In the time that I've been writing, I've had lots of friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances who know I'm writing a book ask me how I'm getting on. I'm always happy to talk about it - probably more happy than they bargain for, usually - once I get started on my favourite hobby horse, I can go on a bit!.  I really like their interest - it keeps me keen and it is appreciated, but I always feel the answers I give are a little disappointing:-

Frequently Asked Questions:-

When will you quit work/buy a Ferrari/be buying all the drinks?  

There's a common misconception (probably because most of the writers people have heard of are mega rich - Stephen King, JK Rowling etc) that having a book published means you'll be a millionaire.  When I explain that in reality, I might expect to get enough money to buy a reasonably priced week in the Med with any advance I get (unless I'm very lucky,) I can see the disappointment. I try to explain that if they walk into Waterstones and pick a book at random, they probably won't have heard of the author and that person is probably doing a job and writing part time, just like me.  I find the best analogy is being in a band - if someone is playing in a band, you recognise that they're far more likely to be doing it for beer money in your local pub than being the next U2, earning millions.

How long will it be until I can buy it?

Obviously, you really want to say "soon" because they've shown an interest and you really really want the book to be available for them to read, but that just isn't the case.  Many people have no idea just how long it can take from writing a book to seeing it in the shops (if it ever gets there) - but that's because they don't deal with the industry and don't understand that it moves only slightly more rapidly than continental drift.  I'm happy to explain this, but I always feel like the answer is a little bit of a disappointment.  First, you have to find an agent. This can take months to years.  Then your agent tries to get a publisher for your book - again, months to years.  Finally if a publisher takes you on, it can take two years for the book to come out.

Stretching between all those phases is editing (see below) and the long, long periods of waiting between each phase.  If there's one thing you need to get good at to be a writer, it's waiting.

You told me you'd got an agent. Isn't he publishing it yet?

Agents don't publish books, they sell books to publishers on behalf of authors. Lots of people don't know what an agent does.  I probably wouldn't have known myself if I hadn't looked into it.  I usually explain that an agent is someone who believes that they can sell your book for you.  They will give you advice, some will offer editorial advice, they are a critical friend and a great cheerleader - they do all the businessy things that writers have no idea about - they know about rights, they know about contracts, they know about the business and who is likely to be interested in your book.  They will go out to bat for you in a world you'd be lost in and for that, they take 15% of whatever you earn.  Lots of people are appalled at that.  "15%? You wrote the book, not them."  But 15% of whatever the agent can get you is likely to be a lot better than 100% of whatever you can get on your own (quite likely nothing as many publishers don't deal with unagented writers.)  If you want to go down the traditional publishing route, an agent is a must. I feel very lucky to have mine.

Why not publish it yourself?

Self publishing is always an option, but here's the thing.  Some self published writers are brilliant.  Up there with the best. But some are just awful.  Their books are riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and plot holes.  If you self publish, you will just be one of 50,000 books available to people on Kindle in your genre alone.  If you want to succeed at self publishing, you need to write a good book, sure, but then you need to chuck your heart and soul into marketing it, promoting it and doing all the things that will make it stand out from the mass of (often free) ebooks out there.

It's definitely possible. E.L.James (50 Shades) has made millions with a series that started out as self published fan fiction. A friend of mine has written several books and published them on Amazon, where they're very successful.  She's even going part time to spend more time on it.  She's earned more through selling her e-books than some of the traditionally published authors I know have from theirs, but she probably spends more time marketing the book than writing.  I wish her the best of luck, and I'm pretty sure she'll end up doing it full time (every author's dream,) but I know that I'm just not cut out for that. She's one of the exceptions. There's a multitude of other self published books out there, most of which very few people will ever read.

There's also the age thing.  For all kids love computers, iPads and all things technological, they still aren't big consumers of ebooks. Many kids are bought books as presents by adults - and they are usually something they can wrap up. If you want kids to read your book - then it needs to be a physical, paper and ink book or your potential market is still very small.

I want a publisher to buy my book because I want someone else other than just me to sell it, market it etc. I also want to see it as a physical object that I can touch, sign or put on a bookshelf. And yes, if I'm honest, part of me also needs that external validation that says "yes, we're willing to put our resources into printing and selling your book" that lets me know that yes, it really is good enough after all.

You're editing AGAIN?  I thought you'd finished.

One thing I've learned is, it isn't finished when you type "the end." It isn't finished when you get feedback from your agent and make edits.  It isn't finished if you get a professional edit.  It isn't finished when you get feedback from a publisher and make changes in response.  It isn't even finished when you get a publishing deal, because their editor will STILL ask you to make changes.  It's finished when it ends up in shops, at which point you're too worried about whether it will sell and/or getting the next book done.

I finished my most recent edit last week.  My book went off to my agent as well as to a very trusted friend, a writer with her own book deal, signed to the same agent as me.  I'm hoping they'll say it's ready.  But it's quite possible that they might come back and suggest that I need to work on it some more.  I'm hoping for the former, but if it's the latter, I'll just have to go back to editing once again.  

Writing is about 10% writing the story, then 90% tweaking, polishing, cutting and changing it until it's absolutely as good as it can be.  It can be frustrating and time consuming, but the product at the end is hopefully a far superior book, so it's worth it. Wish me luck on that one.

I think your book would make a great film.  Why not try to get a film made?

Film studios are like publishing houses. They're businesses. They don't want to take risks if they can help it.  They want a little bit of a guarantee that they'll make their money back.  They do make films of books - but usually the book needs to already be a success. They want a guaranteed audience. They want to be sure all your readers will want to go to the cinema to watch the movie.  So they seldom want to make a film of an unpublished, unheard-of writer's work.

You need to build your brand and be a real success - then your agent might think about selling the film rights, but he or she will have their work cut out, because that's even harder to do than getting your book in print - of course if he does succeed, get the flags out, cos that's when a writer can make some impressive money.  

If it takes ages; you have to edit it dozens of times and you hardly make any money, why do you do it?

A fair question - my answer's always the same - because I'd have written it anyway.  I sometimes add that I'd also give my eye teeth to see it in print - it's just something I've wanted for a very very long time.  If people think that means I'm a bit odd or a bit daft, then they're probably right, but hey - it keeps me out of mischief.

See you next time.