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Source: (consider it) Thread: Publishing ... pitfalls, pratfalls and potential
Gamaliel
Shipmate
# 812

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I know a number of Shippies are writers, editors and the like.

I can remember a few threads about publishing/self-publishing and so on but have probably been too preoccupied in Purgatory to take too much notice.

I do remember a juicy quote, though, 'How to make a small fortune: set up a publishing business using your large one ...'

[Big Grin]

Now, for my sins, I'm putting out feelers with a view to setting up some kind of social-enterprise publishing stuff for community groups.

I'm already producing an anniversary anthology for a regional arts festival that has a poetry competition element. I'm also toying with the idea of a pamphlet of poems/short reflections on the theme of Memory to help raise funds for a very worthy Dementia initiative in these parts.

I'm also writing a sample chapter for an established publisher for a possible book that tells the story of a remarkable initiative an old friend runs that has helped introduce proper adoption and fostering procedures into developing countries.

If nothing else, these would be better uses of my time than arguing with people in Purgatory and Hell - although I'm not abandoning Ship.

So, you experienced writers, literary agents and publishers out there, what are the main things I need to watch?

I'm not expecting to get rich but I do want to cover costs.

I'm intrigued by the number of small, independent presses that have sprung up in recent years. I'm sure they find it heavy going though ...

I can share more but this is simply a punt for some simple practical advice.

Am I being foolhardy?

Are there genuine opportunities?

Should I turn back before it's too late?

--------------------
Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Schroedinger's cat

Ship's cool cat
# 64

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This is precisely what mght be covered in a new writers board....

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Blog
Music for your enjoyment
Lord may all my hard times be healing times
take out this broken heart and renew my mind.

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Rossweisse

High Church Valkyrie
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The first thing to watch out for is to get paid. Beware the "This doesn't pay anything, but it's great exposure" bit.

I agree: This would be something for a writers' board.

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I'm not dead yet.

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Gamaliel
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So, how does one ensure one gets paid? The margins are likely to be so modest that it's going to have to be s profile-raising or get the ball rolling type of thing ...

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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sabine
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Thus might give some info...a site listing their too 10 choices for self-publishing.

sabine

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"Hunger looks like the man that hunger is killing." Eduardo Galeano

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Pangolin Guerre
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quote:
Originally posted by Gamaliel:
So, how does one ensure one gets paid? The margins are likely to be so modest that it's going to have to be s profile-raising or get the ball rolling type of thing ...

Well, this will sound harsh, but until you're established, don't do any favours for free, because it will be expected that you'll always do it for free. If they can afford to pay, make them pay. Once the dough starts rolling in, then you can start doing favours for widows and orphans. as the good doctor said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

I'm currently chasing down a client, who is not yet overdue, as I gave him a week after I had sent my copy to come back to me with any desired revisions (deadline tomorrow). He was once six weeks late, and I vowed never again. Then he came to me with a job, and it's been a slow summer, so I took it, to my inevitable frustration.

Doing work for a reputable publication does not guarantee prompt payment. I left the roster of a reputable magazine over this issue.

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Rossweisse

High Church Valkyrie
# 2349

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Pangolin: [Overused]

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I'm not dead yet.

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Lamb Chopped
Ship's kebab
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Yes, that's great advice. I'm going to add--quote them your rate very early in the conversation, particularly if it's with friends or connections, as this will flush out the ones who just assumed you were going to do it for free. (This is especially important for anyone operating in a nonprofit context--it's amazing what they think you'll do "for the ministry".)

If you do a great job, your first few clients will recommend you to others. I got a lot of business this way, as well as two-three full-time jobs at different points.

If there is a local writer's group, join it, even if it's completely amateur. I found that our local meet-up group (since defunct) was so impressed by my ability and willingness to proofread (a tiny one page article!) that they gladly referred paying people my way, God bless them. And they had some contacts.

If you are dealing with amateurs (read: people who have never paid a writer/editor/publisher before), spell out exactly what services you will provide. I had an actual (small) commercial outfit demonstrate to me vividly that they didn't know the difference between proofreading and copyediting. They asked for one and expected the other. You might very well find "clients" who believe that the publisher will do proofreading, fact checking, etc. for free as a sort of all-in deal. Brrrrrrr.

If you have specialized skills (like my ability to read several languages), by all means mention them. You'll be surprised who comes knocking when they find out about you. I've had someone from Beijing University as well as a university press in Wisconsin doing an Ancient Middle East atlas.

