The Process of Getting Published
Having a book published is an exciting process; it comes at the end of one journey—actually writing the damn thing in the first place—and begins another when you sign that contract. The writing is, by far, the more complex thing to do, but the road to publication still requires effort and concerted thought.
I’ve been fortunate to have had books or entries in anthologies been published three times with Inspired Quill, once by Thanet Writers, once by Pill Hill Press, and once by May December Publications. Inspired Quill has been my only experience of full-length novels being published, and both the publisher and I have learned as we have gone through each process. When I signed with them, I was only the second author on their books, and actually the first to the published due to a quirk with the dates chosen.
The moment you get that email/call to say that you’re going to be published for the very first time remains indelibly imprinted on your mind; I was in a coffee shop in the middle of Broadstairs one Saturday afternoon, and the email came through to my phone—which, of course, I checked whilst in the middle of a conversation, because I’m vaguely anti-social like that. I practically jumped through the ceiling when I read the message seventeen times and got my friend to check it as well.
But then the hard work starts; whether it’s your first or twentieth book, you should be equally as engaged in the process, and so should your publisher. If either of those things ceases to be true—or is not even true from the beginning—then alarm bells should ring.
Oh, and while I think about it, don’t ever—ever—pay money to a publisher up front; if they’re demanding that, they’re a self-publisher or a vanity press. A publisher shoulders a decent amount of the financial risk during the preparation—and yes, takes back a decent share of the cover price, to cover the costs. But that enables the author to be accepted without having to worry about where the finance will come from.
How much input and involvement you have in each step of publication depends on the agency and its philosophy, as well as its ability to invest in different areas—after all, its budget defines how much it can afford to spend on everything to do with the book, and how many people are able to be involved with it. All I can talk about in that sense is what I’ve experienced with IQ.
When the contract is signed, a useful first step is to develop a timeline of events between now and the publication date. You might not religiously stick to it, so flexibility is key, but also understand the priorities. Is there a particular date you want to aim for, because your book marks an anniversary? Speak up and listen; that way, you understand the publisher’s reasoning, and they understand yours.
I didn’t always get that memo; I was annoyed on just one particular occasion—I forget which book it was over, and what particular part of the process we were in—but I do remember that a Sunday morning chat became fraught because I wanted to express my opinions in no uncertain terms. My publisher was very patient with me, and let me vent my spleen, and then I deflated somewhat when I realised that I was spiralling round and round on the same treadmill.
They showed an eloquence and calmness that helped me regain my composure, and we reviewed the situation together as we continued to focus on the central point—the book was the important thing. I like to think that our relationship, already very solid, has become better with every conversation due to our openness.
Because that’s the other piece of the puzzle you need to establish right from the get-go; what are you expected to be doing to contribute to the book’s publication? Bigger publishers have entire marketing, publicity, communications, and editing divisions that carve up so much of the work between themselves, but the writer still has more to do than just answer a few preliminary questions, turn up at a few interviews (if they’re considered to have enough potential), and go where they’re directed to publicise it. Even so, smaller agencies rely even more on the writer being as actively involved as they want to be—or as much as they’re able to be. It’s often difficult to get tied down to too many contributions as most writers have work commitments—it’s rare to find writers who can entirely support themselves off their proceeds.
The first thing you will encounter after that contract is signed and sealed is a discussion on the editing process. The best thing I say tell you about this is: embrace the editor as an old friend and welcome them as someone who wants to make the book as top-quality as possible.
The best editors are the ones who encourage, support, believe in the book almost as much as you, and ask questions that make you think. Do consider the questions the editor has put to you; they will help you learn. On each occasion I’ve had the good fortunate to work with an editor, they have been wonderful. When Fall From Grace, my very first book, was reprinted and reissued in 2015, I worked with an editor to look at the story again. I received nine pages of notes. She’d really read my book, understood it, and seemed to care about it just as much as I did. That kind of editor is so important; when you find them, keep them on your side for as long as you can, as they are fighting for you and your book.
