10 First-Time Writer Faux Pas‏ - By Adam Lowe
DISCLAIMER: This publisher is also a writer. And I have made all the faux pas listed below, so I feel I can ridicule them all I want.

Writers are an ambitious bunch. They're dreamers by nature and after slogging away at a book for months, years or even decades, they love their carefully crafted opus more than a mother loves her child. Most writers also have some degree of pretentiousness in-built. I mean, why else would they want to sit at their desks waxing lyrical about, well, everything that pops into their heads?

'Where are my royalties? I saw my book listed on a website in Japan, so you must have sold a million copies already. When can I buy my daughter that pony?'

Um, fuck off. Seriously. If you went with a mainstream publisher and were a midlist author with an established following, you'd probably sell about 3,000 copies. If you were with a mainstream publisher and sold much less than this, though, you'd probably also get dropped.

If you went and self-published your work, then you could expect to sell 40 copies (one to each friend and family member you can badger into buying your book).

If you stay with a small press publisher, you may get sales in the hundreds. If you're especially lucky and somehow your book turns up on a university reading list, you might sell a thousand.

Let's say you sell 100 copies, to make numbers easy. The book costs, including printing, production and overheads, come to, erm £4, and the book retails for £10. Bookstores take £3-5 discount. That leaves £1-3 profit. If you're on a 50% net royalty (which is high, believe me!), you'll get maybe £50-150. A much more likely story is your royalty will be 12.5% or less, and you'll get maybe £12.50-37.50. If you sell 1,000 copies, that would be £500-1,500.

Some mainstream publishers give 6-8% royalties (although on gross, and they print more copies). With those numbers, say you sell 3,000 and the cover price is £10. You'll make £1,800-2,400. That's considerably more, but it still won't make you a millionaire.

Bear this in mind when you choose your publisher.

'How many copies of my book will you print? What?! But I demand you print 20,000 this instant! It will outsell Harry Potter, just you wait!'

No, it probably won't. Harry Potter is the exception, not the rule. A few years ago, an industry statistic said 85% of books don't make back their advances. This may have changed, but I doubt it was for the better. It's the J. K. Rowlings, Anne Rices and Stephen Kings that keep the industry going. Small presses are largely run through charitable donations and funding, or just a simply love of books.

'I'll just go Google myself . . . '

DON'T! I did this once. I found a passing comment on a snark blog that I blew up out of all proportions and made an absolute tit of myself. Luckily I managed to show them I wasn't a nitwit; I'm just occasionally hotheaded, as are we all. All writers are precious of their babies, so just don't tempt fate. I'd also recommend you don't reply to bad reviews. And if all you get is bad reviews, then stop reading them. More than one author has ruined their credibility among readers by insulting the people who were buying their books.

'I'm your best author and this is your best book, so why aren't you giving me special treatment?'

Actually, we have several better books, and they all sell better than yours. This may not actually be true, but always assume it is. Nothing is more offputting than writers with egos. And most writers have egos, otherwise we wouldn't try to force our own perspectives on life upon others (i.e., by writing these perspectives down and then trying to convince people to read them).

Publishers have rules. They also have limitations. Don't expect them to do what they can't do, and never, ever ask for special treatment.

'Why haven't you responded to my submission yet? It's been six whole days!'

Publishers have response times for a reason. Even if they don't list one, industry average is a minimum of three months. Query only after this time. The squeaky wheel does not, in this instance, get the oil. When there are several hundred wheels on offer at the same time, the squeaky wheel is likely to find itself in a landfill.

If you want to know what exactly happens to a manuscript when it gets submitted to a publishing house, look at the hilarious tale of Myrtle the Manuscript over at the Science Fiction Writers of America website: here.

'What? You don't want my postmodern retelling of The Book of Mormon as written from the POV of a chronically-depressed broccoli stem that spans life, love and hairdryers over 3,000 pages? You must be mad! It's the next Ulysses!'

We've read Ulysses. Some people happen to think it's overrated, but either way, you're not James Joyce. Neither are you Mark Z. Danielewski. Or William S. Burroughs. Before you can break the rules, you have to at least know the rules. Inside and out, if possible.

You also have to realise every writer thinks their novel is the best thing sliced bread. If they didn't, they wouldn't have written it. Okay, there are occasional exceptions to the rule, and you do get the maudlin writers who are so self-deprecating they believe everything they write is worthless, but usually these writers don't submit their work anywhere.

'Why do I need an editor? My mum read this and she thinks it's perfect.'

Of course your mother thinks that. And so will all your friends. This may not be due to any actual merit in the book itself, but rather in their amazement that you wrote a book and their often mistaken belief you'll be the next Grisham.

No writer comes to us perfectly formed. Every writer needs editing to meet house style at the very least, and the majority need a thorough going over. It always helps to have an extra pair of eyes looking at a manuscript. The best works are usually by writers who are members of workshops or who have gone through the editorial process several times in the past. These people know what problems to look for, although again another pair of eyes is usually still necessary.

'Don't touch my colon!'

This is not a pun. At least, we're not using it as one today.

Arguing with editors about punctuation and the minutiae of your writing will not win you any fans. If you honestly believe not a single word can be touched because your manuscript is somehow holy, then we don't want to work with you. Neither will most other publishers. Writing is a process of negotiation (picking the right words, conveying the right meaning, changing the words where the meaning isn't clear) not divine inspiration. You are not a prophet.

'Why is this all taking so long?'

Well publishers have very busy schedules. Have you ever tried reading, rereading and rerereading a 120,000-word novel for mistakes? Have you experienced the nightmare of typesetting a book then realising there's a tiny mistake which means the whole book needs reformatting? Have you ever tried juggling twelve such books at the same time?

No, I thought not.

Books take a long time to get write. Just as they take a long time to write, they take a long time to publish. Printing can take a number of weeks alone. Marketing campaigns can begin three to six months before a book is released. Planning marketing campaigns can take weeks. Waiting for an appropriate juncture in the schedule to disburse funds without messing up an incredibly tight and well-considered budget can mean waiting months or longer. It's not unusual for a book to take two years from submission to publication. Some publishing companies (okay, either not very good ones or particularly small and understaffed ones) have reading times of up to 12 months. Don't have unrealistic expectations. Your book will not be out next week.

'I know your submission guidelines said traditional manuscript formatting and no elves and no simultaneous submissions, but . . . '

Just, no! We have guidelines for a reason. If we're even letting you submit, take it as a blessing. Many publishers are now closing their doors to unsolicited submissions and publishing only those writers they already know, someone else has recommended or who have agents. Ignoring the guidelines is a surefire way of getting ignored or blacklisted.

© 2007-2010 Dog Horn Publishing