Tell everybody and sundry what you are doing for your new business. I added a short signature line to my daily email account when I was looking for work. Quite odd people (a church guy looking to set up a Vietnamese photo shoot?) noticed and it led to work.

Be prepared for the income tax. Our first year my family (which had several sidelines in self-employment then) was not prepared, and Uncle Sam took about half our income--all at once. Didn't realize the rate for self-employment was so much higher. Ouch.

[ 15. September 2017, 06:57: Message edited by: Lamb Chopped ]

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

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Gamaliel
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No, I didn't think you were harsh, Bellicose Scaley Tree-dweller, but yours is advice I haven't taken in my 7 years of self-employment ... I do as much, if not more voluntary / free stuff as I do paid.

During lulls in freelance work and to keep myself from going rusty (or getting depressed), I got involved in all sorts of voluntary and community stuff with the intention of monetising some of it later on ...

Guess what?

That didn't work, but I feel I'm a more-rounded and fulfilled person as a result. At least, I hope so.

The kids are older and at college, we've paid off our mortgage and my wife has retired through ill-health - she has incurable cancer - and so we have a lump sum from that and, in the UK at least, cancer is one of those conditions that is well supported. Thank God for the NHS.

I'm still working freelance, mostly marketing research projects I can do from home for various clients and associates (mostly agencies who outsource the work to me when they need extra help).

I sometimes get involved with proofing and copy-editing and am active with local writers groups - hence my interest in trying to develop that area further. I used to do some interim project-management in various parts of the country but with my wife's condition don't want to spend much time away from home.

There aren't many job opportunities in this area of the kind I used to do when I was a full-time employee and I'd have to commute for an hour or so a day if I were to find that kind of work in a large city.

My wife doesn't want me to do that, she wants us to spend at least a day a week doing things together - having meals out, visiting places she likes until such time as she is no longer able to do so.

That seems very little to ask.

So, some kind of cottage-industry seems the best option. My existing sources of regular work are fragile and my freelance earnings have declined year on year over the last 3 or 4 years. I was below the tax threshold for personal income last year and the year before that, but my wife working full-time then ...

We're seeing a financial advisor later today to discuss aspects of my mother-in-law's finances, she has Alzheimer's and my wife deals with all of that on her mum's behalf.

We're also going to discuss our own situation. Setting money aside for the girls, establishing how much I'd have to live on should the end come for Mrs Gamaliel sooner rather than later - etc.

That'll help but I can see that I'll have to make adjustments too - I've drifted into doing things for free mode - town council, running voluntary/community arts events, trying to be a nice guy ...

I'm not the most entrepreneurial of people, at least not in a hard-nosed commercial kind of way - but I have got worthy and well-meaning initiatives off the ground locally.

Good for thought ...

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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MaryLouise
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What Lamb Chopped said.

I work out a payment rate based on my level of skills and experience with regard to the kind of work proposed; and

1 how much of a role I play in conceptualising the project

2 how much project managing I am expected to do and how many production meetings etc I am expected to attend, how much liaison work needs to be done with designers and printers etc. I always check whether or not I need to buy or upgrade software, if we are all using InDesign, Adobe, QuarkXpress or some other programmes.

3 how much text I will be generating and the research, travel, interview expenses involved in preparing for writing up copy

4 whether or not I will be involved in fact-checking copy for co-workers

5 what the editing involves (manuscript assessment, over-seeing rewrites, restructuring text, ghostwriting, content editing, proofreading, indexing, sourcing graphics or images)

6 helping with promotion, distribution marketing, online social media publicity.

Gamaliel, if I do work pro bono as it were, waiving a fee, that is because the organisation can't afford to pay me. Community organisations, literacy groups and church groups often fall into this category. I do it because the projects mean something to me and I want to contribute to their success. I do ask at times for a nominal or token fee because people take projects more seriously when they are paying for them.

If I do free work for friends, helping with website content, helping to generate promotional copy, reading manuscripts etc, that is done on a reciprocal basis. They would do the same for me.

[ 15. September 2017, 08:43: Message edited by: MaryLouise ]

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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sabine
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I do strictly creative writing, so maybe my experience doesn't relate to your situation. However, I do hope you will consider the copyright protection afforded to what you might be writing if it's a significant project. I've found, through bitter experience, that in these days of social media oversharing many people don't understand what it means (and the potential risk) when they start passing around something another person crafted.

sabine

[ 15. September 2017, 13:19: Message edited by: sabine ]

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"Hunger looks like the man that hunger is killing." Eduardo Galeano

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Brenda Clough
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# 18061

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Yes. The great divide is between fiction and non-fiction. If you are writing non-fiction, get an idea of the project and its pay before you get too far in. Three chapters and an outline are industry standard. Make every possible effort to not write that nonfiction on spec (i.e. In advance of knowing if or how much they pay).

