On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Are You Ready to Publish?

Let's face it: the goal of getting a novel released through a traditional publishing house can seem unattainable, especially if what you've written is out of the mainstream. You’ve heard that waiting for months is par for the course, even after you’ve signed with a good agent. Once signed to a publishing contract, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find how little the publishing company seems to value your book: So-and-so Big Name Author is getting a ten city tour, and you're lucky if you can finagle a few extra books to send to local review sites.

In this remarkable age of the internet and many publishing options, it seems doable to just put out your book and go it alone. You know what you have is great! Furthermore, you’ve heard the success stories of self-published books that made millions: The Christmas Box was written by Richard Evans as a sweet Christmas story he wanted to share with family and friends. Eragon was written by a 15 year old homeschooled kid, Christopher Paolini, for a project. The Shack was an *inspiring* story written by William Young for friends and family.

There are many choices and nuts-and-bolts steps you can take to gain access to traditional publishing or to produce a self-published book. However, the most important thing that no one seems to talk about, is that before you start investing time to find a literary agent, or putting money down to publish yourself, you must honestly ask:


You might be surprised if you take an objective, impartial view of your manuscript (admittedly difficult). I happily support both authors applying to agents and self-published authors, but have to admit that the quality of writing in self-published novels usually doesn’t strike me as being ready. Upon reading the manuscript I find fixable problems that are enough to torpedo the book. For example, the author might need to cut about a fifth of the manuscript, put in better transitions, or write a satisfying ending.

Even the biggies of the self-published novels aren't necessarily as great as the hype. I saw the television movie The Christmas Box before I read the book, and found that the book meandered without the same satisfying and sharply cut story. Eragon in my opinion seemed to be heavily derivative of Lord of the Ring, and it had a lot of excess verbiage. The Shack seemed to be better written, but even this wasn't so much a story as a philosophical conversation. (One with which I disagree, by the way, but here isn’t the proper venue to discuss why).

In other words, I'd argue that (just maybe) these books weren't quite up to a publisher's standard? In my opinion, these books took off because they all had a resonant premise, even though the writing left much to be desired.

My experience working with the wannabe and soon-to-be self-published manuscripts I’ve seen is that their authors want to move to the next stage now, now, now. You can't really blame them, but still, I gently try to dissuade them when I feel my opinion might have an impact on the outcome.

Before you start sending out your ms to find an agent, or start to self-publish, ask yourself: is my novel REALLY ready? Be objective and hold out the standard that your book will be as good as anything else out there -- because it must be.

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