Why Do We Need Publishers?

Writers who self-publish electronically get to keep all the money their books earn less a pittance to the venue through which the book is sold, such as Amazon or Smashwords. That’s not much money but If they publish through an electronic publisher such as Samhain,Tate or The Written World, the publisher takes an additional chunk of money for their effort.

Sometimes that’s a rather sizable chunk considering that they have no printing costs and don’t have to ship paper books all over the world. Print publishers, such as Dorchester or Penguin Books, take even more to cover the cost of printing and distributing. And they do so even though the writer has to do all or most of the marketing. So why bother with a publisher at all? Why not just self-publish and keep most or all of the money yourself?

The answer is that publishers, both print and electronic, provide one very valuable service. They tell you how to market your book. That’s major because, without marketing few readers will ever know your book is out there let alone make the decision to buy it. I’ve met some writers who are also skilled marketers. I’m awed at how well their books seem to climb the charts whether they have written the next great novel or not. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know a fig about marketing.

And that’s okay if we publish through a publisher because as a part of the agreement between them and you, the writer, they check your website and tell you what’s wrong with it, how to improve it, and if you don’t have one, they tell you where and how to create one.They tell you what to say and do on that website and how to say and do it. They tell you which social media sites are best for marketing your specific book and they take you through the process. Step by step. In detail. Much the way those techies do when your computer stops working and you call for help and end up doing whatever they say with your phone scrunched against your shoulder and your fingers on the keys. And they keep doing it until they believe you know how to sell as many of your books as possible. And until your sales are satisfactory to everyone involved.

That service is worth whatever they charge and is what will keep them in business until someone comes along with software that will do the same thing at the touch of a button. (I’m sure that’ll happen eventually because it’s amazing what software designers come up with. But it hasn’t yet. Hint, hint any software designers out there.) In the meantime we writers gladly give thanks and a portion of our profits to publishers.

After The End

The time comes when each and every writer must finish what they write and send it out into the world. The problem is that very few writers know when it’s done. When it’s ready. When it should be sent away. Most writers will edit, change and tweak their works even after they’ve been published if they get the chance and they will fight to get the chance. It’s the nature of the job.

But if a writer is ever going to get started on that next story that’s already waiting in the wings, then that writer must stop working on the present one. Ready or not, the current work must come to an end and be sent out or the writer’s career will end up stalled. So how is a writer to know when that magical moment is that the story is done?

The answer is, they don/t. They just choose an end, a time when they find they are just playing with words and phrases and other little things that don’t change the story significantly even though it does improve it … and they let it go.

Writers, by their very nature, will never be satisfied. Nothing is ever perfect but writers don’t seem to know that.

But if they are to be professionals, they must let the story go. Perfect or not, it must get out there. If you feel something wasn’t as good as it should be, forget it and vow to do better in the next manuscript. So get your current story out there and then get that next story started.

The End Is Here

Endings are the most important part of any story. It’s what the beginning hints at and the middle reaches after slogging through a lot of muck. In a way, they are the exact opposite of theme because the ending is the one thing that the writer must not wait to figure out. It must be firmly in place before the first sentence is written.

Because the ending must be behind every sentence that’s written. The writer must know where the story is going in order to write words and sentences and paragraphs that will get the reader there without throwing the book against the wall in frustration because that wasn’t what they expected.

There are exceptions. Some great writers don’t know where they are going until they get there. Hans Christian Anderson is the writer I’m thinking of. He said he wrote stories to find out how they ended. But I firmly believe that his subconscious knew all along what the ending would be and he just followed its lead until it emerged into his conscience.

So unless you trust your subconscience to know more than you do and to lead you in the right direction, write the ending before the beginning. Most writers do. Some write the entire ending scene before starting their story. Most of us at least jot down a sentence or two on a slip of paper and tape it to the wall above our computers. Or, as in my case, on the computer.

Doing this one simple thing will make writing a story a lot easier and will get you to the end a lot faster and might prevent some future reader from throwing your book against the wall.

Messing Up Your Characters

Once, at a writers’ meeting, a fellow writer said he was quitting the group. His explanation? He’d had a happy childhood. We all understood. Some of the best writers out there grew up in unhappy homes. Not all, but a lot. Those unhappy childhoods gave them both content and incentive to write great stories.

