On Publishing, promotion and putting yourself on the line

self-promotionThe manuscript (and several more following it) is complete, the contract signed, editing done, book cover sorted, publisher’s launch over. You’d be forgiven for thinking that my work as an author is over, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong.

I was at the Australian Book Expo, at Olympic Park last weekend, to sign books and talk to people about my new release. The expo itself was a bit of a disappointment because numbers were pretty low, but it gave me a fabulous opportunity to chat with people. It was interesting watching my publisher in action, but even more interesting to wander around and chat with other authors either published traditionally or self-published, and in some cases, both.

Most authors who had been around for a little while understood the nature of the changing industry and described their journey to (and from) publication as a roller-coaster. I could certainly relate. But I came across one or two authors, at the Expo to give their titles a boost, who were a tad resentful that they were expected to have a hand in promoting their books. I listened as they described the days where, once they’d signed the contract, they were given an advance and then sat back waiting for the publisher to tell them where to go (to sign books, speak, etc) and what to do, and in the meantime they got on with writing the next manuscript. Ah… if only it were still like that. But it’s not.

It is only when the contract is signed, if you’re lucky enough to be published traditionally, that the real work begins. The in-your-face, rejection-inducing, self-esteem challenging, slap-in-the-face, get-knocked-down-get-up-again task of getting your book ‘out there,’ type of work. Unless you are published by one the ‘five,’ in an industry that is just beginning to settle enough to get a glimpse of what writing and publishing might look like into the future, one thing is clear — the role of the author now includes promoting the book. It’s become a necessary part of getting your work out there. Readers can’t read your books if they don’t know where to get them. But for most writers I know, it is this part of publishing that is the most challenging.

Writers are the kind of people (I am very much generalising here, and happy to be contradicted) that are content working alone, in front of the computer, sometimes for months at a time. I know myself, when I am writing, days, sometimes weeks, pass barely noticed. It’s our work that we want in the public domain, not ourselves. Self-promotion is uncomfortable, awkward, and often off-putting, and I for one, do not enjoy it one little bit. Luckily, in the age of technology, it doesn’t necessarily have to be done face-to-face. But it does have to be done. And that’s what social media is for. Developing an author platform on social media is critical if you want any chance whatsoever of getting your work read. There is no escaping it.

So what would I say to those authors who refuse to change their way of operating? Well, in polite terms I’d suggest that as an author in the 21st century, you need to embrace change as an inevitability and adapt accordingly. Or to put it a little more bluntly—build a bridge! If you don’t have the skills to build a bridge, get someone else to do it for you, or you will sink into publishing oblivion. The halcyon days of book publishing are gone. Deal with it.


Calling all Australian Authors

Writers’ Web is an Australian initiative geared toward providing Australian authors with an alternative to the plethora of online book distributors popping up all over the place. I recently chatted to the team from Writers’ Web to see what it was all about.


What is writers’ web?

Everyone knows that a farmers’ market connects the producer direct to the buyer. writers’ web is just like that but for writers – it connects would-be authors directly with readers online to create a community of readers and writers.

It’s really only been possible because of the changes to the publishing industry and technology. Publishers are no longer gatekeepers to the release of new books. YouTube allows musicians to showcase their work direct to the public and now writers’ web does something similar for Australian writers.

How did you come up with the idea?

Everyone knows the story of JK Rowling having the Harry Potter manuscript rejected by publishers, 12 in total. If she had given you her manuscript, you would have passed the word to ten of your friends and them to ten of their friends, going viral. In today’s connected world, this is entirely possible and the idea that underpins writers web. We’d love to discover the next big Australian writer.

Like many good ideas it involved a glass of wine! A few years ago at our bookclub, co-founder Emma Mactaggart was lamenting how easy it is to get stuck in a publisher’s slush pile – it’s so demoralising not to hear anything from publishers after you’ve submitted a manuscript.

It’s this bottleneck that prevents writers getting their work out into the public domain. “Why not change the paradigm?” piped up now partner in writers’ web, Janet Kieseker. And so we did. It took a few years to work through the logistics and technical side of things before we launched at the end of 2011.

How does it work for writers?

Writers complete an online registration form, then submit information to build their writer profile and so we can put their book into our online shop. Our reviewers are invited to read the work and review it. Reviews are posted here. Authors may then use these reviews in their own promotional material.

What is the cost to writers?

There are no up-front costs for writers. We take a 35% commission on book sales.

Is it only for eBooks?

No, writers who have produced hard copy books can be part of writers’ web (WW).

What are the benefits for writers?

There are lots of advantages for writers, including:

  • There is no rejection - every book or manuscript we receive (as long as the content is not inappropriate) goes out to our reviewers for their feedback
  • Using the feedback from the reviewers to refine their work
  • A means of promoting emerging Australian writers for no up-front cost
  • Helps writer “discoverability” to targeted Australian reading audiences and as a possible springboard to publishers
  • Speeds up the process of getting a work into reader/purchaser hands
  • Provides an exclusive or additional promotional channel for authors and their books
  • Builds an author’s reading and purchasing networks
  • A channel to sell their books.

