Want to get Published? Here's how…

UPDATE: It looks like this is being bumped to later in the year. You can click on this link to get reminders.

Writers! Want to get published? Course you do… Then come and join me and a bunch of amazing people at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London on Saturday 8th February for the Publishing Talk one day masterclass for writers…

This was great fun last year, and perfect for any writers who are serious about getting publishing. There’s a great line up this year…

  • Bec Evans, productivity expert, co-founder of Prolifiko and and author of How to Have a Happy Hustle
  • Nicola May, Number one bestselling self-published author of 10 novels including The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay
  • Scott Pack, publisher, editor and author of How to Perfect Your Sumbission
  • Bella Pagan, editorial director, Pan Macmillan
  • Jon Reed, founder of Publishing Talk and author of Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing
  • Debbie Young, self-published author and Author Advice Centre Manager, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)

And me! I’ll be talking about the most important things I’ve learned from over 250 episodes of the podcast and the BXP2020 challenge.

Get 20% off your tickets here!

One Year On as a Freelancer… and a Confession…

I’ve been at this freelance malarkey for a year now and I’m somehow still solvent. The principles of what I learned earlier this year remain the same, but I have a confession…

I started applying for jobs.

Y’know, jobs with salaries and pensions and commutes and all the stuff I had consigned to the past when I found myself suddenly self-unemployed. Why? Because the banks insist I pay back this mortgage thingy, and suppliers will insist that I pay for goods and services. Unbelievable, eh?

Around mid-October I started to panic. It was very clear that the money was draining faster than it was being replaced and that I would run out of dosh just in time for Christmas.

Here’s the thing: I have a TV show in development, a feature film script with a great director attached, I have three novels published and one about to go out on submission. I’ve had my best year ever as a writer since Robot Overlords was released but, crucially, none of these gigs are paying anything like a living wage.

If the TV show happens I’m off to the races, but TV is high-risk business. Big budgets mean slow progress. I’ve been paid an option plus renewal (a couple of grand). The same risk and speed applies to the film script, though this is a spec script and it hasn’t paid a penny yet. Books move marginally faster, but the advances and royalties have a long way to go before they pay the bills.

I’ve tried getting TV writing work, but still have a long way to go before I have the kind of contacts who will hire me (a lot of it word-of-mouth/who-you-know). Again, there’s a high risk factor. TV is expensive, and me having made a movie and a stack of spec scripts doesn’t seem to be enough for TV producers to take a chance.

It was becoming clear that writing — the thing that took up most of my working day — wasn’t going to keep me in the manner in which I was accustomed…

I believe the word is “louche”…

And so my mind defaulted to the thing I knew was safe and certain: a job with a salary.

I began scouring the Bookseller and other publishing work agencies for jobs. Preferably for some sort maternity/paternity cover that would tide me over till the TV/Film/Book big time happened (stop sniggering at the back – it’ll happen). I applied for a number of jobs that I was perfect for. I had the experience they needed and I was ready to start immediately. What could possibly go wrong?

Warning: the next few paras will make me sound like a grumpy old man, but I can only speak from my own experience as a grumpy old man…

Nobody wanted me! I had interviews, sure, but the language of job vacancy copy is quite revealing. They blurb excitedly of dynamism and enthusiasm and pro-active-ness, but when you get to my age that all sounds exhausting. Whatever happened to a safe pair of hands? Someone who will come in and do the job to the best of their ability with a smile on their face and not set fire to the place??

Also, middle-aged folk don’t come cheap. We expect to be paid well, unlike the poor Millennials who have all been duped into taking a pittance and expected to work all hours. In the interviews I was treated like a curiosity. A survivor of the digital wars of the early 2000s, and one that would probably answer back occasionally, take an hour for lunch, and leave on time every day. Okay, yes, I guess it was my attitude that lost me the jobs, but there’s also a definite bias against middle-aged-grumps-who-don’t-take-any-crap in publishing. I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

I also had a couple of replies telling me they’d read my CV and that I was a successful writer and grossly overqualified. If only they knew.

I think this was all publishing’s way of telling me that it was done with me.

Rant over.

The mind begins to reel when confronted with a black hole of uncertainty.

I’ve been skint before. I’ve been unemployed before, but not when I’ve been the one paying the mortgage. I’ve been massively overdrawn and in debt before, but I had the security of a monthly salary to at least rob Peter to pay Paul (with interest). I’ve never been in a situation when there was literally no more money coming in and yet here I was. Bear in mind, while all this was going there was a disastrous election, Brexit loomed like a cloud of poison gas, and humanity’s inability to get to grips with climate change made one entertain thoughts of selling-up and digging a large bunker in the Outer Hebrides.

What can you do but persist? I kept applying for jobs and touting for editorial work. The editorial stuff started coming in and that was good, but it was a few hundred quid here and there. Not enough to keep my head above water.

And then, quite unexpectedly, I got a job! It’s a book sales job, it’s dealing with Amazon and it’s with a fun indie publisher called Rat’s Tales selling some very cool thrillers (seriously, if you like a bit old-school Bond-meets-Jack Higgins-style adventure, check these out!). The wage is about half what I need to keep the wolf from the door, but it’s fun, they’re a great bunch and I can work from home.

I’m learning to live with uncertainty.

I’ve been scared of it for too long and now I’m challenging it to an arm wrestle in a crowded bar. Wish me luck…

Are you looking for feedback on your novel or screenplay? sending to agents? I offer all kinds of services for writers at all stages in their careers. There are more details here and get in touch now for a free ten minute Skype consultation and a quote.

