Firstly, forgive me the immaturity of the title. This is still a blog post about writing. Secondly, I know you usually have Lisa here, but due to scheduling issues, my turn was skipped and she let me have hers because she posted recently. So you have to wait a little longer for raw funny.

Now, this is a very serious topic; the matter of size in the book world is something we all encounter, whether you think so or not. Another thing a lot of writers think about is publication – on the forum, I asked what people’s Writing Goals of 2010 were, and many results were publication of some description. As the conversation went on, the topic of a small publisher was brought up, which inspired this rudely titled article on Size.

We’ll start where the bloggers here will appreciate it – the writer. There is a common belief that larger publishers only publish books by large authors (economically, of course – I’m not calling anyone fat!). The idea that a newbie could squeeze his or her way into the bookshops seems a little riciculous. But then, don’t all writers start out small? I find that many spend a lot of time writing and are barely known until their books are published, while I’m more or less going the opposite route and writing while trying to get people to know who I am. However, many authors are destined to become big names. We all know the story of JK Rowling and how the nobody writer, after several rejection letters, got herself published with the book that all the kids had to read.

So does size matter? It didn’t in that case. Word of mouth, reviews and movie deals sold those books for her. And you know what, she’s not alone. Stephenie Meyer was more or less a newbie at writing when her Twilight Saga, as painful as it is to think of, sold in the millions. Many early fans loved the fact that they too could live the romantic fantasy of being stalked by a glowing vampire who doesn’t want to kill you; it’s been said recently in my company that it was Bella Swan’s every-girl nature (or was it that she didn’t fit in..?) led to the books’ popularity, as fans could look and think, “That’s just like me!” And then the movies came out and wham! More sales for the now big writer.

Size doesn’t matter for authors, no, but that’s not the full story.

We move, then, onto the book itself. Many things come into writers’ heads when they’re writing their future bestseller. The word count is one thing many judge by, especially if they’re fans of NaNoWriMo. The number of pages also plays a role, although this is subject to font size and line spacing and is an unfair estimate of how much a writer has written. Both of these, inevitably, take their toll on the reader. I work in a bookshop, so I’ve seen this happen – if someone doesn’t like the size of a book, they might not buy it, especially if the price isn’t right.

And what about the next step, after the book is written? The publisher – does size matter? The answer – it depends. Larger publishers are harder to get accepted by because they’re too wary of the risk of taking on a new writer (or they just love their money too much to test a newbie). There’s also the matter of trying to promote their bigger writers more, and not quite knowing that the book will be accepted by the public. They usually prefer the agent route, which drives up costs and lowers royalties. Just saying…

Then there’s the loveable independant publisher. Small publishers are greater in number and they often accept “unsolicited” submissions, but there’s still the problem that the book might not get into the shops! And the lack of money that small publishers have; they’re not millionaires, and publishing books is expensive. There’s also not advance on royalties, usually, so the author earns based on sales. So does size matter? It depends – does the author want to have a fortune to their name, or do they just want to get published? If it’s the latter, I advise the small publisher.

If you do want to get into a larger house, the agent route is advised, assuming you’ve run out of options. Be on the look out for competitions by publishers. Last year, Tor and Chicken House (Sci-Fi and Kids Books publishers, respectably) had competitions that almost guaranteed publication for the respective winners (they reserved the right to withdraw that prize). They’re excellent ways to get your work read and you never know, you might actually win! (as far as I’m aware, the Chicken House competition is annual, and is the only way they accept manuscripts from authors not already signed to them).

Then there’s the bookshop. Many people argue that small bookshops, Indies, are better for customer service and knowledge of the books, and that the experience is so much better than going to a chain store. I want to argue the case for the larger shop, this time. Now, admittedly my workplace is a chain store, but not a very large one. It’s not Eason – we sell books, stationary mainly at the New Year (and not a lot of it) and a small selection of newspapers, but we don’t sell lots of wrapping paper, a huge variety of cards, chocolate bars, crisps, drinks, magazines or filofax refills. Bookshop.

And you know what? We do have a good knowledge of the books. I’ve been told my recommendations for books in the Kids’ Section are very good, perfect even, in one case. And we’re all very friendly there. That’s not boasting, it’s fact. I work with those people – they like books, and they can talk very well to our customers. We know the names of shoppers (mainly my co-workers instead of me, because I only work one day a week). We know a few authors ourselves, too, and we volunteer to check when the next book in a series is coming out for a customer. Indies may be known for that sort of stuff, but that doesn’t mean chain stores aren’t like that too. We’re just The Man, even if we’d prefer not to be known that way.

The advantage of chain stores, though, is that more people have access to them than Indies. In Dublin, in the areas I’m familiar with, you have to go to the city centre to get to an Indie store, whereas the shopping centres all have at least one chain store. More books are sold through chain stores than Indies because of this. This is all very relevant to the author, mind you – if you can get your book into the chain stores, you have access to people from all over the country, not just the locality. But that doensn’t mean you shouldn’t try the Indie store. They do help.

And then there’s your own independence. Self-publishing, networking large scale online, selling through a Website and PayPal – it’s not an entirely bad idea, not in today’s world. The Internet makes such options a little less crazy for authors, and you never know – a larger publisher might notice your success and swoop you up!

Just consider what you really want before you do anything, and ask yourself if size really does matter in the book world. It all comes down to personal taste.

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