So You Want to Write a Book?
So You Want to Write a Book?By Maya Anderson
Many people dream of publishing a book and having their name in print. But if rejections are getting you down, there’s another way to see your name gracing those covers.
At one stage or other, most people have daydreamed about seeing their name gracing a cover in the local bookstore. But we all know that it’s not always smooth sailing for wannabe authors - even J K Rowling had rejection letters before her first Harry Potter novel was accepted by British publisher Bloomsbury Press.
A great way to get your name in print without the pain of rejection or the agony of waiting months and months to hear back from a publisher is to self-publish, says successful author Roslyn Motter. An acupuncturist with her own home clinic, Roslyn writes on her home computer while waiting for patients, and did the bulk of her writing over a period of five years, setting herself a goal to write at least 1000 words daily.
Roslyn has just finished writing her 18th manuscript in the Doofuzz Dudes series of children’s adventure books, and has published her first four books in the series, Rescue Moondar, Princess Detector, Babbling Bottles and Black Pearl of Laramoth. The books are about a club of children called the Doofuzz Dudes who discover people from another world called Moondar, and are aimed at boys and girls aged from reading age seven to 12. Roslyn now tours expansively around schools and her books are available in bookstores as well as online.
Roslyn says the hardest part of writing is starting. “I found that if I forced myself to work, then once I got into the swing of it I’d find that I was often able to keep writing as more ideas flooded in,” she says.
Then it became time to send her first manuscript out to editors. “Like most authors I had difficulty getting my first manuscript published so after a couple of rejections I got sick of waiting and decided to publish the first four books myself,” says Roslyn, who did a course on self-publishing to learn how.
“When you self-publish, you take on all the duties of the publisher without any help from assistants,” she says. “Firstly, you have to get all the administrative details attended to such as collecting CIP numbers, ISBNs and barcodes.”
If you choose to self-publish, getting your work professionally edited is essential. Editing is not just about looking for typos; it’s also about looking for good construction and mistakes of logic. “In one story, I had my young hero using his asthma puffer six times in one day. It was very nicely pointed out to me that this just might kill the poor kid – oops!” Roslyn laughs. “Three asthma puffing sessions were immediately deleted.”
Roslyn then had to find someone who had a computer program for making a book file, so that the whole book could be put together.
While self-publishing is rarely cheap, there are some ways you may be able to save on the process. As Roslyn’s books are for children, she decided they needed to be illustrated, but felt a bit set back when she found out illustrators can ask for $200 or more per piece of artwork. “Luckily I found a budding artist in my own family – my 13-year-old niece, Kimberley,” Roslyn says. “She read the books and produced some wonderfully quirky pieces of artwork for approval. I gave her the job immediately!”
You will also need to hire a cover designer, which will also add to your costs. “Here again, I had great luck,” Roslyn says. “My brother was attending a class at college with a graphic designer who had previously designed children’s book covers.” So ask around – you never know who might know someone. “Remember the adage, never judge a book by its cover? Well, people do,” Roslyn laughs. “So you will need expert advice in getting a cover designed.”
Finding a Printer
After you’ve written your story, arranged the images and your book file is ready, you’ll have to find a good printer, which can be a challenge. Roslyn said she was amazed at the huge range in quotes between printers, with there being a variance of five dollars per book between her most expensive quote and the one she finally accepted. “This is one area where the self-publisher will need to be very vigilant,” she advises. “Three quotes will not be enough – try for at least ten!” Ask to see samples of their work before you make your final decision – the printer with the lowest price may not necessarily be the best. You’ll also need to choose the paper.
A very important thing relating to your covers is that your books have an ISBN number or barcode – if your books don’t have these, then you’ll never be able to sell them to libraries or shops. A word of caution from Roslyn – after you’ve sent the book file to the printers and received the proof copy of your book, check carefully for typos and also make sure the ISBN on the back cover is identical with the ISBN in the front of the book. “If there’s a mistake here, you’ll be giving your book out as presents for eternity,” she laughs.
How Many Books?
Choosing the number of copies to print can be a big dilemma. “Do you print a safe 1,000, or reduce printing costs per book by printing 3,000?” Roslyn says. Although your copy price is greatly reduced when you order bigger quantities, you’ll then have to store them and then sell them all. “Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry – order 1,000 or 1,500 copies and when you’ve become famous you’ll feel much better about ordering another 5,000 copies because you’ll know you can definitely sell them.” It can be very disheartening to lose profits because you only sold 1000 copies out of 3000 printed. You’ll also need to have space to store your books in a dry, heat-free place that is safe from rats!
Marketing Your Work
Unless you only want to self-publish a book to give to your family and friends, chances are you will need to be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing and publicity to get your name out there as you won’t have the help of a publishing company with a publicity department that have access to distributors. Although distributors aren’t generally interested in dealing with self-published books, take heart. Author James Redfield, who self-published The Celestine Prophecy, initially sold his books out of the trunk of his Honda. In the end, he was given a contract by Warner Books and the novel became a worldwide bestseller – so the effort was probably worth it!
The marketing can be an enormous challenge, as it can be very energy and time-consuming, and also hinder you from continuing writing. Come up with a marketing plan that does justice to your book – get a good media release written, together with high-resolution photographs, and from a copy of a writer’s handbook, send out review copies of your book together with the media release to all the relevant radio announcers, newspapers, magazines and newsletters you can think of.
Roslyn finds she makes her sales by selling books to public libraries (in four states), school libraries, directly to children in schools and to a number of bookshops.
“As a published author I have to do a lot of unpaid promotional work, otherwise no-one knows I exist,” Roslyn says. As part of this, last year she visited 80 schools and met thousands of children and hundreds of teachers.
During her visits and promotional work, she talks about the books and the characters, reads excerpts and gives talks on creative writing. “This is great for both myself and the children – I’ve become a much more confident and polished speaker, and I get to hear the children’s views about what they want from books,” Roslyn says. “They also give me good ideas for my future books!”
Unfortunately due to the huge amounts of money that often need to be invested in self-publishing, it can be a long time before you break even on your projects. “Due to the huge amounts I’ve invested in this project, it will be a long time and a whole lot more book sales before I’ve even broken even,” Roslyn says. “I’ve spent tens of thousands on having three websites constructed, PR fees, having posters, T-shirts, balloons and stickers printed for giveaways, buying amplifying systems to save my voice at schools, a new computer and much more. The wear and tear on my car, driving all over the state, proved too much and I had to get a new car too.”
Still Interested in Self-Publishing?
It’s a trek that will need hard work and effort on your part, but self-publishing can be incredibly rewarding and you’ll also learn a lot from the process, says Roslyn. “I love how I’m working my way through the book business,” she says. “I’ve written the books, found a fantastic editor, organised the art work and the cover designs, organised the compilation and researched printers. I’ve written newspaper and magazine articles on the books and I’ve promoted the books through schools, book shows and in book shops and I’m about to go on community radio. In fact it’s a very exciting experience meeting so many talented people as I learn about the book trade.”
She is a wealth of advice for other women who want to publish their manuscripts. “Be prepared to spend heaps of money and time – have a lot of patience and a great marketing plan,” she says. “Most of all, be hugely determined. Anything less than single-minded determination will mean you will not succeed, and if you let these destroy you then you will be doomed to failure. I was told that it takes ten years to become an overnight success in the writing business.”
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