It soon became apparent to me, when I was new to the writing business, how much of it I didn’t know, it was much bigger than I anticipated, and it would be only too easy to be overwhelmed.
Due to direct experience, I soon came to realise there were sharks around. Every industry has its charlatans and publishing, sadly, isn’t exempt.
I was almost caught out by both a vanity agent and publisher (and what gave them both away was appalling grammar and spelling, funnily enough. I knew I didn’t want my works represented by anyone who could be that careless in a world where standards matter, particularly standards of spelling and grammar!).
Now I had helpful advice from the Society of Authors and I went on to join them, firstly as an Associate Member and then, when I had enough published in print and online, as a Full Member. I’ve never regretted joining them. It helps enormously to know there is someone on your side out there.
Worth paying the subs? Yes. They potentially could save you thousands, as they did for me. You also need to know where you can go for advice. (And you can claim professional subscriptions as a legitimate expense against tax).
But when you are new, you don’t necessarily know where to go for advice so I thought I would share some useful links here and set out some useful questions to ask before you commit to anything.
As well as the advice given which I mentioned above, I discovered ALCS thanks to them. The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society distributes money twice a year to authors registered with them.
The money comes from licences granted for photocopying and use of authors’ materials by schools, businesses etc. I received my first payment from them last March. And the cost? Zilch because I was a member of the Society of Authors.
You can join ALCS separately though. It costs £36.00 for a lifetime member and you don’t even pay up front. They take the money from the first payment they issue you.
There is also a certain amount of belonging to a Society like this and it reminds me I am a writer. You might think why would I need reminding but you might be surprised at how many creative people have to fight “imposter syndrome”?
It is the flip side to being creative and I’ve found belonging to organisations like this acts as reassurance to me.
Besides I know exactly where to go the next time I want a contract checked out and that is hugely reassuring in itself.
The Alliance of Independent Authors
The Alliance of Independent Authors is the mirror organisation of the Society of Authors but for self-published writers.
Many authors I know belong to both organisations. Why? They are what is known as hybrid authors where some of their works are published traditionally, others they have self-published (and it is something I am not averse to doing at some point).
ALLI has a company services guide too. (Link is at https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/services-directory/ but you do have to be a member to be able to get this).
Any self published writer would tell you the two things you have to buy in, to ensure you end up with a book that looks just as professional as one that is traditionally published, are:-
You really do need a professional outside eye for this. I’ve found this when my work is edited by someone else. I’ve gone over the manuscript countless times and still miss things. Everyone does!
Book Cover Designer
It is the only way to make your book look good enough. What you don’t want is for your self-published book to look self-published. You want people not to be able to tell the difference. That tells you your book cover has the “wow” factor people expect from professionally produced books. And there is no reason at all why your self-published book shouldn’t stand out like that.
But as mentioned, there are charlatans out there. If you are serious about self publishing, have someone professional on your side. As I’ve found with the Society of Authors, an annual sub can save you a great deal of money and heartache elsewhere.
Don’t forget the writing magazines. As well as giving useful advice on improving your writing, there are often articles highlighting good practice (and bad) in the industry. Writing Magazine, to which I subscribe and have done for a very long time, has a regular spot from the Society of Authors. It is available in most newsagents. And there is an online version too.
Think about what you want from writing
Ignoring the Booker Prize etc (on the grounds that’s a pipe dream for almost all of us), you do need to give some thought as to whether you want to be traditionally published or self publish. Take your time looking up the different advantages to these and bear in mind now many authors do a mixture of both. And I would strongly recommend belonging to a professional body where you can get advice as and when you need it. You will need more than you think.
That’s all very well, Allison, I hear you say, but I don’t know anyone in the industry.
Neither did I when I started out and I guess that’s the point. There are plenty of ways to network (and there’ll be even more when pandemic restrictions are eventually lifted).
Firstly, there are writing groups on Facebook etc. There are loads of them. Explore a few. Join the ones you like and always follow the admin rules. These are pretty standard and common sense. Join in constructively with conversations. If you are invited to introduce yourself, do so briefly. People often respond to these and it helps get a conversation going.
Now remember the point of all of this is to befriend other writers. No one writer knows it all. We can all share useful tips and advice that you might need. In time, you can share tips and advice too.
There are online conferences (and hopefully soon live ones too). Try and sign up for some of these. When live events are possible, perhaps try out a day only event to begin with and see how you get on. Get chatting to fellow delegates at coffee break and over lunch. I’ve found most writers like to know what other writers are doing and, again, before you know it you’ve got a good conversation going and friendships build that way.
Questions To Ask Before Signing ANYTHING
1. Have I taken professional advice on this?
2. Does the contract seem too good to be true? If it does, it is.
3. Have I done as much research as possible into the publisher/agent/book service I’m thinking of going for?
4. Have I explored writers’ forums and followed any threads up that either flag up what is rotten practice and compared that with what I’m being offered; or followed up any threads about the publisher/agency/book service? Word does get out and it is worth following threads like this up.
5. Could signing up with these people do any damage to my writing career later? (Publishers generally do know who the vanity ones are so listing a book published by one of them to a traditional publishing house later on could scupper your chances of getting in with them from the start).
6. Have I spent time chatting with other authors who might know something about the publisher/agency/book service? (A useful warning sign is when you find nobody has heard of the people you mention or, if they have been heard of, it’s not in a good light. Oh and you won’t find vanity publisher books in a book shop for the good reason the booksellers don’t want anything to do with them either!).
Time spent checking things out and taking professional advice could save you money later and a lot of regrets later.
At the time I turned the vanity publisher down and got my MSS back, there was no sign of me being published anywhere in any other form. But it was still the right call to make.
The important point is you don’t have to sign anything you feel remotely uncomfortable or unsure about. You can walk away and sometimes that is exactly the right thing to do.
Never ever be afraid to ask
There’s no such thing as a stupid question. We have all been beginners in this industry and there is a lot to know so ask away!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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