In less than four months time (gulp) I’ll be taking a year away from dayjobbery and seeing how close I can get to generating a full time freelance writing career. For the next four months I’ve the luxury of preparation time, trying to figure out how to make it work and putting some things in place that will pay off down the line (maybe). Then, at the end of September, I’ll take the leap, put all of this into practice, and see if I’m right about any of it. You can browse previous entries here.
The imminent (July 1st) release of Craven Place marks the first visible part of the freelance leap – the first book published as part of seeing whether I can make writing fiction pay the bills. It’s not a disaster if it bombs, but if it does well then the endeavour will become that little bit easier. Given all that, it’s appropriate that I preview the cover in this series of articles.
Do let me know what you think. I’m awaiting the final version of the full cover flats, so there may be tweaks still to come, but this is pretty much what the novel will be wearing when I send it out to meet people. It’s an elegant number, I think, designed by book dresser extraordinaire Emma Barnes of snowangels.org.
It’s popularly said that writing is a lonely old business, and there’s some truth in that. Making up stories in your own head is about as isolating as it gets (if this is not the case for you, and other voices keep joining in, there are real life professionals who can help you). However, publishing those stories has never been lonely. Under the traditional publishing system you come into contact with editors, agents, publishers, other writers, artists, PR people, and more (which ones and how many depends on what level you are being published at). Many of the editors and publishers who have bought my stories have gone on to become friends and correspondents, as have artists and other writers I’ve worked with. In this online era, it’s also easier than ever to get to know some of the people who are reading my books. Publishing is about as far from lonely as you can get.
Despite the name, this probably applies to self-publishing more than anything else, if you’re going about things in a reasonably professional way. Self-publishers rely on various other autonomous professionals. Book layout and design, editing, cover design – nobody should be trying to do these things themselves unless they really do have those skill sets to a professional level (ie, they’re already working in those fields). Better yet, unlike in traditional publishing, you build the team you want around you. You get to choose which creative, intelligent people to work with.
I’ve been asked twice how I went about sourcing these services, presumably in the hope that I would point towards a site listing loads of cheap professionals who give guaranteed results. It doesn’t work like that. It’s much more about common sense, and looking around. When I publish a book I want to work with people I admire, especially as I’m paying for the privilege. I want the people who work on the book I’m pinning my hopes on to be the best people possible. You should do that too. Find out what they charge, and save up until you can afford them. The key word is professional. Don’t expect a bargain. Expect to pay good money for good work.
In my case, both of the professionals I’ve brought on board were easy to find. Emma Barnes is also one of the brains behind Snowbooks, a publisher that produces beautiful genre novels in the UK. I’ve been a fan for years, and followed their blog for almost as long. I knew from the blog that Emma, who is a very personable blogger, also did freelance design work. Her covers are lovely – beautifully composed, but with a mass market sensibility. When I decided to try and self-publish Cuckoo in 2011, Emma was the first person I thought of for the cover.
Danny, I’d already worked with. I first met him when he edited and designed the Hiram Grange series for Shroud Publishing, including my own Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow, and he put me through the wringer. There are a lot of editors that will try and remove the errors from your manuscripts, but Danny goes further. Instead of making sure there’s nothing wrong with your book, Danny makes it better than it was. He challenges absolutely everything – word choices, grammar, linguistic ticks, character motivation, plot – and pulls things to the fore that you never knew were there. On top of that, he’s a designer, and it shows in every book he lays out. The man’s a marvel. It’s like preparing the best dinner you can, then having Heston Blumenthal give it the once over before you serve. He’s also become a good friend – he’s far too busy right now to take this project on, and has done it anyway.
Both Emma and Danny are very busy people because they’re very good at what they do. That’s the only advice I’d give to anybody trying to work out who they should trust their books to. Find people whose work you admire. Find people who are incredibly busy doing this for a living, because that means they’re in demand (and if they’re in demand… well, that speaks for itself). Self-publishing is all about being pro-active – chasing after the things you want, because nobody is going to drop them in your lap. That includes the people you collaborate with. There is an industry full of talented and creative people out there, some of whom are going to be a joy to work with, and who will bring untold extra talent to your book.
Make it your job to go and find them.
May 2013 Summary: It’s the end of the month, and as predicted when I did April’s summary I’m significantly in the red. That’s because I paid Emma and Danny for services rendered, while at the same time seeing a continuance of last month’s slow sales on Cuckoo and Thy Fearful Symmetry. How long it takes the accounts to balance out all depends on how Craven Place is received over the Summer…