10 Things No One Told Me About the Publishing Process

Clay Morgan, Author of “Undead”

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…

Okay, busted.

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 novelor 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.


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  1. Reblogged this on Inkslayer's Journey and commented:
    Great post 🙂

    1. Thanks for reposting =)

  2. What an awesome list! Thank you for sharing, K!

  3. Great WANA post and congrats to Clay and here’s to wishing you every possible success! I just came out with my own (second self-pubbed) novel (called A HOOK IN THE SKY if anyone’s curious) and I could easily subscribe to 95% of what Clays says…It seems to me that the road to traditional publishing is just as bumpy as the one to self-publishing…or do I mean it the other way around? Oh, well, so be it, LOL!

    • annerallen on September 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm
    • Reply

    Great piece. Thanks for reminding us that new authors still are getting agents and book deals. I know what you mean about feeling a little sick when your books arrive. Seriously–I could not open the box from my publisher when my first books arrived last September. I let the box sit a whole day before I could open it.

    1. Yup, I can understand that!

  4. Thank you for all your great information!
    I linked and plugged your book on my blog, “Merlyn’s Musings” in my most recent story “StoryBook Club Tall Tales” (children’s lit club for grownups 🙂
    thanks and good luck on your book!

    • lynnkelleyauthor on September 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm
    • Reply

    Congratulations to Clay! Best wishes for great success with this first book. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve had a quick turnaround time, Clay. Yay! What impresses me the most about your journey is that you actually flew to Nashville to meet the team you were working with. Wow! Kudos to you for doing that. I bet the publisher was quite impressed, too, and I bet meeting you in person gave them the incentive to go the extra mile for you!

    1. Thanks Lynn. I got the idea to do that from a couple lit agents before I even had a book offer. Definitely a useful experience.

  5. Congratulations Clay, this is a great post. It is amazing when you have been dreaming “the dream” for so long and then reality strikes. Who knew about the wanting to vomit part. Best of luck to you and we all want to know when your book hits the stores/sites.

    1. Thanks Rachel. Yup, I certainly didn’t expect the sick to my stomach part! Book is available now.

  6. Clay, I’m in the same place as you are on the assembly line – my first novel will be out next May. And I can relate to every point you list.

    I especially espouse #7 – if I assume it’s all up to me, especially in regards to promotion, I can’t be let down…and I’ll be a lot farther ahead if I’m wrong. Once we sell our baby (and doesn’t it feel like you’ve sold your actually baby?) it’s important to see the book as a product. We become businesspeople. The more knowledge and savvy you have, or can learn about that, the better off you’ll be.

    Instead of a rabbit, in a flashlight, gone tharn.

    Good luck with your launch!

  7. Wow! I wish I’d found you a little earlier, Clay! There’s a BookFest tomorrow in Bridgewater, Pa. (Beaver County, not too far from you) and we’re hosting 35+ local authors. YOU would have been a perfect addition to the group! Can I add you to my list of authors to nudge to attend next year? http://www.bridgewaterbookfest.com Just ordered your book Undead on Amazon! Any friend of Kristen’s is a friend of us all here! And it’s always inspiring to read success stories. Now I want to drop everything, not cook dinner, and go write for the rest of the weekend. 🙂

    1. Thanks Linda for being so awesome! 😀

      1. Yours is one of the most inspiring blogs I subscribe to. I stop everything and read the whole post as soon as I get the email alert! Thanks for being so au-some yourself!

    2. That is tremendous Linda. As I said on Twitter I would love to connect w/ you for next yr. Thanks!

  8. Hooray for you, Clay!!! I can’t wait to read your book! Thanks so much for sharing this info with us, and thank you, Kristen, for posting Clay’s ever-so-insightful advice. 🙂

  9. With so much information out there about “how to become a published author” & the all discussions about self-publishing, it’s good to see balance in it all. Like Anne mentioned earlier, it’s good to see new authors getting agents and book deals. I have no clue what the journey will be like for me, but time will tell. Will have to check your book out. 🙂

  10. So far, I am enjoying publishing on Amazon.

  11. Excellent post, Clay, and thank you for sharing! I just started working in publicity and it’s amazing what your publisher, agent, or editor do not tell their authors before they meet their publicity team. I think a lot of people presume you know how the game works already, but many authors are doing their best just to get inside and peek around — not to mention spend time learning the rules!

