When can you consider yourself a writer? Some say it’s if you write every day, whether a journal entry or a poem. Some give themselves the title even if all they do is sit around and dream. But most would agree that if you get published, if you get a book on the shelves, then you can officially call yourself a writer.
The problem is that it is increasingly difficult to do that. Like pretty much the rest of the population, you feel like you have a book in you, but the big boys aren’t interested. They’re more preoccupied with cutting staff from all departments, collating a run of useless imprints and giving Amazon the finger when Jess Bezos turns his back. The only books that sell are 80-year-old authors of popular fiction and celebrity chef photo shoots, at least until the former die (soon), and in the case of the latter, the world erupts in food riots (soon). What’s a budding young writer with a nifty idea and a fresh voice to do?
1. Write the damn thing
In the past, self-publishing was relegated to a ‘vanity project’, only viable for the already-rich who wanted a book to add to their accolades. Fortunes have shifted, and now self-publishing is more accessible for those with any type of story ready to go. That said, you should avoid some key genres: erotica, supernatural and especially supernatural erotica. If you describe your novel as “an Agatha Christie crime mystery, with influences from Twilight and Indiana Jones,” then maybe post it on your blog. Or better yet, not at all. Knowing the market has always been a guessing game, but some things will never attract an audience (excluding your mum).
2. Polish makes published
Your manuscript is deemed acceptable by your writing group—now what? I hate to break it to you, but it’s still awful. Now you need to hire an editor (and no, not your English teacher Aunt). It doesn’t matter how many times you read it, there will always be a way to improve the writing, and the best person to help you do so is the professional who hasn’t read it yet and charges a hefty fee. While you’re at it, you should source a designer to make a stand-out book cover—visuals sell. It’s unlikely you’ll have the skills – as a low-level banker or housewife – to bang together a decent-looking (let alone readable) book. After the nitty gritty is done your confidence will be up, your savings down, and your dreams that much closer to reality.
3. Books, books everywhere, but not a bit to read
These days we’re simply drowning in literature (though I use that noun loosely). Not only are official gatekeepers of the written word pumping out pages at unprecedented rates, but the ease with which an individual can sell their story is increasing constantly. There’s a hundred online companies, including Authonomy and Author Solutions, offering self-publishing services, from editing to distribution. If you’re tight on cash and want to go digital, there is Smashwords, Wattpad and even Amazon. With a few simple clicks your baby can be out there on the interwebs waiting for poor, misguided browsers to accidentally hit the ‘1-click’ buy button. Congratulations, you’ve made it.
4. Shill, shill until you can’t feel no more
Hang on a second, back up. There’s still the marketing to do. Just because your book is out there for all to see doesn’t mean that it will be seen by all. Have you thought about your metadata? Do you have a Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Branch and, hell, a Myspace account? Do you know what Vine is, and would you consider using it for a book trailer? If you thought writing a book was hard, wait until you have to constantly update your blog with mundane anecdotes about your cat. And no, a book tour isn’t viable for a self-published author.
That’s all you need to worry about if you’re thinking of going the self-publishing route. With a little bit of investment, a lot of time and a metric shit ton of luck, you may end up being the next E.L. James or Hugh Howey. But it’s more than likely that that won’t happen.
Suddenly, the slush pile doesn’t look so bad.