Recently I read an article where a writer in Botswana, attempting to garner sympathy, was saying that itís particularly hard for young people to get their work published because they donít have money. Itís enough to make a grown woman want to bite someone. I read these things and get so very frustrated. Iíve written about this many times, in many places; Iíve spoken about it too.
Attention Writers: You do not need money to publish a book.
Before going further, go back and re-read that statement and then keep it in a safe place in your mind. I’m tired of the stories. I’ll listen to no more. Writers in this country must get serious and stop coming up with stories that people who take a few minutes to understand the publishing industry know are untrue. You’re wasting everyone’s time—and more importantly, everyone’s money. I don’t know how many times I’ve written about this issue but it seems the message is not getting through, so let’s do it again, shall we?
First, put your time in. Write. Send your work out. Read. Improve. Get rejected. Try again. Try again. Try again—until your work is up to the standard that a publisher will be ready to invest their money in it. In almost every single situation it is not up to that standard your first time you write something. Put. In. The. Work. It’s not difficult to understand but it is difficult. Writing, despite what people think, is hard work.
Second, yes, in Botswana we have no trade publishers; they are only educational publishers, and even those are barely hanging in there. So what! That’s the situation and it isn’t likely to change as long as Batswana don’t see reading as important and books as something to spend their money on. Either you want to be a writer or you don’t. In this day of the internet, does our local publishing scene even matter? It doesn’t! If you have put in the time, there are publishers all over the world ready to publish your work. Look for them. That’s part of your job as a writer. Third, in the traditional publishing model the publisher pays ALL costs. You, the writer, pay nothing. This is why the royalty split is usually 90% to the publisher, 10% to author. They pay for editing, layout, cover design, printing, marketing, and distribution —everything. You as the writer have one job: write a good book. Fourth, if you are paying
Let’s get honest here. I see no reason why a fiction writer with no publishing track record, no massively popular blog, or social media following, and no major writing prize wins should be self-publishing. It is, in nearly every case, a person not willing to put in the time to improve their writing to a standard where one of the thousands and thousands of publishers in the world might put up their own money to publish your work. Fight me, say all you want to, but it’s the truth.
I’m not against self-publishing. In some instances it makes the best financial sense. For example, if you’re a public speaker around a certain subject, like the benefits of owning cats, it might be wise to self-publish a book on the benefits of owning cats and to sell them at your talks.
This also holds true for performance poets who perform often; having a chapbook of a few of their poems at their events can be a supplementary income earner. I’m not saying fiction writers should not self-publish. On the very rare occasion they do well. But I think it’s wrong for someone to act as if because they’re young or not rich, publishing is barred to them. It could not be further from the truth. In fact, you need nothing but a pen and some paper to get writing, and a borrowed computer to type it all in and to send it off to a publisher. Sad stories will not cut it with me anymore.