10 Things No One Told Me About the Publishing Process
Happy Friday, and do I have a treat for you guys–CLAY MORGAN, author of Undead–Revived, Resuscitated, Reborn. Some of you might think me inviting Clay to guest post is merely a shameless ploy to garner more zombie Klout…
Kidding! Though I do dig zombie Klout.
I met Clay on Twitter ages ago and have been blessed to watch him grow from hopeful noob to professional author. In true WANA style, Clay is here paying it forward which is awesome because it frees up time for me to keep reading his new book (which ROCKS, btw). Give him a warm WANA welcome!
I’ve been reading about how to get published for years, even before I wrote a bad novel that will likely never see the light of day. Like most of you, I’ve spent years trying to hop on that bucking beast known as publishing success. Studies have included:
- Reading traditional mags like Writer’s Digest.
- Following industry leaders from literary agencies as well as publishing houses.
- Spending considerable time trying to figure out how the brave new digital world is changing everything.
- Trying to determine whether self-publishing is a) terrible b) awesome c) inevitable d) it depends or e) *leaps to my death with Kindle in hand because I just can’t take it anymore*
- Absorbing wisdom from standouts like my gracious host here Kristen.
After all of that, I’m now attempting to gather my thoughts from a unique position—a spot not everyone gets to be in and one where I’ll never be again. I’ve sold my first book through traditional publishing but it hasn’t quite released yet.
In other words, as I write this I am a published author yet not a successful or failed published author. I’m saddled up on top of this bronco, hat in hand, waiting to see if I’ll hold onto the reigns or get dumped on my keyster when that gate swings open.
I’m just a guy in the midst of this process and still asking a lot of questions, but here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from the traditional publishing process.
1. The author-agent relationship is critical.
I went to a conference last year with one particular person in mind as my ideal agent. She liked what I pitched and I thought I found my match. But then I bumped into another agent and we had instant chemistry. I signed with the latter and that other agent has already changed careers.
A thousand articles have been written by pros more experienced than me about what makes a good agent, but I can attest to how important the right one has been for me.
2. Finding the right publisher is critical.
We all know that rejection is a part of this business. It also really sucks. The challenge is to not equate your personal value to the responses your work receives. As my proposal went out and came back from editor after editorial board, I felt that angry horse kicking.
Not landing an agent is frustrating; watching your work get turned down by house after house gets downright terrifying. In the end a really terrific publisher named Abingdon made an offer, and I’m having a wonderful experience with them.
3. Know thy team.
The old maxim to “know thyself” still holds, but a close second in publishing is to know thy team. I was told that it might be helpful to meet with the people responsible for designing, marketing, publicizing, selling, and producing my book, so I flew to Nashville to meet with the team. You gotta figure there’s a pecking order everywhere, and I’d rather be a smiling face instead of just an ISBN number. We have a great working relationship and it all started there.
4. Some compromise is necessary.
If you want full control over your work then you should probably trot your trusty steed down the self-publishing trail. I knew before a deal was even offered that I would have to change my title. And since I write nonfiction the manuscript wasn’t completed yet. The scary thing about that is the potential for the entire direction of your book to change. Of course, input from smart people can be great as well, and I’ve been fortunate to work with smart people.
5. An accelerated timetable is both a blessing and curse.
I’m learning that publishing is the ultimate “hurry up and wait” industry. Nothing happens for weeks and then you may suddenly have two hours to come up with any number of critical items such as catalog copy ideas or alternate subtitle suggestions or whatever.
One experienced editor who’s worked with a big house told me that my timetable was about the fastest he’d ever seen. We went from signing a contract on an unfinished manuscript to having the book out in less than nine months. The process will often take twice that long, sometimes even more. But we made it and now the blessing is that I don’t have to wait another year for the release date.
6. Finishing is HARD.
Finishing this book was the hardest professional thing I’ve ever done. I’ve read On Writing by Stephen King a couple times and used to think it was strange how he said he was sick of his manuscripts by the time they actually came out. After working and reworking my book, I kind of get that now. I finally just read my own book start to finish for the first time.
7. Plan as if you will have to do everything on your own.
We always hear that the days of sitting back while the publisher does everything for us are gone. So I figured I would have to do everything myself. Turns out I’ve had wonderful support in many ways, but my efforts only encourage the team to work hard because they know I won’t waste their effort.
8. Networking still matters.
Connect with people like crazy and pursue any creative opportunity you can come up with. I try to combine my passions and abilities with areas where I have something to offer someone. Then figure out a way to approach that individual, organization, event, or whatever. Every little bit matters. I’m not likely to get a foreword by Stephen King but I can connect with 100 other professional creatives in a positive way.
9. Creating new stuff gets much tougher when promoting your past work.
As I write this in early September I’m thinking about the 50 pages of a new manuscript I told my agent she would have by the end of August. I’ve written four of those pages. Yes, I have a day job like most everyone else but the reason I’m not getting new books written is because I’m trying to do every last possible thing I can to make my first book a success. From what I see around the web, many writers struggle with promotion and publicity at the expense of writing new stuff.
10. You gotta enjoy the little things (big things too).
The farther along I’ve gotten in this process, the less I’ve celebrated milestones. I always thought that the most magical thing ever about getting published would be the day when those first books with my name on them would arrive on my doorstep. I imagined I would hold a copy into the sunlight and weep as Queen music played in my mind or something.
What happened instead though was that I smiled and then felt like I was going to throw up. Because this just got real. No turning back now; this book would be seen by people. What if I fail? That’s the problem with big dreams, the stakes are so dang hi! Success is never free of risk.
In the meantime, what if I spend so much time doing the next thing and the next that I never enjoy this ride? As Columbus had to learn in Zombieland, you gotta enjoy the little things.
So like I say I’m holding onto my hat. My feet are firmly locked in the stirrups now that some great people have boosted me into this saddle of opportunity. The ride isn’t easy but should be exhilarating. Yeehaw.
Clay Morgan is a writer, teacher, and speaker from Pittsburgh, PA who blogs about pop culture, history, and the meaning of life at ClayWrites.com. He is the author of Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn about zombies, God, and what it means to be truly alive. Connect with him on Twitter.
I LOVE hearing from you guys! And since we have a guest today, every comment counts DOUBLE in the contest.
To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of September I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.