Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Things I Didn't Know About Publishing

When my first book was published all I knew about the book business was what I’d learned from movies and magazines, the main thing being it was very lucrative and glamorous. Turns out that was only if your name was Rowlings or Collins, not Smallman, so there were a few surprises.

The first thing I didn’t know was I had to write the blurb for the book…more than one actually, because sometimes a short version is needed for publicity and then you have to write one for the inside cover of your book that tells the potential purchaser what the book is about. Truthfully, I thought there was a gnome, in a Dickens like room at the publisher’s, who read the book and then wrote the blurb. A couple of months before Margarita Nights was due to come out I got an e-mail asking for the blurb…and they needed it right away, like within twenty four hours. Turns out, I really didn’t know what the book was about and having read lots of other blurbs on books and then read the book, most authors don’t know what their books are about. Nor do they know how to write a good blurb. Where are those gnomes when you need them?

Always a sensible person, I called a friend who knew what the book was about, a friend who talks in shorter sentences than I do. He was cooking dinner and told me to go away. Why is it that my emergencies are never emergencies for my friends? My fourth book will be out next spring and blurb writing hasn’t gotten any easier. This still is the hardest bit of writing I have to do. I think the way to do it well is to treat it like you’re writing a short story. That’s the ideal, but I’ve yet to make it work. And did I mention that you have to write your own biography in the third person so it sounds like the publisher did it?

The next shock is that once you write the book, you have to stop writing and start talking. Writing alone in a dark room turns into entertaining people. Having gone to my share of launches and readings, this didn’t come as a surprise but it was something I had to learn. I went to Toastmasters and discovered a fun hobby. Well, fun except for the fact that they meet at 7:30 in the morning, but the speeches are so interesting I often forgive them.

Now for the biggest stunner. Books are no different from any other product…say chopped beef. You have to sell it. The hard work of promoting takes as long as the writing. Guess which one is more fun? How do you get your book noticed among thousands and thousands of others? And then there is the surprise of the reviews. I haven’t had a horrible review yet, I’m told it will come, but the ones I’ve had have given me a few jolts. Like the one that got the characters mixed up and one that got the place wrong. Sometimes I’ve wondered if the reviewers actually read the book. Some just repeat the dreaded blurb. I must remember to work wonderful and unforgettable into the next blurb.

And there is one other embarrassing thing about being published, something I wasn’t familiar with, jealousy. I hadn’t really experienced this emotion until I wrote a book. It’s petty and nasty and I’m really ashamed of it but still I want my book to make all those lovely lists, want my book up front in the store, want Heather to say it’s the best thing she’s ever read. When I read a book that sells better than mine, and let’s face it most do, and I don’t think it’s as good as mine, I’m green with envy. I shake my hands at the ceiling and demand to know why. It happens a lot, this shaking of fists.

Would I rather not have been published? Are you crazy? It’s the most wonderful, exciting thing that ever happened to me. Even if I had it all wrong, I still like it just fine.

Phyllis Smallman’s debut mystery, MARGARITA NIGHTS, won the first Arthur Ellis Unhanged Arthur in 2007 and was short listed in 2009 for best first novel by the Crime Writer’s of Canada. In July 2010, Good Morning America named the Sherri Travis mysteries as one of the top six series for a summer read.
Other Sherri Travis mysteries are, SEX IN A SIDECAR, A BREWSKI FOR THE OLD MAN and CHAMPAGNE FOR BUZZARDS, due out in 2011.
Phyllis worked in a library and as a potter before turning to a life of crime.

Phyllis Smallman


  1. Great post, Phyllis! Why am I so thirsty all of a sudden? Too early for anything but coffee. Good luck with your stellar book adventures.


    Charlotte Adams mysteries

  2. For me the big shock was the amount of promotion writers have to do on their own and at their own expense. None of it comes naturally to me, and I do a lousy job of it compared to writers who enjoy it. Fortunately, I had little expectation of making a lot of money, so I haven't been disappointed in that regard!