Peter Stewart, Antonica Jones, and Sara Slack (yes, indeed, I was recently edited by the publisher herself) have worked as editors on my titles, and I am a better writer for each of them; they picked up on my writing foibles well before I ever appreciated that I’d got them, and I was able to improve as a result. Open yourself up to learning from people who know what they’re talking about, and never—never—be precious.
On the other hand, do stand up for things you feel passionate about, and can defend for good reason. I don’t often disagree with the Trinity—as I shall now call Peter, Antonica, and the Big Cheese Sara—but I did robustly defend the ending to one of my books; I particularly wanted the last pair of lines to remain exactly as they were, as they really mattered to the integrity of the characters.
The cover design of any book is so important in luring a casual—well, any—reader in. The first edition of Fall From Grace was a stylish photograph taken by IQ’s art director at the time, and it came all the way from America—it was a lovely gothic cathedral.
When its follow-on—Leap of Faith—came out, and when Fall From Grace was then reprinted, we were fortunate to have a friend of mine, Lucy Lindsell, create the covers. This was a brilliant coup for us, as it meant two things; we had Lucy’s talent brought to bear on the covers, and it gave the duology a consistent, fresh look that united the two books in a funny sort of way.
Artwork is incredibly important. The art director will have a grip on what’s current, what’s appealing, and how the sector you’re writing in works. You will have views as well; consider half-a-dozen titles in the genre, and try to remember what first attracted you to that book. Was it written by an author you already know and love? Or was it the fact that the cover was visually appealing, making you pick it up and turn over to the synopsis?
So, you’ve edited the book, helped design the book, worked on your acknowledgements and dedication along the way (do remember to mention the important people, for example your parents, your editor, and your best friends), and are getting close to publication date. What’s next?
Well, there are two important areas to consider; the marketing and reviews of the book, and then the day of launch itself. Without effective marketing, your book will disappear, and without solid relationships formed with effective book reviewers, then your book will languish in a quiet, dusty corner of your publisher’s website or on a far-flung shelf of Waterstones.
I subscribe to the policy of ‘any publicity is good publicity.’ I know of writers who can’t bear the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people to talk about themselves, their book, or anything even vaguely related to life. I’m in favour of sharing my voice as far and wide as I possibly can. I’ve had the opportunity to speak in front of library audiences, to bookshop buyers, with school children (probably the best talks I’ve ever done have been to students), at literary festivals, and a lot of other places as well.
As the author, the book’s marketing does rely on your ability to be a significant part of it. The agency can—should—do a significant amount of marketing; organising the reviewers, getting out press releases, and so on, but don’t be passive as the author. If there’s something local to you which could tie in to your book, then connect with that something; a poster in a shop, a talk to a potentially interested group of people, a book signing, whatever it might be. I’ve attended some library events across Kent where I’ve been interviewed by members of the public, and taken part in podcasts and handing out books in the middle of a high street—all in the name of publicity.
Let me say a quick word on book reviewers as well; I utterly love and adore most reviewers. They are powerful advocates for fiction, whatever genre they prefer, and can talk intelligently about such a range of titles within their field. Those book reviewers, thankfully, are in the majority, and are well-read, well-thought of, and well-respected by their audiences.
There are others, however. You can tell the type I’m thinking of by the quality of their reviews, their websites, and their grammar. Oftentimes all three. It’s awfully depressing to see these sites, where reviewers will regurgitate the blurb and storyline but not much else; they certainly won’t give any opinions on the book beyond “it woz good” or some such ephemera. When I’m reviewed, I want to see an honest, constructive review; if someone doesn’t like part of the book, or even the entirety of the book, that’s fine—just say so in a constructive way and tell me why; I’ll like you for it because you’re being constructive and thoughtful.
What you do on the day of the launch is often up to you, although if you’re with a larger agency, you’ll usually find that they will have some ideas. Personally, I prefer to keep things low-key; having a meal out with friends following a book signing is entirely within my comfort zone.
I like book signings; I meet people who might be willing to buy my book and are usually willing to discuss the details of what makes up a good book. If you’re listening closely enough, you can pick up a nugget or two of gold from another reader’s perspective.
The process is hard work, but it’s entirely worth it when you hold that book in your hand for the first time.
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© 2018 Matthew Munson
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.