Writing and Publishing

You should write a book.’

How many times has someone been told that by a friend and thought ‘It seemed a good idea at the time?’

There are two routes to becoming a published author (or possibly three.) Write a book, perhaps find an agent, submit it to a publisher and do the happy dance when they accept it. Good Luck with that.

Then there are what are known as Vanity Publishers. These are publishers who take care of all the intricacies of the various systems involved, but instead of paying you royalties, ask for an upfront payment from you. They’re great at massaging your ego, and making you believe in yourself, but if you’re serious, that’s not the way it should work. Having said that, if your idea is to publish say a memoir of family history for personal use, it’s a way of paying out money to have the hard work taken off your shoulders.

Something I’ve never admitted before, but as a naïve wannabe author many years ago, I signed up with a vanity publisher for my first book (no longer available and all rights have reverted to me.) Fortunately, they were one of the better ones, and I received a professional, polished paperback book, and was offered the opportunity to purchase the remaining stock when it was remaindered.

I learnt an awful lot about the publishing process, and despite the stigma attached to vanity press, in some ways it was money well spent. It also opened my eyes to what publicity actually entails. At the time, I assumed writers wrote and publishers did all the horrible marketing bit to make it hit the Top 10 best sellers. Times have changed, but sending out a flyer for one book amongst millions of others, or arranging a book signing at the local library was an eye opener as to what a publicity package can entail. This was before social media was so prevalent, but even now, authors are expected to do much of their own marketing.

The third option is to self-publish. It appears to be an easier route, but can also become a dumping ground for so much dross it gives good self-published authors a bad name. There are some amazing authors on Amazon who, without the backing of the publicity machine of the big publishers have produced some wonderful books, and deserve all the support they can get.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet, but be prepared to invest countless hours sorting the wheat from the chaff. Over time you will learn to identify the rip-offs from the genuine ‘pay it forward’ authors who have been there, done that and want to pass on their T-shirt experience to help others. This blog is intended to be one of the latter, so I hope you find it useful.


This covers a variety of sins. Everything from picking up typos, to Fred becoming George half way through the manuscript, or having someone use their mobile phone for a manuscript set in the 1950s. As a reader I’m not sure how many of these points I would have registered, but since becoming an author it’s as if repetition of the same word three times screams at me to get out the big red pen.

If you can build up trust with fellow authors on the basis of ‘sock it to me- no offence taken’ they can be a free and worthwhile asset, although a professional editor who is on your wavelength should be invaluable, and money well spent.

Cover design

When I write a book, I have an immediate image of what I want for the cover. It normally entails a photographic summary of what the book is all about. Wrong! I’m not a photographer, and although I have purchased Photoshop manuals and bought the package, I still have no idea how to use it properly. Wouldn’t it be good if someone could download the image in my brain and produce the perfect cover?

Browse on Amazon and you can immediately see covers which scream amateur. That’s not to say the book isn’t excellent, but I read somewhere you have five seconds to make an impression and encourage the readers to investigate further. Like everything else, it’s an art-form and a whole industry in itself.


Wow! This is a biggie. If you have an unlimited publicity machine behind you, the direst book can become a best seller. Think politics, TV adverts between your favourite programmes, Google searches, you name it, and if it’s in your face often enough you will sub-consciously register and remember it.

It’s not so easy for the unknown author trying to spread their wings. Which platform should you use? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, local community sites? It’s a common form of procrastination to spend so much time marketing your work, you forget your original intention was to actually write.

On one of the Facebook sites I follow, a newbie author had got totally the wrong of the stick believing she had to pay to upload her book to Amazon. With such a wealth of mind- blogging information available it wasn’t surprising she got confused, but it did make me realise how far I had come in my authorish career. I know everything. Yeah, right!  

As soon as I’m confident in one aspect, they change the rules/set-up so it’s a perpetual learning curve.

The buzz word for the next best thing is audio so I’m working on a YouTube site for ‘Val’s Tales’ involving using a professional voice over artiste to bring my stories to life. Stick around for more information as it progresses, but if you ever believed being an author only meant putting words on paper (or laptop) think again.

Special thanks go to my readers who turn up every week. You might not think I notice but I do monitor as part of my admin, and although I might not know you personally you are my motivation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

See you next week.

© Val Portelli November 2020

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