If you are writing fiction, the first rule is, finish it. No one will buy half a story. Very occasionally you will get fiction purchased before it is ever written; this is always when the author is J.K.Rowling or Fergie or Michelle Obama. If you do not have a ready-made market for every word that drops from your well-manicured finger tips, finish it first.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer with a Patreon page

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Doc Tor
Deepest Red
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I'm editing a ms at the moment (ie, bored stupid) so...

If you going to be acting as a publisher, you will indeed *be* a publisher, and you need to fully aware of what it means to be a publisher. This means your obligations to the British Library, getting ISBNs, drafting water-tight contracts, how to format and print and, critically, distribute, books, and how to format and distribute ebooks. There will be certain sunk costs - art, editing, proofs - before you'll earn so much as a penny, and the old adage
quote:
How do you make a small fortune publishing?

Start with a large one.

still holds true.

If, on the other hand, you intend to act as an editor/author, who will approach an already-established publisher with a project, things will be different but no less complicated. You will unlikely make much, if any, money. I make, on average, £10k a year, writing full time. And that still puts me easily in the top 10% earners in the field.

Do it because you want to, because you think it's worthwhile, because you have something to say. If you need a bit of ready cash, do a couple of shifts a week behind the bar at the local pub, because unless you're really lucky, it'll pay more.

*grumps*

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Forward the New Republic

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Brenda Clough
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Words of wisdom. Write only if you cannot be happy in any other way. There are easier ways to earn money, like prostitution.
A friend of mine was teaching writing at the New School in New York City. (A not-for-credit institution). She had the habit of asking her pupils at the beginning of every session what they hoped to get out of the class. Her favorite response was the young woman who intended to be a star on Broadway, an intended to support herself with writing until then. She still tells this to gatherings of writers, and never fails to lay them in the aisles.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer with a Patreon page

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Gamaliel
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That all makes sense.

Thing is, I'm hardly earning bugger all at the moment so it's unlikely that I can do worse ... Although I wouldn't bank on that.

What I have in mind is ancillary to my main and already irregular sources of income and more social enterprise-ish than a ready Warner ... But I don't want to lose money ...

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Brenda Clough
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Until you've spent the money, you haven't lost it. I assume that you are going to leave the value of your time out of the equation. This is bad economics, of course (in the ideal universe you are calculating a fair, not to say handsome wage in for yourself) but is very liberating. Because then you can invest as much time as you need, to make it right. You never punch a clock, because there is no clock.
The moment you fork over an actual penny, then you are spending money. Until then you are free.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer with a Patreon page

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Gamaliel
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Sure, I do lots of things for free, town council, voluntary arts events ...

So why not publishing stuff?

--------------------
Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Schroedinger's cat

Ship's cool cat
# 64

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OK, my insights here.

I have self published work using Lulu. It does fine for me. The advantage is it is free, and I get what I pay for.

The real problem in producing writing works is not the publishing. That is dead easy. The problem is selling. The problem is getting your brilliant pieces out to a buying public who will be prepared to spend money on them.

If you are not an established name - of some sort - this is incredibly difficult. If you take a look, for example, at the sci-fi shelves of many standard bookshops, you will find half a dozen authors occupy most of the space. Breaking into that is really hard. Other areas are as difficult - becoming more so, I think. So many "celebrities" who have a name that can sell just enough to get publishers and bookshops interested.

The sort of social publishing you are looking at is really hard to make money on. You tend to have a limited audience, many of whom will not want to spend the sort of money that you would need to cover costs. It is OK sinking £100 of your own money into a project once in awhile, but it is not a viable long-term option.

A colleague of mine in our writing group has had a reasonable success with her book - she got a publisher, and sold a good number. However, her publisher doesn't want her latest book (it is not quite fitting with their style), and she has spent all of her time promoting her book - radio interviews, signings. It is incredibly hard work, a full-time job for her.

So the answer really is - don't. As with all aspects of writing, there is no good way out. It si all bad, all hard, and (ultimately) all very unfulfilling.

And I have taken to writing and recording music, which is the same, only worse and more so. I must hate myself quite intensely.

