘If you don’t publish this, someone else will.’
That’s how I came to be published.
I signed a contract with Penguin in October 1996 and the four books were published between February 1998 and September 1999. Only 11 years after I started writing, and 9 years after I began sending manuscripts.
The View from the Mirror is still in print in Australia 13 years later, incidentally. And in the UK.

The Truth About Publishing – 15

Lesson 14: Putting your money where your manuscript is

Despite what the hucksters say, it’s better for a publisher to publish your novel than for you to do it yourself. Why? Because publishers have a vast knowledge of the market and what it takes to succeed in it. You don’t, and this knowledge of book editing, cover design, placement and marketing for any particular niche of the fiction market isn’t easily or cheaply acquired. Yes, you can buy these services, but how do you know you’re getting something worthwhile. More critically, how do you know it’s going to be right for your particular book?
Several new authors have achieved fame and fortune in recent years by publishing their own novels and promoting them relentlessly. Now it’s widely believed that this is the best option for all authors – a 70% royalty on Amazon and iBookstore is far better than the 10% royalty on a printed book, or 25% on a publisher’s eBook, isn’t it?
That depends on how many books you can sell by your own efforts. The authors who have succeeded spend a lot more time promoting their books than they do writing them – they’re professional promoters who write books rather than professional authors who are good at promoting. If you’re a professional promoter, maybe you can succeed too. But if you just want to write great books, and looking on promoting as a painful chore, you’re better off with a publisher.
One exception – if you’re a published writer with a backlist and a strong writer’s platform (e.g. popular blog, website, Facebook page, identity as an expert or public speaker, etc). If you can no longer get your books published with a traditional publisher, publish them yourself and you might do well. But it’s getting harder.
Explosion of EBooks
The barriers to self-publishing both print books and eBooks have fallen dramatically over the past decade. Has this made it easier to succeed? Not on your life. It’s made it much, much more difficult. Why?
Because the size of the book market (the number of books sold a year) hasn’t changed significantly, but the number of new titles published has exploded – in the US from 215,000 in 2002 to 2.7 million in 2010. http://www.bkconnection.com/static/10%20Awful%20Truths%20About%20Book%20Publishing%206-20-11.pdf
Average Sales Falling Every Year
Most of those titles are self-published eBooks, and probably only sell a handful of copies, but since there’s millions of them, they’re taking a sizeable slice of the pie. Every year it becomes harder to make your book stand out.
And it gets worse. Books used to go out of print when they stopped selling, but many eBooks stay in print forever. Every year it gets harder for you to sell the number of books you sold last year, and since the price of books isn’t going up, but your cost of living is, if you can’t sell more you’re going to be worse off.

Of course, most of those titles aren’t fiction. Matt Wilkens estimates that there were about 100,000 unique, novel-length fiction titles published worldwide in English in 2007. http://mattwilkens.com/2009/10/14/how-many-novels-are-published-each-year/. With the ease of self-publishing eBooks that number has probably risen greatly in the past few years, though currently no one seems to know what the true number of fiction titles is.
Self-Publishing
If you can’t get a traditional publisher, and you’re really sure you’ve written a good book, you can publish it yourself.
Print Self-Publishing
This isn’t easy, and it definitely isn’t cheap, but if you’ve got months to spare and $10,000 lying around with nothing to spend it on, you could consider self-publishing a printed book. Several of Australia’s best selling novelists began that way, and many other writers have in other countries. There are many options, Lulu being one of the biggest. http://www.lulu.com/publish/index.php?cid=en_tab_publish.
But the vast majority of self-publishers do their dough, so if you are going to do it, do it right, and get the right advice. Otherwise, you might as well tear your money up and flush it down the toilet. You must employ a professional editor, a professional cover designer and have the book typeset. This will cost you several thousand dollars, or more if your book is long and requires a lot of editing. Printing will cost you several thousand more dollars, or even more if it’s long or you have a lot of copies printed. For instance, 500 copies of a 400 page paperback at Lulu will cost $US 4,375, i.e. $8.75 each. Shipping will be extra. But paperbacks sell on Amazon for less than that price, so you’re already uncompetitive.
Don’t print more than 500. The biggest problem of all is distribution, which is why publishers have invested millions in it. It takes the most monumental effort for an individual to sell more than 300 – 400 copies, even if you get some good publicity and a few bookshops stock your books. Print too many and they’ll still be rotting in your garage in a decade.

Print On Demand
Margaret has pointed out, in the comments, that it may be cheaper to use a print on demand publisher. Here are some recent articles: http://smartwrite.com.au/2011/11/03/print-on-demand-publishing-is-it-for-you/, http://www.insearchofdesign.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=908:self-publishprint-on-demand-what-they-dont-tell-you&catid=291:printers&Itemid=121.

EBook Self-Publishing
Publishing an eBook solves both the printing and distribution problems, but you still have to spend the money on editing and cover design. The following article tells you how to do it, and what you get.
And you still have to promote it, but that’s another article – or ten. To get you started, you can download this free marketing eBook from Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/305. You’ll also find lots of useful advice and guides here: http://bookmarketingmaven.typepad.com/.
Being a published writer is a great and perilous adventure. Good luck!
Next, in PART 2 of this series, I’ll be talking about Surviving Publication.
Disagree with what I’ve said? Or would like more information? Please post a comment.


The Truth About Publishing – 14

Lesson 13: You’re not published until you’re in print (and sometimes not even then)

Deals fall over for all sorts of reasons, so don’t count your chickens until they’re roosting in a thousand bookshops. Here are some of the most common deal breakers, all of which have happened to writers I know or have heard about:
  • There was a ‘misunderstanding’ when the publisher made your agent an offer for your book. You don’t get a publishing contract after all, or you get a contract but a worse deal than originally offered.
  • The publisher goes bankrupt before your book is published. If they’ve paid the advance, you keep it. If they haven’t, you’re back in the queue.
  • Your editor leaves or is fired and her replacement hates your book and decides not to publish it. You keep the advance though.
  • The publisher is having a tough time and decides that they would lose money publishing your book, so cans it. You keep the advance and, if you’re lucky, they might pay you a small sum in lieu.
  • The editor loves your book and offers a terrific hardcover deal and great promotion, but the sales department or the major book buyers don’t agree that it has big sales potential. You get downgraded to paperback, with little or no promotion, and your potential income and sales are massively reduced.
  • Your book is found to be libellous and the publisher doesn’t want to get sued, so they cancel publication, or if it’s been printed, they withdraw the book and pulp it. You’ve violated your contract and have to pay back the advance, and they could even sue you for their losses.
  • Your non-fiction book is proven to be fraudulent, ditto.

Keep your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed. With sky-high expectations, you’ll be disappointed even if the book does well.