Publishing and Consultancy
I was recently interviewed by book blogger Steve Cromerford who reviewed our first publication, The Human Script by Johnny Rich. One of the questions Steve asked me was where the name Red Button came from. One aspect of the red button is that it’s tempting. It’s the button that you really want to press. And we wanted that to reflect the books we published. But it’s also a little nod to quite a widespread digital publishing myth: that digital publishing is simply clicking a button.
The interview got me thinking. I think this disparaging view has grown out of the ease with which you can now buy digital fiction. Indeed, browsing the Amazon site, you are frequently reminded that you can be “reading this book on your Kindle in under a minute”. But a quick purchase doesn’t mean that the book you’re buying took any less energy and creativity to produce than the paperbacks on your bookshelves. I thought about the process Karen, Johnny and I went through publishing The Human Script and indeed the process that many of our writer friends have gone through in self publishing their own work. This process was by no means as easy. Good digital publishing is not just clicking a button and here are a few reasons why…
Firstly, there’s the energy and talent from the writer. Without months, possibly years of dedication, imagination and effort from writers great novels simply don’t get written. One writer and friend of Red Button, Tracey Sinclair tells us that she writes often fills up several notebooks of character sketches and plans before committing to her first draft, also handwritten. That handwritten draft then goes through another two or three stages before she then types it up and hands it to her trusted team of “beta readers”. This is many months before clicking that button.
And what about the editorial stage? It’s all very well garnering high praise from your friends and family but only an impartial editor will point out the glaring errors or indeed suggest changes that turn your work from something good to something brilliant. Cult author John Green recently argued vociferously in an online video for the value of publishers and his own in particular who had turned his first book from something “unreadably self-indulgent” into something that has sold thousands of copies. Even writers that don’t have access to professional editorial services would be best served by enlisting their most brutally honest friends to act as beta readers. Criticism is a writer’s best tool, not high praise.
Aside from editorial, there is work to be done in producing and presenting a good quality ebook. Ebooks should be readable above all else and this takes energy and time, as anyone who has wrestled with the html inside an ePub file will attest to. Testing ePub files, sometimes on numerous devices, is a tiresome but necessary task akin to the old way of checking book proofs before you go for your first print run. Much like a shoddily produced paperback, even the best novel in the world will suffer in a badly formatted ebook.
And what of the cover artwork? Digital books are still on display in a bookstore of sorts but that bookstore is many times bigger than your local bricks and mortar store. You need to capture the the elusive reader’s eye and get them to connect to your book. In my opinion, this makes cover artwork design just as important, if not more so in a digital world. A digital book needs something that draws the eye, conveys the subject matter, intrigues and also looks great as a thumbnail. Often cover designs that work fantastically well on a B-format paperback are all wrong for the digital stage. The rules of design change for ebooks.
And finally there is the marketing blurb. It needs to be concise and intriguing but above all it needs to be targeted to your reader. Knowing your market is a crucial part of presentation. What is the book about? Who is the reader? Why should they want to read it? What sort of literature do they like? What will convince them that this is the book to buy and more importantly to read? This is like a mini sales pitch – but there’s a catch. And that catch is that you have only a vague idea of who might be listening and what they really want. The audience is an ever-morphing unknown and somehow, somehow you have to reach them. Easy? If it was, every book I have ever worked on would have been a bestseller.
So yes, at the end of all your travails you DO click that little button marked “PUBLISH”. But isn’t it a little unrealistic and very unfair to suggest that the story starts and ends with that button?