Are you currently looking for more writers?

YES! We have over 120 reviewers in our system waiting to read the works of writers.

Which genres can writers submit?

Both fiction and non-fiction genres are covered and if there’s enough interest in a genre other than the ones we currently offer, we will look at including it.


  • Biography/memoir
  • Cooking/food/wine
  • How to
  • Articles


  • Chick lit
  • Children’s
  • Comedy
  • Crime/mystery
  • Fantasy
  • General fiction
  • Literary fiction
  • Historical fiction
  • Romance
  • Short story
  • Young adult

Writers’ web sounds like a perfect hunting ground for publishers looking for some fresh talent – is that the idea?

Yes, writers’ web complements traditional publishing by providing a chance to demonstrate commercial viability as an author to “traditional” publishers. In today’s competitive market, proven authors have a higher degree of success in securing deals. We would love to be the go-to place where writers “get spotted” by mainstream publishers through the reader reviews and reader profiles on the site.

It’s for emerging Australian writers – how do you define them?

They might be self-published, unpublished, with an edited manuscript or traditionally published through a publisher with a new work not taken up by that publisher. Or already published authors looking for a new way to promote their book.

What’s in store for the next 12 months?

We look forward to having more emerging writers join us. We would be thrilled to discover the next big name Australian author!

Written answers provided by writers' web. For more information, visit the website at writers' web. Or email them here. They're a friendly bunch who would be very happy to answer any queries you may have.


Rejection hurts

Rejection is a terrible thing. Nobody wants or likes it. It feels awful, and it’s very easy for the self-esteem to take a battering because of it. Yet authors put themselves out there repeatedly, knowing that rejection is inevitable. It's rare that a first time author has a manuscript accepted and published on their first submission.

Every author needs to find a way to make rejection an accepted part of their journey to publication, without allowing it to impact on their sense of self. I wonder how many manuscripts we would never have seen had their authors not been able to move beyond the initial sting of rejection.

Creativity is inherently personal, irrespective of the medium. Visual artists, musicians, composers, creative writers, sculptors, singers, poets, etc, all draw upon the very essence of their being to interpret the world around them. They use all their senses to embed an essential part of themselves into their work for the pleasure of others. Of course it’s personal.

And when that letter comes saying: ‘sorry, your work doesn’t suit us because…,’ it is difficult not to feel affronted and affected.

Stephen King in his book On Writing talks about the thirty rejection letters he received for his first novel Carrie, and how he kept a ‘rejection board’ near his desk where he hung his collection of rejection slips.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach to writing (once you move past the urge to shred your manuscript or slap the rejecting publisher). It’s about building resilience. Each one of those slips means you are serious about being published, and with each slip you draw one step closer. The slips mean you have entered the industry and you will be marked and scarred like authors before you and authors yet to come.

The trick is not to allow the marks and scars to overwhelm you. Writing is a very subjective thing. What is appealing or ‘suitable for our list’ will vary greatly from one publisher to another, one reader to another.


When does a manuscript become a book?

The other day a bloke came to build an additional doorjamb and install a screen door. Conversationally he asked me what I did for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh cool,” he seemed impressed. “What do you write?”

“Fiction mostly,” I told him. “I write fiction books for young adults.”

“Oh,” he looked at me and scratched his head. “Yeah, I could do that. It’s just making stuff up right? I always wanted to write a book.”

I left him to his doorjamb.

Back in front of my computer, I continued work on the manuscript I have been writing, editing and rewriting for the past fourteen months. Yep, FOURTEEN months. That’s over a year of living with these characters in my head. A year of plotting and sub-plotting, drafting and redrafting; of worrying about character development and voice, making sure they are ‘growing up’ right; of being concerned with consistency, ensuring all questions are answered and all loose ends tied. Then writing and rewriting it all over again. I worked on it three days a week. Every week.  Over a year. For one book.

My last novel was the same. By the time it was ready for publication it had taken about a year to write and edit. Before that, I spent two years completing a Master of Creative Writing to develop and hone my writing skills. And that’s without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of hours over a lifetime spent reading, or the years before and since my degree spent writing in a variety of genres for a variety of purposes —all for the purpose of developing and refining my craft.

So could anyone do it? Well, sure. I guess. If they had the time and tenacity. But unless they intend to have their book read, why would they bother? When does a manuscript become a book? Is it when you finish writing it? When you receive the completed draft back from the printer and put it on a bookshelf? Or is it when you format and upload it as an eBook? Maybe it’s not until you sign a contract with a publisher. Or is it when someone actually engages with your work and reads it?

I would suggest the latter. Writing (like reading) is a very subjective thing, but the common factor experienced by every successful writer is this. People read the book. That’s it. That’s all it takes. The thing is, readers are not a particularly charitable bunch. I know this because I am one. As a reader, I have no tolerance for bad writing. I won’t persevere with a badly written piece. And like most avid readers, I can tell from the first paragraph (sometimes even from the blurb) whether the writing is any good, or more importantly—whether it’s readable.