--------------------
Blog
Music for your enjoyment
Lord may all my hard times be healing times
take out this broken heart and renew my mind.

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Lamb Chopped
Ship's kebab
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[slightly more cheerful]

There is actually quite a good market out there, just not for the things most people want to write. I mean, forget trying to sell poetry and most fiction and so on, unless you're a glutton for punishment, but when it comes to nonfiction, especially the necessary-but-overlooked stuff, there is money out there. Trouble is, we're talking financial stuff, computer manuals, how-to etc., legal docs, medical, and so forth.

Nobody with sense writes to make a living. [That's me out, then.] But by some miracle I actually have a full-time salaried writer's position doing everything from video study guides to devotionals and online learning courses. You can bet I'm going to do the absolute best job I can here in hopes of hanging on to this plum of an impossible-to-find position, after years of freelancing.

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Er, this is what I've been up to (book).
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

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Rossweisse

High Church Valkyrie
# 2349

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quote:
Originally posted by Lamb Chopped:
...Nobody with sense writes to make a living. [That's me out, then.]...

You and me both. But having a Real Job at a word factory makes it easier.

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I'm not dead yet.

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Gamaliel
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# 812

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Sure.

I don't reckon on making a living out of it, but perhaps doing this stuff alongside other things, if at all possible.

I know it's impossible to make a living out of this stuff.

For the time being, we're alright for cash but longer term the situation might be different. We've got my wife's pension early and as a lump sum, with some enhancements. My occupational pension was frozen in 2010 when I was made redundant. I'm 11 years off state pension.

I've done reasonably well some years with my freelance work but for the last two years haven't earned enough through it to reach the tax threshold.

No bugger wants to employ you when you're in your 50s so part of me thinks I should say, 'Sod it' and just do want I want. My wife's going to die.

I don't want to sit moping around waiting for that to happen.

--------------------
Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Zappa
Ship's Wake
# 8433

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I've published a couple of books (see my tagline advert advert ha ha ha) and have I think earned about $US53.72 ... they would have cost me in fiscal terms alone about 100 times that, and my publisher is (arguably!) not even a vanity publisher.

My greater frustration though is distribution and networking. I have no skills in networking myself, telling the world I'm fantastic, nor even believing it. I was naive enough to believe that because I buy books at the drop of a hat so would others. It seems not. Having a US publisher for an OZ/NZ audience wasn't smart, either. [brick wall] I'm not the brightest hamster in the sandwich.

I am currently working on a novel. Of course I really doubt it will ever be published, though I am working on as if I had no such doubt - working now at polishing every sentence so that it eventually gains that wow-factor that gets it over the line. Two of my friends have published novels recently - I don't think they're quite the next Graham Greene either - and they assure me selection of an agent is the most important step. Forget money, of course. Except out-going (and again - not strictly "vanity", just realistic). But I have to wow prospective agents, and know that too is all but impossible. They are inundated.

But of course, I am brilliant. [Disappointed]

Or deluded. [Tear] [Waterworks]

So those of us embracing this madness ... let's support one another!

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shameless self promotion - because I think it's worth it
and mayhap this too: http://broken-moments.blogspot.co.nz/

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Brenda Clough
Shipmate
# 18061

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Ah! Distributing and marketing is usually the bugger factor; very few people who can write can sell. They are two entirely separate skill sets.
It helps if you can find other like-minded people. The internet makes this easy. You want to write dystopian fantasy involving sex with unicorns. There is, I assure you, a web page somewhere about it (it is surely NSFW) and there's your fan base. Or you want to write about mead production in medieval Armpit Abbey. The natives of Armpit village will be happy to help you promote, and you might rake in the regional Armpit County tourist authorities, and there must be a mead interest group.
It is unfortunately true that promoting takes vast time and is uncongenial. Suddenly you find that you're not writing, you're slogging away at marketing. And the vast, incredible number of books out there (go to Amazon an search for free ones; wear galoshes) is discouraging.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer with a Patreon page

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MaryLouise
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# 18697

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Some more options, Gamliel. Don't sell yourself short.

Once when I was going through a very tough time in my early 30s, a good friend suggested I learn how to do financial editing. I edited and proofread annual reports for a fairly prestigious company and after a while I learned how to edit legal contracts. It was extremely demanding work (a decimal point in the wrong place would be picked up by accountants or auditors, footnotes and references had to be cross-checked in the university law library) and often mind-numbingly boring because I don’t have enough interest in that kind of editing. It paid very well. Later I specialised in editing texts to do with constitutional law and that gave me steady work over many years.

