The Publishing Deal: Happy Ever After?
A (relatively) tongue-in-cheek look at what happens after you’ve signed that much-longed-for publishing deal.
There’s an awful lot of encouragement out there for writers today. Writing courses, mentors and critiquing services are springing up all over the place, books on getting published are best-sellers and there are countless helpful websites, all set up to encourage the struggling author. But what if you're lucky enough to get a publishing deal? No-one really tells you about what happens next. Getting published, like that fairytale marriage, is the happy ending. Once you’re published you become a different, more confident person, the sort who lives in a glorious lake-side property and oozes intellectual sexuality, answerable to no-one but themselves, a fawning editor, and their creative needs.
The truth, of course, is way different.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to get a two book deal from a large, independent British publisher. It didn’t change my life, it didn’t make me much money, and it certainly didn’t make me that confident, intellectual type that I imagine the Anita Shreves of this world to be.
But based on my meagre experience, here’s an outline of what to expect once you’ve done all that fiddly writing bit and got a deal in your hot little hands.
You receive a deal offer and discover that it only just covers all that money you spent on those writing courses, mentoring and critiquing services. You tell yourself you’ll make it all in royalties, which, of course, is far more honourable than bankrupting a publisher with a hefty advance that never earns out. But instead of rushing out to celebrate, as you always thought you would, you feel somewhat hollow, you study your bank balance, and you realise that you’ve just done two years’ work for a month’s salary. (Maybe even a week’s). And even that is split into two: half on signature, half on publication, and the darned thing won’t even be out for a year. Royalties won’t kick in until your book has earned out its advance, so don’t even think about them for at least 18 months. That lakeside property is about as distant as the moon.
Your editor sends you some notes. At first you’re scared to open the email, in case the criticism is harsh. But then you’re surprised – disappointed almost – with the minor things they want to change. So you get to thinking: who are editors, anyway, and which courses did they go on?
Consider this: you work for two years, creating, revising, editing, honing your novel, getting inspiration and advice from courses and mentors – then you hand your manuscriptover to someone who may never have written or edited a book in their life ! How many times have you seen courses for editors advertised? Editors learn on the job. Needless to say there are some terrific, experienced ones working in the publishing business today. But the chances are that your debut novel will be handed over to a beginner.
How many times have you read a novel, quite possibly by a huge and well-respected author, and been disappointed by a sub-plot that didn’t go anywhere, or a character that didn’t ring true? Authors can only have so much objectivity with regards to their own work, it’s up to the editors to take it to the next level. And all too often, it seems, the editor is either too lazy, too naïve or maybe too dazzled by a best-selling author’s status to suggest a nip and a tuck here or there. (Having said all that, if you're an editor reading this, I'm sure you're fab, and the first three chapters of my latest novel are just ready for me to dash to the post office at any minute...)
These days, it’s said that it’s the agents have more influence on a manuscript than editors, which is fair enough, but in that case I ask, who’s teaching the agents ?
Writers are supposed to learn their craft; agents and editors are allowed to be intuitive. Right.
Your editor is responsible for getting the book cover designed, which means liasing with the sales and marketing people to find what’s selling these days, and then dithering for hours over the exact shade of pink. OK, I’m being harsh here, but aren’t you fed up of seeing ‘Me too’ books all over the 3 for 2 tables? Your book may contain scenes of estrangement, domestic violence and a suicide, but it’ll still come out with a pink cover, if that’s what the publisher thinks is selling.
The marketing department will send you a form which essentially aims to lift all your
contacts in the media, so that the publisher can make full use of them. If you haven’t got any contacts in the
media, their enthusiasm wanes, and you get pushed to the ‘also publishing’
pages of their sales brochure. For my
second novel, which was quite a departure from the first, my publisher
described it using the exact same wording as for the first. Years on, that still rankles.
