From manuscript to publishing

If as a writer you have reached a point where you know you will go mad if you don't put your thoughts on paper, here is a guide for how to publish what you wrote So you have written a book but it is in manuscript form and you don’t know what to do with it. As long as it is unpublished, you are a writer, a penpusher to some and a dreamer to others, and not a published author. At this stage, you have two major decisions to make. You have to find out if your book is suitable for the local market or international market. This decision is economic as well as political. You have to look at the financial side of things. You get better rewards for your labour if you go for the international market. That’s just a reality in a world divided into the first world and the third world. The publishing process is totally different in both of these worlds. In the first world, you cannot approach a publisher directly if you have written a work of literary fiction, poetry, or a memoir. If your ambition is to get published in these areas, you are supposed to approach a publisher through a literary agent. There are many pitfalls to avoid at this stage. A professional literary agent is not supposed to charge you a reading fee because he or she will be getting paid for the job of representing you through a share of your royalties. Therefore, you are supposed to avoid those literary agents who ask for a reading fee. A good source for finding a literary agent is the website of Poets and Writers, Inc. at Similar to a literary agent who asks for a reading fee is a publisher who asks you to cover the cost of publishing. This is also a hazardous zone. This is vanity publishing — an industry term for self-publishing. There are many vanity presses in the first world and the third world. If you want to go down this road, it is better to be aware of the consequences. If you tell someone, you have paid a publisher to get your book published, it is not the same as a publishing house wanting to bet their own money on your ideas and take the risk of deciding to cover the cost of the adventure. But sometimes an idea is so risky or challenging for a publisher that writers have to support the cost of publishing it themselves. This is a different process from vanity publishing. A writer who pays a publisher for publishing his/her work may have a self-aggrandised sense of self-worth and therefore wants to see his/her name on a book. You will need to have three things: (1) a manuscript that can hook a literary agent in the first ten pages; (2) a pitch including a plot summary; and (3) a platform through which you have built an audience. Self-publishing one’s work because of its samizdat reasons does not constitute vanity publishing because many writers change or hide their identities when publishing this kind of stuff. Hakim Bey, for example, not only publishes his books online but also does not claim copyright for his writings. His main aim is disseminating his ideas as widely as possible. 

In the digital age, the world of publishing has gone through many radical transformations. Almost all blogs are self-publishing projects but the disparaging term ‘vanity publishing’ is not used for writings found in the blogosphere.  Let’s assume you want to go through the most traditional process and have a manuscript published by a mainstream literary publisher with an international distribution network. For this, you will need to have three things: (1) a presentable manuscript ready that can hook a literary agent in the first ten pages; (2) a pitch including a plot summary that makes the literary agent see the worth of your project; and (3) a platform through which you have built an audience and who are eagerly waiting for your book.

For the first item on this list, you need to have talent, stubbornness, perseverance, and some friends who can give you honest but competent feedback whether you should pursue this dream or not. Some people have called this profession a blood sport. And Hemingway certainly thought so when he  remarked: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” If you are still not dissuaded and there is something in you that tells you that you will go mad if you don’t put your thoughts on paper and “out there,” then you should try to develop an obsessive compulsive disorder about how perfect your manuscript can get before you show it to a literary agent. And you should not contact a literary agent till the time you have a manuscript that is as perfectly presentable as you can humanly manage to produce. If you need to hire an editor, do so. If a friend points out your typographical errors, sit with that friend and go through the entire manuscript. Read it aloud to yourself so that you can hear which parts sound awkward when read aloud. After you have a presentable manuscript, you should develop a pitch so that you can hook a literary agent with your idea/theme/story. A good pitch should be presentable during a lift ride with your imaginary literary agent. Imagine you are alone in a lift and a literary agent walks in and you recognise him because you have seen his/her picture because of a photo in a publishing industry magazine. You should be able to pitch your story during a single lift ride and hook the attention of this literary agent. This tip basically asks you to prepare a forceful and succinct summary of the idea and the plot in as few words as possible without making it boring. The third item on the list is a lifestyle and lifelong thing. You have to use all the tools that are available to you to build your presence in the field without coming across as a cheap self-promoter. You can build a local reading club, an online community, a Facebook page with the links to your shorter and already published works, your own personal website, a Twitter account, and Instagram list of your favourite books just to get as many people know about your work and forthcoming book as possible. N. Frank Daniels is an example of the power of the platform. He self-published his first novel titled Future proof and then promoted it to such an extent that a traditional publisher (Harper Perenniel) offered to publish the same book. The publishing history of Futureproof is about the power of building an audience so doggedly that the mainstream publishers have to pay attention. The main reason for this is that this makes the job of their market departments easier. These are the facts that every published author has to deal with after they have taken care of the inspiring and poetic parts of their profession. Good luck

Published in The News on Sunday

dated October 26, 2014