Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pitfalls of Publishing

New writers and amateur writers often fail to see the pitfalls ahead that will keep their book from being the best it can be. They don't understand why booksellers don't want to sell their books. Why aren't their books selling?

They spend months, years sometimes, writing the story they felt compelled to put on paper. They share these stories with family and friends. Mothers, sisters, sons and daughters say all the things they know the author wants to hear. The family encourages the author, and well they should. But few of the author's family have the expertise to help him polish and make the manuscript he has poured over all those months into a finished product that readers can't wait to share with their friends; that book store owners recommend to their customers.


A novice writer often becomes frustrated when he self-publishes his story after it has been rejected a few times by traditional publishers or by a couple of agents. After all everyone he knows has claimed he should publish the book. But only his friends and family buy the book. He can't understand what has gone wrong.

A short time ago I attended a reading by a delightful woman who had written the story of her life. She did not read so much as she told us, the audience, about her exciting accomplishments. As Patricia Fry says, Personality sells books, and everyone in that room lined up to buy the book. A few weeks later when I had time to delve into the memoir, I was stunned and saddened by how poorly it had been put together. 

The punctuation was correct. Grammar was good. Anecdotes were amusing, but within the first three chapters, she had repeated one scene two or three times. A good editor would have caught this and made sure those repetitions were removed. 

It isn't uncommon for a writer to repeat himself when he is writing his first draft. Pat Conroy, author of Prince of Tides, says that is one of his worst traits, but his proof readers find those places for him and they are removed. A good editor will catch mistakes such as calling the neighbor boy Ed in the first chapter, but calling him Ted in the eighth chapter. 

I talked with a man who is in process of writing a historical novel set in our local area. He is excited about the book and his story seems like it will be a page turner, but I hope he will invest in his writing by having a number of proof readers and then hiring a professional editor if he plans to self-publish as many are doing today. A content editor knows when material is redundant, when it should be moved into another chapter or left out entirely. That is what they do.

All writers do not know how to punctuate dialogue. Where do the quotation marks go? Writing convincing dialogue is not easy. The reader must hear the character speaking and not be bogged down by trying to decipher what is going on in a conversation. 

If the author wants to publish in the traditional manner, hires an agent and then gets a publisher, his manuscript should be polished and in good form to impress first the agent and then the publisher. Publishers will edit a manuscript before it is printed and put out for public consumption, but even Pat Conroy wants his book at its best before he mails it to his publisher. Luckily for Pat, his wife is a successful author and she helps edit his books. 

We don't all live with successful writers and we must depend on our writer friends or writing teachers who can help us with the proofing. We still need to invest in a professional editor, or a book doctor, who can take the book out of the amateur stage and make it into the polished gem we want to present to the world.

On October 19, 2:30 p.m. at Moss Library in Hayesville, NC Writers Circle is sponsoring a panel discussion on Prepare to Publish. On this panel will be Kathryn Magendie, author of a number of books published by Belle Books. Also on this panel will be Maren O. Mitchell, author of a non-fiction book, Beat Chronic Pain; An Insider's Guide. Nadine Justice is the author of I'm a Coal Miner's Daughter But I Cain't Sang, a memoir that takes us from the coal mines of her youth to her success as an Interior Designer in Atlanta. 

My experience in publishing books began with a family history book in 1998 and a poetry chapbook published by Finishing Line Press in 2009. None of us are experts in the field of publishing, but we can tell what we learned along the way - what we should have done and what we would do better next time. We will have a question and answer session and hope our audience will come ready to take notes. 
There is no charge for this event. Much appreciation to Moss Library and Mary Fonda, librarian. Refreshments will be served during break.

6 comments:

Ellen said...

Great post, Glenda. According to Bowker, the number of self-published books rose 287% between 2006 & 2012. Add to that the fact that very few titles sell 100,000+ and you begin to understand why authors need to make sure that their book is as good as it can be. I hope that this event helps aspiring publishers to be realistic in their goals.

Glenda C. Beall said...

Thank you, Ellen, for this good advice. Sometimes when things are too easy, or too cheap, we get what we pay for and that is often a low quality book. But we don't want to be scammed by vanity presses either. New authors must be careful and knowledgeable.

renaissancerebecca said...

Great post and great advice Glenda. I don't think new writers understand the value of an editor until they hire one. I know someone who sent her book out to publishers without having it edited professionally. She got pleasant rejections. Then she bit the bullet and hired an editor (through NCWN no less), and was stunned by all that she learned. Worth every penny. I will surely do the same.

Glenda Beall said...

I hope new writers will come to our program at the library and learn all they can before publishing.
Sometimes new authors think they are self-publishing when they are actually using a vanity press. We will discuss that at the library.

Lise said...

Great information Glenda. Do I need to register to participate on Saturday or just attend? I'm very interested!

Glenda C. Beall said...

No need to register, Lise. Just come and enjoy. I look forward to meeting you in person!
You might want to take notes, so bring a note pad. I will have some handouts, too.