This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which was published on 12th February. In each post I try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways it can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. To get a flavour of the sort of events you might do, have a look at the Events page on my website (and if you're inspired to book one, do come and say hello!)
THE PRACTICALITIES OF EVENTS
By event, I mean anything where you, the writer, are there, talking about your book or a related subject, usually (we hope) in conjuction with your books being sold and probably you signing them. They might include:
launches: your editor may well support a launch by paying for the wine and making a lovely speech about your book's wonderfulness and their enthusiasm for it, as if your family and friends actually needed prompting to buy lots of your books. Bookshops are the natural venue, upstairs in a pub is nice; only big names who can garner serious publicity for the paying publisher, or energetic authors with cash to spare, are likely to have a launch in a cool or headline-grabbing venue.
signings: most writers have no-one-turned-up horror stories, so these days an event usually offers people something more. Only the very big commercial names can attract a queue just for a signature.
big literary festivals from posh, rural Hay-on-Wye, to cool and buzzy Aye Write, spread across several venues and weekends in Glasgow. This is a good listing site. Festivals tend to focus on literary and high-end commercial fiction and non-fiction; the big names in very commercial fiction also figure, but run-of-the-mill commercial writers don't easily find a place. Many festivals have a creative-writing strand: could you do a workshop, as I am at Stratford?
small literary & arts festivals: a single day or a weekend, powered by passionate volunteers, or as part of the general programme of an venue such as Chiddingstone Castle, or as one element of a local arts festival. Hopefully they also court local media, so make sure you tell them if you have any local connections.
genre & specialist festivals: the grandmother is the Harrogate Crime Festival, but then there's Bloody Scotland, Jewish Book Week, the Festival of Romance...
non-book venues: Of all the events I'm doing I am of course super-thrilled to be at Down House with English Heritage. What history, themes or people in your book might suit a non-book venue?
writer development agencies:each region has one, which organises events to support literature, creative writing and writers' professional development in the region.
libraries: often have a programme of booky events and evenings
bookshops: do more and more as they compete with the online sellers. My local Village Books is an admirable specimen of the breed. Sometimes a higher ticket price includes a copy of the book, and/or wine and nibbles, both of which are a good way of making sure the book sells.
salons & readings: where the poets' slams and open-mics meet the conventional literary event: perhaps in a pub, definitely with alcohol. You'll be alongside the poets in selling your own books.
book groups: energetic book groups run by libraries, bookshops or individuals may sometimes invite an author, and usually they'll actually have read the book.
writers' circles: if you are known for talking about writing, you may be asked to talk, or give a workshop
writers conferences: similarly, if you can talk interestingly and usefully about writing in general, not just your own, you may get invited to speak, join a panel or give one-to-one feedback. The People's Museum in Manchester has a historical fiction conference centred on the Peterloo Massacre in May, then there's Winchester, York, Verulam and so on.
universities & colleges: if your writing is at the literary end of things, you may be invited to read and/or talk to the creative writing or English department. Your own alma maters (almae matres) may also be pleased to tout a graduate who has published books to their students in a Careers day. This past event, at Goldsmiths, was typical.
schools: for children's writers schools gigs are bread-and-butter, but schools may be interested in other writers, either talking to the Sixth Form, or as part of their careers programme.
You might be taking part in
you on your own, talking about your work and reading extracts, ending with Q&A. Some authors love these, some find being solo on a platform daunting, and it would always be fair to ask if it could be:
an illustrated talk given by you, about the topic of your book, perhaps with some readings. That'll be me at Haselmere Festival, then. Makes obvious sense for non-fiction, but if you can pull a non-fiction topic out of your fiction it can go down very well. Plus Q&A.
a panel of you and two or three other authors, hopefully with a chairperson to keep things coherent. This would usually be themed - gothic storytelling, or women in war, say, or Families and How to Survive them. (I'm looking forward to that one!)
as "featured author" as part of a book-slam type evening, along with an open mike and other writers
a "meet the author or "big book group" type event, These are great fun: the audience have (mostly) read (most of) the book, and you'll probably be reading a couple of extracts; that's the context of my Peterloo event. It's a privilege to have a proper dialogue with real readers.
a panel game at conferences, particularly: a lighthearted quiz, or a "My era is better than yours", or "James Bond vs George Smiley" debate, with authors speaking, and the audience voting before and after.
a children's event: talk and questions, maybe some writing, drawing or activities. These are very hard work but great fun, say my kid fic friends, and can sell lots of books. Schools are the big market, but libraries, bookshops and literary festivals also hold them
How you get the gigs More in Being Published 5: Publicity but there's a lot you can do yourself, specially locally. Festivals and venues are usually programming perhaps six months or more ahead, and any hook helps - alumna/alumnus, local author, interesting or relevant topic. Joining the appropriate authors' professional association - Historical Writers Association, Crime Writers Association, Romantic Novelists Association - is a good idea, both for events that they hitch up with, and for networking: could you and a couple of others present yourselves as a ready-made themed panel? You could offer to chair/interview other authors: it gets you on the platform and your books on the stall, even if you're not the headline act.
Practicalities Make sure you have solid, confirmed information about times, venues, fees, expenses, travel arrangments, accommodation, any interviews or recordings they want to make, who's supplying the books and who is selling them. You selling and signing and chatting to readers all at once is suprisingly stressful: if the organiser really can't get someone to do it, could you bring a friend?
If you have a publicist they should send all this on, and get your questions answered, but they are juggling a lot of authors, so keep your own eye out. And don't rely on the event to tell you when it's live on their website, though hopefully they'll tag you on Twitter: check occasionally, get it up on your website, and do your own tweeting, tagging them.
The Society of Authors has a specimen booking form for you to use, and send to an organiser to confirm. Not all of us, shall we say, are that organised, but we probably should be. It is not unknown for a big festival to ask a small author if they'll do a gig, and then "forget" to put them on the programme - and occasionally a publicist may fail to pass on your acceptance. Another reason to make sure you get proper details, briskly.
