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How to take advice July 11, 2013

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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We’ve all seen it on TV programs like American Idol – the would-be star turns up for their audition utterly convinced that he or she is the next big thing… only to have their dream crushed within a few moments of their performance… whatever they had been told about the merits of their performance prior to the audition turned out not to be entirely true. Their performance shrinks under objective critique. But if they are wise, they will take that critique and get better. And that’s what it should be like for authors.

Writers' tipsThe process of writing tends to be deeply personal. It’s not uncommon to hear authors referring to their manuscript as their ‘baby’. You tend to pour yourself into your writing – you try to make it true – true of yourself and your experience of the world. When that goes public, you are not only putting a piece of yourself on display, you are putting your abilities as a writer up for critique. It’s a big call! A lot of the books that Castle works on are autobiographical and by first-time authors… so the feelings of risk can be even higher for the author.

Unconditional support

All going well, as an author (whether you are a first-timer or more experienced) you will have people in your life who really believe in what you are doing and are a source of encouragement. These are your supporters – the people that want to see you do well. They boost your confidence with praise and other types of support. This is a good and wonderful thing. But you also need people to critique your work – not to pull it down for the sake of pulling it down – but to help you make your work the best it can be.

The American Idol illustration is probably an extreme example and it’s not directly applicable to writing. But you can’t help wondering whether, if the performers had sought genuine critique prior to standing before the judges, they could have been much better prepared.

I’m not a believer in ‘either you got it or you ain’t’. I believe that some people have a natural gift for writing but I also believe that with some hard work and help, anyone can tell their story in a meaningful way. And it needs to be said that even those with a ‘natural gift’ need to work hard and have their work critiqued to achieve the best from their gift.

Genuine critique

So here’s the thing: benefit from the unconditional support of the people close to you, but also seek out genuine critique. Sometimes your unconditional supporters might be the people who are able to give you the critique – that would be an amazing relationship to have. Other times you might find it easier to seek the critique of someone separate from your circle of friends. The important thing in either case is to be wise about who you seek for critique – make sure they know what they’re talking about! Make sure you seek the critique of people with wisdom.

When you approach someone for feedback, take a deep breath, be brave, and then give them permission to be objective. Tell them that you want their honest opinion – that frees them up to give you their best advice without worrying that you might take offence. Sometimes what they say will be hard to hear but, again, be brave. Discuss their critique with them. Remember, it is your work under examination, not you personally.

You’re the artist

Then it’s back to you as the author – the artist. Sometimes as a creative person seeking the opinion of others, you find yourself pulled in different directions. But, having taken advice and critique, the ultimate decision and direction is yours alone to make. Shelve some advice, and take some on board. Do it with humility, but you are the author. Sometimes the big decision is in fact to make a compromise (you may encounter this when dealing with a commercial publisher who has strong ideas about ‘what the market wants’), but nonetheless, take ownership of the decision.

The ability to seek critique and then to know what to do with it is an important skill to have.

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Writing: A lonely occupation? March 20, 2013

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
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Writing is essentially a solo occupation. Most authors seek out solitude when they’re working, but sometimes that solitude feels like isolation. The great news is that there are ways to find support and connect with other authors – you just need to know where to look.

Get with a groupBeing part of a community of writers provides an opportunity to bounce ideas around, get trusted constructive criticism and, importantly, to interact with people who understand what you’re up to! Many towns have writers’ groups – so perhaps search online or ask at your local library to find a group near you. But if you are a Christian author living in New Zealand, I’d like to point you in the direction of the New Zealand Christian Writers Guild.

This Saturday, the NZCWG is celebrating its 30th anniversary, with an event that features published author Dr John Sturt and Castle’s Managing Director John Massam as guest speakers. For 30 years the guild has been doing a fantastic job of supporting and up-skilling its authors. For more information about becoming a member, receiving copies of their publication or about their workshops and meetings, head over to the NZCWG website.

Another place to search for like-minded people and groups is on Facebook. Facebook is excellent for helping to build communities of people – no matter how geographically scattered those people might be. Recently I came across the Facebook group, Christian Writers Downunder – a friendly bunch of Australasian Christian writers getting together online. You’ll need a Facebook account, but you can visit their page and request to join in here.

So get alongside other authors, and avoid the pitfalls of always working alone.

The publishing process, Part 1 August 19, 2008

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 1. How Castle Works, 5. The Publishing Process Part 1.
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If you’re thinking about writing a book or if you have already written your book and want to get it published, you might be interested in this overview of the complete publishing process. I talked about what Castle can offer in an earlier article. For most people, books just magically appear, ready to purchase, on the shelves of bookshops. In this article I uncover the secret processes of the publishing machine. Read on!

The idea. Somewhere, someone comes up with the idea to write a book about something. No one has ever been able to define exactly what ‘inspiration’ is, but that doesn’t make it any less real. The authors that Castle Publishing has worked with over the years have been a mixture of first-timers and seasoned wordsmiths.

The writing. So having received the idea and passion for the project, the author commences writing their masterpiece. Even at this early stage, it is a good idea to talk to an expert – an established author or publishing professional. As you start writing you should already have a finished product in mind. One of the basic questions you should ask yourself very early is ‘who am I writing this book for?’ It really helps to have an idea who your intended audience is.

Assessment. Here’s the bit where you expose your work for the first time to the harsh realities of the big wide world. By all means, ask your friends for their opinion, but don’t only ask friends. Encouragement is a vital part of the process, but objective opinion is also very important – it will help you refine your work and take it to the next level. If you ask your friends for their opinion make sure you give them permission to be critical as well as nice. For a new author, exposing their deepest thoughts and work to public scrutiny can be a big step. But don’t worry – that’s all part of being an author!

Finding a publisher. Increasingly people are starting out with the plan of self-publishing, and that’s fair enough and can be a really good idea. But most people still see being published by a publishing house as the best possible outcome for their manuscript. Finding a publisher can be hard work though. In USA and other places, most commercial publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Most of their published work is sourced through literary agents and through commissioning authors directly.  Fortunately, because New Zealand is a smaller market, it is still possible to get your work through to a publisher more easily. But make sure you research what kind of book a publisher publishes before you send your work to them. Here at Castle, for example, we publish mostly books by Christian authors, but within that category we are pretty much open to any genre. Also make sure you adhere to the publisher’s preferred method for receiving manuscripts etc. Castle’s requirements are here.

Self-publishing? What if commercial publishers turn you down? If you’ve run out of avenues to have your book published commercially, it is always a good idea to weigh up the feasibility of publishing the book yourself. And remember, if you self-publish, you cut out the middleman. Self-publishing can be more financially rewarding than being commercially published. In fact, you may decide to flag the rigmarole of trying to get your manuscript accepted by a commercial publisher altogether. The important thing is to go to experts who can help you get the work done to prepare your manuscript for publication. And it just so happens I can recommend some very good experts: Castle Publishing!

The contract. If a commercial publisher wants to publish your book as one of their own titles, they will draft up a contract for you to sign. I don’t really have space here to give much advice on the ins and outs of this. But it is important to read the contract carefully and show it to someone with a bit of a legal head who can interpret what some of the clauses might mean in real life (especially if the contract is written in ‘legalese’ and not ‘plain English’). Feel free to ask the publisher for what you want, but also remember that the publisher needs to be able to make the deal viable for themselves as well – otherwise they just won’t bother with your book. They are taking a risk with your book, so bear that in mind as you deal with them. And if you are self-publishing this is one step you don’t need to worry about.

So that’s the first part of the publishing process. In the next part we’ll look at production – the transformation of your manuscript into a book.