FOUR – Over-writing

I am editing my novel at the moment, and it is a revealing process.

It is one thing writing in the safety of your bedroom or study, putting words on to a page that perhaps no-one else is going to read. It is quite another to get a book ready for publication, and realize that in a month or two you hope that lots of people are reading it.

This is it now, after this there is no chance at revision, the book is largely set in stone once you send it off to the printers. What it is after this process is what it will be forever. There is no fixing problems later.

So it has changed the way I read what I have written. I am a lot less tolerant of redundancies, clichés, slack passages. I should probably be more intolerant, and maybe I need an editor with an objective viewpoint, but at the moment I am concentrating on cutting. For one thing it is about 350 pages, and I will be charged by the page by the printers, so the shorter the book the cheaper the printing costs.

For another, I have noticed that I had a tendency to over-write. What I mean by that is that I have been over-explaining what characters mean and feel, over-describing scenes, places, people, using four adjectives where I only needed two. One of the key pieces of advice given to those who want to write is “show don’t tell.” I have been doing too much telling and not enough showing.

So I have been cutting. Deleting excess explanations, trimming the overgrowth of adjectives, cutting back on explaining, explaining, explaining. It is important to let the readers discover things for themselves and make their own minds up, without having to tell them everything.

So if nothing else, I think this whole process is improving my writing. Editing is good discipline, and useful practice, it forces you to concentrate on what works and what doesn’t, and to try to be objective in looking at your own writing. No doubt I will miss some things that could be shorn, but for now it is almost an enjoyable process to cut, cut, cut.

 

THREE – Why am I doing this?

It’s a question I have asked myself a number of times already, and I am only a couple of weeks into the process. So why am I self publishing this novel that took me three or four years to write?

The first reason, of course, is that I think it is something worth reading. I have been writing novels for about ten years now, or more accurately, parts of novels. I always had trouble finishing them. Maybe it was a lack of discipline, or confidence, or commitment. Whatever, I joined a writing group about four years ago, aired out parts of A Year in Lisbon, and found that people liked elements of it. I slowly discovered that this was something that I could actually do.

So I was determined to finish the novel this time. And I did, some time about a year and a half ago. And it’s pretty good. I made some small attempts to find a literary agent, got nowhere, and left it at that.

Then, as I mentioned in blog two, I talked to Luis, and realised that this was something I wanted to do. I could have tried harder to get it published the traditional route. I only wrote to eight or nine agents, I could have kept going.

But the truth was, in researching the publishing industry, I quickly learned of the tiny chance that a book has of actually being successful. As I mentioned in blog one, about one in every five thousand submissions to an agent results in that author being represented by the agency. And then the agent has to get you a publishing deal, which is not automatic.

And even if you do get a deal, the proportion of books that make money is very small, and the number who could be said to gain success, (a wide readership, publicity, a place on the bestsellers list) is tinier still. I was looking at the websites of these literary agents, and checking out the list of authors that they represented. I had only heard of about 10% of them! These were all published writers.

The truth is that the majority of even published writers fade into obscurity. Especially in non-genre fiction, people publish a book with a major publisher, sell a couple of hundred books and are never heard from again. It happens all the time. We only hear about the successes, but the failures are much more common.

So why not just publish myself, have a bit of control over the process, and maybe sell a couple of hundred copies that way. At least this way I am not begging agents and publishers to deign to take me on, knowing that the chances of this happening are miniscule. Wasting time sending out manuscripts when I could be spending that time and money writing another book, or promoting the current one.

And it is an adventure. I am learning all the time about publishing, and actually about writing too. I am re-editing my novel at the moment, aware now that in a month or two people will actually be reading it between the covers of my printed novel. That changes the way I read what I have written, and forces me to make some small but important changes, to make it more readable.

It is worth doing, I think. I don’t expect to make any money from it, but if I could just break even, that would be a success. And I hope to gain a lot more in the process.

TWO – I CAN DO THAT

My Spanish friend, Luis Gorrochategui Santos, wrote quite a successful book in Spanish called “Contraarmada”. It is based on the aftermath of the Spanish Armada, when the English sent an armada of their own to attack Spain and Portugal (http://www.contraarmada.com/). This he published through the traditional route.

His next book was called La Rebelión de los Pigs, and was about the financial crisis. Not finding a traditional publisher for this book, he decided to self-publish. He used a printer in Seville that gave him a good price, had the cover designed, and sent it out into the world.

I was talking to him recently, he is in Ireland for a few months to learn English. I mentioned that I had written a novel, and that I hadn’t tried very hard to get it published. He just said to me, “you have to publish it.” I repeated that I had tried, but it wasn’t easy. And then he told me about his self-publishing experience, and how cheap and easy it was.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I came back to Sligo (where I live, I met Luis in Dublin), the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. Luis had something along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing, we were talking in Spanish): “writing a book and not publishing is bad for the head. You need to get it out there so you can move on to the next one.”

I wouldn’t have expressed it like this, and I think he was talking more specifically about his own experience, but I know what he means. Writing a book that you have put a lot of work into, thinking that you have produced something that is worth reading and then leaving it in the metaphorical drawer, I think I agree that it is not good for the head.

So within days I had got quotes from self-publishing companies in Ireland and Spain. The Irish one, based in Cork, said they could do 200 copies for €1000, including shipping. This would include an ISBN number. The Spanish company, Publidisa, gave me a price of around €500 for 200 copies, with about €150 extra on top for transport. €650 for 200 copies. I was sceptical at first, but at this price it began to seem pretty doable.

All I needed was a PDF of my novel, and a cover design. That’s it? I thought. Well I can do that.

ONE – SO I WROTE A BOOK

 

So I wrote a book.

I’ve written a number, actually, but this is the first that I have actually finished, and the first one I would not be embarrassed for people to read. I began around 2010, and joined a writing group soon after. This gave me the discipline and motivation to actually knuckle down and finish the thing, my previous efforts have either been experiments or have been abandoned somewhere half-way through.

When a writer finishes a book and wants to get it published, there is a traditional route. It used to be that you would send the first few chapters, along with a cover letter and a synopsis of the book, to a publisher. Now though, the advice that I read was that you need literary agent. So I got my thirty pages, my synopsis and my letter and sent them out to about nine or ten agents, all in the UK (I am in Ireland, but was told that the agents you want are in Britain).

I got a reply from perhaps half of them, mostly polite, encouraging, telling me how much they liked my writing but that it wasn’t quite right for their lists. I wasn’t really discouraged, as I didn’t really expect anything. I had read a blog post from a reader for a literary agency, he said that approximately one book in every five thousand he reads from new writer results in that writer being taken on by the agency. One in five thousand.

And there I left it. To be honest, I wasn’t that bothered about being published, I initially wanted to do this just to see if I could. I have been reading books most of my life, and finding out whether I was a person who could actually write one was something that was important to me. More than that, I wanted to know if I could write something decent, something readable, something that – as I mentioned already – I would not be embarrassed by. And it turns out that I am a person who could do this. And that was enough, for a while.

And then I talked to Luis.