From Writer to Author – help along the way
Writers’ Clubs and Creative Writing Courses
Joining a writers’ group or taking a course will help you evaluate your work and help you move forward with your writing career. Meeting like-minded people in a group can give you extra motivation to keep going. It is also a great source of support, help and advice. In most groups, seeking and offering constructive criticism is a part of the group’s purpose. Prepare to listen to the comments that you receive – others are spending their free time reading your work in order to help you. In our libraries we currently have a Women’s Writing Group (in Richmond) and the Teddington Poetry Group.
Writing Festivals and Associations such as the Society of Authors
There are literary festivals all across the UK, look out for ones such as The Winchester Writers’ Festival, or the Charleston Festival that offer workshops, speakers and networking opportunities for writers. You could also attend genre-specific festivals, like the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival or the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival.
Professional Associations for writers usually charge for membership, however in return they offer support, advice, and sometimes monetary assistance. In the UK writers can join The Society of Authors, The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, The Alliance of Independent Authors, and many others.
When your work is ready to be launched it’s time to get it published. The main routes to publication are either self-publishing or having your work accepted by a traditional publisher.
If you are looking for a traditional publisher for your book you’ll probably want to contact a literary agent first. The role of the agent is to help you find the right publisher for your work and then to represent your interests in the marketing and promotion of it. In return, the literary agent earns a percentage commission on all sales of your book. Agents only make money if you are successful which gives them every incentive to find you the best deal. Remember, agents are much more knowledgeable in the field of publishing than you and have a whole range of contacts to draw from. Research agents first to find out who represents similar authors writing in your genre as your work.
If you choose to do without the services of an agent, you could try submitting your manuscript directly to a publisher. Publishers receive a lot of unsolicited submissions but they do sometimes publish them – you might be lucky. Start by doing the leg-work and investigating the publishing business. Different publishers specialise in different types of books so do some research first. Go to the library or a bookstore and see who has published books in the same genre as yours.
Don’t forget to check the publisher’s website to see if they’ll take your manuscript. Unfortunately you may find something like this, (from the website of a well-known publisher):
We don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts at ___. However, if you are looking for general advice on submitting a manuscript, your local library is a great place to start. Alternatively, a Literary Agent will know the most suitable publisher to take your manuscript to. A comprehensive listing of UK literary agents can be found in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, published annually by A & C Black.
The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (there’s also a version for Children’s writers) is considered the bible for aspiring writers. It is chock-full of advice, essays, inspiration and listings to help you on your way. Their website provides a link to further services for writers as well. We have reference copies of the latest edition in our libraries.
The Guide to Literary Agents and The Poets Market are also available in libraries. Although these titles deal specifically with the American publishing scene they are excellent resources for general ‘how to’ information.
Traditional Publishing versus Self-Publishing
In a traditional publishing arrangement, the publisher pays you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time.
The benefits of traditional publishing include having access to the publisher’s links to bookstores, professional editors and a marketing team. You may receive an advance – the author is often paid some money up front (which comes out of your royalties), prestige, and access to literary prizes as only published (i.e. not self-published) authors are eligible to enter many major book prizes.
There are drawbacks to going this route, however. Firstly, others will get 75% or more of the proceeds of your work, also traditional publishing is a slow process. Once you sign a contract there is a loss of creative control and you’ll have contractual obligations. This may impact your future work (or even your previously published work) as well as your ability to sell the book in other countries or publish in other formats. Do some research about contracts and seek advice about protecting your creative rights before signing anything.
Some people opt to self-publish. While not easy, the benefits include total control of the process and no loss of rights. You can keep much of the profit, only a small percentage goes to the platform you’re using. A successful self-published book will raise your profile and traditional agents and publishers will be able to see your work. If your book is one that appeals to niche readers, it may be easier to promote it yourself.
Drawbacks of self-publishing
In addition to being the writer you will be the publisher. You will edit, illustrate, design, promote and distribute. You’ll spend your own money to get your book out there and will only recoup your costs if your book sells enough copies. Your work may not be accepted for entry into writing competitions. Bookstores prefer to work through recognised publishers. There is confusion between “vanity publishing” and self-publishing. “Vanity Publishing” companies charge the author a sum to “publish” and offer nothing in return except a few poor-quality copies of the book.
Proper self-publishing companies may charge authors for editing and design services but not an unreasonable amount. Research companies and check reviews before committing to any contracts or deals.
Literary Competitions and Book Prizes
I’m sure most authors dream of winning a big literary award not only for the cash but for the prestige. Not everyone can win the Booker Prize but there are lots of smaller prizes in existence; have a look at the variety of competitions out there. Among the benefits of entering writing competitions is the exposure of your work to a larger audience. You will also have your work read by professional judges and possibly have reviews or publication in the press.
Visit the Library!
You may find that your local library hosts writers groups or literary events that you can attend. They’ll also have many really useful titles to help you find your way into the publishing world. In Richmond upon Thames libraries, in addition to the previously mentioned Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, you’ll find helpful titles like Get Your Book Published, How to Publish Your Own Book, The Beginners Guide to Writing a Novel, Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Guide to Getting Published, Get started in Self-Publishing, 100 ways to publish and sell your e-book, and many more!
[Elaine McClelland, Library Assistant]