We’ve all heard the saying, it takes a village to raise a child, implying that parents alone cannot possibly provide everything a child needs to mature into adulthood. But what does this have to do with books?
I’ve been reading quite a few ‘bestsellers’ recently and they all have one thing in common: the acknowledgements section. There are a plethora of names in there, from editors to beta readers, agents to proofreaders, sales & marketing departments to cover designers. A small village of people (as opposed to the ‘Village People’) are involved at various steps along the way to get the author’s manuscript from first draft to first print. Author Nina George describes these professionals as the team of people who ‘deliver your book safely into the world’, like literary birthing partners, puffing their cheeks and announcing your book’s arrival to the world!
So what are we to take from this? That writers are complete morons who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery? Or perhaps that successful, bestselling writers have the brains and the humility to say, ‘Maybe I can’t do everything myself.’ Now, as a self-published author, you may assume that I have done everything myself and to be honest, you’d be mostly right. But as I’m working on novel number three (have I said that enough times yet? No? I will – trust me!) I’m learning that it does in fact take a village to write a book. As a writer, I am fiercely protective of my manuscript. I don’t like to show it to anyone until it’s absolutely necessary (picture readers prying the book from my COLD. DEAD. HANDS!). But the fact is, once you’ve written a book and put it out there, it’s no longer yours. It belongs to the reader now and so it only makes sense to write your story with the reader in mind. I don’t just want people to read the story – I want them to feel it and be moved by it. But in order to get to that stage, I have to stop wincing at the idea of trusting other professionals with my work.
We’ve all read books that promise so much in the blurb, but fail to deliver on the page. An intriguing premise gets lost in a befuddled maze of stunted characters and confusing plot lines. Sometimes, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees when you’re writing. Your novel is an idea that has taken shape in your imagination as a beautifully formed thing, but somewhere in the process of getting it down onto the page, the message can get lost and the story can lose its clarity. Writers can be headstrong and determined (or is that just me?), convinced that if they look at the words long enough, they’ll start to see them with fresh eyes. But just like it takes a man who is secure in his masculinity to wear a sarong (am I right Becks?), it takes a secure writer to handle edits and critiques without flouncing off in a huff. And now that I’m on novel number one, two, ah yes, three! I feel like I have so much more confidence to take other peoples’ ideas on board without crumbling at the first sign of ‘kill your darlings’. I’ve just completed my first read through with my trusty alpha reader and I’ve already introduced a new character, cut an entire chapter that wasn’t working and given some weaker scenes a good re-tuning so that they sing in the same key as the rest of the novel.
However, it’s important to know the difference between constructive criticism and the other kind that makes you feel miserable and sore. Having completed Julia Cameron’s inspiring ‘The Artist’s Way‘ workbook, I discovered that constructive criticism makes you think ‘Aha! Now I know how to make my book even better.’ It doesn’t leave you feeling despondent and questioning your worth as a writer. Editors and beta readers are a fantastic tool to help you gain perspective and that all-important objectivity you need in order to see your manuscript as a finished product. It’s not about changing your work to please the reader, but rather using their feedback as questions that could produce interesting answers and perhaps a story with more depth.
I still don’t know if I’m going to submit this one to publishers or continue on my own self-publishing journey (both of my novels are still in Amazon UK’s Top 100, so I must be doing something right!) The advantage of traditional publishing is that publishing houses have all of these professionals in-house. However, an entire industry of freelancers has grown around self publishing and even on a small budget, you can hire editors, proofreaders and designers at competitive rates. As an Indie author, I am still the grand master of ceremonies. Nothing will get done if I don’t do it. However there comes a time when you have to acknowledge that producing a good book takes so much more than writing. It drives me nuts when I hear people saying that self-publishing is easy and just a matter of hitting the upload button. Serious authors want to produce a book that can stand head and shoulders with its contemporaries and we work even harder to achieve that. Writing is a solitary process, but producing a good book requires back-up from people who support your work, believe in your writing and want to see your book become the best it can be.
And remember, no man does it all by himself, I said young man, put your pride on the shelf 🙂
So get your Village People on and press play, you know you want to!