I had a happy, normal, well-adjusted childhood. As a beginning writer, I started out writing what I knew about and that was happy, well-adjusted … and boring.

I realized I’d have to learn how to create characters that don’t put my readers to sleep or go to work at Walmart. I did so by creating characters who have difficulty with adversity because, like me, they’ve never known it and so, don’t know how to deal with it when it hits them over the head. It worked and I started selling.

I still struggle with the process.

As a writer, you must do whatever works for you to create great characters. You can throw problems you are familiar with at them or you can throw problems at them that you … and they … know nothing about. Doesn’t matter which as long as they end up with problems they can’t handle.

Your characters will grow, your story will be better and, most of all, your characters will be more interesting.

The Right Theme

Theme is important. It’s deeper than plot. It’s what makes the story come alive. And it’s very, very general. Love overcomes bigotry. Hope springs eternal. Life is good. Nothing specific.

Problem is, the general nature of theme makes it illusive, amorphous and easy to lose track of even though the theme is what makes the story unforgettable. Like the times you set out to write a love story and ended up with a family saga. You had a techno- thriller clearly in mind but you wrote a romance. So the question is … how can you know your theme before you begin writing if it might change during the course of the story?

The answer is, you don’t. And that’s okay. Because theme chooses you, not the other way around, and that’s why very often it shouldn’t be decided until after the story is finished.

What you wrote when you thought you were writing whatever you set out to write was the story your subconscious was directing you to write. You just didn’t know it until you wrote The End at the bottom of the last page with that elegant flourish all writers learn early on.

At that moment, and not a second before, go back and decipher the underlying theme of your masterpiece. It might surprise you. It may be totally different from what you expected. It usually is.

Don’t worry about it. Run with whatever theme you uncovered that you didn’t know existed until your story was written. Then pretend that theme was what you set out to write all along and accept all compliments gracefully.


In my wip (that’s work-in-progress to non-writers) I need a character to introduce Elle to the spaceship, another to figure out that she’s a stow-away and still another to give her fake papers so she’ll appear to be legitimate. That’s three characters who aren’t essential to the story and all must appear in the first two chapters.

There are two ways to handle such a situation. The first involves creating what some writers call throw-away characters, those people who appear briefly in a story and then disappear, never to be seen again. It’s fun to create such characters and describe them in a sentence or two that implants them so firmly in the readers’ minds that they stay there forever. But too many minor characters can clutter up a story.

So I chose the second way. I simplified and combined. I created one single character who will be semi-important to the story and who does all three jobs. He meets Elle as they board the spaceship, he finds her living hand-to-mouth and he makes fake papers for her. And since he’s also the father of a small girl who helps Ells survive and since he’s also the Mayor of the village she lives near, he’s available to accomplish all sorts of other things in the story that I haven’t yet figured out I’ll need done. And he’s just one character.

A simple story will be remembered long after a complex one has been long forgotten and one character who becomes part of the story will be fuller and more rounded than several throw-away characters, no matter how well they have been described.

The decision as to which way to go is up to the writer. Long stories usually need simplification because they are complex enough without adding to the mix. Shorter stories often benefit from one or two well-defiined throw-away characters.


What’s Interesting?

Rule 2 of the 22 rules of great storytelling has to do with writing what’s interesting. Again, as in my last post (which, by the way, was rule number 1), that means what’s interesting to the reader, not the writer.

What, you say? You were told to write what you like to read. You were told to write what you know. You were told not to do what everyone else is doing. All true, but with a caveat. A very large caveat.

If you write about something you care about passionately but no one else gives a fig about, why would they read what you write? The answer is … they wouldn’t.

So before you put pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, think about your readers and what they are interested in. If you don’t know what that is, go to a bookstore and look over the books for sale. Which genres contain the most bestsellers? That’s what people want to read. There are so many genres out there that sell well that you should be able to find one that’s compatible with your taste.

Then write in that genre but give your work your personal stamp. Do something to make it stand out from the pack and make a reader choose it over all other seemingly similar books. Pull everything you have in you on that subject from your mind and put it down on paper. If you do, you’ll find that your unique take on a popular subject told in your unique voice will become a winner.