Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Publishing Business

Riverside Writers’ meeting last night was unusually well attended, largely due to the coverage given in the local press about an event I'd organised. We were joined by Gary Smailes from Bubblecow http://www.bubblecow.com/  who delivered an information-packed talk about today’s publishing business and the value of social networking.

First Gary talked about the pros and cons of self-publishing, and the various options available. These roughly fall into two categories - the kind you pay for, or the web-based sort where you upload your MS to a print-on-demand site.

Self-publishing is really only a valid option if you plan to sell a limited number of copies to a pre-established audience, such as friends and family or a circle of acquaintances who share a specific interest relevant to your book.

Increasingly, mainstream publishers instantly reject any self-published works unless they have sold an absolute minimum of 3,000 copies, and very few achieve this.

Gary then moved on to discussing the emerging importance of small publishing houses, many of which actively welcome new authors who show promise.

A writer seeking a deal with a big-name publisher, however, really does need an agent, and Gary spent a considerable amount of time explaining the importance of finding an appropriate agent and how to approach them through email, cover letters and MS submissions.

Cover letters should not be dashed off in a morning, he said. Set it aside for a week then come back to it. Comb the letter through for errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar. Get someone else to look at it and find faults. This letter is likely to be your first-contact sales pitch, so you need to get it right.

Then Gary moved on to the subject of traditional publishers and what they’re looking for. The big-name houses are inundated with unknown or barely-known writers hoping for attention, and many of these have false ideas about the business.

One of the first things any agent or publisher does these-days, when looking at a promising MS, is run a Google search on the author’s name. If little or nothing results, it will probably be assumed that the author has no audience - which translates into minimal prospective sales. Gary encouraged everyone to develop a central site, such as a blog, and then add two or three social network sites. (Riverside Writers’ members have heard me tell them this numerous times!) Twitter came highly recommended - in fact it was via Twitter that Gary and I met.

Gary had invited questions from the audience throughout, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone enjoyed his talk and learned something new.

Thanks go to Gary Smailes for his hard work.  Thanks also go to West Kirby Library staff for rapidly finding us a bigger room to hold the meeting in, as numbers exceeded expectations.

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