    So thank you for sharing your experience. You’ve offered solid advice, and I plan to share it! 🙂

    1. That’s great Danielle, and it’s so valuable to ask specific questions like what the publisher plans to do exactly as far as marketing and publicity. Being specific has helped us work smarter.

  12. Clay: My first book deal just went up on Publisher’s Marketplace today, so I’m right behind you. I love what you said about “this all got real”—that sense the truth in that! Good luck with your book and I’ll look for you on Twitter!

  13. Thanks for a terrific post, which I’ve shared with my clients and followers – all of whom need reminders as to how to stay on the horse during the ride of a writer’s lifetime!

    • Lin Barrett on September 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, Clay, thank you both for a very realistic look at the life of a first-timer. And Clay, good luck, man. Get back writing, ‘kay?

  14. I’m more than halfway through UNDEAD and am loving it.

    Clay, can I use your #3 as an excuse to go to New York to meet my editor? Always wanted to hit NYC. Now I have my chance. Maybe after October 15…you know, the date my manuscript is due. *Cue image of me closing Chrome and opening Scrivener*

    1. Oh yeah, do it. That’s a great reason to hit up NYC!

    • Lanette Kauten on September 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm
    • Reply

    Great insights. Thanks to Kristen and Clay.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve written a children’s book. It is currently in publication and will be out in March. I’ve also written a Young Adult novel and am going to try to find a literary agent. Your post was most helpful! Thank you! 🙂 Have a blessed weekend!

  16. Kristen does a great job, bringing us tips on improving our craft, getting published, using social media, etc., but it’s always great to hear those same kinds of comments from another writer. Thanks, Clay, and good luck with your first (and 2nd and 3rd and…) book!

  17. Great wisdom Clay. All your tips were great. And it was interesting seeing what you learned from the publishing process. Thanks Kristen for posting this.

  18. Great article. Thank you, Kristen and Clay! I can so relate to the “throw up moment.” Good Luck, Clay, somehow, I just know you’ll be great.

  19. Fantastic post. I know exactly what you mean by that agent/author chemistry, Clay. It’s seriously a lot like finding your soul mate—not to get all weird or gushy or anything. 😉 They see our potential, click with our style and know just what feedback to provide. I’m hoping this also lends itself to finding that “right publisher” you mentioned. Guessing it does!

    1. Right on August. Sure, I wanted a certain big publisher or two to fall for me and lay out the red carpet, but I am so glad I ended up where I did.

  20. Thanks SO much for this post. I just got an agent and she’ll be editing my book in November and shopping it to editors in January. Your post really helps me know what might be ahead of me.

  21. Reblogged this on To Breath is to Write and commented:
    Great Post! Read if your working a novel, or want to get published or just curious!

  22. reblogged on http://jlroeder.wordpress.com
    It’s a great post! Thanks! I’m a new follower. Some day I hope to relate to the throw up moment! I’m trying! 🙂

  23. Congrats Clay! I’ve followed you since you were Freshly Pressed in August 2011.
    What an amazing year it has been.
    Through you I met Kristen, Renee, Ellie, Leanne and Piper (who lives down the street), to name a few.
    Thanks for sharing your tips. I hope to have that sick feeling in my stomach too some day! Off to order the book. I need to get my zombie on.

