Updated: May 23, 2020
This episode discusses the relative merits of traditional vs self publishing. I will offer advice on how to find and contact an agent; how to snag a publisher. We’ll also look at how to write an elevator pitch, the dreaded synopsis, your blurb and the importance of starting something new.
Unlike the previous episodes, where I have a wealth of personal experience to draw on, for this penultimate post I will be learning alongside you. If you have any tips please feel very welcome to share them in the comments.
My personal experience is limited to indie and self-publishing. My novel Starblood, for example was published by Stone Circle (a new press that didn’t last) and Vamptasy Publishing before I took the self-publishing route. I have returned full circle and I’m really excited that the Starblood series will be relaunched as individual novels by Vamptasy Publishing from December 2018. If it sounds to you like I have played it safe, you’re right. Both indie publishers met me face to face before taking on my books and it was only after a takeover of Vamptasy by the American indie CHBB that I joined a larger press. I am afraid of the constant rejection that comes inevitably with submitting to agents and larger publishers. I am afraid of what that rejection will do to both my psyche and my talent. While I have submitted short stories to people I do not know, and sometimes been rejected and even occasionally accepted, I have never had the courage to offer up something I have poured years of sweat and love into. I want to change that restrictive habit, so while I research for this blog post I will also make personal plans for the future.
Traditional v Indie v Self-publishing
Not everyone’s dream as a writer includes being signed to a big publisher or winning a literary award and that’s fine. Today, more than ever before, there are options for writers outwith the Big Five.
Traditional publishers bring with them a team of professionals to support the development of the books they invest in. With no upfront outlay the author will have an editor, proofreader, formatter, cover designer and marketer, all ensuring the book gets the best release possible. While an indie publisher could employ people to do each of these jobs, the cost of doing so is likely to be prohibitively high.
Cash advances are not unusual in the traditional publishing world. Advances mean that the author will earn something however well or badly the book sells.
Traditionally published books are more likely to be sold in major book stores than their indie equivalents.
However, there are tangible benefits for going alone or with a smaller publisher. Indie routes to publishing usually offer the author greater creative freedom. Writers with indie publishers can write about subjects the corporations wouldn’t touch. Indie authors have more say in covers, marketing and even the editing stage of releasing their novel. Self-published authors have the final say and indie authors are normally kept in the loop and consulted about creative decisions that affect their work. Even literary prizes now sometimes consider submissions from smaller publishers. The literary world is changing fast.
Places like Kindle Direct and Draft 2 Digital allow self-publishing of ebooks at minimal cost. Print on demand means that paperback distribution for indie authors is affordable for a wide range of projects. Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter enable some to manage print runs for fully funded books.
Diversity of options allows for a wider range of voices to be heard. Yes it can be difficult to stand out with so many books being published, but at least you can be published, and chances are you will receive more per copy sold than with the traditional route.
Writing the Elevator Pitch, the dreaded Synopsis and (for self-publishing) the Blurb.
Stage one -
What is your novel about? No what is it really about? What question is the novel is asking – what theme or universal question is it discussing? Can you boil your entire story down to one sentence? We covered this a little when we were discussing theme and content. Now is the time to really pin down what you are trying to communicate. If you can’t then maybe you aren’t ready to publish it yet.
This might sound trite or cruel, after all you’ve spent upwards of a year writing 80,000 words or more and you’re expected to be able to explain it in one sentence. I believe you can though.
The Ballerina and the Revolutionary – is about a child's fear that they suffer from the same schizophrenia they witnessed in their mother.
Starblood – is about the destructiveness of clinging to a relationship after its expiry date.
Psychonaut – is about learning who you truly are through challenges and suffering.
Black Sun – is about how much of the world around us we can/should be held personally responsible for.
Basement Beauty - is about how privilege can insulate people from understanding the harm they do.