Author Advances, Earning Out and Royalties explained…

There’s been all kinds of scuttlebutt online regarding a blog piece by the author Heather Demetrious on how she burned through book advances of several hundred thousand dollars and ended up back working in a day job. I’m simplifying her story massively here, so do give it a read.

It’s a fascinating and honest piece, for which she has received all kinds of sneering abuse online, most surprisingly from other authors. At the root of this is an assumption that she should have known what an advance was, how royalties work, and have an understanding of publishing practices that, frankly, are a bit weird and arcane.

Publishing is an industry that has been slow to progress in many ways. It’s still very white and middle/upper class, and the people you work with will assume you’ve been to the same private schools and universities and that we all read the trade magazines and publishing news feeds.

And, like me and Heather, if you come from a working class background you can throw in a feeling of imposter syndrome when you mix with publishing types. And that can mean you’re afraid to ask even the most basic questions. Here’s the thing…

NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK A STUPID QUESTION

Also…

DON’T STOP ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS UNTIL YOU GET ANSWERS THAT MAKES SENSE

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Einstein

Here for you, dear reader, is a quick rundown of some of the terminology associated with publishing advances…

An Advance

This is a sum of money paid to an author in advance of the publication of the book. It is usually paid in three stages: on signing the contract, on delivery of the manuscript, and on publication.

It is NOT a salary.

Payment will come through your agent (if you have one) and they will deduct their commission, which can be from 10-20%.

Then, like all income, you will have to pay tax on what remains. If, like me, you’re baffled by taxes I would advise getting financial advice to help with your tax return.

Here’s the big thing to bear in mind… You will not receive any further money from the publisher until your advance has been “earned out”. So what the hell does that mean?

Earning Out

Think of your advance as a debt to the publisher. If they’ve given you ten thousand pounds in advance, you need to pay that ten grand back before they give you any more in royalties (we’ll come to those in a minute).

How do you do that? Simple. Sell enough books to cover the advance. Ideally, you should do that in the first twelve months after publication.

This is harder than you might think. If books are going to sell they need to be marketed and promoted and that will mean heavy discounting. If your eBook is selling for 99p in Kindle promotions it will take longer to earn out that advance. If your eBook is on sale for £9.99 and not being promoted then the chances are it’s not selling that many copies at all.

You see the problem here.

Very few books earn out in the first twelve months after publication.

But let’s say you do – woohoo! – now it’s time to earn some…

Royalties

These are the payments you earn from book sales once you have earned out your advance. They are usually paid twice a year.

Yes.

Twice a year.

Not monthly, like a salary.

Twice a bloody year.

And the payment will be accompanied by the most baffling document in written history: The Royalty Statement.

Ask your agent (or, if you don’t have an agent, contact the Society of Authors) to explain what it all means, and make sure they check it because it will almost certainly be wrong. My agent discovered an error in my last statement with VAT payments on eBooks and got me an additional £300.

Twice a year.

Bastards.

THE CURSE OF THE BIG ADVANCE

Advances are changing. It used to be a spectrum based on predicted sales, now it’s all or nothing: huge advances or piddly little ones. Publishers used to be a bit rubbish at predicting sales, because it was usually done solely by the editor based on little more than their enthusiasm for the book. While this was all very admirable, it wasn’t terribly scientific and led to huge advances for authors who had no bloody chance of earning out. For example…

Case Study 1: Debut author of a literary fiction masterpiece gets half a million quid for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. The book gets some buzz, but ultimately fails to sell more than a few thousand copies. That author now has a ton of red ink in their profit and loss statement. The author still has the advance (yay!), but the publisher now sees them as an expensive loss and writes them off. The next book is either rejected, or the advance is tiny in comparison to book one. The author’s career never recovers.

These days the advances are calculated by an unholy cabal of sales, editorial, rights, production and marketing and they’ve become a lot better at using data to predict sales. And their predictions err on the cautious.

But… this does mean that if they’re willing to give you a big advance that they’re far more more confident that it will earn out. For example…

Case Study 2: Debut author of a commercial thriller gets half a million quid for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. Because the sales, rights and marketing departments were involved in calculating the advance they are more engaged when they sell it in. The buzz is great, and the rights are sold all over the world, including the movie rights. A miracle! This means the book has earned out its advance before it’s even published! Every book sold will earn the author a royalty and for the next deal they will be able to to negotiate a higher advance. Hurrah!

The above is an unusual outcome, but it does happen. Publishers need a handful of these every year, otherwise they would go out of business.

However, here’s what most deals are like these days…

Case Study 3: Debut author of a genre book gets a few grand for world rights in advance for a book that the editor is head-over-heels in love with. Because the sales, rights and marketing departments were involved in calculating the advance they are more engaged when they sell it in, but… they also have that commercial thriller with the big advance at the top of their priority list, so they give less attention to the genre book with the small advance. The author has to work harder to get publicity and marketing, they pay out of their own pocket to go to festivals, and have to write the second book while holding down a day job and bringing up a family. The rights are sold to France and Germany for a small amount. No one buys the film rights. But… after twelve months the book earns out and over five to ten years the author slowly builds a profitable and credible career.

No one said this would be easy, and you should not give up on your dream of becoming a full-time author, but the odds are it will be a long journey with all kinds of ups and downs. My advice is to keep writing and never, ever be afraid to ask for advice. Speaking of which…

Need advice?

I’ve worked in bookselling and publishing for over twenty-five years and I offer all kinds of bespoke services for writers, from reader reports to full edits. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.