This week, I finally finished editing my manuscript of my debut novel, ‘From Here to Nashville,’ ready to send off to the Romantic Novelists’ Association to be assessed as part of their New Writers’ Scheme. As some of you will know, I originally started writing it in MS Word but when I ‘won’ Camp NaNoWriMo last July, I decided to buy Scrivener and I’ve been using it ever since. I love Scrivener and find it very flexible but there is so much to learn all the time. I recently managed to successfully export my second novel to my Kindle from Scrivener (see blog post here) but this week, I had to work out how to export my manuscript from Scrivener to Word. As it took me quite a few goes, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned whilst doing it.
December 1992: Charles and Di announced their separation, the NET book agreement was still in place, Amazon was still just a river to most people, and a fresh-faced bookseller started a temporary Christmas placement at Waterstones in Dorking.
I’ve been selling books for 25 years (I only meant to stay for Christmas!) and I thought I could share a few of the things I’ve learned on the way, though I suspect the final tip is the only one of true practical use…
25 things I’ve learned from 25 years in books:
1. Be professional and courteous to everyone you meet and work with. It’s a small industry.
2. Amazon is all about the customer. Keep that in mind with every dealing you have with them.
3. Formats may change, genres will wax and wane, but people will always want good stories.
4. Never confuse ubiquity with popularity. I can’t tell you how many celeb biogs I’ve seen crash and burn just because publishers thought that being on the telly meant that people liked them.
5. Meeting your heroes can be awkward, but you’ll be fine if you keep it short and sweet. Don’t expect them to be your best friend and invite you on holiday. And remember that they have good days and bad days like everyone else.
6. Authors who have a clear idea of what kind of career they want tend to last longer.
7. Series characters that move with the times stay the course: Rebus, Noddy, Batman.
8. The best editors combine passion and integrity, but aren’t afraid to make a few quid.
9. A big advance can be a curse and a blessing. If you don’t earn out, you’re screwed.
10. Authors can’t sit back and leave it all to the publisher and agent. The successful ones get out there and make it happen.
11. Never respond to bad reviews. Just enjoy the good ones and screw the haters.
12. Never badmouth another author. We’re all in this together and we don’t need to be flinging shit at each other.
13. And be pleased for their successes. Bitterness helps no one.
14. Never stop learning. There have been more changes in this industry in the last ten years since the invention of the printing press.
15. Survival is one part cynicism, two parts optimism.
16. Be loyal to people, not companies.
17. Always make time for a proper lunch break.
18. Write for yourself. Not the market. Trends come and go. You’ll always be you.
19. Changing an author’s name or adding an initial rarely makes any difference to sales. The reading public only care if it’s a good book.
20. Don’t believe your own publicity. Publishing, like any creative medium, is great at creating monsters, and it always happens when the writer starts to believe it when people tell them they’re a genius.
21. Success is not a bestseller, it’s writing what you love… though the money would be nice.
22. Of course people judge a book by its cover. And its title. And its review average on Amazon.
23. Tenacity is everything: keep writing and you can only improve.
24. Balance modesty and confidence and don’t get cocky.
25. And finally, and this is really important, when confronted with a multi-storey car park, always park on the roof. You’ll never forget where you parked (five years on the road as a rep!).
I don’t often do book reviews here (never crap on your own lawn, folks), but Grady Hendrix‘s Paperbacks From Hell was such a happy surprise that I can’t resist. I met Grady when he launched the book at the MCM Comic in October and we bonded over happy memories of rabies scares and The Omen novelisation…
His book is a history of horror fiction in the ’70s and ’80s. It covers pulp paperbacks, the blockbusters, the fads, the won’t-they-think-of-the-children? outrages, the forgotten gems, the best-forgotten misogyny and racism of the times, the cover designers and artists, the die-cut paperback covers, the editors, the imprints and the authors – many of whom are now only remembered by aficionados.
If you’re a writer, or you work in publishing, and you want a primer on how trends wax and wane, how brands come and go, how one-hit wonders can change an industry, then this book is essential reading. Whatever genre you write in or enjoy reading, you can learn a lot from Hendrix’s astute observations on the publishing industry’s ability to squeeze the lemon till it’s dry, and then to toss it away for the next juicy fruit that comes along. In these pages you’ll see writers’ careers soar, then nosedive, taking all the copycat pretenders with them. You’ll see how politics, social change, and a bust and boom economy can affect the public’s reading tastes (think of how the fear of foreign animals coincided with the UK joining the Common Market… time for a resurrection of the rabid dog genre, perhaps?).
It’s relentlessly entertaining, very funny, and Grady’s love for the genre in all its forms is soaked into every page. One word of warning: having read this, you’ll be hightailing it to eBay to buy at least a dozen books just to see if they’re as good/bad/terrible/gruesome as Grady says they are. I shall be seeking out Let’s Go Play At The Adams’s, Michael McDowell’s Blackwater series, and reacquainting myself with a delightful young man called Damien Thorn. Happy reading.