What I like to do now is find work that coincides with my own enthusiasms and passions because that is what I do best. For example, as an amateur botanist I spend a great deal of time growing indigenous plants or wandering around the veld looking at plants in the wild. So if someone sets up a website for a plant nursery and lists aloe species that need identification or needs copy on propagating rarer succulents, I’d feel confident working on that. After writing and publishing a number of lifestyle features on emerging architects, I contacted architectural journals and offered to edit text because I was interested in contemporary architecture. I contacted art gallery owners and sent in proposals for monographs on artists whose exhibitions I had followed for years. Word-of-mouth recommendations followed.

Anyone who wants to set up a professional website or launch an e-zine will need a designer and either a writer or an editor, or both. Most of them will be prepared to pay the going rates for those services. It’s worth looking around and finding online sites looking for writers and editors.

The plum editing job for some of us is fiction editing. This isn’t well-paid because it usually involves manuscript development and a long period of calling for rewrites. Publishers would ideally want novels in manuscript that arrive on their desks with compelling synopses, dazzling polished writing, all the plot holes and character motivations resolved, the grammar and punctuation perfect. That never happens. Because the editor is working with highly skilled, creative, sensitive [insecure] writers, it requires diplomacy, hand-holding and ingenuity. You need to be a reader who loves and understands the genre you edit, you need exceptional close language skills and you have to believe in the emerging novel and be patient as it develops. It helps if you’ve gone through the agonies of writing fiction yourself.

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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Gamaliel
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# 812

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Ok.

Good advice, folks.

I'm under no illusions. I was interested in the first pamphlet of a poet I know in Yorkshire, published not that long ago. I finally tracked it down online and purchased it for a penny (plus post and packaging).

I've won about £2,500 in poetry prizes in my time, some £2,000 of that in one fell swoop.

I've probably earned another £350 or so giving work shops.

A good friend of mine made around £110 on sales of his latest poetry collection.

There's no money in poetry unless you were Seamus Heaney and won the Nobel Prize.

I like MaryLouise's approach but I'm in my 50s not my 30s. If I can do something publishing-ish in the time I have left it'd probably be for some cause or other.

But yes, I hear you, MaryLouise on not selling oneself short.

I do have ideas for a novel and if I keep going with my poetry then I reckon someone will publish a collection of it sooner or later.

I've had encouragement on that score from a high level ... But I won't name-drop.

It's just that although I still have to eat, what's happening with my wife is making me more carpe-diem. More conscious of how little time any of us have.

How do I want to spend that time? Can I help people tell their stories? Can I make a difference, however small?

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Curiosity killed ...

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But doesn't carpe diem have be part of our attitude, not the whole? Many of us will live into our 80s and 90s, which gives you another 30 or 40 years to develop another career and retire from that. Penelope Lively, was it, published her first book aged 70. Shouldn't we both refuse the give up and seize the day? live each day as our last and follow our dreams?

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Brenda Clough
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Every person has one novel in them. You become a professional writer when you have more than one novel in there.
The problem is that you get good at it by doing it -- just like tennis, or baking meringues, or changing tires. Thus, your first novel tends not to be very good, any more than your first cake or your first painting. If you have only the one book in you, this can be a problem. If you have more than one, it's easy -- that first novel gets shoved into the trunk and never appears in the world. (You remember recently how someone dug out and published Ernest Hemingway's trunk novel? Bad move, did not improve his rep.)
It is my personal opinion that you should take care to write that one novel, either right away or when you feel you are good enough to write it. (Neil Gaiman famously wrote his GRAVEYARD BOOK after years of cogitation giving upon it; only when he felt he was good enough did he put it to paper.) Do it, soon, before it's too late. That book in your soul is yours, and if you die before it gets out into the world, it goes into oblivion. We have no guarantee that there are word processors and decent publication fonts in Heaven; you may not be able to write that novel there. I personally also require a broadband connection, for research, and that unlimited access to the Heavenly library. One cannot make bricks without straw.
Although we are reliably informed that there is a rock & roll Heaven. And I am certain that the white robes of the Heavenly host will need mending, redesign, and possibly knitted-lace collars; if God will undertake to restore my eyesight I undertake to produce them.

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leo
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I had some stuff published by a 'proper' publisher (Ashgate) - but reckon I spent more time checking all the footnotes than writing the darn thing in the first place.