    1. Thanks Susie. So glad you connected to those great peeps. That’s what the blogospher is all about.

  24. Clay, you were my very first friend that I made when I landed in the blogosphere, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for you. You are the one who led me to Kristen, and as I look at the wonderful list of people who have commented, I am thrilled to recognize so many wonderful people who I am confident will support you as you get out on the trail. Go get ’em, little dawgie. Just hold onto that hat. And thanks for the tips.

    Can I add one tip? Make sure you keep your stuff backed-up. 😉

    1. Did your new computer come in yet, or are you still just holding on to the little headless man?

      1. It just came today, but it won’t be hooked up for a while. I need a professional to network all these electronic gadgets. For now, I’m writing the old-fashioned way: pen and paper. Thanks for checking in on me, M. 😉

    2. We go way back Renee! Of all the advice I could ever pretend to give I think “Read Kristen Lamb” is pretty much the best.

  25. Hey all, thanks for such great feedback! The internet decided to hate me and my computer tonight so I will do some more interacting asap. Be sure to hug Kristen w/ your mind. :-}

  26. I am almost done with the book, and I simply can’t imagine anyone turning this down. Much congratulations!

  27. Clay seems like a very down to earth kind of guy, which is important. This writing thing is difficult and it’s so helpful to hear the good and the bad of it. I like the horse analogies too! Great interview.

    • Karen McFarland on September 14, 2012 at 8:46 pm
    • Reply

    Congratulations to you Clay! Thank you for sharing your pathway to publishing. I wish you the best of success! 🙂

  28. Congratulations Clay! Do you know what the scariest question will be now? How are sales going? I’m just a few months ahead of you having published my first book last December (traditionally) and you’re absolutely right… the toughest thing right now is dividing my time between promoting the one that’s already out and finding time to work on the next one. How exciting that you’ve already got one underway (most writers usually have several in various states of completion, right?).

    Best of luck!

    Happy writing,

    1. I can see those sales questions coming. Yeah, it’s difficult to keep writing, especially while going through this whole process the first time.

  29. Checking on your book now. Tnx for the post.

  30. Congratulations, Clay! And thanks to Leanne for directing me to your blog back in the day. You’ve delivered many a fine laugh-out-loud moment along with good info. Write on!

  31. Sounds like a book that’s right up my alley. Thanks!

  32. It’s always great to read about the journeys of other writers, because they’re so many unique variations. Congrats on your pending success Clay and thanks for sharing :). (Also thanks Kristen for highlighting him on your blog.)

  33. I know about number 10! Life has certainly accelerated since writing my first book. I think I have learned to be more efficient in writing this second book. The first book took me 20 years to write, the second only 2!

  34. Thanks for a terrific insights, Clay!

    My debut book comes out on January 4th -10 months from contract to release – you beat me by a month. I’m lucky in that I just turned in book 2 to my editor, so I can work on book 3 while all of book 1’s excitement is going on. That buys me a little more breathing space than you had. But not much.

    Your list will remind me to stay grounded and in the moment. I, too, have been imaging with great anticipation that moment when the box containing my book arrives – along with a prickly combination of excitement and dread for those first reviews. I suspect, as Anne said above, the scariest part will be book sales.

    Thanks to Kristen and others, I’ve started social-networking the day I signed on the dotted line, but it’s hard to tell if it’s ever enough. Or maybe nothing is ever enough, but we keep trying.

    Congrats to you. Enjoy the journey!

    1. Congrats Willa! Do enjoy it. I don’t know about anyone else, but I never really feel like I’m doing enough. Not that I’m never satisfied, it’s just that there are so many possibilities and I like to keep trying things.

  35. I’ve been following Clay for a long time. Congratulations, baby!

    1. =)

  36. Great tips, Clay! Zombies rule!
    You’ve earned your Klout, Kristen…

  37. Great advice and so very true! I’m just coming to accept how “hurry up and wait” this industry is.

    • Jody Thompson on September 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm
    • Reply

    Great post. I guess patience is a virtue, right? Happy writing. Cheers!

