Yes, writing a book is a damn good start. It’s the ONLY start, in fact. But what comes after that? I don’t know about you, dear readers, but when I was feverishly typing well into the night, pulling out my hair when characters didn’t do as they were told, yelling EUREKA when everything starting coming together, I didn’t really consider what would happen afterwards other than “I want this to get published”. Such a simple dream, right? Well, it’s no easy task. I’m not going to bash on about how to get yourself an agent/publisher (I honestly believe that there is no one on the planet or in this dimension who can truly tell you how to do that, only tell you what NOT to do). And I’m not going to profess to understand all the ins and outs of publishing, marketing and selling books to you. The point of this post is to show you all the stages that I’ve come across in going from accepted draft to book-in-the-hand, and hopefully shine a little light on how complicated getting a book in print really is.
The irony of this stage is that it comes at the very beginning of your Book-Having journey, at a time when you’re still bouncing around the room at the idea of being accepted for publication, quaffing ale in celebration (I always wanted to quaff) and giving yourself a hearty pat on the back. It also happens to be the time when you need to be the most level-headed and thoughtful. Read it. Read it again. Email your potential publisher with questions. Read it again. No, really read it. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
Important things to note:
- Does it mention how much input you’ll have in the editing process? No publisher will relinquish the final word on decisions about your book, but somewhere in there it should mention negotiation and your creative right to withdraw should you be displeased with the path your novel is taking. It’s YOUR novel. You should be able to run away if you’re not happy with what’s going down.
- Does it tie you into a deal for your next few books? This is a mixed blessing. If they’re willing to sign you for the next few books, you have some solidarity for your next project. Just also be aware that this clause means you’re going nowhere. If you’re unhappy with the publisher for any reason over the course of this whole process, you might still have to submit your next book to them for consideration, even if you don’t accept the further contract in the end. This can be VERY restrictive for your future projects, or support them. Think about what it means to you.
Other than that, remember that a contract ties the publisher to you as much as the other way around. If they’re willing to sign you, they have faith in your work as a marketable product. That’s a bloody good thing. Go back to quaffing ale! WOOHOO!
Every author’s nightmare, the edits come first and so are gotten out-of-the-way fairly early on. Your publisher will assign you an Editor/Project Leader at this point. Get to know them. Give them a list of questions. Tell them what you were aiming to do with the book; subplots/subtexts, themes, character developments. That way, when they read your novel, they’ll know what you were aiming for and be able to pull at those strands, giving you an idea of if you’ve succeeded or not. Then any good Editor will tell you what areas to develop and possibly suggest how you might go about it.
They WILL ask you to rewrite. No-one’s novel goes through unscathed. This might be YOUR fifth draft, but it’s only the first as far as they’re concerned. Expect things to bounce back and forth a little. This is where your ability to take constructive criticism really needs to shine through. There are so many writers out there that bitch and whine at the slightest negative comment. You’ve met them on forums, Twitter, Facebook. You’ve thought “what a douchbag”. The Editor will be thinking the same thing. Don’t be that douchbag. Ask questions in order to clarify what they want you to do. You ARE allowed to negotiate. Maybe suggest other ways of making a similar plot/character change if you have another idea. But in the end, they generally know what they’re talking about. Unless it’s absolutely imperative to your novel, don’t be precious. What’s that famous bit of advise we’ve all heard a million times?
“Murder your darlings”
Now you’ve gone through the scary bit, we get to the utterly cool part. Don’t lie to me, you’ve imagined what that book cover will look like ever since enumerating the first chapter. Your publisher will have their own ideas, but that doesn’t stop you making suggestions. If they’re any good, they’ll ask you what you think, anyway. Look for artists yourself. It doesn’t hurt. The publisher might have their own cover artists on hand already, but getting some ideas from elsewhere is helpful. Find a few different things you like, drop it in their inbox (in a purely platonic sense). Why not?