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Stercus Tauri
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
...the first rule is, finish it. No one will buy half a story. Very occasionally you will get fiction purchased before it is ever written; this is always when the author is J.K.Rowling or Fergie or Michelle Obama. If you do not have a ready-made market for every word that drops from your well-manicured finger tips, finish it first.

I don't know if others have found the same thing, but it's more than that for me. If I show a piece to anyone before it's finished, it kills it and I can't finish. I don't mind a rewrite if an editor insists and I agree with him/her, but I'll never submit a sample to see if they're going to like it. I suppose my simple mental processes can't pick up after a break.

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Brenda Clough
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That's a separate issue: what you have to do to get the work written in the first place. I know of writers who post it, paragraph by paragraph, on their blogs or Patreon page. I could never do this; I need the entire work, under my hand and complete, so that I can buff it and squeeze it down into a steely mass of perfection.
And of course the number of mind games you can play with yourself are infinite. I went to Athens once and stayed in a B&B. A fellow guest there was writing a novel about the Trojan War. He was in town to do research. I was very impressed until I learned he had been spending every summer in Athens for the past 8 years. Was he ever going to finish that novel, or was it an excuse to get away from the wife and kids every year? Unclear, but I have never seen the book.

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andras
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Brenda is absolutely right (in all her posts on this topic so far, I think!) - the mind games that writers play are never-ending, and there's a horrible urge to assume that everyone else is as interested in what you're writing as you are.

Paragraph by paragraph posted on the net does seem a horrible idea (and might perhaps raise interesting questions of copyright?) Although it's true as Brenda says that everyone has a novel in them, by no means everyone has a good novel in them, and some people just can't write for toffee, just as others can't draw or sing (just two of the many things which I'm blissfully incompetent at).

As is true of all businesses, publishing requires ferocious control of costs, and writers almost always end up complaining about their publishers and vice versa - hence Byron's infamous Now Barabbas was a publisher.

But there's nothing on God's good Earth to equal a bonny book, so go for it!

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Lyda*Rose

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If stories didn't need plots, I'd be set. That's why I got into writing a little fan fiction. I took a series of TV episodes and filled in their back stories and developed a little more arc to connect them. That way I let other people figure out the plots. And my publishers were other fans. The pay was crap ($0) but it was fun to dabble in for a while.

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"Dear God, whose name I do not know - thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG... thank you. Thank you for my life." ~from Joe Vs the Volcano

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andras
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Plotting? Used to cause me tons of trouble when I tried to do it Thomas Hardy style by working it all out first and then making the characters do what I had planned.


Guess what - get half a dozen interesting characters and throw them together and the plot will write itself!

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Adrian Plass

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Schroedinger's cat

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There are different ways of writing. I tend to identify characters, and a basic plot that will enable them to interact. It makes for a whole lot of fun writing, and, I think, reading, because you can do something surprising that you hadn;t entirely considered earlier.

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Lyda*Rose

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quote:
Originally posted by andras:
Plotting? Used to cause me tons of trouble when I tried to do it Thomas Hardy style by working it all out first and then making the characters do what I had planned.


Guess what - get half a dozen interesting characters and throw them together and the plot will write itself!

Sounds like "The Breakfast Club". If it was good enough for John Hughes...

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"Dear God, whose name I do not know - thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG... thank you. Thank you for my life." ~from Joe Vs the Volcano

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Moo

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Shakespeare had no problem borrowing plots and modifying them to suit his purposes.

Moo

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andras
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Depending on who you ask, there are only a limited number of plots anyway: The Quest (The Odyssey), Defeating the Monster (The Hobbit - which has elements of The Quest as well!), Rags to Riches (Oliver Twist), and a few others.

What makes them special is the characters in them, which is why character-led novels beat plot-based ones every time, at least for me. The Small House at Allington is superb in every way, though really almost nothing actually happens at all - but the character of Lily Dale stays with you for the rest of your life.

Incidentally, as regards making money from writing, Trollope said plainly that he'd have made more money from breaking stones than he did from The Warden. Even in the Victorian era, writers often struggled to get by, and he was lucky to have the day job in the Post Office to pay the bills.

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MaryLouise
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Plots are a little like 'ideas' for novels. It's all about the execution and quality of the writing, the energy and subtlety. The capacity of renewal and vision, holding it all together. Telling details, sharp dialogues, pace.

Something the reader can't quite put a finger on that makes this fiction unforgettable.

