An agent or publisher is interested – what happens next? #getpublished

Congratulations. An agent or publisher is showing enough interest to want to speak with you.

There is usually a slow process of meeting each other, to see if you will get along. The agent or publisher will shower your story with praise, then probably suggest changes to your script and see how you respond. Sometimes they are slight tweaks and can be fixed in a week or two. Other times, you can be asked to do substantial redrafts that take months. Throughout all this, they are looking to see how you handle the situation.

They want someone who responds quickly and takes advice well. If you let yourself be distracted by other pressures IMG_3442

or decide now is the time to close your laptop and take a gap year, IMG_3443you risk losing their attention.

Agents first

Do not expect a contract at an early stage although it can happen. Agents are more likely to be prompt about contracts than publishers and will send you a standard form of around a single page. In July we looked in detail at what agents do.

If a contract does come your way, keep breathing and think about it. You do not have to accept it straight away. You can ask for thinking time if there’s another agent/publisher you’re hoping to hear from. And it’s a good idea to consult the UK’s Society of Authors or a lawyer about the legal terms. There’s usually little you can renegotiate in standard provisions but it helps to be clear about what they mean.

As soon as the agent is happy with your script and has taken you on, your script goes out to chosen publishers. It came as a shock to me that agents get rejections too but it does happen. Maybe someone just pipped yours to the post or the heat has gone off a particular genre in the space of weeks. I have met an author whose agent was passionate about his thriller and spent five years hawking it around the world, but could not place it. There is a long history of classic novels being rejected many times. Rejection does not mean your agent is incompetent or that your novel is worthless. Stay calm, polite and positive – and keep writing the next thing.

The upside is that, at this level, you know your work will have been carefully read and that your agent will sift and report on feedback. If not, go elsewhere.

A publisher says yes

With undying thanks to your agent, you are sitting in the offices of a real, live, smiling publisher who has your work on the table. (In July, I posted detail about what publishers can do for us and when. My first post is here, and part 2 is here.) The publisher’s editor has put you through yet more rewrites and has satisfied the marketing and money people at the new acquisitions meeting that this deserves a chance. You’ve got a deal!

Congratulate yourself again – very few new writers reach this stage. Most publishers take at most one first-time novelist a year. A publication date is set and the cover’s agreed. You have more work to do now:

  • Your help will be vital with publicity and this starts before publication. Do not expect to get much of your next book written over the next weeks and months.
  • Prepare your own website if you have not already. Start blogging about your new book and how you came to write it. Podcasts go down well too.
  • It’s never too early to start your social media spinning.
  • Make friends with your local booksellers. They’re lovely and are usually delighted to meet local authors. Your publisher should provide you with some free publicity copies to hand out.
  • Contact local newspapers and blogs to ask for interviews and reviews.
  • Plan your book launch.
  • And try above all to keep writing the next thing. You’ll need it sooner than you think.

They’re asking you to buy some of your own books?

Here comes one of the hardest facts about today’s publishing world: your publisher may well require you to buy some copies of your book yourself, at discount. I first encountered it in 2009 when it was described as a contribution to printer’s costs. It’s very common now, the idea being that it encourages you to market it. The discount (paying 40% of the full price is not uncommon) also means that if you sell at 80%, you are still making more profit, more quickly, than waiting for royalties.

Fame and fortune at last?

Most first novels sell fewer than a thousand copies. That’s why the Booker prize was invented, to help literary novels reach a wider audience. Publishers and agents hope that by the time they publish your third or fourth, preferably in a series or the same genre, the public will have noticed you and the whole exercise will become financially worth their while. They are gamblers at heart. You may be one of the lucky ones who has a substantial advance from a big publisher who is going to flog your book with a great big publicity budget. I hope so. IMG_E1806Even if you’re not … You have become a strange new creature, a published author. That can lead you to other ways of making money (coaching, talks, radio and television appearances). It means too that people see you differently. Instead of the friend they are used to, the one who spends most of the time alone and gives a slightly dejected shrug when asked how the writing’s going, they see a confident, new you with a book in your hand. That book has your name printed on it and they are being asked to buy copies. After all the years of lonely scribbling, there is no finer sensation than welcoming friends to your book launch and watching them queue, smiling and laughing, for you to sign copies for them.

Congratulations, you’ve made it. It has all been worthwhile.

I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing!

What do publishers do, 2? From book launch to beyond

I love book launches, my own and other people’s, and didn’t discover until my second novel that you can have as many of them as you like!

It’s a good while since publishers would lay on a big bash for a first-time author at their expense, inviting every respected critic for miles, but you never know. Mostly we authors arrange and pay for our own. What do you do?

