It Takes a Community

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Writing is a lonely job. I wish I was one of those writers who can sit in a busy coffee shop and scribble away with dozens of conversation snatches floating by, but I’m too easily distracted by what’s going on around me. Here’s a conversation I once heard between an elderly couple that completely derailed my concentration:

“I heard that Bon Jovi is giving a free hip hop concert.”

“That boy has too many tattoos.”

“He’s hardly a boy anymore, dear.”

It was all I could do to stop myself from following them to their car to hear more. But that would be stalking. So instead, I hide in my apartment – sometimes for days at a time – and I write. All by myself. For company I have music, and cats that have nothing funny or distracting to say.

It wasn’t so long ago that a writer who had finished a project followed a pretty specific route to publishing. You found an agent, who would flog your manuscript to potential publishers. The publisher would then provide all the necessary people and services to get that manuscript onto store shelves in book form. It was the writer’s job to write and most of the other details were left up to the publishing house. A story was just a manuscript that had yet to be wrapped up in the requisite glam before it was presentable to the reading public.

The process of creating a book from a manuscript takes a lot of people. Someone has to read it for errors and consistency and a bjillion other details. Someone has to come up with the design for the book and format it. Someone has to create the cover art.

A lot has changed – and continues to fluctuate – in the publishing world, and there are now so many publishing avenues that it can be mind-boggling to an aspiring author. The internet has made it easier for writers to reach fans, and there are dozens – if not hundreds – of options and outlets for self-publishing.

But you may need more than talent and options to navigate the traffic jams that clog the online fiction market. Sure, you can pay to get your story into book form. Simply send in your manuscript and credit card number. Oh, you have no idea how to format that manuscript? They’ll sell you a special package that’ll include formatting, editing and cover design. There, all done. It’s a book. Oh, you have no idea how to get that book out to readers? There are countless websites and how-to books out there that will guide you through the art of marketing your work.

And how about getting the book onto store shelves? Or setting up book tours and signings? Are you flogging it to the right niche market? Are you visible to your target readers? All these tasks, that a writer wouldn’t have traditionally had to worry about, are left undone unless you’re a competent editor, publicist, marketer and artist.

Hybrid publishing, where a writer hooks up with an independent publisher yet retains much of the control over details, is a more communal and cooperative experience than either traditional or self-publishing.

My publisher lives in the same city as I do. I can meet her face-to-face anytime for coffee to discuss next steps. Zoe formats my manuscripts and loads them up to the e-book sites, a magical behind-the-scenes procedure that I have no desire to learn. She emails me options to choose from: fonts for cover title and chapter headings, and images to choose from for the back of the book. She also acts as my agent, submitting my book for reviews and awards, and dealing with legalities.

Her publicist, Ashley, lines up reading tour dates and is currently setting up the gig for my next book launch in October. She also designs posters and author cards for these events and can be counted on to drag me around to meet fans, book store owners and other authors.

I also found a fantastic local editor who fine-tuned the final draft of my first novel. I hired her to edit the sequel and just got the manuscript back the other day. She uses a pencil for her edits, and all that lead seems to have added weight to those few hundred pages – in more ways than just mass. It’s uncanny how Diane’s suggested changes make a bland line read a lot more like what I meant for it to sound like in the first place.

A local artist painted the cover of Tye Dye Voodoo and is currently working on the cover of Voodoo Mystery Tour. She sends me photos of sketches and updates of the painting via facebook.

Steve designed and created my website last year and Megan now maintains and updates it. She’s my hero, as a website is just a series of flat images to me and I can’t seem to grasp the intricacies of the invisible underlying code that makes it all work.

No successful project comes for free, and if I’m going to pay for these services I prefer to support my local community, especially one so full of talented people.

If you write and you plan to publish those precious words, you will become part of a writing community. Whether that community is based around a traditional publishing house, an independent publisher, the world wide web, or a hodgepodge of like-minded literary geeks, you really can’t go it alone if you want to succeed.

Writing may be a lonely job, but it takes a community to raise a book.

I’ll be offline for a few weeks while I put the finishing touches on Voodoo Mystery Tour before handing it off to the publisher. I’ll have an update for you in my next blog, coming in a few weeks. See you then!

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’.

Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Mark Twain

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