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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Brenda Clough
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The how-to-write spectrum is a wide one. Over at the far end are people who outline it, create spreadsheets and time lines and whiteboard diagrams with swoopy lines in different colors. These are the people who do worldbuilding and combat analysis in advance, or who work out how the FTL drive's physics operate before writing the story. Or who go to Athens for 8 years to research. These people are the plotters. I knew a writer once who laid out the work not only chapter by chapter, but paragraph by paragraph. It would kill me, stone dead.

Over at the far other end of the spectrum are the seat of the pants writers -- the pantsers. I am a pantser born. I do not create characters, cook up a plot, lay out magic systems, or draw up time lines. I just step up to the edge of the cliff of the novel, and over the edge: write the first sentence. I have no idea what will happen after the period. And, as I fall into the uncreated void, the wings unfurl, big feathery wings. I'm flying, and the story's rolling right along, sentence after sentence, chapters piling neatly up, fast, flowing by under me. Perfectly easy -- if that's how you were born.

There is no way of knowing upon which end of the spectrum you fall, except by stepping up to the plate and swinging at the ball. Any way to get it done is, for you, the right way. If you can only write by engraving the words with a stainless steel burin on the side of a late-model Mercedes, then that's the right way for you. (But save this try for late in your writing attempts.)

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MaryLouise
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And then there are the legions of us wannabe proto-novelists who love the research more than anything else. We draw coloured maps of islands, medieval villages, interplanetary neighborhoods, we look up street names and check what the weather was doing in the late afternoon of June 23rd 1957, we build word glossaries and work out detailed biographies for even the most minor of characters. We spent weeks if not months or years inventing new languages or working out orbit deviations for Saturn in the year 3521. World-building! Getting 18th-century wigs and fichus right! How to perform successful trepanning on a loved one's skull if you find that you and your space crew have time-travelled back to the Stone Age with only a sharpened flint to hand!

This isn't plotting, it is an irresistible distraction.

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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andras
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I suppose I'm personally at the Brenda Clough end of things - you need someone to hold a horse and happen to make her a woman, so you write her in. Later you find that she's got more to her than that, and by the end of the book she's somehow elbowed her way into being a major character. Some characters do have very sharp elbows!

Like composers who each have their own way of writing music (Eric Coates apparently had to wear a three-piece suit and sit at his desk to do it, or the inspiration didn't flow) so every writer has their own ideal method and environment.

But it does help if your ideal environment isn't too restricting - if you can only write with a black fountain pen loaded with blue ink, on cream-lined paper and while sitting on a leather chair with Gregorian Chant playing on the radio, then you're going to restrict your writing opportunities more than somewhat.

I'm lucky - I can do it almost anywhere and at any time, but that's because I think that writing is just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. For some people it's just a horrible drudge, despite which they still have to do it.

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God's on holiday.
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Adrian Plass

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Brenda Clough
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Oh, of research there is no end. There are masses of writers who never begin, because research is not yet complete. And it is a particularly cruel dead end, because NO research can guarantee that it'll be a good book. Only plot and character and theme and tone can do that. I am sure we have all read the novels in which the author had done, dammit, so much work on the tactics of the English Civil War that you are -going- to hear about it whether you want to or not. Or those books in which the story is a thin batter, to hold together large lumps of discussion about Regency hat trends/sex in Cliassical Athens/laser rifles in the wars near Antares.

One of the great historical novelists was Mary Renault -- remember THE KING MUST DIE or her Alexander novels? She never did research. First, she wrote it. Only then, with the manuscript in hand, did she do the research to back it up.

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Gamaliel
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# 812

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Yes.

I've got some novel/short-story ideas but get bogged down in research ...

Which is why I've written more poetry, I think. Lots of revision but the initial ideas flow quickly.

On the 'have to' aspect ...

I was once at a writing workshop with the very excellent Glyn Maxwell.

He said, in an almost 'charismatic' kind of way, 'Some of you here would be physically ill if I told you were never going to be able to write another poem ever again. Just suppose that something were to happen that would render you incapable of doing so. Some of you here would be physically ill. I guarantee it. I won't tell you who you are. You know who you are ...'

I knew.

