(*Disclaimer: this is the process and experience I had with my publisher but obviously not every publisher is the same. I am also talking specifically about traditional publishing and independent publishing, not self-publishing.)
When you’re publishing your first book the process is a little daunting – there are so many aspects no one tells you about. You would hope that when you sign the contract, the procedure for the whole business would be downloaded into your brain but alas, most of it you figure out as you go. For those of us without literary agents to talk us through the process a magical guide would be particularly helpful but seeing as none have been forthcoming, I thought I would compile a list of some unexpected things to think about when you are on your way to getting published.
1. There’s a contract with a fair amount of legalese.
That’s right, you’re going to have to brush up on your legalese, or call in a lawyer friend, because your contract will contain a lot of mind-boggling language. Read it carefully. Get a friend to read it. Despite all the legalese, you need not be afraid… if your publisher is anything like mine (and he may be a rare gem but you never know) he will reply patiently to your amateur questions and listen well to your suggestions for amendments. Remember, your publisher wants to buy your book because he thinks it is worth buying – which means you are an asset. He wants to work with you. So don’t be suspect the worst, ask the questions. Communicate with your publisher rather than sit grumbling at home assuming the worst.
2. You’re not your publisher/agent’s only client.
True story. Although you may feel that the sun revolves around you and your coming book, it doesn’t. Your publisher, depending on how big they are, will have numerous author schedules they are trying to juggle. This is a good thing. If your publisher/agent only had you as a client, I might begin to worry that they aren’t very good at their job! Due to this plethora of authors your publisher/agent has to deal with, response time may not be what you would like. Basically: be patient. You will soon be making them money, they will make sure you get the work you need to do. In the meantime, be prepared to do a lot of waiting. And even though it’s difficult to start a new project in the midst of getting your current one into the world, use this time to get cracking on the marketing I talk about in point 5.
3. It’s not your publisher/agent’s first time. Probably.
This is your first book but it’s probably not theirs. Sometimes this means they will forget to communicate things that seem obvious to them. When that happens, ask the question. Not only was I a complete greenhorn but I was also very curious about the whole process, so I asked a whole bunch of questions. If you are feeling insecure about anything (see point 6) ASK. You’re still learning about how all this works but you’ll never find out if you don’t ask.
4. There is still a lot of work to do.
Don’t assume that because your publisher has bought your book that you’ve done all the hard work (the hard work of not only writing the book but finding a publisher). Now the work really begins. When your publisher sends you edits, you are going to have to buckle down and work. In my case, my publisher sent me a series of questions about the story and its problems. He gave me a lot of space to get creative and fix them. As it so happened, I rewrote half the book (my choice, not by push of the publisher). The story was better for it but it was grueling work. If, like me, you have a day job and a family, this deadline to get the reworked story to the publisher will be intense. And that was only round one of edits. Later would come the line edits and proofreading and final-final-proofreading. Like I said, the work only starts when you sign that contract. The key thing is to communicate well with your publisher. Tell them if you are uncomfortable with any part of this process but also trust their honed instincts.
5. With Independent Publishers you need to do a bit/a lot of your own marketing.
When I wasn’t involved in re-writes and edits, I was preparing for my book launch, writing additional material for promotions and trying to figure out what the hell a Blog Tour is (I’m still not 100% certain I have it right). The amount of work involved was surprising. Remember, I am with an independent publisher where the budget for my book did not include my very own personal PR manager. I know that most authors focus on an online marketing strategy but seeing as my book will primarily be sold to kids who don’t yet have a substantial online presence, I had to get really creative. I’ll get more specific on this in part two of this blog.
6. You’ll be insecure.
Here’s the thing: landing a book deal does not exempt you from battles with that age-old nemesis, Artistic Insecurity. Throughout edits and as I wrote copy material and bonus stories and made calls and booked talks, I kept wondering whether the book was going to do as well as I hoped (and this remains to be seen). As I waited for responses from my editor, I bit my nails to the quick wondering if he was going to hate my revisions and curse the day I was born for making his life so difficult. You worry about whether you will miss something before the book goes to print. You worry about whether kids will even enjoy it. You’ll get over it – whether the book does well or tanks – and move on to your next project because that’s what writers do: they write.
These were the things that surprised me but it may be other things for you. Throughout this whole process though, it’s important to remember one thing: why you’re a writer. You want your story to be read. At its heart I think all art wants to be seen – your story wants to be a shared, passed around, dog-eared book. All of this work, all of these surprises, they’re nothing when you hold that book in your hands and see your name is on the cover. It’s nothing when a child comes up to you with a beaming face, gushing about your characters and the world you’ve made. In those moments, all this other stuff becomes cursory and trite. It’s all worth it in the end.