If you're anxious to bag cheap travel tickets don't jump the gun too early: things do change, and if ticket sales are really poor it's better for everyone to agree to cancel than you show up to an empty room. Conversely, a couple of times I've been asked at the fairly last minute to chair something, as well as do my own event.
Fees So many of us, both writers and event organisers, are embarrassed about talking money. But you are self-employed and need to eat, and even if you're a squillionaire, events cost you time and hard-earned professional skills - so why wouldn't you deserve paying? By law the Society of Authors can't set out recommended fees, but they can talk about what rates they observe, so that's a good guide, and quoting them can help the faint-of-heart author to overcome their own embarrassment. The Society also have lots of guides to different kinds of events, for both writers and organisers, which are super-helpful.
Many arts festivals started in a volunteer shoestring spirit and even now at many there genuinely isn't all that much money in it for anyone. But some very big festivals historically have had a very bad habit of not paying their authors except for the really big names which attract the headlines - and the problem is that we need and want the exposure, so they have been able to get away with it. But are the rest of us really worth less than their marquee-hire and their bar staff? I have sat in a tent with c.100 people in the audience who paid £8 a ticket, not a penny of which came to me. I signed maybe 30 paperbacks... which made me around £15 in royalties.
But festivals are now big business, and since a high-profile kerfuffle far more festivals build a modest but functional fee for all authors into their budgeting - not least because the Arts Council will no longer fund festivals which don't. But you may have to ask, and you may wish to resist the "Tick this box to donate your fee to the festival" suggestion - or you may be very happy to support them. You may also be told - or, I'd hope, asked - about your event being live-streamed or podcasted. This is not a trivial difference, since while Open Access may be a praiseworthy aspiration, it arguably reduces the demand for you, if your material is sloshing freely about on YoutTube in perpetuity. The Society of Authors also has advice about this: at the very least you should be offered a considerably increased fee.
And although the fees are welcome, they don't represent an hourly rate you could live on. This is why the defenders of book piracy of who claim that it doesn't matter if our books are pirated, because writers can earn a living doing events instead, are talking nonsense.
Universities are usually fine for expenses but do sometimes forget that we don't have a salary - or are just embarrassed to discuss it: a particular academic crime is for the accounts department to try to pay you via payroll and PAYE, instead of via your invoice. That's incredibly tiresome for us, and even HMRC says is simply incorrect. Again, there's help in the relevant Society of Authors Guide.
A writers' circle may well divide your fee for a workshop among them and be perfectly happy. Bookshops simply don't pay fees, and libraries often don't, book groups and local stand-up type evenings usually don't either. And all of these, you may feel, are a Good Thing suffering hard times and reaching a demographic you won't reach other ways: of course you may choose to do it for free, or for expenses (or ask your publisher to pay), or you may decide that you still need paying, and decline the invitation
I wouldn't, myself, ever turn down a nearish bookshop: a very important rule of authoring is to always be nice to booksellers. Apart from the fact that they are far better read and more passionate booklovers even than most of us writers, and usually very supportive of local authors, and almost invariably lovely people - society needs bookshops.
Expenses For festivals, the traditional division is for your publisher to pay travel costs, and the event to pay accommodation if you need it: subsistence should come into it too. You, of course, are paying in time, expertise, hard work and lost writing time. This is not a day out. If your publisher is tiny and simply can't, or is being more than usually ruthless in their cost/benefit analysis, first ask the festival, then... you'll have to decide what it's worth to you.
So how do you decide whether to do an event?
I'm not going to tell you what you "ought" to decide. What I do suggest is that you work out your own algorithm, which connects all the different elements in proportions only you can decide:
your ethical position on the spectrum from, "Any author who works for free is undermining those of us authors who can't afford to", all the way to, "I'm promoting my book and if I choose to spend my time doing that, that's my decision" or "Arts events are a good thing so I'll write the cost off on my mental volunteering/charity/literature-development account".
what the event will cost you: preparation, wardrobe, travel-time, event-time, expenses including subsistence (if no one will cover them but you still choose to go), and post-event come-down.
what it will earn you: fees; book sales; exposure (don't delude yourself what it's worth); contacts (ditto, but excellent writerly friendships can begin in a greenroom); confidence-boost that you really have an audience and readership; an expenses-paid trip somewhere nice, a good hotel with spa, or a wander round the cathedral.
What are those worth? What are you worth? And I do know writers who are very happy to do events which involve 5 hours each way of blissfully, legitimately child-free, paid-for train travel in the quiet coach...
Nerves notwithstanding, don't forget to be pleased that someone organising an event thinks that you and your book will draw an audience.
I am in awe of how events organisers get everything together, from sponsors to volunteers to catering, wrangle books and authors and booksellers and hotels, cope when the venue throws a wobbly or someone in the front row faints, and still remember to pick me up from the station. We couldn't do it without them, and I wish someone would found a prize for people who make arts events happen. If you're organising the event yourself, pat yourself on the back for initiative and energy.
But if you're feeling daunted, do remember that, as performances go, booky events are remarkably low stakes: there are no lines to remember, you can wear pretty much whatever you like, you'll almost always be miked, and the audience want to like you and are willing meet you half-way.
It's really worth going to a few as a punter, to get the idea. My first-ever event (Christchurch New Zealand's Writers' Festival, since you ask) was very exciting, but it would have been more relaxed if I'd known what a literary festival actually is, and had only had to cope with jetlagged-induced hallucinations.
In terms of when you arrive at the bookshop, the greenroom, the festival tent or the upstairs-in-a-pub, of course you're sober, prepared, friendly, grateful, and helpful but, don't forget that your role in the event is the same as the singer's in an opera: whether the event goes well largely rests on you, and only you know what you need to play your part successfully. So don't be afraid to ask for what you need.
Knowing what you need comes with experience, and there is no shame in admitting that you don't know how these things work. If you'll feel more secure if you arrive already having had an email chat with your interviewer or chair person about timing and content, or knowing what kind of audience to expect (size? readers? writers? seniors? teens?), or knowing what the hotel is, or how you're getting back to the station, then email and ask.
