The Tricky Art of Self-Publishing by Bill Keeth

There is, as subscribers to this Newsletter will be aware, no copyright law applicable to titles. But I am more than happy to credit the authorship of the above title to Foster J Dickson of Montgomery, Alabama, writer and teacher of writing. (Google the eponymous title and author on the internet to gain access to his cheerfully empathetic self-publishing exposition.) Because he further avers that “Writing is about art and publication is about money”. Similarly, in Write It Self-Publish It Sell It, I have been concerned to address the twin problems of writing well in the first instance prior to self-publishing successfully and selling your work on. Note, though, that it is not only Mr Dickson’s wise dictum that persuades me this way. For it has been my firm belief and contention throughout that, as a self-published author, you need all the help you can get. Therefore, when it comes to preparing your book for publication, your very first priority should be to ensure it is saleable. That is to say, the book you produce must be as readable as it is well-presented. Because the plain fact of the matter is that, no matter how eager you are to self-publish, you simply cannot afford to churn out any old rubbish.

Incidentally, forgive me, please, if I persist in referring to fiction writing by way of example. But since it is fiction I have hitherto self-published successfully (2,000-plus books and counting) it would be pretentious of me, I think, and quite possibly detrimental to my readership’s chances of similarly successful self-publication were I to pontificate about verse or personal reminiscences or biography or any other form of non-fiction. This is not to say that Write It Self-Publish It Sell It may prove uninteresting or unrewarding for writers whose output encompasses any of these other disciplines. Far from it. Because many of the topics I deal with within the 17 Chapters and 14 Appendices which comprise the book (e.g. what quality of paper to use, the ideal number of lines of print to the page, the actual font and size of font to specify, ISBN numbers, Barcodes, distribution of the finished product etc.) are applicable to any self-published title, no matter what the subject matter.

As I say, though, Write It Self-Publish It Sell It delves into the aesthetics of writing, too (e.g. Appendix 5: Is Your Novel Any Good? Judging Yourself As a Writer) and indicates also where readers may turn in order to access dependable advice concerning exactly what constitutes good writing. (See Appendix 8: Essential Texts About Writing Fiction). Because in actual fact I conceived the idea of writing Write It Self-Publish It Sell It in the first place with a view to answering once and for all each and every question unpublished authors were beginning to ask me consequent upon their learning of the success of my two self-published fiction titles. However, what I have since found somewhat surprising (indeed, what is a matter of some concern to me) is the extraordinary number of unpublished writers who, subsequent to publication of Write It Self-Publish It Sell It, have presumed to mail their books and/or unpublished typescripts to me, asking that I should read them – and comment.

Now, I say this is a matter of some concern to me because . . .

  • If I were to read and comment upon every text that has been mailed to me, I would have no time left to attend to my own work.
  • It is really difficult to know how to refuse to do what my correspondents ask of me without running the risk of offending them.
  • It is even more difficult to read with anything approaching enjoyment more than a few words of anything my correspondents have mailed to me.
  • And (the last straw, as it were) Write It Self-Publish It Sell It actually addresses the majority of the faults I perceive (poor spelling, punctuation, grammar; paragraphing etc) within the texts lying open before me, the real problem being that those writers who have presumed to lumber me with their stuff have either skipped blithely over the relevant chapters and appendices in Write It Self-Publish It Sell It or have simply failed to understand the lessons I convey there .The former, I suspect. Because one correspondenthas the brass neck to admit to not having read my book on the grounds that (and I quote): “I have been very busy”.

Hell’s teeth!Haven’t we all, madam?

What in the world, I wonder, are such people asking of me. That I spoon-feed them writing celebrity? (Had I such a recipe, believe me, it is the one Muse they would find me exclusively suckling at!) And so, I am for the moment torn between one of two possible responses to such correspondents. Namely:

  • “Mr Keeth will be pleased to read your work and comment: please remit the $1000 fee”; and/or:
  • “Mr Keeth has won the National Lottery: please re-address your enquiry to Cap d’Antibes.”

In either case my response will bear the forged signature of Angelina Jolie and spurious mention of that lady’s position within my employ: “Personal Secretary to Mr Keeth”.

