Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meet the publishers, join the network: A local publishing forum (Part 2)

[See Parts 1, 1.1, 1.3 -- er, no part 1.2 'cos I miscounted!]

What I learnt from a Publisher:

  • Fact - publishers are in the business to make money. They don't owe anyone, least of all aspiring writers, any favours. The speaker was frank enough to share that as a publisher, the decisions she makes are "strictly based on commercial viability".
  • Publishing cycle -- book concept from publishers themselves, or from manuscripts, or from sniffing for ideas & authors. Get an author. Edit the work. Go to Production (design, layout, printing). Next is Distribution (she said this was "important, important, important). Marketing/ promotion. Typical cycle is 12 - 18mths (though fastest she's come across is 3 months).
  • The "players" -- Publisher (negotiate commercial terms); Editor (deals with designer, writer, edits manuscript, need strong project management skills, editing skills, curiosity, eye for details); Designer (layout, book covers); Sales & Distribution team (determine price, manage brand).

What I learnt from a magazine Editor:

  • She asked the audience, "Why do you want to be a writer?" and added, "You don't strike it rich by writing for magazines". Those who say they want to be writers need to be clear why they want to write.
  • Magazine writers write what the publisher wants.
    Some questions that writers might want to ask themselves: What's your motivation? What's your strengths? Are you a "teacher", a "newshound" (sharp, good listeners), a "colour-writer"?
  • One must have confidence & tenacity & patience to make it through the magazine business. She likes writers who see the world with an open mind, who has wit, able to see beyond the obvious, possess good language/ grammer/ spelling skills.
  • Study the magazine that you want to write for. When pitching ideas to editors, suggest new story angles. Consider an Internship. Do write well from the start.


What I learnt from a self-published novelist:

  • Writing is personal. Write what you know. Force yourself to write. Carry a notebook. Inculcate a reading habit.
  • Think big (write for international audience). Be strategic in choosing target audience.
  • It is difficult to get published.
  • Know your publisher. Learn to deal with rejections. She decided to self-publish after receiving "a whole bunch of soul-destroying rejections".
  • Caveats to self-publishing: Do not ask your mother if you write well. Instead, ask people who'll be honest with you. Publish to a high standard (layout, choice of paper etc). A book will be judged by it's cover, especially if you're an unknown author.
  • The hard part was also getting the published book into the retail outlets (appoint own distributor or approach bookshops direct). Had to do the same thing in different countries.
  • The self-published writer is as much a salesperson as a writer. It is difficult. Success is possible. Hardwork & perservance.


What I learnt from a self-published Singaporean author:

  • "Each of you already have our own book waiting to be published".
  • Writing is just a first step to getting published. Initially he spent money but nothing realised.
  • At an international book exhibition, he realised his book was "just a drop in ocean". Needed to gain more publicity. In his opinion, successful authors sell well (writing well is a given)

What I learnt from the Audience (during Q&A):

  • Most questions were directed at the Publisher -- on getting published & distributed, about sales, author contracts (distributor typically takes 60% and splits with retailer)
  • Self-publisher could set a price and less the 60%, and work on the balance. One way was to start small print runs (higher printing costs but higher sales margin). Or print-on-demand
  • Someone wanted to know if there were subsidies for publishing (sponsorship + presales). Answer - there is no single grants or authority. One could approach agencies like MDA and various other foundations (basically, you've got to convince people that you're worth publishing)
  • Another asked at what point would a publisher consider the work to be worth reading. Reply from author was to "hone it down as far as your own talents allow"
  • Quite a few repeated questions, asked in different ways, seeking details on how to promote a book (they want details). Singaporean author shared that he donated 100 copies to his Alma Matter (whereby someone undertook to buy his copies). His point was that self-published authors needed to do the marketing and promotion themselves. "Find something you believe in."
  • Question on whether it's worth publishing via ebooks. I shared that apart from China, most other trends show preference for print, although that might change slowly.
  • Question on how much to set the selling price for a book, or royalties from publisher. The Publisher said it depended on how well known you are. Preetam cited Cory Doctorow, who said that getting noticed was more important than sales at the initial stage.

My takeaway: If it were easy being a successful writer, everyone would be at it. And what's "success" anyway?

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