Tales in Publishing: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Publishing and 3 More You Should
1. You might need to "sacrifice" your first work: what I mean by sacrifice is you might need to put the dream of the Big-5 and top agent on hold until you build a resume. For some, this means self-publishing first, for others lowering their expectations. Some will disagree with me but answer this question: do you want to be published and have people read your book, or do you need to make it big or not at all? If you choose the first option, then lowering your expectations of breaking into the industry can make it less stressful and emotionally taxing.
I sacrificed a novella I wrote in a week to a small press anthology, meaning I don't really make money off it, and it didn't sell amazingly. BUT, I had a published work for my resume and query letters which helped me later.
You have an amazing book though? I'm sure, but a lot of us do too. Which brings me to...
2. There are so many authors out there: seriously, there are tons of published authors out there and then there are tons of writers who are trying to finish or query that first book. We all think we have an amazing book, but literally there are many others just like us all vying for a spot. The good news is, readers devour and move on, so competition only really relates to finding an agent or publisher. Once our books are out, there is no point trying to compete. Readers read a lot.
Being competitive is petty. Seek to raise others up with you. If your book is truly better than competition, you've done no harm; if theirs is better? Seek advice from competition. I always try to help those who need it by dispersing information. It's my way of helping my colleagues, not competitors.
3. Ebook only and/or POD is not all it is cracked up to be: POD is print-on-demand. Yay! You have a printed version of your book, but... It means there's no mass distributor printing huge quantities of your book at wholesale value. Yes, your publisher can get a bulk for you at a discount rate, but POD usually means you cannot get into bookstores. Why? I know a former bookstore owner. He confirmed that they can't buy POD books because they risk no profit. However, when they buy from distributors at wholesale value, they stand to make a profit by selling your book at the same price you list it for. Contrary, POD forces them to buy around full price. They would have to jack up the price tag just to make a profit. Also, POD are not refundable nor returnable, meaning the reader cannot return the book and the bookstore can't send back excess copies for a refund. You are in print, but are now limited.
I signed with my first publisher knowing it was ebook mainly and POD online through Amazon and bookstores. It was my fault for not researching well, and they were transparent about it, so I sacrificed my first full length book--purposely tried out the industry with a standalone. BUT, my resume was now considered experienced; good reviews came in; I learned some important things, and it opened the door to later publications.
4. It's a long wait and a lot of work still: Your book was accepted, the publishers/editors praised your work. You sign your contract. Your book won't be out for a year from now--if you're lucky. If you snag the Big-5 publishers, it could be even longer. There are some quicker presses and some longer, but I would say the most common I hear is 12-18 months. Second. in that year, you'll wait between edits, and there are LOTS of edits. I teach grammar and writing to college students and you won't believe how many errors I make in an entire manuscript (99% I want to slap myself for because I KNOW better).
The hard work and time is worth it. Just read one chapter of your submitted draft and compare it to the one in print (doing this with your paperback is particularly rewarding). Also, all that time between edits--I wrote another book, edited, and submitted. We're like a well oiled-machine right now--my second publisher and I cranking my two series out.
5. You'll have to be flexible and share creative control: I often hear complaints from authors, and a lot of justification from self-published authors about maintaining control, that publishers and agents want to go dictatorial on you and steal your baby completely destroying it. Although I know of a couple authors who have gone through this, it has never been my experience or that of many authors. If you research your agent and publisher well before choosing to query them, then there really shouldn't be any harsh surprises. Instead of signing on with the first agent/publisher possible, ask what they would want you to change; you don't like it, don't sign. However, they usually explain why--and if you agree with them, this is where you need to become flexible and give up a tad of your control. Once you do, it becomes a collaborative wonderful experience, not the myth of warring over control. Just remember that giving up a shred of control to professionals who know more than you do has its perks and you're getting much more back than doing it on your own.
I worked with two publishers who edited my novels in-house. Never had an issue. Never felt coerced to change something I disagreed with. Any minor disagreements in wording or grammar we discussed civilly and worked them out in a way everyone was happy. Honestly, they feel more like those colleague friends you have at work but never get to hang out with.
With agents, I was asked to change too much, which made me realize I was not a Big-5 writer and that my books were not generic enough. The feedback I got was that I toy too much with irony, symbolism, and POV; my plot are too complicated. I see these as strengths. At the time, YA agents saw them as above the readership (I'll never understand that sentiment to devalue readers' abilities). I needed a smaller, more creative press who had less restrictions and more importantly embraced these aspects of my writing.
Things I knew but see some might not
6. RESEARCH: So many authors, like most people, love to blame others for their mistakes. Did you fall for a scammer? Well, how much research did you put into your querying process? Did you choose a terrible agent or publisher? How much research did you put in? I could go on and on. Yes, you might have done the research and the scammer was amazing (honestly, if they ask for money, say NO!) or the agent had a good roster but not in your genre, or the agent was new. New is a risk.
I had requests for manuscripts for two books of different series after querying the publishers who liked my pitches on #pitmad at the same time. Both were new small presses. I researched a lot. Found one registered on Duotrope (there is also the Publishers Marketplace); these websites vet who they allow on and make sure they are legitimate. The second press, I withdrew my query and did not send in a full submission. The second company's rates were the lowest traditional rate I have seen, their only two books had low reviews, and there were a couple complaints about them in a forum (already?). Do you see my level of research here? If the publisher were a person, you'd be cyber stalk them before committing.
7. If you don't understand legal lingo, get help: I know someone who got scammed. Locked in, unable to get out and had to go to court to get his book back. $5000 dollars it cost him. Recently, I heard the same story from a fellow author. My friend could have paid a legal professional to read over his contract but didn't. He brought it to our critique group as a warning, I went through it and highlighted everything that concerned me in its limited and controlling wording (my degrees in English helping there) and circled every legal term that needed to be looked up (the internet is a wonderful place for this). Do not sign unless you understand every word and if you don't, find some help.
I have not sought legal counsel myself, but made sure I understood every word of the contract and its implications before I signed it. My third contract, my second publisher went through every detail in an online meeting to makes sure I understood what everything meant.
8. Have the right mentality: Be positive! Learn. You can always write more: a lot may disagree with this sentiment, but books are just books in the end. You can write more. Having a positive mindset is everything. Making mistakes is easy. Maybe you chose the wrong publisher. Well, there is no time for regret. You learned something great from your experience and you have built a resume. Write another book. Make better choices than last time. I see writers all the time lamenting over certain decisions. Buck up and get at it again. Write again, and research the industry--it is ever-changing.
My mentality towards my books is probably not like other authors. They are not exactly like my babies although I'm damn proud of them. I'm a prolific writer with about 15 shelved books I never queried. I moved on and on writing more like a serial dater. When I finally decided I needed to try publishing again, I was like screw it! If I end up with regrets, I have many more books to whip into shape to try other avenues. I decided they just HAD to get out there and be read.
Will we fail and make mistakes? Yes, but that is learning how to be a better writer when it comes to the industry. Writing great books is only part of it; we must fall down, pick ourselves up, and learn how the industry works to truly be successful.