Okay, let’s get this out of the way: the Commercial Service’s section of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace is not like the other sections. Up until this point you’ve been a writer looking for opportunities: places to submit your work; courses that can refine your craft; professional organisations to join.
When it comes to the Commercial Services section, you need to adjust your thinking a little. It covers services targeted at writers and publishers; services that charge a commercial fee and expect you to think like a small business owner, rather than a writer looking for a way to get published.
And for a new writer still finding their feet in how publishing works, these can be dangerous waters. The combination of ambition and naiveté about the way publishing leaves some new writers vulnerable to making easy mistakes, while others are led astray by services that over-promise and under-deliver. It can be heart-breaking talking to a new writer who chose to go with a commercial service thinking it was a path to traditional publication, or one who gave up on a project after a manuscript assessment acquired too early in the creative process.
While many professionals make use of commercial services as an everyday part of their business, they can also be a source of frustration for newcomers. Sometimes this is simply a case of honest mistakes—what seems like an ideal route to get where you’re going may instead lead somewhere else entirely. Sometime it’s a case of mismatched expectations, especially in cases where the writer’s ambition has been manipulated by advertising copy. And sometimes there are sharks in the water, preying on those who don’t know enough to recognise the fin cutting its way through the water.
1. There Is No Magic Fix
Hiring a commercial service to work on your manuscript or publishing project can be one of the best investments you can make as a writer, but it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Publishing services boasting that they’re a sure-fire path to success are likely engaging in marketing hyperbole, hoping to draw in new writers who are willing to throw money at a short-cut that doesn’t exist.
The right commercial service can save you time and money, and it can help take your project to the next level. But if you’re reading this section looking for the short-cut that will take you from an unknown to a best-seller, it’s probably time to adjust your expectations.
2. Shop Around
Choosing to hire any commercial service to help you with your writing or publishing project is a business decision, and it should be treated like one. Make sure you look at several providers offering the service you’re looking for, and take the time to familiarise yourself with their background and the work they’ve done for prior clients if you can. Look for qualifications and associations with industry bodies on their websites, or ask them for details if they haven’t got such details publically posted.
In short, do your due diligence. If you’re investing money in your career, it’s worth taking the time to ensure you’re investing it in the right place. As with any business purchase, shopping around and can ensure you’re getting both the best service and the best price.
3. Look for a Track Record
Established services will have a track record you can look up. Many will trumpet these proudly, offering you samples of previous work and referrals from satisfied clients on their website, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there. A quick internet search can turn up both satisfied and unsatisfied clients, while services such as Writer Beware can warn you against unscrupulous providers.
4. Educate Yourself
While you’re shopping around and doing your due diligence, it’s also a good idea to learn as much detail as you can about the service that you’re buying. There’s a wealth of information out there for writers these days, both on the internet and in form of professional organisations such as the Australian Society of Authors or your state writers centre.
You don’t need to become an expert – odds are if you’re looking here, you’ve already acknowledged the need for a professional that can fill in the gap in your own skills – but doing enough research to understand the basic assumptions of the field can be important. For example, learning the difference between a line-edit, a copy-edit, and a manuscript assessment can be a valuable thing when searching for an independent editor. Similarly, knowing a little about the way epublishing works and ebooks are created can help you determine exactly what you need to pay for and what it’s really worth.
5. When in Doubt, Money Flows Towards the Writer
I can’t remember which author gave me this advice, way back at the start of my career, but it’s a simple and easy mantra that’s been repeated, time and again, by writers smarter and more successful than I. Money flows towards the writer, not the other way around. You don’t pay to be published; a publisher pays you for the right to produce your work. It’s advice that made sense to me, even as a young writer, and cleaving to it saved me from making some very expensive mistakes.
Like most business expenses, you invest in the services that follow because they’ll enhance your chances of making a profit in the long run. If there’s more money going out than you reasonably expect to earn back on your project, or if costs seem to be escalating beyond your initial quote or budget, it may be time to re-examine what you’re doing.
6. Know Your Rights, Read Your Contracts, and Remember to Think Long-Term
Any writer working without a basic understanding of copyright can be easy prey for the unscrupulous. The rights to reprint, adapt, and reproduce your work are the source of income for many content creators, and it’s important to understand what you’re signing away when you agree to a contract. You rarely sell the work outright – instead, you lease the right to reproduce and distribute it to your publisher.
When engaging a commercial service, it’s important to double-check any contracts or business agreements you enter into. There is no reason that a service you’re paying for should take ownership of rights to your work, and it can be important to look at the fine-print regarding which rights you’re licensing when dealing with services that assist in self-publishing your work.
Finally, it’s important to think long-term about your project. With epublishing, especially, you can find services that may offer to take a percentage of your profits rather than an up-front fee. This may seem attractive in the short-term, but an ebook can conceivably sell long beyond the commercial life-span of a printed work, and that short-term saving could be considerably more expensive over the life-time of your project.
Peter Ball has published two novellas, as well as many short stories, serialised fiction and poetry. Peter is the manager of The Australian Writer’s Marketplace.