The hard work after writing a book manuscript…

I’m going to commit blasphemy by disagreeing with newly famous sci-fi writer Hugh Howey. I can’t remember the source of the article, but in it he stated: “The hardest part of getting a book published is the actual writing.” Maybe the creator of Wool is on such a pedestal now (he’s a self-publishing success story), no one should dare question any pronouncement he makes, but I will do so. Maybe how he published Wool (like episodes from a soap opera) was easy for him, but I don’t recommend serialization…and moreover claim there is a lot of hard work needed after writing a manuscript that he seems to be ignoring.

Let’s assume the author has the best possible MS (trade acronym for “manuscript”) s/he can produce. Maybe s/he’s already paid for some editing and feels ready to send it out. First, if s/he wants to traditionally publish, s/he’ll send it out to agents and publishers (many indie publishers AKA small presses will consider un-agented MSs). That’s hard work but more time consuming than actual financial investment. That choice is mostly justified by the fact that a traditional publisher will front the publishing costs—editing, formatting, cover art, and maybe some initial marketing. If s/he wants to self-publish, which is more efficient, s/he’ll need to spend money as well as time finding people who will do all those things and do them well. Either way, the author’s post-MS life won’t be easy.

I’ll be brutally honest here: While Howey’s plot was a good one, it didn’t seem original because it reminded me of an old short story where the main character is trapped in a missile silo after a nuclear attack (the first person who can tell me the title will receive a free ebook from my oeuvre of her or his choice). It also reminded me of S. G. Redling’s Flowertown, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and Brian Aldiss’s Starship (a real favorite of mine). If you’ve read these books and Howey’s, you’ll understand why I say this. Of course, none of that really matters, because Wool is still a great story. Its main weakness can be found in the ashes of serialization, which made it easy for Howey to publish Wool, but should never be rectified by just sticking disconnected parts together to make a novel.

There is a whole spectrum of publishing now, from 100% DIY indie (not recommended) at one end and a Big Five publishing contract at the other (also not recommended for the author who wants or needs some personal TLC—that’s only given to the reliable old mares and stallions in the Big Five publisher’s stable). Anywhere along that linear continuum, the author will find post-MS life is difficult.

In fact, the first difficulty involves two MSs, the one the author thinks s/he’s finished, and the next one s/he should be working on while trying to publish the previous. There are cases where an author can finish an MS and push it, forgetting about the next book—that so-called “great literary novel for the ages”—but one-book wonders, especially in genre fiction, are rare birds. The best way to handle this is to sit one or two days aside to getting your book published, and then market it, and the other days to writing the next MS. This is a schizoid process that’s anathema to some writers, so it can be difficult. In fact, it will be hard even if the author enjoys it.

But back to that MS. Are you sure you’ve edited it to be the best it can be? Even if you paid for editing, never trust one set of eyes. Use critique groups and/or beta-readers to test whether your book resonates with readers before that MS is sent off to publish. This is hard. I don’t recommend critique groups, by the way—their members often try to change YOUR voice to THEIRS. (The same thing happens in MFA programs built around the concept of critique group with the added snarkiness of a professor who’s often never written a successful book in her or his life and still thinks self-publishing is like vanity press!). Beta-readers offer those other sets of eyes that will see things yours don’t, and they’ll generally be nicer about pointing out remaining glitches.

If you go the traditional route, the publisher’s copy editor will play an additional editing role (and s/he might want to destroy your voice too, so be careful—agents used to have that habit too, but now they just write rejection emails), and then the publishing process drags on. That’s just a fact of life and quite understandable: Every publisher, including small presses, publishes many books; yours goes in a queue and has to wait its turn. The end of the process, self-publishing or not, comes when the book is finally formatted, cover art is done, and you do the final proofread of both cover and text.

I don’t know why Howey made his statement. For me, writing the actual story is the easy part! All the rest is hard work. I’d rather be writing. But no author can stop with the MS if s/he wants anyone else to read her or his book. Writing the MS is NOT publishing! It might be time-consuming, but writing your story is the most fun you’ll have in the process going from story idea to published book. The rest isn’t easy. And I haven’t even mentioned marketing!


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In libris libertas!

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