Friday, February 11, 2011


Let’s face it, self-published books have an unfavourable reputation. Sight unseen, even the best of them are automatically presumed to be badly written and shabbily produced. So, most bookstores refuse to stock them and few reviewers will deign to mention them. To make matters worse, the typical would-be author with the yen to self-publish unfortunately chooses either of the two most difficult-to-sell genres -- novels and memoirs. The marketing and distribution of these types of books may present problems of their own later on, but authors can at least initially boost the odds for store acceptance by striving for the best possible literary excellence.

Novels are particularly challenging to write, demanding a combination of creative talent and grasp of story construction techniques. Commercial fiction is not an easy skill that can be developed in a short time, yet many tyro writers seem to blithely leap into their first novel without making even the skimpiest preliminary study of the craft or planning of their manuscript. Just as one would not set off on a journey to a new destination without looking at a map first. the same sense of direction needs' to be established before creating any novel. Your preliminary outline can be a simple list of events and characters, or a detailed summary of chapters, plot developments, and snatches of dialogue.

There is a mistaken idea among some beginners that such prior planning is somehow mechanical or “non-creative”. Not so, Every professional author spends time figuring out in advance just where her novel is headed before starting to write Chapter One. Know from the start how many chapters your book will contain, so as to avoid rambling out a massive tome. Remember, as a self-publisher, you're the one who is going to have to pay for printing all those pages.

Emboldened by prior knowledge that the book is surely going to be published, without tiresome need for approval by some demanding editor, the author can be cheerfully reckless about how he slaps the words down as a result, all too often thinking first draft is final draft. The very reason for the explosion in numbers of self-published books, the computerized word-processor, simplifies the entire publishing process, making an instant Gutenberg of anybody. Regrettably though, beginning writers tend to under-use one of word-processing software's best features, the easy ability to change, or re-arrange, or delete, whatever words are written.

Willingness to make revisions is the principal characteristic that distinguishes the professional writer from the impatient amateur. Ernest Hemingway is known to have re-written the last page of one of his novels 18 times. Overkill perhaps, but he confirms the point that hind writing. While it is entirely worthwhile to publish one's memoirs for distribution among family and friends, it is asking for disappointment to expect wider general demand in bookstores takes easy reading.; Mystery writer Margery Allingham sees revision this way: “I write everything four times. Once to get my meaning down, once to put in everything, once to take out everything unnecessary, and once to make the whole thing sound as if I had only just thought of it.”

This is not to imply that one must continually agonize over every word, In fact,, the best way, to approach writing a novel is - get it down, then get it right. Write fast first, then revise slow. This involves both making structural changes to improve story development and polishing language for more vibrant prose. Delete words wherever possible. Especially take out those purple passages you were so impressed with. Constantly keep in mind the prolific George Simenon's advice -- "Kill all your darlings!"

Though a book of memoirs demands the same need for good writing and careful revision, it has a different set of priorities. Before you begin typing down memory lane, be aware that unless one is a prominent “Name”, the market for autobiographies is slim to say the least. Reminiscences of, some movie star or politico are usually in great demand. but reader interest in the musings of Joe Average is zero.

This reality does not in the slightest dissuade an ever-increasing number of self-publishers from penning their memoirs. Indeed, personal reminiscences are by far the most frequent form of self-published books. An avalanche of volumes about individuals' life-stories are produced each month, fuelled by an appetizing mix of harmless vanity and hope for best-sellerdom.

Memoirs are best written in a personal style, which adds the author's actual tone of voice, Nonetheless, if we expect our words to be read, we at least owe the reader interesting, clear prose. Some accounts of genuinely exciting lives are spoiled by being written at the level of a hurried letter to Aunt Fanny. Taking the time for a careful run through the draft afterwards, revising as you go; can bring one's memoir up to the level any readership deserves.

Above all, keep in mind that though it is entirely worthwhile to publish one's memoirs for distribution among family and friends, it is asking for disappointment to expect wider general demand in bookstores. The happiest self-publishers are those conscious of the intended limited range of readers, content enough to have created a printed testament to their lifetime experience.

1 comment:

Lesley Simpson said...

Hi, we (The Margery Allingham Society) are trying to identify the source of the Margery Allingham quote above. It's definitely Margery but, although we have searched her published articles, we haven't found it. Would you remember where you came across it?

Lesley Simpson
Webmistress, The Margery Allingham Society