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Let us with a gladsome mind
Praise the Lord for He is kind.

http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Brenda Clough
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Not all writers can do everything. Like horses -- some are bred to run the Derby, and others are bred to pull beer wagons. To hitch that Derby winner to the beer wagon will only lea to misery. So: you find what you were born to write, and you write that.
This does involve dipping your toe into a lot of things, but it rapidly becomes clear what you can and cannot do. I just had a short story appear in an erotica anthology. I do not write erotica, I thought. But when this market appeared, it came to me. I never argue with my Muse, do you? The story turned out fine and the editor bought it, but I don't think there's another one in there.

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andras
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Mary Renault, of course, had the benefits of the sort of classical education that many these days sadly lack; research for her meant dotting the i's and crossing the t's, because she already had a good notion of what archaic Greece might have looked like. So while I agree that over-researching the subject can be a wonderful displacement activity to take someone away from writing, it's a good idea to have at least a solid basic understanding of the period that you're writing about, whether the distant past or the distant future.

A book I have lined up to write a couple of years from now will be set in the 1960s, a period I ought to know well - heck, I lived through those days! But do I know what the cinema smash hits were in 1962? What topped the charts that April? Was that before or after the execrable Beeching smashed the railway system? So I'll need some solid reading time to make sure I don't get those details wrong, although I'm sure I can recall the zeitgeist pretty well.

The greatest help for a writer is people to tell you what you've done wrong, and a good writers' group is invaluable here. NOT the sort where everyone says, Wow, you've got that just right but the sort where they say, I can't work out who's supposed to be speaking here and You've said 'push' when you should say 'shove'. The first sort of group isn't much use for anything except polishing the ego; the second sort is bruising but wonderful.

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Baptist Trainfan
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An author I like is James Hamilton-Paterson. However to my mind he came a cropper with "Under the Radar" which is about life in a 1960s RAF bomber crew, simply because the book reads more like an aircraft enthusiast's guide than a novel. There is a huge amount of detail about RAF life and aircraft technical stuff, but I feel that the plot is predictable and the characters a bit cardboardy - others may disagree of course!

The research is impressive but allegedly J H-P still got some small details wrong. I much preferred hi "Empire of the Clouds" which is a journalistic account of where the 1950s/60s British aircraft industry got things very wrong.

Mind you, "Under the Radar" would make a great (if expensive) TV series, using vintage footage and interior shots of preserved aircraft (sadly the last Vulcan no longer flies).

[ 21. September 2017, 13:17: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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Baptist Trainfan
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Andras:

Good luck in your 1960s writing. But make sure you get the dialogue right - too many TV dramas, at least, set in that period have immaculate set dressing and then spoil things by using out-of-period words and expressions. I vividly remember a programme set in a Lancashire village c.1960 where a character was set to lose his job through his form "downsizing".

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Brenda Clough
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I went to France this month and stayed in the medieval village of Severac-le-Chateau in the Averyon district. Just strolling around the narrow streets and reading the historical placards was enough. This town was the Peyton Place of the 15th century. Murder, adultery, nunneries in which to park your obstreperous female relations, narrow cells under your feet, accessible only by iron gratings -- the trilogy practically writes itself. I hesitate only because this is such a natural, such low-hanging fruit, that somebody probably already has written the books (probably in French).

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Baptist Trainfan:
Andras:

Good luck in your 1960s writing. But make sure you get the dialogue right - too many TV dramas, at least, set in that period have immaculate set dressing and then spoil things by using out-of-period words and expressions. I vividly remember a programme set in a Lancashire village c.1960 where a character was set to lose his job through his form "downsizing".

Indeed, this is a horrible pitfall yawning in front of everyone who writes about - especially - a time which is still in living memory. Julian Fellowes got much of the language horribly wrong in his Downton Abbey series - car instead of motor, boy-friend instead of young man and so on. It's much easier to write about a period when people weren't talking English at all, but then you need to find reasonable approximations in, say, Latin for common English expressions.

Fortunately Latin usually obliges rather well: Talk of the Devil is simply Lupus in Fabula, for instance.

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God's on holiday.
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Adrian Plass

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andras
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# 2065

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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
I went to France this month and stayed in the medieval village of Severac-le-Chateau in the Averyon district. Just strolling around the narrow streets and reading the historical placards was enough. This town was the Peyton Place of the 15th century. Murder, adultery, nunneries in which to park your obstreperous female relations, narrow cells under your feet, accessible only by iron gratings -- the trilogy practically writes itself. I hesitate only because this is such a natural, such low-hanging fruit, that somebody probably already has written the books (probably in French).

Brenda, Dumas (père) mined this particular vein - or something like it - for many years, but I'm sure there's still a lot of gold to be found there!

Go for it!

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