For the present, though, permit me briefly to consider for the benefit and convenience of the better mannered (indeed, proudly independent) writers amongst the readership of this excellent Newsletter (presupposing their concerns in respect of personal writing skills do not similarly hinge upon schoolroom difficulties with spelling, punctuation, poor grammar etc.) . . . yes, permit me, if you will, to consider a means whereby I may illustrate exactly what I mean when I speak of “writing well” and its opposite. Let us take, by way of example, the first few words of a thriller I love with a vengeance . . .

‘You know the song, don’t you? “There’s no business like show business”. ‘ Harry gets the Ethel Merman intonation just right as he heats up a poker in the gas burner.

‘“Like no business.”’

Turning the iron slowly, sheathing it in blue flame.

‘You know?’

I nod with enough emphasis to cause the chair I’m tied to to edge a little across the room. This only brings me closer to Harry. The gas roars softly. Blue flame looking cold. Poker looking hot. Glowing now, already brighter than the fire that feeds it. Getting red hot, white hot . . . [The Long Firm by Jake Arnott, pub. Hodder, 1999]

And now compare this with the first few words of an altogether different thriller that leaves me stone cold . . .

Roger Seagraves walked out of the U.S. Capitol after an interesting meeting that, surprisingly, had had little to do with politics. That evening he sat alone in the living room of his modest suburban home after arriving at an important decision. He had to kill someone, and that someone was a very significant target. Instead of a daunting proposition, Seagraves saw it as a worthy challenge.

The next morning Seagraves drove to his office in northern Virginia. Sitting at his desk in a space that was small and cluttered . . . [The Collectors by David Baldacci, pub. Warner, 2006]

Looking to his bibliography, I see David Baldacci has a backlist of some eleven books to his name, two of which have been made into “major films”, as the saying goes. Jake Arnott’s book, on the other hand, was his debut novel (nowadays he has four books to his name) and Jake Arnott’s book has not yet been filmed except as a (supremely impressive) BBC television production.

So surely I’ve got things wrong.

Nope. I most certainly have not. More to the point, any subscriber to this Newsletter who is capable of writing a publishable novel will instinctively agree with me.

Okay, it would take a much more closely argued thesis than mine properly to delineate the strengths and/or weaknesses of the narratives in question. But permit me, if you will, to suggest in as few words as possible wherein I perceive the good writing – and the bad.

Baldicci’s main character (ergo his narrative) is “dead”, his attributes (he’s a hitman) and surroundings (“living room”, “modest suburban home”, “a space that was small and cluttered) being hung upon him like a second-hand poncho, sombrero and raffia burro from a charity shop. Not to put too fine a point on it, anybody could write ready-made descriptions like these.

Jake Arnott’s prose, on the other hand, is “all singing and dancing” – that is to say (or, rather, as D H Lawrence might have said) it is “quick” as opposed to “dead”. We are immediately into the story, which quickly becomes “our story”, our five senses being brought into play from the outset –“gas roars”, “blue flame”, “glowing now”, “red hot, white hot”. This is not mere verbiage: there’s a kind of “heavy breathing” to all this. Also, we know from our own experience that heated metal gives off a distinctively (Mephistophelian?) smell. Which brings us up against a further consideration in that all these descriptive phrases (and any inference relating to them) are potentially transferable to the psyche of the person who’s wielding the red hot . . . now white hot poker, indicating a state of mind, perhaps. Ooh, er . . . Am I (I speak figuratively on your behalf, of course) . . . Am I the poor soul who is “tied” to the chair? Certainly we can empathise with his predicament – and we want to know more. Who are these people? What is the connection between them? What in hell’s name is going on here? . . .

Enough said, methinks. Make your prose affective, so your self-published sales campaign will have a better chance of being effective. And, if you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favour and read Jake Arnott, please do. Read Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, too.

Now there’s value for money for you, if ever I saw it: three exemplars of affective writing simply for the asking!

* Incidentally, readers who are looking to purchase a copy of Write It Self Publish It Sell It via Amazon.co.uk, are perhaps best advised look to the Used & New section where they will find the book advertised thus: “For worldwide distribution, autographed, with bookmark, despatched by return post from the UK.”

***

Bill Keeth can be contacted at billkeeth@novelnovella.com; his website is: www.novelnovella.com


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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