Reviews - Surviving the Slurp and Submit Brigade
In the old days, you wrote a book, and, if you were lucky you got a nice review or two in the local or even national papers, and, if you were really lucky, it sold over time, often through word of mouth. Today, you’ve got amazon heading up a myriad of websites where readers can post their reviews and reactions. In many ways that’s fantastic, in others, quite terrifying. Imagine, you’re placing the baby you nurtured for two years in the hands of what I call the Slurp and Submit brigade. Remember how we used to Drink and Dial? Now we just Slurp and Submit, all over the web. Irritated that you wasted your hard-earned cash on a disappointing novel? Just have a few drinks, log in and vent, why don’t you? And we authors, by definition an introspective, self-critical lot, just have to grow a thicker skin.
My first novel actually got a couple of unsolicited five star reviews. These left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling that lasted for half an hour or so. Then came a couple of stinkers, and you know what? They haunted me, regularly, at four in the morning, shaking my confidence and self-belief until I started questioning why I’d written the damned thing in the first place.
Comfort Food: it helps!
- Creamy Couscous Pudding
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- Killer Lemon Cheesecake Mousse
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Friends and Family
You learn a lot about these, too, once your book's out in print. The good friends are the ones who promptly order a copy for themselves, and even some for their friends, too. They encourage their local bookshops to stock it, and accost fellow shoppers, telling them their lives will be incomplete without it. The less good friends, however, not to mention the family members you thought had died years ago, expect you to send them a signed copy (in the hope, no doubt, that one day you’ll be famous, and they can make a killing on ebay) at your own expense, for their reading pleasure, and then get huffy when you resist.
Despite getting short-changed on the marketing front, my second novel actually sold out. When asked if the publisher would give it a second print run, they said no, they weren’t going to do that, and the rights simply reverted to me. So even though a second print run wouldn’t have cost them the earth, they clearly felt they’d made enough money on the book already, and didn’t need to do more. So much for my career-building then.
- The Divine Comedy: Ten Reasons Why Neil Hannon Is Such A Huge Talent
Im going to admit it I came to The Divine Comedy relatively late in life, which might explain my almost evangelical need to share my enthusiasm with others. It was in January that I heard the most...
Why do we do it?
The way I see it, a publishing deal, in its essential form, is as follows: You spend a year or two writing, honing and revising around 100,000 pages of an entertaining, readable novel. That’s your part of the deal. The publisher’s part of the deal is to edit, package, promote, market and sell as many copies of that novel as they possibly can. If your novel sells well, it’s a publishing triumph. If it sells poorly, it’s the writer’s fault.
So why do we do it? We do we work ourselves stupid, go on endless courses (no doubt set up by other writers who need the cash) and give up most of our social lives only to put our hopes and dreams in the hands of so-called experts, many of whom, for all we know, are wildly inexperienced with no apparent training?
Are E-Books the Future?
I’ve never wanted to self-publish – the approval of a trusted company was important to me and besides, self-publishing book covers tend to look naff – but I’m beginning to look at e-books as the future. There are companies out there that enable you to upload your manuscript, design your own cover and set your own price – the seller gets maybe a fifteen percent commission. Of course, you’ve still got to promote the thing, and that in itself is an uphill struggle, but with the internet, social networking sites, forums and what-have-you, it’s no longer quite the daunting prospect it used to be.
Publishers are running scared of e-books, and you know why? Because they realise that they’re slowly going to make them redundant. The readers of the future are online. We don’t need publishers’ type-setting, packaging and distribution expertise any more, and nor do we need their ‘Me too’ attitude or their fear of taking a risk. So maybe it’s time we writers rebelled and just got on with it ourselves? Maybe it’s time to boycott the traditional publishing world and give those stuffy rejectionistas the raspberry they deserve?
How do you feel about e-books and getting published?See results without voting
Debut novels I'm glad got published:
Funny, sweet and tragic; a story that stayed with me for a long time.
Beautiful, daring and lush.
For the two people who haven't read this yet - I urge you to do so!
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