  • Find a location. Galleries and libraries work well. Any space will do where all your friends can gather, drink your wine, hear you talk about and read a bit of your book to whet appetites, and thank everybody who helped. Loud applause.
  • Who do you invite? Everybody you know – in my experience your friends will love it, especially the ones who think they are in it. They will also be more than happy to take away a copy without paying for it as if their friendship entitles them to this. (Maybe it’s just my friends but I doubt it.) Explain to them gently that they are to buy your book, as many copies as they can carry. In exchange you will sign their copies mentioning their names, with the place and date to make it unique.
  • Invite local media too, distribute flyers and put up posters. Not many strangers will come if they haven’t heard of you but you never know.
  • Make sure your books arrive on time. You’d be amazed how often this doesn’t happen, even for well-established authors!
  • If you’re like me, choose something a bit extra so that people will remember your launch in particular. Friends of mine who were trumpeters used to come and play a short fanfare before my readings. Gallery 4At the launch of my poetry collection Orion, professional actor Alice Barclay read the poems. It transfixed everybody far more than if I’d read them.
  • I like to keep the momentum up by moving on to a cheap meal close by but that’s up to you.
  • Spread happy photos around social media afterwards with pictures of your books in stock in shops. Done and dusted!

Back to what publishers do. Here are four more things following from Friday’s post to make a round dozen:

9/ ‘Brand building’

Time and again I’ve heard it said that publishers make very little money out of fiction until an author’s third book. That’s right, 3rd. Until readers get a feel for your name and style, for your regularity of output, for your ‘brand’, sales are unpredictable. Your publisher will try to find out about you and your life to depict you as a unique writer worth watching, to enhance their publicity efforts.

You remember how JK Rowling was a single mum writing in cafes with her buggy beside her? Cafes are excellent places to write and most of us do it some time or another. What her marketers were doing was painting a picture in our minds and hearts to lift Harry Potter beyond the book itself.

10/ Protection of your legal rights

Both your agent and publisher will do this – your legal rights are (usually) their legal rights and they want your work to make as much money for everyone as possible. They will ensure that nobody else passes off your ideas/style/concept as their own. Fan fiction is only a compliment as long as it does not steal your thunder and income.

Where your rights conflict with those of your agent and/or publisher, you can have a word with the Society of Authors or consult a media lawyer.

11/ Sales

Aha! Now we’re talking. Publishers have access to networks of great big warehouses and lorries that should carry your books to places you have never thought of. They have lunch and drinks with bookshop owners in other continents. They do their utmost to make sure the boxes of your books will actually be opened in book shops and your books displayed, sometimes even paying for the privilege. (Some boxes of books lie unopened in the back store for months, such is the busyness of life.) They do deals to get your books into prominent places on tables and shelves and sometimes onto recommended lists.

Many bookshops will not take self-published books. Yes, lots of us read happily on a variety of electronic gadgets but the paper book trade is still the majority of sales. A traditional publisher gets you onto all the gadgets and into the bookshops too.

12/ Publicity copies

You will probably be allocated some publicity copies. These are not freebies for your grandparents. (Those are the ‘author copies’ described in your contract.) You will be expected to circulate your publicity copies among your contacts to spread the word and this includes pounding the streets looking for lovely bookshop managers who have time to listen to you. Waterstones are remarkably helpful and at the time of writing still have discretion to stock something they like, or which has local interest. Independent book shops are invaluable too. They will not all have time to read your book, even if they said they would. Bookshop staff are heavily overworked and underpaid. While your publisher is cultivating your brand, we authors do well to cultivate as many of these lovely people as possible.

The day might come when you’re sitting on public transport and see someone reading your book. Or someone crosses a room to say how much they liked it and when can they buy your next one. Until then, it is your publisher more than anyone who makes you feel that your writing, your hours of work, all your effort are worthwhile. Agents are invaluable but they can only hope to sell your book. All being well, your publisher will publish it and what a thrill that is.

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With the Arcadia Books team 2009

Next week, who is your ideal publisher or agent?

Happy writing!

 

 

What do publishers do, 1? Before your book launch, 8 things to expect

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.

IMG_1295

Robert Graves’ desk at home in Mallorca

2/ Cover

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.

4/ Acknowledgements

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 her/him 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.

6/ Consents

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. You should get paper books and presence in the kindle world and equivalents. What about radio readings, audio books, film deals, telly 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.

8/ Marketing

A publisher will do its best to market your book:

  • A bona fide review in a main stream 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. 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! 

Happy writing.

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The Most Intimate Place launch 2009