Is traditional publishing for you? Only you, the writer, can say. Of course, we are assuming that your work is good enough to get an offer from a traditional house. Here are some of the things you should consider before making your decision.
First and foremost, are you a team player? Writing is a very solitary profession, and if that’s your comfort zone, you might not be suited to publishing in the traditional sense. Once your work is accepted by an agent or publisher, you are no longer a sole proprietor of the work. You now have a team who is invested in your book and its success. You no longer will make all the decisions, and those which you do make, you probably won’t make alone. Your manuscript is no longer “your” baby. It belongs to both you and the publisher. Generally, this is a good thing. The publisher brings a team of professionals into the process, all of whom are dedicated to making your book the very best that it can be.
So, if you tend to be a control freak, or suffer from an inability to trust others with your work, self-publishing might be a better path for you. Professional editors, proofreaders, layout artists, cover designers, publicists and all the other professionals on your publishing team expect you to listen to their advice and to communicate and behave professionally about your work. If you don’t, your work is unlikely to be published and you may have to compensate them for wasted time on your behalf. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have no input once you are signed by a publisher. That varies by publisher, but it does mean that the publisher who is investing their time and money to produce your book has the final say. If your work doesn’t meet their standards for any reason, it is your responsibility to make the suggested changes so that it does. If the image you want for the cover is not in line with covers for similar books and the expectations of your audience, your publisher will not use it. After all, they have a great deal more experience in this area and aim to make a profit for both you and them. If you can’t trust their expertise and wisdom in such areas, you should take another look at self-publishing.
The larger the publisher, the less input and control you will have. In return, you will have no out-of-pocket expenses for the professional services needed to turn your manuscript into a published book and properly market it to maximize sales and profits.
If you can work well with a team, great that’s the first challenge.
You’ve been working on your manuscript, certainly for months if not years. No one could tell you when it had to be finished or what you had to do next. When you sign a publishing contract that changes. Now, probably for the first time in your writing career, you have deadlines to meet. Your editor will send edits to be made and returned and there will be a deadline. You will probably be asked to work on your next book…and there will be a deadline. If you can’t work under deadlines, maybe you should take another look at self-publishing. They are a necessary part of the business. If your edits aren’t returned on time, the editor isn’t annoyed and waiting for you to finally get around to them. (S)He is working on the next book and production of yours is delayed. This causes schedules to be adjusted at every step of the publishing process and is a major inconvenience as well as a blackeye to you as a writer. Your publication date and that of your future books will need to be adjusted because your publisher knows from hard experience that releasing a new title every four to six months builds your readership and that it requires six to nine books to establish your brand and a reasonable fan-base to earn you a decent income.
If unforeseen circumstances cause a delay, a timely explanation to your editor will probably get you off the hook—once. Unless your name is Tom Clancy, J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, the chances of a second pass are slim and a third less than unlikely.
If you don’t pass all the above conditions, save everyone a lot of time and trouble and consider self-publishing. There you retain virtually total control. You get 100% of any royalties on the books you sell. However, you will no longer be a full-time writer. You will be a writer, editor, publicist and marketing manager. All of these will require at least equal amounts of time and energy. Before you can self-publish your book with any hope of decent, not large but decent royalties, you will need to spend approximately $1500 to $3000 for all the professional services the traditional publisher was including prior to publication. Of course, you could take time off from writing for five or six years to study and become passably competent in these tasks.
Once you publish your book, you will need to set aside a minimum of an hour per day to promote it. Eventually, you are likely to earn $50 to $300 in royalties from this book over time. Your next one is likely to produce about the same because, by the time you complete it, you have lost whatever following you gained from the first one. Of course, you could wait until you have six to nine titles ready to go and release them on an optimum schedule. That would be entirely up to you as a self-publishing author. After your sixth to ninth book is released on a timely schedule, you can expect any more titles released on that schedule to probably earn enough to pay your costs. But the cost of those first six or so, you should consider simply a necessary cost of doing business just like a computer or a business license.
So, how about you? Are you better suited to traditional publishing or should you do it all yourself?
Writing with Emotion
Writing emotion is one of the toughest things a writer can do, but done right, it elevates your work from a passably good story to a really great story.
The key to conveying emotion is to allow your reader to experience what your character is experiencing and to relate it, in some way, to their own experiences. We’ve all been angry, afraid, mournful, and happy. We need to draw out those emotions in the reader to really make that connection with our characters.
It doesn’t always take that many words to do this either. Think of a sad song. Listen to it and see how the writer chose the words and scenes to first make you feel a connection and then to introduce a tragic element. Chances are, that they did it in less than 300 words. Sure, the music adds to the overall feeling, but even in our Flash Fiction Fridays, you have another 700 words or so to paint the backdrop that the music represents. Make it appropriate.
Maybe you’ve felt loneliness at home. But, to convey that feeling to your reader, it might be better to place your character on a windswept, overcast coastline, or near some sheer peaks, or even in a seemingly endless desert. Any of these would amplify the loneliness.
Give your character a relatable trait or quirk. If loneliness is the emotion you are trying to convey, give them something recognizable and sympathetic. Maybe they have a lisp or a stutter. We all know that isn’t their fault and will immediately feel some sympathy. Then show (don’t tell) their isolation. You can do this with interactions with other characters (maybe your character is the wall-flower at the dance), or you can do it with inner dialog. If you use inner dialog, don’t make it too self-pitying or you’ll lose the reader’s sympathy.
Say that the emotion you are going for is joy. Build up to it. For example, show your bride-to-be’s growing excitement as she goes through the wedding planning. Hint at her nervousness to give her a challenge to overcome. Increase the tension with a ticking clock to the wedding date. Make sure she blushes as she walks down the aisle. Have her dig her fingernails into her palm as she hopes to remember her vows. Then show her happiness and relief when he kisses his bride.
Emotion isn’t an easy task for a writer, but the more you practice it, the easier it will be. Go back to some of your old, unsold pieces and try to figure out what emotion would make them stronger, then rewrite them to add it in. You might just find that they are, now, very marketable.