The publishing business begins with the author. An author or a writer is loosely defined as the creator of any written work – fictions, academic textbooks, biographies, autobiographies, etc.
A publishing house is essentially out to make profit. No publisher will be interested in publishing a book that will not sell enough copies to make enough profits to offset the production cost and to plough back into the business.
Then it goes without saying that a serious issue at stake in book publishing is the quality of books being written by the authors.
The steps that the author who wants to come up with a publishable book has to take are hereby discussed. After identifying why you want to write, the next thing is to know what to write about. How then do we get an idea on what to write about?
1. Getting an idea for a book
For whatever reason why one may want to write a book, the idea comes next. The idea must be such that one is passionate enough about if one doesn’t want to start something that will eventually be abandoned along the way.
Ideas come from practically everywhere. It may come through a dream, a workplace that is full of fascinating individuals or a person’s unlawful detention by the police.
What every potential writer should however bear in mind is that there is no topic on which nobody has written under the sun. This should not however put one off.
The important thing is to decide on a topic one is most interested in and identify the style that one is most comfortable with and make the best of it. These however are some writing prompts that may be of help:
2. Read anything you can lay your hands on
It is difficult to imagine someone coming up with a great children’s book when he has not read as many children’s books as possible or any children’s book for that matter.
In actual fact, in addition, he has to be reading everything else that he can lay his hands on. All great authors in history are great readers.
3. Create an environment conducive to working
A nursing mother whose restless nine year old boy is prowling around the kitchen where she is cooking with a gas cooker for a hungry husband should not consider such a time or an environment suitable for writing any book – whether great or not.
The mind should not be crowded as full concentration is required for writing a great book. It is difficult to come up with a good creative work in an environment of anxiety, apprehension or tension.
Besides locating an environment devoid of any kind of disturbance, an author should make available such equipment and materials that will enhance his writing. Laptop/Desktop, paper and pen, suitable chair and table, etc. are essential.
4. Be skillful in the use of the computer
In this present age, it is quite reasonable to make use of the computer to write. Besides helping to write faster, the computer makes editing a document quite easy and neat.
It also makes the typesetter’s work less difficult especially if the author’s handwriting is very bad. The work should be saved in more than one file to prevent irrecoverable loss of the document.
5. Invest enough time
After deciding on the idea, the next piece of advice on writing a publishable book is that there is no shortcut to producing a good book.
The writer must be ready to invest enough time in writing it. He can apply for leave at his workplace and dedicate it to getting the work started, concluding it or to making faster progress on the first draft, if he is an office worker for instance.
He can devote a number of hours on it on a daily basis or on weekend days. Discipline is the watchword and if the project means enough to him, he should be ready to pay the price.
He needs to take his time to get it right. No masterpiece is ever produced when the writer works under a great tension of a deadline.
He should not be in a too much of a hurry.Ulysses by James Joyce is considered by some to be the best English language novel ever written. But the writing took Joyce about seven years to complete.
6. Make drafts
In coming up with your first drafts, these pieces of information will be of help:
- Write only on what you are interested in, what you have received training or education in, or on experiences you have passed through in life.
- Don’t let only financial prospect determine the idea for your writing. This, most often than not, leads to frustration along the line.
- Always carry a notebook and a pen with you. Even when you eat, an idea might just come to you. If you don’t write the idea down, you might lose it forever.
- Sometimes, a writer gets stuck in the process of writing; unable to think through an idea. At a time like this, a long walk away from his work may be necessary. It helps in refreshing the mind and ideas will start flowing again.
- Conducting necessary research into what the author is writing about is invaluable.
- Even if one is writing a fiction, a visit to the library or interacting with a doctor or searching the Internet, for instance to get just a paragraph about administering a particular drug to a patient completely right, if one is not a medical practitioner may be necessary.
- The work must be as true to life as much as possible if one is not writing a fairy tale. Hercule Poirot is such a powerful fictional character in Agatha
- Christie’s novels, so much so that when he dies in the series, ‘The New York Times’ carried his obituary on August 6, 1975.
- Be determined not to give up. The number of people who have unfinished manuscripts in their houses is amazing.
- Many challenges such as dwindling income, marital issues, an old grouch of a boss at work and time pressure may sound as plausible reasons to give up.
- If we all give in to the temptation, a great number of bestsellers we have today would not have seen the light of the day.
- Doubt will arise on the quality of the draft. Many great authors go through the period of self-doubt and in the end; their works turn out to be a great success story.
- One should not be put off by self-doubt and should be prepared that the feeling of inadequacy will always be there; until the manuscript becomes a successful book.
- When enough work has been done on the first draft, some trusted people should be approached to be ‘first readers’. This helps but their advice should be taken with a pinch of salt.
- The writer should also not be offended by their criticism. Even when the writer notices that a person’s criticism is actually meant to hurt him, to show how badly he has written, this may be more helpful to him in his writing than the praise of a friend who does not want to hurt his feelings.
- After incorporating all necessary changes as suggested by the ‘first readers’, this does not mean the writer has got the final draft. He needs to take time away from the draft for some days.
- When he returns to it, he will read the draft as a reader and not the writer. This is necessary because he will begin to see some things in a new light, making great developments in various parts.
- The next thing to do is to print out the hardcopy of the draft. It is on this that the writer will do the final editing of his work. Now he has the last draft, ready to be submitted to a professional editor.
Of course there will always be more to edit and something to improve on, but the fact is that he needs to stop somewhere.
The next step is for the author to get the assistance of an editor to work on the manuscript to prepare it for publishing.
Many potential writers have sad stories of rejection from many publishers. William Golding’s bestseller, Lord of the Flies, was rejected by 21 publishers.
Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart was rejected by several London publishers on the arguments that books from African writers would not sell.
Heinemann took it on after some initial hesitation, and the novel has now sold more than 8 million copies in 50 languages.
Nevertheless, there are some quick ways writers in Nigeria get published without going through the rigours others go through. These would now be examined in brief.