Stage two –
What is it that makes your novel -
This is about understanding your story and how to sell it. What you want to achieve in 10 – 30 words is to get someone to say – sounds interesting, tell me more!
Stage three –
Who is/are your main character(s) and what do they want? Try to concentrate on a small number of characters here so as not to get muddled. A maximum of three and a minimum of one character would be perfect.
Stage three isn’t part of the elevator pitch, but is a vital part of writing both synopsis and blurb.
Stage four –
What obstacles do your characters face?
Stage five –
Where does your book fit into an agent’s or publisher’s current catalogue? What books is it similar to and can be promoted alongside?
Finding a good answer for stage five will help you when contacting agents and publishers or when trying to encourage readers to take a risk and buy your book. You will have far more success pitching your book to an acquisitions editor if your title fits the style and/or aims of their current list. Genre, subject and style are all parts of this.
Think about who will want to buy and read your book. Who is the intended audience? Is this an audience the agent or publisher you are contacting already has access to or wants to reach? Even if you have decided to self-pub this will help you make the most of any marketing budget you plan to spend.
The synopsis is the entire story condensed and will need to include the ending (spoilers). This is what the publisher will want to see, together with whatever length of sample they ask for.
The blurb is designed for the back of the book, or the marketing text beside it on a sales page. The blurb should be relatively spoiler free. While it should include hints at the conflict, there should be no indication of how they are resolved at the end.
Once you have worked through these five stages and answered the questions, writing your elevator pitch, synopsis and blurb might be easiest if you tackle all three together. Until you have really laid out the bones of your story, and added a gloss of why people will want to read it, these jobs may seem like impossible tasks. Think of the pitch, synopsis and blurb like archaeological digs. What treasures will be found?
Sell yourself, not just your book
What makes you a good bet? Do you have previously published work? What are your sales figures? Do you have a large social following? Are you already working on a sequel or similar project? Are you truly passionate about your book?
Finding an agent or publisher
Finding an agent and/or publisher is possible, other people do it, but the likely reality of facing rejection after rejection is terrifying to many. If you feel ready to do this there are online lists and handbooks of agents, publishers and who they represent. A simple google search for “lists of literary agents” will demonstrate this. Contacting the agent of an author who writes in your genre and who you respect is a good way to start. Check online for the most current submission requirements and follow these carefully. If you upset the agent or publisher they are unlikely to consider your submission so make sure you know exactly how they want to be contacted and when before you send them anything. Writing and publishing conventions can be a great place to network and if you have your elevator pitch memorised, all the better. Get someone to proofread your synopsis, bio and chapters before you send them. Ensure you don’t give the agent a reason to reject you before they read your novel.
The Writers and Artists Yearbook is a large volume including most of the agents and publishers looking for new work. However even if you use this do check websites in case submission guidelines have changes since the Yearbook’s publication.
Dealing with rejection
The best way to get over a breakup is to start a new relationship and the best way to feel less intensely defensive about the work you are submitting is to write something new. The submission process can take years. Don’t wait for your first book to be accepted before writing your second.
And if you get rejected don’t send the ferocious reply that's brewing in your heart.
We will look at promotion. I’ll include information about release parties, paid adverts, building connections, book signings, your Facebook page, your website, anthologies, Goodreads and more. This will be my last post in this series, but I’ve enjoyed it so much I would like to cover some of the earlier areas in more depth over the coming months. If there is anything you particularly want to go over please let me know in the comments.
Carmilla Voiez is a horror and fantasy author. Her novels have been published by indie publishing companies including Vamptasy Publishing, CHBB and Stone Circle Publishing and her short stories have been included in anthologies by Clash Books, Weird Punk Books, Siren Magazine, and Dragones Mecanicos. Her award-winning Starblood series is being adapted into a series of graphic novels illustrated by Anna Prashkovich. She has studied creative writing with the Open University and proof-reading with Chapterhouse. Carmilla also offers individually tailored editing packages for self-publishing authors.
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