Same on the day: whether you need a cup of tea, a sweater, somewhere safe to put your overnight bag, or twenty minutes' guaranteed solitude, ask. I like to see the actual room, if it's possible, so I know what I'll be walking into, and I definitely want to know if I'll be introduced by someone, who's doing the "housekeeping" (fire exits etc.) and what happens at the end of the hour.
And don't be afraid to refuse, politely, what will hamper your performance: no, you don't have to lug a laptop, or shift chairs, or give way to another author's desire for changes that disadvantage you. Of course you may choose to: small-venue events, especially, often feel very collaborative and you may be happy to muck in. But always prioritise the core reason for the audience to be there: you and your book's performance.
That is not "being a diva", that is simply being a professional. Having said that, demanding that the box-office intern spends an hour picking the orange M&Ms out of the bowl in the greenroom is not the way to get yourself asked back when your next book is out.
Reading your work. Your work was written to be "read" in the reader's head, not performed in character by an actor, so as long as you transmit it clearly and intelligently, that's good enough. But not every writer naturally reads aloud well, and there's no denying that the better the reader, the better the book "sells" - and the better it may sell off the bookstall afterwards.
The Society of Authors sometimes holds "Giving a Reading" workshops for members, and there will be an acting teacher near you happy to help with diction, breathing, posture and how to relax enough to let your understanding of the story - you did write it, after all - flex and power your voice. If you fear being paralysed with nerves, or your diction is genuinely a problem, getting some help will boost your confidence - which will help in itself.
If your book has raw things in it or you feel painfully exposed by having a live, whites-of-their-eyes audience, carefully choose safe sections and practise them until they loose their sting. I'd always suggest editing and practising, anyway, but perhaps it's even more important when you're worried that the emotional content might ambush you. Even so, if you really do lose it, I can guarantee the audience will be kind.
What chiefly embarasses an audience is that you are embarrassed, so acknowledge your upset, take a moment to get your breath, blow your nose, drink water, or even apologise and stop. To be cynical - but also I hope helpful - the audience will love you more, because they come to events is to feel the actual life in an author and their book - and you've just given them that in spades.
Acknowledging the problem cheerfully - even with laughter - also goes a long way with coping with the hammering next door, the wind rattling the tent, the coughing-fit or the water-spill (Top Tip: pour your water before while you're being introduced, and never fill the glass more than half-full). There should always be some kind of organiser hovering, but all of these are more easily dealt by a chair-person or interviewer.
It's likely that the session will be followed by a book-signing, and that can be a thrill: not only signing your very own book as an author, but a chance to actually talk to real readers. (Top Tip: check the spelling of every single name, before you write.) But don't be got down if you don't get many, or any. When people buy a ticket for a booky event - especially now events are promoted for their "non-fiction" hook - then the book may appear more like an extra, a souvenir. No sales is annoying, but it says nothing about the quality of your work, or your performance on the platform. You've turned up, on time and sober, and done what you were booked for. You've done your job.
Don't be surprised if you're exhausted afterwards. Performing cause a fight-or-flight adrenalin rush which releases sugar into the blood-stream, and then gives you a sugar low shortly afterwards. And everyone, after coming out into the limelight, has to go home in the rain: it's always a bit of an emotional low, even if it's a relief too.
And the day after, all the energy which you were sending outwards, connecting with other people, now has to go into reverse, as I was dicussing in
Everyone - well, mostly - knows that finishing a first draft is just the beginning of writing a novel or creative non-fiction that really works. If the definition of an editor is the person who helps you to write the book you think you've already written, then when you're self-editing, you need to keep in touch with what you hope you've written, while getting ruthlessly real about what you actually have written.
Debi Alper and I developed and have co-taught the six-week online course Self-Editing Your Novel at Jericho Writers for many years now, and when the next course starts course starts on 26th March we'll be edging towards our 500th student. Each student's work is focused on their own book, and Debi - who these days does the day-to-day feedback - knows better than anyone how differently different writers work.
But while as a writer you write the first draft "for yourself", to find out what this story is, one of the things you're doing at this second-draft, editing stage, is writing it "for your reader". So an interactive, workshop setup like the course shows you how potential readers read your work, and in a context where there's a safe, private space, and a shared vocabulary and purpose. And you learn as much by being a reader for your course-mates: I've lost count of how often a student, commenting on someone else's work, has said, "And I've just realised that applies to my novel because..."
There really is no substitute for that kind of insight. But over those years, through those students, Debi and I have gathered a list of helpful ways to work when you're revising, so if you can't sign up to the course just now, here are my top tips for making your novel or non-fiction shine.
1) Don't Fiddle:This is why. Macro: when you've got an overview of what needs doing, make a plan of campaign and stick to it. If you find it really doesn't work, don't drift into other stuff, step back for a moment and make a new plan. Micro: when you're up-close one small change may well have implications or prompt worries about elsewhere. Don't get diverted: make a note, and keep going.
2) Take Stock: don't just dive in and do the first thing that occurs to you. At least do a fast-and-forwards read, not solving problems but simply finding them. If your book has really got out of hand, here's how to tame it.
4) Study your characters: they need to be convicing and vivid as characters-in-action, and also consistent. Clarfying for yourself who they are and how to write them will also help you to see whether they're consistent throughout the novel, even through changes and apparently startling actions.
6) Study feedback from beta-readers. Don't take it as Holy Writ, but triage into accept-adapt-ignore, and then integrate the result into your overall plan of work. If - which is very likely - the beta-readers talk about their experience as readers ("saggy middle", "head-hopping", "don't care enough about the characters") but can't (or don't) say anything about the root cause of those, try my diagnostic post to turn feedback into things you can work on.
7) If all this shows there are basic writing tools - not rules, of course - which you don't really understand or haven't learnt to use, then spend a bit of time on practising them: point-of-view, psychic distance, showing-and-telling, and scene-building, for example. It's much easier to explore and practice these skills away from your novel, because you're not constrained by its needs. So set yourself little exercises and stories purely to do that, like practising your tennis serve away from the pressure of a game. On the Self-Editing course one of the weeks works on psychic distance, because it's such an astonishing game-changer for so many writers: we know, because we see it in the writing, and because course after course our students tell us so.