  38. Thanks for this great post! It’s great to hear from the frontlines (or from the saddle). Working hard to join y’all in the foxholes. 🙂

    • Jeannine on September 17, 2012 at 7:54 am
    • Reply

    Ha! I’m sure we’d all love to have this kind of sick feeling, since so many good feelings come along with it! Nice to have this advice from someone who’s in the thick of it now. Thanks, and congrats!

  39. Great interview! I found it interesting, being an indie author, to read about an author that went the traditional route.

  40. Yep! I totally agree with you on #9. Writing Book #2 and promoting Book #1 are so tough! I’m trying to pretend that my head isn’t going to explode. You eased my self-torturing when you admitted you have four pages written. Sounds like we’re on the same timeline!
    And I am in FULL agreement with Anne (comment #47) about the “How are sales going?” WORST QUESTION EVER! Personally, I don’t check sales. Same goes with getting on the scale to weigh myself. Sometimes not knowing the numbers makes life easier. Ignorance is bliss!

    1. Yup, four pages. Hoping to get a fifth soon. Maybe. At least like Kristen says, we are not alone.

  41. Right on, Kristen. I found these same things to be true on my 1st go-around.

  42. Great insight into what it feels like to be in that dream we all wish to visit. Thank you Clay for being so generous in your interview and good luck with your book.

  43. I love your blog Kristen. One of the few I read all the way through consistently. It’s always informative. I just ordered We Are Not Alone on my kindle, and have had you as a favorite link on my blog for some time now. Thank you ! saheber.blogspot.com

    1. Thank you Sharyl. I really appreciate it!

  44. The information I read was helpful, and made me feel hopeful. Thank you!
    Hope your book WE ARE NOT ALONE,the writer’s guide to social media sells a million plus copies!

  45. Does tweeting, and posting on facebook a link back to your blog count for extra entries into the contest?
    I promise you my non fiction manuscript is written, and I would have my 20 pages to you in a jiffy!
    Thank you for this blog,
    L.A. Monks

  46. Great guest blog! Thanks.

  47. Congratulations Clay! I haven’t made it anywhere near to where you are right now….started out all gung ho years ago (went to college four years) and have sizzled out the last couple years and, finally,I just couldn’t write…. writer’s block…the most dreaded malady for any writer. Now I am trying to get back my groove. I have no book, just ideas and published (small time) short stories, poetry, etc.
    I have just started posting my work on here and now I am wondering if the advise on here regarding sending it to FB, Linked-In, etc. is wise???? Please advise. And kudos for going all the way to Nashville. I have always wanted to relocate there or New York or California -somewhere I can be IN the middle of where THEY are and be INSPIRED because I know I am….with all the competition that seems to be crucial! Unfortunately I am financially unable to travel anywhere right now (or self-publish for that matter-wish I had done that when I had the opportunity)….
    Thanks to you for sharing. Your story and success are an inspiration to me.
    And thanks Kristen for sharing and hosting this blog! I’m very new here and trying to find my way and you’re advise is invaluable.

    • Editor Anonymous on October 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm
    • Reply

    Clay, a helpful post.
    Kristen, please stop writing “you guys”. As an editor and publisher of ten years’ standing, I can tell you that will put your work straight into the rejection pile. 😉

    1. Gosh, I hope you were entirely kidding (and perhaps you were — you did put a smiley there at the end). Kristen wasn’t submitting that bit for publication. She was writing to all her cyber-friends on her own blog. (And unless you’re a British editor and publisher, you should put that period inside those closing quotation marks… says the proofreader of 25 years’ standing). 🙂

      1. … the proofreader who put the period outside the closing parens!

      2. Go Linda! I promise I will refund all the money people have spent to read my blog. I would do that because you guys are AWESOME :D.

        1. Right back atcha! (Frankly, I think all of us should be giving you, like, royalties for all the stuff we’re learning here that makes us more productive elsewhere.) Okay, enough kissing up for one day… Back to work (and then rest)!

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