My immersion into the publishing realm of my writing journey has brought some interesting discussions and questions to the forefront as I am requested for my advice from various colleagues and potential project partners.
The most common is the discussion which I will label “best practices.” What is the “best way” or the “correct way” or the “new or now way” to do specific aspects of the publishing process. Guiding my response to anything that involves rules and addresses the old adage “the way it’s always been done” is my mantra – one I’ve followed for many years , and perhaps for longer than I actually realized – “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Somewhere along my journey I happened upon this quote offered by Pablo Picasso, who I continue to credit with its origin, although my recent Internet search to source it, failed to connect those words to the famous artist. In any case, I didn’t write it so I continue to provide the accreditation, as any good writer should – this being one of the rules, you never, ever break by applying creative license. Always respect another writer’s work.
So back to rules – there are those in place that make sense, provide structure, and follow the lines of logic, grammar and punctuation included, like a period at the end of a sentence. There are those that seem only to be on a superficial level and are more to do with aesthetics such as font type, spacing, page layout, etc. – often they don’t just speak to the look of something but also address functionality and what makes sense in a particular situation.
The shift from the standard Times New Roman font for published works is one example. There is a tendency today to use fonts “san serif” for a cleaner look, but the fact remains, Times New Roman is the standard in newspapers and books, government, industry and a majority of business documents – except for headers and titles. Take a look at the local paper. They delineate and break up the page with cleaner, bold font for headlines. Depending upon the publication, I have suggested using others, like Arial, which provides a clear, easy to read layout. Rule? As I see it, this is not one with repercussions unless rejected by a staunch supporter of the “old way” but you will find those who are accepting of modernization, so its benefits outweigh any negative feedback.
Although many questions involve the actual written work or manuscript, as it is the vehicle by which the professionalism and thoroughness of a publisher is based and the criteria upon which the author’s work is ultimately judged, some queries pertain to the writer and their role as a published author. It also touches on the relationship an author develops with the publisher they choose to work with. I say it in this manner because quite often it is true, and in the remote case that a publisher chooses an author to work with, respectfully, the author would have the final choice whether to go that route or not.
We all know the traditional route even if we are not a writer. We’ve heard the stories and believe it to be the most common way – the publisher reads your manuscript, absolutely loves your work and pays you, the author, an advance with a contract, in and of itself a manuscript, with promises of the standard royalty upon sale of the book. Hit the New York Bestseller List and ‘cha-ching’ – both publisher and author see monetary gain and recognizable fame. It’s a classic story line.
Obviously this still happens or the large publishing houses would not exist. Their business plans and corporate direction might have been adjusted over the years and those who signed with the likes of King, Rowling or Sparks rejoice in that discovery and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. Locally, large publishers are tempted and prone to the attraction of the limited large markets in Canada, namely Vancouver and Toronto, because of the “numbers” game. When a population in one city is equal to or greater than that of a whole province, the justification for relocation is not rocket science. Alberta has seen its share of this market migratory pattern.
When seeking alternative methods, the trend to publish on one’s own – self-publish – although not a new concept, is a growing attraction to those writers who desire a tangible written product yet possess the realization that discovery and acceptance by one of the large houses, although not impossibility – is a slim to remote chance. The skill required to present a polished product is beyond the ability of some, an unrealized or unexplored requirement by others, and a place most don’t even desire to venture into. Vanity presses and print-on-demand (POD) digital capabilities opened doors to those who want to invest in their work and are capable of producing a well-written book able to pass a discerning reader’s scrutiny. The result of the final product is not always what was envisioned despite the cost of investment. Just explore the price structures of some the big press web sites offering book packages and see what an expense it can be – and that is without receiving actual printed copies – those are extra but they will give you a deal for quantity…
For most writers, somewhere in the middle of this mass area of desire and demand, is the place where creativity meets knowledge and experience – where a book is not just a thing with an eye-catching cover or a vehicle to a publisher’s wealth and infamy. It is the place where you can work with someone on a much smaller scale especially if you don’t intend to be a millionaire from mega sales of your “best-selling” novel – which, by the way, in Canada amounts to a mere 5,000 copies. It is a place where your input matters and a publishing partnership is developed. It is a place to create the perfect bound holder for dreams – life, memories of a past, current desires and passions, and a record of emotions to carry into the future.
Even with the number of logged hours in preparing a manuscript and making sure it is just right, in whatever way right has been defined for a particular project – it is not always about getting rich and being famous. It is about connecting words to hearts and admitting a writing passion, in print.
Reduced to a heartfelt thought, this is where my explanation of publishing and all its intricate details ends up – my advice to any writer considering putting their work into a permanent part of literary history, make sure you work with someone who has your best interests at heart, can see your vision not theirs, and is not just in it for the money. Ask what time they went to bed after getting your manuscript or your cover or your credit and bio pages just so – are you just part of their nine-to-five job or are you a part of their writing journey.