8) Make a master To-Do list, and get stuck in. I suggest starting with macro plot-and-structure, but sometimes apparently micro-scale problems reveal a larger issue. Hopefully, your fast-and-forwards, problem-finding read will have highlighted some, but there may be more: don't despair, and don't get lured into fiddling. If you're having a rough day or are short of time, pick some low-hanging fruit from the list: change that character's name all through, or check the geography of a single scene, and you can pat yourself on the back for a job done. If you're still daunted, click through for more on how to eat that elephant.
9) Spit and polish. At the end of this revised draft, you should have a book which is much, much further along its road to being ready to fly. If you know that, for example, like me you need a separate pass for filtering, or you've been (sensibly) ignoring the punctuation or spellings that you don't find easy, this is a good time to do those passes. Then, do another, hopefully final, fast-and-forwards, problem-finding read: hard-copy pretty much essential here, I'd say, and reading aloud is best of all.
You may indeed find that all it needs is some comma-tidying. If you do... you're a better polisher than me. If you don't, take heart: many writers, especially the not-so-experienced, need at least one more iteration of the read-and-find-problems, write-and-solve-problems cycle before the book really begins to sing. But it's certainly true that although finishing a first draft is a huge achievement, if you really embrace the revising process with a willingness to reconsider everything, then the improvement between first and second drafts is likely to be the single biggest jump in your story's quality.
10) And that's where a course like the Self-Editing Your Novel course comes in, because a good course (and it is a good course, I know because of the feedback we've got over the years, and our publication record) is a fast-track through that reconsidering. It shines a light on what needs considering, supports you while you do it, and helps you develop your handling of the crucial tools. Many of the groups have stayed together afterwards in their cohort's private course forum, building on the trust that has grown up among them, either simply for support and friendship, or for actual workshopping.
And if you'd just like more Itch posts on these topics, and dozens of others from first drafts to being published, click through to the Tool-Kit.
This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which is published on Tuesday - Darwin Day - 12th February. In each post I'll try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways that this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here.
The moment when you first hold your book, or see it on your tablet, is one of the great moments of being a writer so do let yourself stroke it, cuddle it, do the Happy Author Dance, show it to everyone including the milk(wo)man, and open a bottle of something fizzy. The fact that you are bored to tears by the text, have already poured endlessly over the typeset .pdf looking for typos, have worried yourself sick over the cover, and are in any case convinced it's all going to be a disaster, is neither here nor there. If you want to take it to bed with you for a few days, then do just that.
To be honest, there's not a lot more to say on the how-it-feels front about this. Yes, if your next project has got stuck, you may have a flare-up of self-consciousness and panic, as can happen whenever you're more than usually conscious of outside eyes on your work. If you loathe the cover it may strike you afresh, not in a good way, or you may be pleasantly surprised, now it's in context. And I'd certainly say, don't be surprised - and certainly don't be cross with yourself - if you find this moment, however happy, a bit derailing or at least distracting. But your book is born - so enjoy it!
By contract you will be sent a certain number of free copies of the published book - anything from five to twenty - which you will probably be giving to some nearest and dearest as a hopelessly inadequate thanks for the years they put up with your writing. But don't forget that you will need a copy for doing events - and I personally like to keep one pristine copy for, well, I dunno. Posterity?
You may well be sent one by your editor, with the rest coming from the warehouse, and I can guarantee that you will spot one appalling typo, and one incredibly irritating phrase which has managed for all these months to elude you, your editor, your copyeditor and your proofreader. It's probably too late for the hardback, though it may be changeable in the ebook, but it should be correctible in the paperback. This really is only for howlers, though: it's surprising how a small change can have knock-on effects on the layout etc.
You should be able to get more copies from your publisher at some kind of discount, to give away to friends (but why aren't they buying them?) or promotionally (though maybe your publisher should be paying for those) or to sell at events; (contracts do vary about how this works, and what you can do with these copies, however.
On which point, it is worth practising your answer to the very common question: "When do I get my signed copy?". I suggest it should be along the lines of, "When you buy a copy and bring it to me."
But the first incarnation of your book as a book almost certainly won't be the one that will ultimately be sold in bookshops; it will probably be an ARC, or Advance Reading Copy, otherwise known as a bound proof, galley proof, or advance proof. It's quite different from the proof which you and the proof-reader will be combing for typos and literals - though in the old days they were made by the printer at the same time, gathered up, and shoved in some kind of cover to send out. These days proofs will have a proper cover, probably looking more-or-less like a book, though sometimes tweaked, or done in an eye-catching way: this was the proof for The Mathematics of Love:
If things have got behind with the designer, the proof may go out with a quick, knocked-up-for-now cover, which isn't ideal but absolutely not a disaster. Somewhere on the front it will say "Uncorrected Proof Copy" and it will have details of the publication dates and formats, and contact details for sales and publicity departments. The idea is not to gather corrections, it's just warning reviewers that there are mistakes, and that anything like a quote for a review must be checked against the final, about-to-be-published book when it arrives.
The paper, cover and binding will not be as good quality as the finished book will be, and coloured illustrations may only be in black-and-white, or not in at all. But, make no mistake, proofs are expensive to produce, because the print runs are relatively short and the distribution costs fiddly and individual: your publicist will be stuffing jiffy bags with the things.
And that's why, increasingly, some or all of a book's proofs are sent out as digital .pdf files; there's even an industry website, NetGalley, where reviewers and bloggers can sign up and download a proof. The fact that proofs are marked "Not for Resale" doesn't mean they don't turn up on eBay sometimes, and there may or may not be DRM programming on a digital proof. After all, the whole exercise is an investment in selling the real thing, not about providing the world with free, expensive copies
If your book is coming out in hardback, it and the ebook will be the first to be published, and the main publicity efforts will be centred on this moment. The book trade has been predicting the demise of the hardback for thirty years but for adult fiction this still hasn't quite happened. Older reviewers are still sometimes resistant to reviewing paperbacks seriously, and the libraries like hardbacks, where there's the budget, because they wear well. What's more, the hardback is, actually, a good way of making readers aware of the book for several months before the paperback arrives.
