Gravestones, birth certificates, faded photographs … that’s the stuff of family history, which has invaded my life for the last year. I didn’t know much to start with, and what I thought I knew turned out to be mostly wrong. What an amazing cast of characters I have uncovered! From the well-kept secret of g-g-g-father Joseph who was transported in 1829 for his second offence of larceny, to g-g-father seaman Richard who first set foot here as a cabin boy of fifteen on the ‘Flying Cloud’ in 1863 and ended up as a Councillor in Warwick, to the implosion of the family tree when g-g-g-mother Jane’s oldest daughter married her second husband’s younger brother (work that one out!). What a resourceful, energetic bunch they’ve turned out to be, not to mention prolific – I have unearthed hundreds of second cousins and beyond.
Piecing their stories together (with the aid of the invaluable Trove and Ancestry) has been an exercise in sleuthing, full of surprises and a lot of fun. We’ve produced a little publication for that side of the family, with copies for all the agencies which have been so helpful along the way – family history is all about standing on the shoulders of others. That’s been keeping me busy this year.
What indeed? I only wish I had the answers for the increasing number of self-publishers who are coming my way. Suddenly writing the book seems like the easy part. Getting your work out there demands a completely different set of skills, not to mention cast-iron confidence and nerves – and preferably lots of money you don’t need! These days it’s not just self-publishers facing these problems: I understand established publishing houses are now discussing their authors contributing to more striking covers, better paper stock etc etc – to give their new book the best chance.
It is no accident that Bryce Courtney has been one of Australia’s biggest selling authors. That’s because he was a highly successful advertising executive – over time, he became Creative Director of three major Australian advertising agencies. He made a mint. He was able to pay for adverts for his books on the backs of buses trundling around all our capitals. He gave away at least 2,500 copies of each of his books to admirers, to pass on to their friends. And look at the result!
Some people are much better at selling than writing. Others (myself included) are the reverse; we come out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of ‘publicity’. So we just do the best we can. These days I’m happy for my books to be stocked in libraries and to be sold off Amazon. Money trickles in, so I know my readers are out there, and I can get on and write something else. That suits me fine.
Swimming with sharks
In recent weeks a number of first-time authors have come my way, wanting to discuss ways and means of publishing their manuscripts. These days technology can make authors of us all, particularly retirees, and I applaud their commitment and enthusiasm. However I have been concerned at the ‘deals’ out there for the unwary, and how easy it is for the inexperienced to be sucked in to a publishing contract which costs a lot, seems to promise much, but in the end delivers very little.
Some of these operators are based in the U.S., but Australia has its fair share. They’re good at making the simple tasks associated with publishing sound more complicated and expensive than they are; they seem to fall short when it comes to delivering a useful manuscript appraisal, and affordable editing services – not to mention any distribution mechanism (eg ‘we will give you the tools to approach local publishers with your book’??? – in other words, it’s up to you to trudge around bookshops trying to find a decision-maker who is prepared to stock your book).
So be careful! Check the cost and the promised output very thoroughly. Ask if they can put you in touch with a couple of their current clients, and get their views. Assess whether you’d be getting value for money. If you belong to your local Writers Centre, seek their advice; they hear the best and worst from their members.
But don’t stop writing!
It must be a generational thing. For years I’ve embraced my Kindle, my iPad and e-books with such enthusiasm – what an absolutely perfect set-up for an avid reader. I’m delighted to upload the books I write to various platforms, for others to download if they wish. But somehow the books don’t feel real to the author inside me until I can hold (and fondle) a print copy with a shiny cover.
That’s what I’m waiting for now: the first small print run of ‘On the Edge’, which will mostly be destined for library shelves – but only after I’ve prized open that first box and fished out that first print copy. Only then will the new book seem like the real deal.
A rendering of a question mark maze
I needed a reprint: the last reprint of ‘Loose Ends’, the first novel in my Annie Bryce series, ran out and the original files were no longer available. Orders are still trickling in, though, so perhaps, I thought, I should produce a revised edition. After all there were a few errors in the first edition, which should at least be corrected. So I reread the book for the first time for years. It was first published in 2006, and of course written a couple of years earlier. How technology has changed in that time!
So here’s the dilemma: how far should an author go in a revised edition? Should I attempt to update the whole text where technology was concerned? I decided against it. I did, however, remove some of the detail about communications, photography and other technology. That should be a lesson for the future. Whatever technology I’m using today will be obsolete tomorrow, so the less said about it the better, unless its integral to the story.
There’s a lesson to be learned every day when you get in to writing and publishing.
Books can be a long time coming! I started putting ‘Pick and Choose’ together a couple of years ago. Most of my writing as been at the lighter end of crime. This collection started life as a collection of my other (ie non-crime) stories, most of which had been successful to some extent in competitions. Then I began to add bits and pieces – new stories, reflections on travel, and on life itself. When is a book finished? Probably never! but sometime the author has to let it go. That happened last week.
So finally, here it is, published only as an e-book. I hope its readers find something to entertain them, and something to ponder on.