Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ten (Give or Take) Things I've Learned (So Far) About Publishing

By Amy

If you know better or have had different experiences, please share in the comments, but this is what I've learned so far:

1) The Interview - If you have the opportunity, first talk to the editor interested in buying your book. I had the chance to do this with various editors the day before the auction for TETHERED. I believe the really savvy editors do this and I like working with savvy people. It also gave me insight into what edits they envisioned for my manuscript. For me, some terms were non-negotiable, I would rather stuff my book under the bed than change certain scenes. The editor I really, really, really wanted to work with, the one whose suggestions I believed were brilliant, is now my editor. That phone call made all the difference (for me).

2) Rights - When your lovely agent fields offers for your book (oh, blessed day!), you may need to decide whether to sell World or North American rights (I've heard there are subcategories for English-language, Spanish, etc, but let's stick to generalities). There are pros and cons to both. If you were to sell only NA, your agent could then sell foreign rights through her contacts abroad. These dollars would go directly into your pocket (with your agent taking the standard 20% on all foreign sales). That's very nice. If you sell World, what your publisher sells goes toward your advance; the publisher takes 25%, you take 75% -- UK is a 20-80 split -- and that 75% (minus your agent's cut, I believe) pays against your advance. Conceivably, you could earn out your advance even before a single book is published and it builds A LOT of enthusiasm in-house when the foreign rights team gets sale after sale. Everyone notices. Very nice. Oh, and I had no idea foreign rights even paid anything to the author, much less could be equally or even more lucrative than the domestic advance. Very, very nice.

3) The Contract - Read it. Even if you think it's all Greek, read it. You may very well save yourself and your publishing team a headache. You'll no doubt learn what rights you are and are not afforded when it comes to your work. Each contract is negotiated on its own terms, so I can't generalize, just read it. Oh, and you do know your advance is divided into thirds (usually, though fourths if it's 6 figures), right? The first third is paid out upon signing the contract, the second upon delivery & acceptance of edits (d&a), and the third on publication day. It's like Christmas all year.

4) Cover Art - What a revelation: I know very little about book covers. I know what catches my eye, but I don't know what sells books. When my editor emailed my cover concept, it wasn't anything like I had long imagined (see photo above). Instead of reacting, I looked at this website and this one. That's when I realized it's better to leave this sort of thing to the professionals, they know the market, they know what attracts booksellers and buyers. So I defer. And I do like, really like, the latest concept I was shown.

5) Edits - Editors do edit -- at least mine does. You've heard a thousand times they don't anymore -- oh, where have all the Max Perkins of the world gone, they lament. My editor's been over my manuscript three times now and has spot-on suggestions. She not only sends me editorial letters, she wants to talk through the details. In fact, everyone I know who's sold a book this year has had the same experience. And listen to your editor, even if you initially don't agree with the points made, mull them over. Try. This is why it's important to refer back to #1.

6) Title -- Kristen asked about this one. I was convinced mine would change, so I prepared myself for it. The title of my novel was originally Living, but after the first chapter, I changed it to TETHERED. I never allowed myself to marry it, though, a writer shouldn't. An agent or editor can change it at any time usually for good reason. In fact, right before my agent sent it out, she suggested we come up with a few alternatives, but none were quite right. Besides, she said she'd been buzzing it to editors for so many weeks as TETHERED, we had that all important name recognition. So far, my publisher hasn't suggested changing it -- though I remain open to all possibilites, we must be -- and I haven't said a word. Shhhh.

7) Catalog Copy - Remember back when you were querying agents, trying to summarize your 80,000+ manuscript into one measly paragraph? That nut graf is essentially your catalog copy, the brief paragraph that goes in the publisher's catalog that is then sent to booksellers. Walk into your local independently-owned bookstore, ask the owner (they're wonderful people, ask) to show you all the catalogs on her desk, and you'll realize how important that one brief synopsis is even beyond the query. Don't worry, you'll have an entire team working with you, but you know your book best.

8) Author Photo - The inestimable Ron Hogan of GalleyCat fame summed it up best. A good photo tells the world you care about your career. Don't scrimp. I've squandered good money sitting for good photographers who don't know the subtle art form that is the author portrait. Entirely my fault, I was trying to save money and lost it instead. Go to an experienced photographer who specializes in this. It matters.

9) Blurbs - For some inexplicable reason, I thought asking my favorite authors for a blurb would be fun. Then I read this and this. Warning, don't hit the links, especially if you also thought it would be fun. To be honest, I've had several extremely generous people agree to read my book -- notice how I didn't write blurb my book? That's because they may discover they don't actually have the time or think my writing is substandard or the story itself is somehow inappropriate with the trajectory of their careers. There are many schools of thought on asking for a blurb. I prefer to write personal letters, but some authors may want to be approached by an agent or editor, or there's an established relationship there. Talk it over with your team, you're not alone. But when I think about it, the idea of these amazing authors reading my work makes me nauseated, they're so good and I don't measure...STOP. Don't let yourself think about them reading your words. Just don't.

10) Glaciers - The day after my book sold, my agent warned, don't worry if you don't hear from anyone for a few days, things are going to get quiet. Nope! How many times have you been led to believe that this business moves at a glacial pace? That's not been my experience. Maybe it's because TETHERED sold in October and will be released in September that everything feels as though it's clicking along, too fast, but I know others whose books sold about the same time but will be released later and they've had the same editorial schedule. Whew! Invest in Starbucks.

11) Expectations - Manage them. But also shoot for the moon, you just might land on a star.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Amy, thanks for this . . . it's spot-on (in my experience) and wonderful advice even for those of us who've gone through the process before. I'm gearing up for submission right after the first of the year, and you have no idea how good these reminders were for me.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Judy, you're going to do so well! And thanks for confirming that it was your experience too, you never know. You'll let us know pronto, right?