But not only are hardbacks more expensive to produce - they're bigger, the binding is dearer and more complicated - because they're more expensive the print-runs are shorter which makes them more expensive still. Increasingly, books at all points on the literary-commercial spectrum may skip this stage and emerge in paperback from the off.
However, one of the unexpected results of the rise of ebook has been to recognise that hardbacks can court early-adopters and people who love books as objects, by being more than just like the paperback only bigger. There are embossed boards, clever jackets and so on, to lure buyers away from the disposable, insubstantial ebook - though it has to be said that the paper and binding inside the gorgeous covers doesn't always live up to the outside.
An alternative to the hardback is a "trade paperback". This (in the UK) is a big, handsome paperback, with good paper and nice, spacious pages, aimed similarly at the early adopters and reviewers. It's cheaper to produce but still a bit special: in fact, it's very like a hardback that just happens to have rather thick paperback covers.
You may also meet a trade paperback "export edition" of your hardback, which will be the version that is sold in, for example, the Commonwealth countries that your UK publisher has rights for, and also be the one sold in airport bookshops (apparently the highest sales-per-square-foot for any Waterstones was Gatwick North?).
The ebook will have the hardback cover, until the paperback comes out when it will change its clothes, and the formatting inside will reflect the design on the physical book too, in fonts. However, the formatting may be a bit simpler, as it has to be able to cope with resizing, and different tablets' and e-readers' programming, and so on. This is certainly true of how-to books, and others full of boxes and pictures: the ebook of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction is much simpler in design than the paperback.
Some genres - commercial crime, for example - sell more than half their total copies as ebooks, and "digital first" imprints and contracts are increasingly common. The core format is the ebook, but if sales either before it's published, or later, persuade the publisher there is a market for a paperback, then they will put one into production - which of course means it will be available in the shops as well as online, and catch the percentage of readers who just don't do ebooks.
Traditionally, the "mass market" paperback comes out somewhere between six months and a year after the hardback - and, ebook aside, it will be these sales that are the bulk of your book's mileage. If the hardback cover went down well with the trade the paperback will be similar, though tweaked for the smaller size, and to reflect that the markets for each are subtly different. If it didn't go down well, the paperback cover may be drastically re-thought.
The normal size now is "B" format (same size as a US "trade paperback"), with the littler "A" format only cropping up for super-commercial books often selling in non-book outlets; the export equivalent of the B-format mass-market paperback may also be A-format.
If your agent or publisher has sold the Large Print rights, it will be produced by a specialist publisher, mainly for the library market. It may have a very different cover, or a similar one, and inside will be designed with bright-white paper (off-white or cream is otherwise usual for fiction), and fonts which are bigger but also designed to be particularly easy to read.
If you or your publisher has sold audiobook rights, there may be a chance to go and see some of it being recorded - respect to the actors who make the recording, which is hard work, and needs great preparation and focus. When it's published, it will also be dressed like the hardback, and sell on the back of the publicity the latter generates, and any promotions that are arranged with the audiobook seller.
As a mentor and teacher and writer and reader, there's something I want to say to you:
You do not have to apologise for the writing you chose to write.
At all. To anyone. You owe nobody any explanations; you need no excuse or "good reason" to be writing this story, poem, article or book.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write "bad" things. You want to write the next Twilight or Scruples? Be my guest.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write "good" things. You want to write the next Wolf Hall or Austerlitz? Be my guest.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write "easy" things. You want to write the next Riders or Rose Petal Summer? Be my guest.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write "difficult" things. You want to write the next Gravity's Rainbow or A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing? Be my guest.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write for the sake of money.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write for the sake of art.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write for the sake of human progress.
You don't have to be ashamed of wanting to write for the sake of laughter.
Want to write a banal, cookie-cutter-plot mystery or thriller? Those are always fun. Regular readers buy them by the towering stack. Ask Twitter for recommendations - they've read them all. 50 Shades of Oh Fucking No? Why not - I guarantee when you see the Large Print edition in your PLR statement, you'll cry for imaging a happy vision-impaired reader. Check out the rainbow possibilities of erotica - and experiment yourself, or let your characters do it. Don't be afraid to think of it: readers want to read it for the same reason you want to write it.
Want to write a book that will make everyone hate you and think you're a monster? Yes, that's an honourable tradition. No, we don't think you're an arsehole for being willing to write such a book, nor for judging for yourself what you should and shouldn't write.
You are not too old to write the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Babysitter's Club, or Captain Underpants (nor to make your own mind up about an Oxford comma like that one.) You are not too young to write the next All Passion Spent or Love in the Time of Cholera. There's nothing wrong with a woman writing Jack Reacher or Fight Club. There is nothing wrong with a man writing Lady Jane Grey or Mrs Dalloway.
You do not have to pull the shame face and offer me an excuse when you tell me about what you write. I don't care if when I last read that kind of book I threw it against the wall: you have the right to write it and enjoy writing it, if it's enjoyable to you; THAT'S WHY HUMAN BEINGS WRITE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
If humans only wrote pure, unproblematic literature everyone approved of, or admired, by authors of unquestionable virtue and enough-but-not-too-much intelligence, there would be no books at all. Or music. Or movies. It would be utterly fucking boring. And there would be no point in having bookshelves, let alone libraries.
So my forthcoming book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, is available for pre-order. This thing has just got real, in other words, and I'm in a familiar state, at once wanting to tiptoe away with my fingers in my ears before anyone notices, and wanting my words (which means my self) to go out there and be heard come what may.
What's more, various festivals and other writerly places have asked me to join them and talk about the book, though most I can't specify yet (sounds much more cloak-and-dagger than it is). One that I can trail is the Words Away Salon. In March, instead of co-chairing another writer, I'll be, as it were, the guest, sitting between Kellie and guest chair Caroline Green. We've called it The Art of Failure: resilience and the writer, so if you're within reach of Vauxhall on 25th March do come, and share wine and tea and cake; I'll have books to sell and sign too. Meanwhile, if you took a fancy to pre-order the book at your local independent bookshop, or online, I couldn't possibly stop you...