The prelims (preliminary designs) will come back and you’ll probably pass out from excitement. Dust yourself off, splash your face and have another look. This is what people are going to see ON SHELVES. Squee! (Quaff quaff)
The cover is the face of your book. Once you’ve calmed down a little, think about what the image says about the content. Again, your publisher will have already thought about all this and taken it into consideration. But you have a duty to consider it too. The main point I’m making throughout most of this post is that you shouldn’t sit back and be quiet once you’ve “finished” your writing. You know the content of your novel better than anyone else, without exception. It’s your baby. Make sure you don’t regret any decisions so that when the release date comes around, you can beam with pride and oil your oversized head rather than fretting.
You’re already doing this. Blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads and Gods only know what else. You’re selling yourself as an author and a professional. But your Marketing Womble (some don’t like being called that. I wouldn’t suggest it unless you’re pretty confident in their sense of humour) is about to take that and hopefully blow it off the charts. Listen to them. It’s funny really, because as Writers we constantly paw over our wording, hidden meanings, trying to get across out ideas in the most succinct and effective way possible. So why do we tend to suck at writing about ourselves? Your bio needs to be as good as Chapter 1 of your novel. Maybe even better. You’re a writer. That makes you creative, interesting, intelligent, maybe a little eccentric (I don’t feel a single one of these things apart from the latter, but readers will kind of expect the others, too). Make sure that all your social networking reflects what an utterly fantastic human being you are behind that keyboard.
Your Marketing Womble will be compiling a press release pack. This is everything about you and your work in a neat little package. Work your angles, but make them obtuse (see? I did maths at GCSE!). For instance, while I’m trying to sell myself as an author and my novel is inherently a Gothic Steampunk story, that doesn’t mean that they’re the only niches I should appeal to. I’ve hit the Steampunk circuit about as hard as it’ll take, and the Goth scene, too. But I’m not restricting myself too much. Readers of all kinds of Speculative Fiction will be interested in Greaveburn (honestly, they will!) so similarly, make sure you tell everyone about your novel, not just the little nuggets of folk who are expressly interested.
In addition to that last point, remember that unless you’re a super-selling author, you’ll have a day job, too. I’m a Nurse, for example. So make sure that other people in your profession know what you’re doing. They’ll be interested. Who doesn’t have a day job and secretly harbour some other ambition, be it Rock Star, Writer or Athlete? Be that person who did what they want to do, and be as inspiring as you can be.
Now, as you all know, I’m still moving toward this point myself, and so I can’t go into detail about exactly how scary/brilliant the signings stage might be. Expect further input at a later date including photos and rants (and weeping fits when I make an ass of myself). What I can tell you about is interviews. Petrifying. Utterly petrifying. I made a major mistake here, folks, so pay attention and don’t do it yourself. DO NOT do radio interviews first. You’re live, recorded, and if you’re anything like me, you’re nervous as hell. Recipe for a big Disaster Cake with face-palm flavoured icing. Written interviews with newspapers/blog tours etc. mean that you can hone your answers so you don’t sound like an ass. Don’t get yourself into a situation where you’re live on air and the radio host puts you on the spot with a ridiculous request such as “come up with a codename for our other guest who wishes to remain anonymous…NOW! QUICKLY! THREE SECONDS TO GO!” (actual example). Hideous. I still have night-sweats. This is a pretty extreme example, but another is when people ask me what Steampunk is. As anyone who is into the genre knows, there is no succinct answer to that. Try not to ramble.
I could go on for ages about stupid things I’ve said or done on air. One was comparing a really irritating and obnoxious co-presenter as a zombie Bernard Manning LIVE-ON-AIR. I thought it was hilarious, and as it turns out, so did a lot of people who contacted me after the interview, but it was a huge risk. Have more control over your mouth than I do! Another example is how I’m so nervous that I start to answer a question without knowing what I’m going to say, and then in my rambling, forget what the original question was. I’m chuckling as I type this, but I could cry when I do it If you want a gret example of this, tune in to the July edition of the BookIt show on SineFM and listen to me make an utter fart out of myself while go from discussing Steampunk, to the fashionable benefits of plaid in five seconds flat. Hilarious. And pathetic.
Well Folks, that’s all we have time for this week. As always, I hope some of this has been informative/useful. Happy writing!
Thanks for reading.