Now I’m not talking about the abject quality of any particular writer, that’s a discussion for another post (writers of literary fiction versus writers of commercial fiction for example), I’m talking about whether or not a piece of written work can be easily read and understood. If the technical aspect of writing is there, if the characters are authentic, the dialogue genuine, the plot believable (whether or not it is fantasy), then someone will read it. And it becomes a book.

There are thousands (perhaps even millions) of writers across the globe, all vying for readers’ attention. And in this age of electronic publishing, the ‘keepers’ of the book are no longer there. There is no middleman. It’s more cut-and-dried than ever before. And with all that choice, readers are less inclined to persevere with reading something they have to work at.

The bottom line is that unless you are prepared to learn the craft of writing, are committed to improving and are prepared to put long hours for many years into it, there is little point to ‘writing a book’ at all.


Penguin. Playing the game or playing authors?

The journey of a self-pubbed eBook author is an arduous one. They go through the same challenges during the drafting, editing, redrafting, editing, writing, rewriting and polishing stages of developing their manuscripts as any author worth their salt. The difference lies in what happens then.

Traditionally, when an author was accepted by a publisher, the cover design, layout, formatting and promotion of the book were all taken on as part of this contract. The author might maintain their own website and even maybe write a blog, but the majority of promotional work was taken care of by the publisher (most of it by the mere use of their name).

I’ve written before about the changing nature of the publishing industry―as have many others―and I’ve expressed views about the need for publishers to adapt their game to remain relevant, so the other day when I heard that Penguin was jumping into technological relevance to be publishing eBooks of eAuthors I was overjoyed. Until I read the details.

The imprint Penguin is using for the self-pubbed author is Book Country, and by all accounts it presents reasonably well on initial examination. It’s not until you actually read through the entire process they propose that the hackles begin to rise. And I’m pretty sure you’d only recognise the issues if you’ve already experienced the eBook publishing process.

To have your eBook published by Book Country will cost you $99. And they say they will pay you 70% royalties. But that is NET royalties, which means 70% of the 30% royalty you’ll get from Amazon for example. It’s a little misleading. And what concerns me more about the Penguin eBook publishing proposal is that what they are offering to do can be done by the author, with relative ease at no cost. They don’t tell you this.

Penguin/Book Country will not take on any of the cover design or manuscript editing that a traditional publisher (or even print self-publisher agency) does, nor will they do any promotion. The Author still has to manage and/fund that crucial part of the process themselves. But they will convert your Word.doc into the appropriate format for eReaders. And they will distribute it to the major eBook retailers. So does Smashwords―for free! Amazon does the same thing―also for free.

Both Smashwords and Amazon also provide space for an Author Profile, and both provide informational assistance to point you in the right direction to promote your work. FOR FREE. They also both provide very clear instructions about how you can best format your manuscript for submission. It’s hard work and it is time consuming, yes. At least initially. But being an author is not an easy ride. And you can get someone to format your manuscript for you for much less that what Penguin is charging, without having to sacrifice your royalties.

Forgive me if I’m coming across a bit cynical, but it sounds to me like, rather than delving into 21st century book publishing in a positive and innovative way, Penguin recognises the possibility that they (along with other traditional publishers) may eventually sink into oblivion, and so are desperately attempting to assert their technological relevance by staking a financial claim on new and emerging authors. Seems a little disingenuous to me.

Have a look for yourself and see what you think: Penguin's Book Country


Adapt or die

The publishing industry is changing. Rapidly. Sales of eReaders are tripling every year, and competition between the available readers is stepping up. The impending sales battle between the new Kindle Fire and the Noble Nook Colour is attraction attention, meanwhile the price of eReaders―industry leaders as well as generic brands and android devices―has dropped significantly, making them accessible to a broader range of consumer.

Sales of tablets such as the iPad are increasing exponentially and are set to rival those of eReaders in the next few years. While the primary form of reading on the tablets at the moment is newspapers, I don’t think it will too long before we see a parallel increase in ebook sales.

This is good news for authors. Well, mostly. It’s good news for those authors who choose to publish their work themselves, electronically. Perhaps not so good news for authors who enter into publishing deals with mainstream publishers who write electronic rights into the contract, returning very little in royalties to the author. I recently learned of an author whose publisher threatened to sue for breach of contract because she had an anthology of short stories published as an eBook. Of course they had no basis for this because the anthology was published before she signed the contract. They terminated her contract instead.

I recently wrote about the need for literary agents to adapt their practice in order to survive the changing nature of the publishing environment, but the rapidity with which change is happening means publishers also need to be very wary. As in, adapt or die. When I published my novel Fake Profile as an eBook, I earned more in royalties in the first few months than a colleague published by a mainstream publisher did in his first year. It wasn't because I sold more copies, I didn’t. It was because I received a much bigger slice of the royalty pie.

It’s food for thought.