Another way to publish your book — guest blog by Harold Macy

So here I was — proud as a new par­ent — with a fin­ished ma­nu­script in a tidy stack on my desk. Virginal white pa­per, ap­pro­pri­ate font, neat mar­gins, prop­erly pa­gin­ated and oh so vulnerable. 

But now I faced that big jump from per­son­al writ­ing to po­ten­tial ex­pos­ure to the whole wide world. And, like many a new par­ent, I wondered how this baby of mine would ever walk on its own.

To take that first step the old school meth­od says to look for pub­lish­ers who spe­cial­ize in your par­tic­u­lar genre — fic­tion, po­etry, mem­oir or es­say — and  write a let­ter of in­quiry hop­ing that one of them will be in­ter­ested and re­quest a sample chapter or two which may then lead to a con­tract.  Ah, hope, the writers fa­vour­ite drug.

When I was through the second draft of The Four Storey Forest I did just that — found pub­lish­ers who pro­moted West Coast and Vancouver Island writers. I sent out let­ters of in­quiry and anxiously walked to the mail­box every day in an­ti­cip­a­tion. Out of the ten let­ters I wrote, I got not one response.

Refusing to be dis­cour­aged, I car­ried on re-writ­ing, search­ing for a pub­lish­er and fol­low­ing sug­ges­tions from pub­lished authors.

Simultaneously, I began ex­plor­ing the world of self-pub­lish­ing. I was leery of this due to the stigma as­so­ci­ated with the term “van­ity press” and the pure driv­el it of­ten spawns.  I thought if my writ­ing made it through the scru­tiny of a pub­lish­er, it would surely be bet­ter. I learned there are ed­it­or­i­al con­tri­bu­tions and there is pub­lish­ing and while I thought the two were in­ex­tric­able, they are not! 

Nearing what I thought was a com­pleted book, I sought out freel­ance ed­it­ors. You get what you pay for so I’d ad­vise any­one tak­ing this route to shop around and check ref­er­ences thor­oughly. My first “ed­it­or” seemed a little too in­ter­ested in sign­ing me up for pro­duc­tion ser­vices as he heaped un­earned praise on my raw and truly un-pub­lish­able work. 

At the same time, I looked into self-pub­lish­ing. Two sources of good in­form­a­tion were the Vancouver Desktop Publishing Centre and Printorium Bookworks. The first is con­nec­ted with the won­der­ful magazine Geist, which is a great read in it­self. The second is a print shop that has an ex­cel­lent how-to guide for self-pub­lish­ing. However, I was not yet convinced.

In self-pub­lish­ing, the au­thor re­tains full re­spons­ib­il­ity for and con­trol of con­tent, cov­er design, and distribution/​promotion. This ob­vi­ously means a lot more work. It is an odd para­dox; writ­ing is a sol­it­ary anti-so­cial act, yet mer­chand­ising the fin­ished self-pub­lished work re­quires one to stand up and be­come a shame­less hust­ler.  Some can do this, oth­ers cannot.

Another factor is that many lit­er­ary con­tests do not ac­cept self-pub­lished books simply be­cause of my ori­gin­al fear — so much dross on pa­per. Nor are self-pub­lished works eli­gible for the most of the few grants available. 

So the choice is: sell your soul to a pub­lish­ing house and in re­turn for the pit­tance earned, gain pro­fes­sion­al ed­it­or­i­al sup­port and wider pub­li­city, sales and dis­tri­bu­tion but re­lin­quish a cer­tain amount of in­come and con­trol; or buy what proofread­ing and cri­tiquing you need and opt for self-pub­lish­ing, ac­cept­ing the joys and sor­rows it may bring. 


There are many op­tions for pub­lish­ing a book these days.

For The Four Storey Forest I was for­tu­nate enough to dis­cov­er a third way. Through a net­work of oth­er writers I found a Comox Valley “mom and pop” pub­lish­ing com­pany who had put out a few books of schol­arly note and who were in­ter­ested in branch­ing out to niche mar­kets with new writers. 

So Poplar Publishing did the lay­out, fi­nal proof­ing, some edit­ing and worked with the print­er. The real nuts and bolts stuff. Collectively we cre­ated the cov­er design. Promotion and pub­li­city are my re­spons­ib­il­ity as is ship­ping. My pub­lish­er has a web page with a PayPal ser­vice which means my book has an e‑life. My book baby has taken its first steps out into the world.

I re­cently star­ted work­ing on a nov­el, breath­ing life into the second draft of a ma­nu­script that has been col­lect­ing dust for longer than I care to ad­mit.  However, it is still a good story and, when fin­ished, I’ll go back to Poplar Publishing and hope they’ll take it on. There’s that word again. Hope.



An editor is your ally, not your enemy

Nobody writes per­fect prose the first time around. Oh there might be a killer sen­tence or two but the work will still need edit­ing. That’s what writing’s all about – get­ting that first draft down and then go­ing back to re­write and revise…again…and again…and again.

An ed­it­or is your ally, not your en­emy. They’ll catch the ty­pos, spelling mis­takes and awk­ward sen­tences and let you know when a pas­sage isn’t clear. They’ll point out re­peated words, where you’ve used pass­ive voice and the ex­traneous bits that need to be cut.

And they’ll nudge you in the right dir­ec­tion when it comes to fo­cus, the concept of “less is more” and open­ing your piece with some­thing that grabs the reader’s attention.

Rick's red ink
After I ed­ited this page and gave it back to Rick he said, “Did you have time to really look at this? There is­n’t much red ink!”

The first ed­it­or is you. It can be dif­fi­cult to see the flaws in your work but the more you do it the bet­ter you’ll get. A good way to learn is by read­ing sim­il­ar ma­ter­i­al with a crit­ic­al eye. What works? What doesn’t? What makes you want to keep read­ing? What makes you yawn?

For me the edit­ing pro­cess is largely in­tu­it­ive. I know when something’s not work­ing – not ne­ces­sar­ily why – just that it’s not right. Maybe the words don’t flow, the way I’m ex­plain­ing some­thing is bor­ing or the first para­graph needs to be moved to page three.

Be open to ex­press­ing your com­ments in a dif­fer­ent way. Read your work out loud and look at it both on your com­puter screen and in print. Change, re­move, re­arrange – it’s all part of the pro­cess. Be ruth­less, if you have a won­der­ful sen­tence, para­graph or chapter but it doesn’t be­long in this book, save it for an­oth­er story.

Eventually someone else needs to edit your writ­ing. I’m lucky. Rick, my part­ner, is also a writer and we go over each other’s work on a reg­u­lar basis. Sometimes when he re­turns a piece it seems like he’s marked it with miles of red ink. But I’m grate­ful for the feedback.

Although fam­ily and friends can be good ed­it­ors, they’re prob­ably not pro­fes­sion­al writers or ed­it­ors. Sooner or later your work needs the skills of someone who un­der­stands the writ­ing industry.

If you sign a book con­tract, most pub­lish­ers will as­sign an ed­it­or. If you’re self-pub­lish­ing or want to pol­ish your work be­fore sub­mit­ting it, you’ll need to hire someone yourself.

Remember, your ed­it­or wants the same thing you do: for your book to be the best it can. Chances are, their sug­ges­tions will get rid of any glitches and strengthen the plot and narrative.

If you don’t agree with one of their com­ments, feel free to dis­cuss the pros and cons of mak­ing a cer­tain change. Editing is a col­lab­or­at­ive pro­cess. And one that’s vi­tal if you want your work to shine.