And to give you a taste of it, here is an extract from Chapter 5, "Julia", about the only other novelist I've yet found in my family tree: Frances Julia Wedgwood. She was born in 1833, and published two novels in her twenties, the first anonymously, the second under a pseudonym. I'd love to think that with her third she would have dropped her mask, but then her father criticised it, and she decided she had no capacity for imaginative creation. She never wrote fiction again, but set about working on history and philosophy, becoming a "woman intellectual" rated second only to George Eliot in her ability to handle serious subjects and difficult "masculine" themes. And then, in her thirties, she met and fell in love with... But that would be telling.
Yet, as with Tom Wedgwood, in writing about Julia I’m feeling again the longing to fulfill all the promising parts of her story. Was I wrong, those years ago? Should I put an end to this parallel project, and return to fiction? I know I shouldn’t – and yet, again, the longing, just now as I type, is extraordinarily strong.
Where does it come from, the longing of the creative artist, not just the writer, to re-express and re-create what we discover or experience? We tell ourselves and others that it’s because we need to earn a living, or want something to do in the evenings, or want to ignore the washing up. But at times that drive to write, and to send our writing out to find readers, is desperate, and its thwarting unbearable; and no emotion so visceral is only about mere living-earning, or skiving-off.
It isn’t just writers, of course. Tourists have always sketched and taken snapshots to keep a little of what they have seen for after they’ve gone home; wedding photographers are booked partly for fear that, without such processing of the experience – the framing, the recording, the making recoverable – the experience in some way doesn’t or didn’t exist. If creators of art, too, simply want to make sure that these things are recoverable, then we could save a whole lot of trouble and keep what we create safely on the shelf or under the bed. But we don’t.
The thing is, when a singer or an actor doesn’t have an audience she calls it practising or rehearsing, not performing, and many singers stop singing if they can no longer get chances to perform. Writers, too, want an audience, and that’s where Julia’s pull-push over putting her name on her novels is a clue. The great psychologist D.W.Winnicott said that artists are people driven by the tension between wanting to communicate and wanting to hide, and he said elsewhere that, for a child, hiding is a joy but not being found is a disaster.
If I suggest that creative art, too, fulfils an infant need, it’s not to imply that artists are childish, only that a human being’s oldest drives – which is to say our youngest drives – are also our strongest ones, and cause the most trouble when they can’t be fulfilled. Besides, Winnicott observed that children’s play is their work, and working at art is like working at play: the doing of something for its own sake, the seriousness, the imaginative recreation, the deliberate evoking and replaying of emotions and actions, and – perhaps most overtly in fiction – the acceptance of the doubleness of ‘real’ and ‘not real’.
So hiding is a joy but not being found is a disaster, and yet many actors are personally very shy. Many writers of fiction, too, respond like performers as their imaginations run and words rise up and get put on the page, but nonetheless shrink from the glare of light on their own, un-masked face and body. Fiction is the armour, the helmet and visor, which make it possible to put ourselves in emotionally dangerous places, and those places include both the imagined action of our stories, and the imagined stage – the reader’s mind – which our stories must stand on. Projecting not our actual selves, but a creation of that self, outwards to an audience resolves the tension between communicating and hiding, and when the audience responds we feel both hidden and found.
This is the fifth in a series of posts which I'm planning in the run-up to next February, when This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin will be published. In each I'll try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways that this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Getting Published series is here.
Before we start, let's get something sorted out. Marketing and publicity are often talked about as the same thing, and they do have the same goal: to find potential readers and persuade them to buy your book. As I put it in This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin:
Your publisher needs to sell your book to more people than your family and friends, so you and the publicity department have to catch those more-people’s attention – in marketing-speak, to "disrupt" what they were doing and thinking – and hook them in, first to notice your book, and then to buy it. The big hook is what the book’s about, but these days there are too many hooks, too many books, too many non-book disruptors and disruptions, and too many other ways that those more-people might spend their leisure time and leisure money. So publishers reckon that [even] with fiction you need a second, "non-fiction", hook, as my American editor calls it: something which makes you and your book more intriguing than the next ordinary, unknown person who’s written a novel that Waterstones and Tesco might choose to have taking up expensive real estate on the front table or the back shelves … or might not.
Marketing is the part of the business that your publisher pays for directly: discounting and special offers, your book being part of BOGOF deals (any of which may affect your royalty), giveaways, book trailers, entering the big book prizes, advertising online or in print, or even - for a few - as posters in the street.
Publicity, on the other hand, is about all the visibility and persuasiveness that you can't buy, but only persuade others to help you towards: reviews, editorial coverage, events, radio and tv interviews, social media buzz, prizes again, and so on. So how do publishers set about making that happen? And what does it feel like to be publicised?
BEING PUBLICISED, GETTING PUBLICITY
If you, like most writers, are essentially an introvert, then the prospect of walking out on stage as yourself, unmasked, may fill you with horror. Then there's the fear of your bookbeing out there to be reviewed, judged and perhaps found wanting - and with no comeback allowed.
And yet most writers are miserable or furious when their book slips out into the world, no one even notices, and certainly doesn't buy it and read it: no one was listening, and you'll never be heard. So, at the very least, it's worth understanding how it all works, and the likely consequences of your informed decision about what you will and won't do.
It can start before you even have a contract. A publisher will certainly look at the social media presence of someone they want to sign - or to offer another contract to - but if they want the book your absence there won't stop them. Publishers do expect - and put in the contract - that you will do your bit with any interviews and publicity they arrange, but exactly what that consists of can be negotiated: they'll be positively keen for you to play to your strengths, and to avoid the things that you really hate and do truly badly.