Lisa Marnell said...

Thanks, Amy. I think I'll print it and save it for when my time comes!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Amy, thanks for the positive thoughts. Yes, I'll let you all know . . . but I have a hunch you'll hear my screams (either way, I suppose!).

Larramie said...

This was a fascinating behind the-scenes look at the nitty-gitty details, Amy. As a reader, I've learned so much about the publishing journey this past year. Thank you all.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, oh, your time will come. I've no doubt. None.

Yay, Judy! Great attitude!

Larramie, it is fascinating, isn't it? I've so much more to learn and wonderful people to guide me. I'm so glad you're taking this journey with me.


Lisa said...

This is such great information and advice. I've got it bookmarked in my "we shall see" folder. Yes -- I have one :) Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us.

moonrat said...

thanks for this. you've inspired yet ANOTHER post.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, I LOVE your folder and, yes, you will need it. I can't wait until I read about your sale!

Moonie, where do you think the inspiration for this one came from?


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

P.S. Those lovely girls in the photo are my very patient daughters. Very patient...


Therese said...

The photo's fabulous. Patient girls indeed.

Can't wait to see your cover, and my money's on them keeping TETHERED, which I love, so I may be prejudiced.

It's fun to read this as I've got one foot in my pre-pub days and one in my next-pubbed days to come. What will my next cover be? Will they want to change my title? (There was some talk, very early, of changing SOUVENIR, btw.)

Yes, yes, yes to the importance of interviewing one's potential editors when possible! My editor and I have such well-aligned sensibilities, and her editing style is such a good fit for my writing/revising style.

Oh, and I've mentioned your photo advice in my post tonight, as it turned out to be especially pertinent...

Anonymous said...

Will have tp pray and wait for the day before i can use this list.
Seems like you have a dream team with you. Great.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Therese, what a great post and such amazing news for you! It's onething to know you're going to be the lead, but then to see the catalog --oh, my goodness. Frame it. It just re-enforces the fact that you need a good photo.

Usman, oh, I hear such a familiar tone in your voice. Keep going, every step counts. You're closer than you think.


Carleen Brice said...

I have a somewhat different experience. I received 2 offers. One editor I chatted with before her offer. She was great, but her offer was pretty low and our conversation was sort of discouraging. Basically, she was making sure I knew how difficult it was going to be and would I really be able to churn out 1 book a year, etc. The 2nd editor, I didn't talk with until after I accepted the offer (it was a much, much better offer), and it was SUCH a different experience. We clicked on every level, including when to release. Later I met her and enjoyed her even more.

Sometimes things happen as they're meant to happen. In fact, the energy around my book is all energy that is non-manufactured, if you know what I mean.

But I also let friends take my author photos, so what do I know? :)

Sustenance Scout said...

Thanks for this Amy. I think I'm going to start a We Shall See folder, too. Great idea, Lisa! Carleen, also appreciated your input! Funny how things work. K.

Carleen Brice said...

I need to amend my comment. I fear it makes it sound like good promotion and marketing are a bad thing. That's NOT what I meant. I was trying to say that sometimes serendipity and grace allow us to be in the right place at the right time.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Carleen, aren't you grateful to have chatted with that editor first to know -- even if the offer had been more -- that you wouldn't have gone with her/him? And you have very talented friends, plus you have a good face and that hair. Mine terrain is a bit more challenging for the camera. As for serendipity (I call it Fate), that does a play a role, absolutely, but I agree we wouldn't find ourselves in a place to accept it without having put in the work.

SS, You SHOULD start a We Shall See folder. It's a great way help you envision and plan for your dreams coming true. Make it happen.


Ello - Ellen Oh said...

This was very interesting and insightful. It definitely does seem to be moving at a fast pace for you, which is great! And this is all great advice which I hope to use one day!

And thanks Amy for posting this as it is so fascinating to follow a writer through the publishing cycle.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks, Ello. You can't believe the hours (months, years) I spent looking for this sort of information while I was toiling away on my manuscript. When writers shared their experiences, especially bloggers I "knew" before they were published, it gave me hope that I could someday do it, too. The very fact that you want to read about the minutiae of the business just goes to show how dedicated you are to your craft.


Carleen Brice said...

Thanks Amy! You made my day! :) And I DEFINITELY agree one has to put in the work too.

mohanley5 said...

You are obviously a gifted writer, one who appreciates the gift and works with great diligence to produce work of the highest quality. I see that from your posts, your commitment to your writers group and your involvement in literary events (and Grub.

Further, you are a gifted teacher. I'm not sure if you, Hannah, Lisa and Lynne even know just how many people have learned from you. What is most commendable, is that none of you had/have to do what you do here. Every post seems heartfelt and for the benefit of the readers. Thank you collectively, for all you have taught me.

Also, the cover is just amazing. I hope your book gets great placement on the shelf, because I can see customers being immediately drawn to it. There's something about the girls' posture that is both vulnerable yet determined, and, along with the title, just so interesting.

And last, (sorry for the ramble here) I was at Grub the other day, and we were talking about how much we enjoy your blogs, and how happy we are for your successes.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Oh, Mo, you're far too kind, but thank you. I thought my ears were ringing...Did you take a class at Grub? I love their classes.

One thing, though, that's not my cover. It's one of two images I long imagined my cover to be like. That's a picture I took of my daughters. Sorry if I confused anyone on that point. No, thefolks at Crown have a much different, cleaner idea.


mohanley5 said...

I was at Grub stuffing envelopes, and we were all chattin' it up :)

I stand by my comments about the picture! :) I'm wondering what they have to top that!