Where to next, then?

First, scan these words of caution. Probably well worth the minute it's going to take you.


When considering the level of expertise claimed by any group or individual purporting to offer writer services, be vigilant. It isn’t a regulated profession. Anyone can call themselves a literary consultant - you yourself could set up as one tomorrow without having had a word publishedSo examine their credentials carefully. Evaluate their previous teaching backgrounds and other verifiable writing achievements. Confirm their Principal does intend to edit your work personally, and not merely farm you and your manuscript out to freelance associates with lesser qualifications. There are those eminently fitted to guide you, but all too many who aren’t. Above all, weigh what they claim to be able do for you against the actual volume and success rate of their own commercially published books: easily researched on the Internet and the only true measure of a person’s fitness to advise others on how to get their work in print … Search Brian Callison for instance, and you’ll find over 350,000 references to his background and titles.


End of cautionary tale.


... or is it? Because it gets even more hazy. You've already created something tangible but you're not quite sure that it's good enough to capture a potential publisher's interest. The problem you’ll then face is selecting what form of writing support you’d most benefit from … and therein lurks further confusion. Once again it isn’t as straightforward a decision as it seems. You’ll discover most consultancies list a bewildering range of fees and services. Reports: in-depth reports: general reports: critiques: mini-critiques: editorial overviews: brainstorming sessions: plot doctoring: character analysis: narrative surgery …? Callison doesn’t know what half of those entail himself.


He will simply apply himself to your manuscript, frown over every single word and sentence and even rewrite any passages which he thinks can be improved … which is precisely what he does with his own work every day. For that he will charge a fixed price based on the number of words you elect to send. While he’ll be happy to edit your entire MS or work-in-progress, however voluminous, it’s a time intensive task and must prove more costly by definition. It’s also unnecessary: certainly in the first instance.


To satisfy yourself whether you are doing the right thing, he suggests the most cost-effective way is for you to email him at least 10,000 single-spaced words as a Word attachment … see What you should do now for a detailed format. 10,000 words will cover your opening chapters: enough for Callison to prove he has enhanced your prospects for publication while affording you breathing space to decide whether you wish him to edit more of the work.


His fee for close-editing those first 10,000 words and thereafter returning your MS - which will, by then, incorporate his proposed revisions and re-drafted passages, and following up with a telephone explanation of why he did so - will be £195. If you’re content to send a greater portion of your book nevertheless, then add £138 for each additional 10,000 word segment, or £13.80 per thousand words pro-rata. As a guide, any work of fiction intended for commercial publication would normally contain between 70,000 and 100,000 words and sometimes more: particularly in, say, historical fiction … but by then your book will be a professionally-competent reality; you’ll have won your first victory, and you’ll certainly have enhanced - but not guaranteed - your prospects of earning a parallel living as a writer. Above all, you will have controlled precisely how much you spent on achieving that aim ... but more on that aspect follows.


Finally, he also offers reassurance intended to stop you spending to no benefit. His initial brief assessment of the marketability of your work will be FREE! He makes no charge for reporting back with a simple 'Yes, it shows promise and should be well worth editing,' or, 'No, I suspect, rightly or wrongly, that it reveals intrinsic shortcomings that will prevent it from reaching a potentially publishable standard.'


In the latter case he will explain why, and ask if you really want him to continue with the edit. Should you opt to take such admittedly dispiriting advice and call a halt, again he'll make no charge to help ease that disappointment.


To reiterate: it won’t mean your book will never be looked on favourably by any publisher, or that you should give up trying. It’s simply that Brian is under no pressure to encourage what he considers unjustified optimism. His is not a mass market consultancy reliant on client turnover. Because of the personal, one-to-one mentoring style he adopts, time constrains him from working with more than a limited number of new authors anyway. It’s a relationship thing. He needs you to be enabled by possessing the core writing skills from the start, and to succeed by the end: not to fail expensively.


While, talking of expense ... a survey of writing schools will show some that offer ‘full tutoring packages’ or correspondence courses costing from £1,500 to upwards of £2,000. Part-time study for an MA in Creative Writing can cost over £2,500 in annual fees alone … but reflect a moment. Whatever happened to on-the-job training - to learning one’s craft as a working apprentice in the way that countless authors have from time immemorial? Can committing to some long term, study-intensive programme really serve you better than making an immediate start to the business of getting your first book published? Because you will hesitate to begin any major work, you know; even though the fire’s in you now. After all, won’t it somewhat defeat the object if, while spending that much money and investing that much intellectual capital, you launch into your opening chapter regardless?


Certainly you’ll get sheaves of assignments and critiques - maybe even a certificate - and learn much about the general principles of writing, but whether you’ll gain more practical, individually-tailored benefit is for you alone to decide.


Come to that, if you feel you’d be satisfied with mostly reading about all the things the experts claim you should know before you can be a successful author, you could always go down to the bookshop.

Doing that would save you at least £2,000.