One thing that you'll hear on all sides is how authors have to do much more themselves these days, and that's certainly true. It's always been difficult for small publishers, without a dedicated publicity department, to make much of a dent, and even big publishers' budgets of time and money for publicity are squeezed every more fiercely. What's more, the book trade is much more polarised now: time and money must be poured mainly into the few, huge sellers who pay the bulk of the rent, and they can only spare a little for the more modest sellers, who would need almost as much work to make a modest difference.
But for what it's worth, in my experience "publishers don't do any publicity" is a canard along the lines of "publishers don't edit"; of course we would love them to do more, and maybe there was a golden age that has gone... but editors still edit the likes of you and me, and publicists do still publicise. What's more, there's a lot more that writers can do themselves, not just with blogs, websites and social media, but in pitching themselves to local festivals, bookshops, news websites and so on.
Asking your publisher "What can I do?" is a good idea - partly so you don't double-up, but also because industry people sometimes need reminding just how little writers may know about this side of things. The Society of Authors, (which you will of course join the minute you're offered a contract) runs workshops on many aspects of being an author, and there are some good blogs as well, though as ever, read sceptically, and check which side of the Atlantic the writer is on: culturally and practically the best way to go about is different.
But when you're looking at what other authors do, don't forget that the Facebook Effect applies: we're awfully inclined to conflate what lots of people do into an overall picture, and feel we ought to do all of it. You really don't have to kill yourself, even if (apparently) others do. Don't forget that the novelist who produces a constant stream of journalism or appears on dozens of platforms may be procrastinating; the writer on social media day and night may be addicted to the cheap fat-and-sugar hit of Likes and RTs; the event-junkie may be dodging the tougher, healthier food of real creative work and fulfilment at the coal-face of her own laptop.
If the thought of any of it fills you with horror, does it help to think of seeing visibility and publicity as ways to get your book heard? That in pitching pieces to magazines and yourself to festivals, you're not showing off, but doing it on behalf of your book? Even life-long hiders of their own light under bushels brace themselves to beard the Head Teacher on behalf of a child's hopes of being in the school play or the swimming team. The thing is, publicity isn't the job - writing is the job, just as loving and nurturing children is the job of a parent - but it is a part of the job.
I've blogged about the networking side of publicity, so I won't repeat all that here, and for a good beginner's guide to social media try Anita Chapman's guest post. I jumped this post on how to cope with events and exposure off a friend's cri de coeur, and, as Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt discussed, you're allowed to set boundaries about what you will and won't talk about; it's worth thinking about that before you're sitting with a journalist with her phone on Record. You're also allowed to protect your writing time and energy by not accepting gigs that take a days' travelling and a ton of preparation, for very little return in booksales or even visibility - or even by not accepting gigs at all for a bit, if you have a book deadline to meet.
But there's no denying that the ratio of effort to effect is almost impossible to predict. All publicists have their stories of a publicity campaign that was like beating their head against a brick wall: they just couldn't get anyone interested. And all authors have their stories about events where no one came or even were cancelled; articles that no one noticed; tweets that sank without a trace of a Retweet or even a Like.
One of mine is the book-signing which neither I nor the bookshop had realised was on the afternoon of a European Cup quarter-final; another was a workshop cancelled for no bookings, when in fact the organisation concerned had failed to put a "buy" button on the page for my workshop at all. It is depressing, and sometimes enraging, and it may change what you will and won't do in future. But if you start taking such disasters as a judgement on you and your writing in general, that way madness lies - or at least huge trouble with your confidence in Book Two.
One of the wisest thing anyone said to me, when The Mathematics of Love was being published, was that you need two heads as an author: a writing head, and a business head. And if the most important job of the business head is not to spend the tax money, another is to protect the writing head - which will including saying No, and putting down boundaries of time and topic. Doing so isn't lazy or cowardly, it's a necessary, protective, professionalism.
And this is where the fact that no one, actually, knows how publicity translates into book sales pays off. If it's part of your job to try to get your book heard, then when you've decided what you will do, and done it, the job is finished. After that book-signing, I realised that my job as an author is to turn up, on time, dressed, sober, with a smile and a pen. My job as an interviewee is to do the same, with some additional mental armour. What happens - or doesn't happen - after the shop door opens or the magazine is published, is in the lap of the gods, and if nothing happens, it is not your fault - nor, indeed, your publicist's.
One more thought: even though you find the thought of all this horribly daunting, don't underestimate how wonderful it is when events and media coverage can put you in direct touch with your readers. Hearing what your book meant to someone is one of the great pleasures of having a book out there: I still remember the infantryman, in Christchurch New Zealand, who talked to me about his soldiering and my Stephen Fairhurst's... That's when you know that all that writing, and all this weird other stuff that seems to have to happen alongside it, was worth it.
A book being published will have someone in charge of publicising it: in a big corporate publisher that will be a publicist, working under the guidance of the publicity director; in a small publisher it may well be your editor; for a self-publisher, it's you. Alison Baverstock's classic Marketing Your Book: an Author's Guide, now in a new edition and despite the title, has a great deal excellent advice about publicity.
Every single book will have an Advance Information Sheet sheet made for it: single side carries all the information that the book industry - from the rest of the publisher to wholesalers and bookshops - needs to know. Buying decisions will be based on it, but it also must hold all the bibliographic data information without which a book doesn't really exist in the system.
Similar, but with a different focus, will be the Press Release. This is the information which goes to anyone who might give your book some exposure, and so it works harder to evoke the allure and fascination of the book, and also places it in the market: what kind of reader will like this? As well as the book, it may suggest possible angles to both newspaper editors and festival artistic directors: not only the book, but the non-fiction things the book draws on, and other non-fiction topics about the writer themself and how the book came to be written.
A press release isn't only for them, though. If you're heading for a local radio studio's daytime magazine programme, when you come in the presenter may well be half-way through reading the press release, greet you, check you're OK, explain what will happen, and then finish reading it in the commercial break before your segment... That is reason number ten for working out a sexy-sounding, two-sentence-max answer to the question, "What's your book about?" because I can almost guarantee they'll start with that. (It's also worth boiling down two or three anecdotes about the writing of it, which you can produce as needed.)
