When a publisher finally says they love your novel, it usually means they love it so much they’ll ask you to revise it another half dozen times under their supervision.
1/ Editorial input
This is editorial input, sometimes called ‘content curation’. It means more rewriting and can involve major changes like cutting out characters, changing from 1st to 3rd person or vice versa, or changing the way your plot unfolds. If you’re the sort of writer whose hackles rise at such interference with your genius, traditional publishing is not for you. If you find it inordinately exciting to have professionals take an interest and can’t wait to let them help you make your book the very best it can be, you’re a natural for it.
When my first novel was being edited, builders were in the throes of replacing just about everything on the ground floor of my home. Having heard nothing from the publisher for months, suddenly I was in the headlights of the editor’s total attention so, with my wi-fi blinking on and off throughout the day as electrics were replaced, I would rewrite each chapter and email the result. With mayhem going on around me, my story kept getting tighter and better and I loved every minute.
Robert Graves’ desk at home in Mallorca
That’s the most exhausting bit over. There might be a lull before the publisher’s choice of cover arrives for your approval. Sometimes an in-house designer has produced it, sometimes it comes from a picture library. You should get a veto or at least a chance to point out if something is inappropriate. That first novel of mine was set in a Gothic abbey and the first cover offered by the publisher showed something more like a nineteenth century factory, a square brick box with chimneys. They’re all juggling a number of different books and nobody knows your book as well as you do, so speak up. Mine agreed to get rid of the chimneys.
3/ Blurb, acknowledgements
They will ask you provide the few words that go on the back. Those brief summaries – 10, 20 and 50 words – that kept your through-line on track come in handy here.
You will also be asked who you would like to thank in your acknowledgements. Here is the usual pecking order of thanks:
- Everyone who read and critiqued your book at draft stage, expert or otherwise, while accepting any errors as your own.
- Any other sources of research such as helpful librarians.
- Members of your writing group or MA course whose critique has helped.
- By this time, you and your editor are friends for life so it’s usual to give them a glowing mention.
- Everyone else in the publisher’s offices who has helped you. With luck they are all your friends for life now, even if individuals move on from this publisher to another one.
- Your agent.
- Undying love to your other half. My favourite is PG Wodehouse’s thanks in The Heart of a Goof for his daughter Leonora’s tireless sympathy and encouragement without which ‘this book would have been finished in half the time’.
- Absolutely no need to mention your cat, therapist, masseuse or accountant unless relevant to the content of your book.
5/ Final edit
Edits always produce funny little blips or words in the wrong place. The final read through, for story and proofing, is down to you alone. Everybody will be in a tearing rush by then, but do your utmost to insist on peace for a few days to make sure it’s all finally OK. Otherwise you will open your lovely author copy and see a horror on page 2.
Have you any extracts from other people’s work in your story? Your chapter headings, for example, are lines from poetry or songs by living writers? Publishing contracts usually make you, the author, responsible for getting and paying for copyright consents for any extracts you have used. It is easy to blink past this in the dizzying joy of signing your contract but it can cost you time and money if you’re not careful. A good publisher may well guide you past the most difficult and expensive options. In my first novel I was set on using extracts from WB Yeats’s poetry. How on earth was I going to get consent to use them? Luckily the publisher knew how and arranged free consent for me in-house.
7/ Make the book available in every possible form
Your traditional publisher will want to spread your marvellous story as thoroughly as possible around the world. There should be paper books for you to hold, and presence in the kindle world and equivalents. What about radio readings, audio books, film deals, television deals, serialisation in newspapers, translations in a hundred different countries? Well, the budget for a first novel by an unknown writer may well include some of these but be patient. The more books they publish of yours, the more budget the publisher will be prepared to invest.
A publisher will do its best to market your book:
- A bona fide review in a mainstream newspaper or magazine is gold dust these days and happens very rarely for a first novel. The days of gathering a sheaf of print reviews are gone. A short mention in a blog or online magazine is less rare but well worth celebrating. A goodish review is as good as a great one – it’s the mention that matters – and a bad one can do sales a power of good if it’s amusing or by someone high profile.
- Social media: your publisher will have goblins spreading the word through all the social media outlets. It’s good manners to help along.
- Events, book groups, book festivals etc. You will be expected to clear your diary for anything your publisher suggests as well as rustling up your own, if you can. Again, try to dredge up all your contacts to get yourself interviewed or otherwise noticed.
- Your own website. Now is the time if you haven’t done it already. Expect to pay for it yourself.
- Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool of all. Over to you and your friends!
On Sunday: to your book launch and beyond!