Virtually all publishers will also send out Advance Reading Copies, aka "ARCs", "galleys", "uncorrected proofs", "bound proofs" or just "proofs", something like six months ahead of publication, so that reviewers can be found, festival programmes can be planned, and so on. In the old days they were literally the pages produced by the printer, bound together as cheaply as possible, these days they will be physical - which even though the paper is cheaper is still expensive - or a pdf, which is much less so. If possible it will have the same cover as the real thing and your publisher may also make electronic proofs available on NetGalley where reviewers can download copies.
So, what is a publicist trying to make happen, with all this trouble and expense? Different books will be aimed at different things, but most likely some or all of:
reviews in print newspapers and magazines, and their websites: either standalone, or in round-ups of say historical fiction, or debuts. Book pages have shrunk drastically, and by the time they've reviewed the big books by big names they "have" to review, there is very little space for the rest of us
reviews on the main book blogs for your genre and part of the market: important, but there are many more than they used to, so careful targeting is wise.
blog tours - where you arrange to write blog posts for a series of the booky blogs around publication
social-media buzz - you hope that people who've read proofs, and later have booked you for events, will be chattering about it. Follow them, and make sure you retweet and respond with cheery pleasure and brisk hopes that they enjoy it. Social media is the prime place to find book groups and other lovely, committed and intelligent readers, too.
endorsements - "puffs" (=AmEng "blurbs") - by well-known writers to go on the actual book's cover. These have become increasingly important, but no one actually knows how much difference they make. Hopefully there will be quotes from reviews to go on the paperback.
events at book festivals, arts venues, bookshops and libraries
events in non-book places appropriate to your book
standalone book-signings in bookshops (most writers and bookshops agree that these are hard to make work, except for local authors with lots of friends, and the big names)
meetings with local book-groups who have read your book
interviews and editorial coverage of you-and-your-book in the magazines and newspapers appropriate to your readership. This is likely to focus as much on you as on the book, because human-to-human connection is what they're after. Sorry.
articles you might write about book-based topics or others on which you can write with some authority. This is where those writers who are or have been journalists are streets ahead of the rest of us, in spotting and going for those opportunities.
tv and radio coverage of your book, and/or programmes about other things.
While national media and the South Bank are out of the reach of most of us, don't forget that smaller publications and websites are greedy for things to print, and smaller arts festivals and venues love the tag "local author", as do bookshops. Your local paper and websites, your old school and university alumni magazines, your company newspaper, the websites of any professional bodies and hobby associations you belong to... all of these want copy, all of these want a reason for their readers to connect with the subject of that copy, and you can supply both.
Every book should get the basics of a press-releases and proofs sent out to appropriate media, but the brute reality is that how much TLC a book gets after that - personal pitching for festivals, TV and radio, chasing up vague promises, networking and pushing - will depend enormously on how busy the publicist is overall, and where your book is in the publisher's pecking order. At the very least, your publicist should be supportive of your efforts to get your book attention - although do keep them posted before you set about such things, just in case it muddles their plans. But although big publishers have more clout, they also have big authors; assuming you're not (yet) one of those, it's one of the times when being with a small publisher with a determined publicity person can really pay off.
And, finally, it's not unknown for a debut author who's determined to establish themself to spend a modest advance on hiring an independent publicist to supplement their own and their publisher's efforts - and an ambitious self-publisher who further down the line wants to break out of a small, established readership might well do the same.
Independent book publicists are usually ex-staff members; publishers bring them in when the workload gets too outrageous or someone's off sick; to concentrate on a big book or rescue one which is sinking without trace; or sometimes when a biggish author has wrangled a contract clause stipulating one. But there's nothing to stop you hiring one yourself - and ideally doing it well before the book is published: many of the places they target have very long lead-times, and if you miss this year's boat, by next year your book will no longer be "new".
Individuals are cheaper and can be found on Reedsy, companies are more expensive, but either will work for a "project fee", so you know what you're spending and what they will do for that. You may well be able to fine-tune what you're paying for - for example some writers loathe social media and will pay to have someone do it for them, others are perfectly happy to do it themselves - and they will give you lists of what they plan to do, and report back regularly on what they've done.
Of course, there can be no guarantee that you'll get the coverage you'll dream of - that simply isn't in even a good publicist's gift - and in terms of straight profit-and-loss, I can't honestly say that you're likely to make the money back and then more on that first book. But assuming you don't need the advance to put bread on the table, you might well consider it a sensible investment in developing your presence and profile as an author, ready for the next book, and the one after.
A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of holding two workshops, as part of the Festival of Women's Writing - which doesn't at all exclude men - organised by the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and held at the entirely wonderful Ponden Hall. We covered a lot of ground, and in the nature of things, many topics cropped up which are expanded on in posts here on Itch. So these are links to the ones I particularly remember mentioning. If anyone remembers any others, do drop me a line, and I’ll try to dig it up. These, and a lot...
I've got a novel to revise. At least the York Festival of Writing and the Historical Novel Society Conference have been and gone. But the next Self-Editing Your Novel course is about to start, I'm off to Yorkshire for the Bronte Parsonage Museum's Festival of Contemporary Women's Writing and life is decidedly busy on other fronts. Then there are the writers I'm helping as a tutor and mentor, and occasionally boring old real life has to be dealt with. And did I mention (no, surely not!) that I have a new book coming out in February? So there are press-releases,...
This is the third in a series of posts which I'm planning in the run-up to next February, when This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin will be published. In each I'll try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways that this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. Part 1: Contracts is here. Part 2: Editing is here and Part 3: Permissions is here. Your book is (not) your cover The cover of a book is a hugely...
As you may know, I also have a column, Doctor Darwin's Writing Tips, over at Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers Association. A version of this post first appeared there, but in an era when we've all become more sensitive to questions of cultural appropriate in the arts, it's relevant much more widely. Certainly if you want to build your story on people of another ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, class or perhaps just wildly different life-experience, there's work to be done compared to what you'd need if you stayed inside your own. So the ideas and strategies I've...