Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 3”)

Hey there! I’M BAAACK! (And so glad to be! I missed you!)

IMG_3016A round of applause for making it two weeks without me! (Who am I kidding, you probably didn’t even notice I was gone.)

If you’ve been following what’s going on with my Facebook page, you know that my vacation was to England (London, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Cotswolds, Warwick Castle, and Cambridge–probably not in that order, but I’m still so brain dead from the trip I can’t tell you)–and hopefully I’ll get a nice, detailed post up about that sometime this week. But it’s also currently Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m failing it rather epically (today I should make the Day 1 word count goal? I hope?), so we’ll see what happens.

ALSO, before I forget! (Because despite the fact that this is THE most important day in our nation’s history, it’s also currently 9:20 in the morning and therefore I REALLY WANT TO BE ASLEEP RIGHT NOW. BUT LONDON TIME. So my brain is really and seriously and truly not working.):

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY (ONE DAY EARLY)!!!!!!!!!!

Boom. Colors. (I want sleep.)

Now, onto what this post is actually supposed to be about: The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 3: From Book Deal to Actually Published. Yes indeed, “writing process” won out again in the most recent Wordy Wednesday poll. This week, I’m going to focus on what comes after you sign the publishing contract, based on the scarce amounts of information I’ve managed to find online, because, you know, otherwise I would have no idea. (Unpublished writer probs.)

If you want to know more about what comes before the publishing contract, you can read parts 1 and 2 of the Publishing Industry for Non-Writers series by following the links below:

From Idea to Agent

From Agent to Book Deal

Okay. Now here we go.

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Drafting

Snapshot_20130703_2“Wait–what do you mean I’m not done writing now that I’ve got the book deal?”

Generally, despite the best efforts of both the writer and the agent, a novel isn’t actually ready to be published when a publishing house decides to pick it up. And I’m not talking “there are a few typos that need to be sorted out,” but like–there are scenes that need to be completely rewritten or cut or added, and there are subplots that need to be strengthened or eliminated, and ALL SORTS OF STUFF. So the first step in the editing process, once you’re working with an editor, is to fix all these problems. Which can involve rewriting your novel from start to finish multiple times over.

Of course, this step in the process–like pretty much the ENTIRE publishing process–is completely unique to both the writer and the book. No two publishing stories are the same. So some writers will have a killer rough draft that hardly needs any work before moving on to the next stage in the process, and others will have to rewrite their novel eight times before their editor thinks it’s ready. But the point is: A book tends to change a lot throughout the publishing process. And it’s this part, more than anything, that makes having a good editor important–you need someone who knows what they’re doing if you want to make your Itty Widdle Baby Book the best it can be.

Line Editing

Image found here.

Line edits are the part of revising that everyone always talks about dreading, because they are TEDIOUS to get through. This is the point where together, the editor and writer must question every word, sentence, concept, and character trait. The editor points out if a sentence is confusing, or a word unnecessary, etc, etc, etc, until the manuscript shines–sort of like looking for the crystal inside a geode rock.

After this is done, Super Editor and Grateful Author move on to…

Copyediting

Image found here.

My critique partner, Kira, worked as a copyeditor at her college newspaper this past year. Whereas in line edits you get really picky about making the book sound good, here is where the grammar and formatting stuff becomes super important–here, you’re making it look good too. The copyeditor for a book is generally someone other than the regular editor that the writer has been working with up until that point, and copyeditors are the ones who ask questions like, “Should this sentence contain a semicolon or an em dash?” “Should this word be capitalized?” “Should this be a period or a colon?”All that sort of fun stuff.

Approving the Pass Pages/Other Such Things

Snapshot_20130703_5You probably can’t tell, but I’m attempting to look “critical” and “thoughtful” here.

Once the copyeditor is satisfied with the novel, the editorial team moves on to doing the pass pages. This is the step where the writer finally gets to see their novel in (sort of) book form. And by “book form,” I mean that “pass pages” refer to a copy of the manuscript that is formatted like a book, generally in a PDF document, with the font and all that jazz that it’ll be printed with. This is the author’s last chance to make changes to the novel before it’s finalized and goes to print.

… And, as that denotes, this is the last say the author has in what the book will look like, period. Because work on the book doesn’t end when the author’s does–instead, the editorial and design and all sorts of other departments continue to hone the novel, making sure that it is absolutely, one-hundred-percent as perfect as they can get it, along with designing the cover and all that. Because I don’t work in a publishing house, I unfortunately can’t tell you much about what goes on during this period, except that it’s a flurry of work and a whole lot of waiting for the writer.

But, meanwhile–while all of this is going on, the author does get to do some fun stuff, like…

  • Getting the author photo taken
  • Working on the flap copy (blurb of what the book’s about, etc)
  • Working on the tag line (because books, like Hollywood blockbusters, have to have nifty little taglines these days)
  • Etc.

Advertising

Why hello there, Requiem! Fancy meeting you here.

This collage is of me with Requiem, the last book in Lauren Oliver‘s young adult dystopian trilogy. I was super excited to win this copy of Requiem last fall because it’s an ARC, or “advance reader’s copy,” which means that:

A) I got it about four months before Requiem even came out.

and B) It’s not the final copy of the book (while reading, I found plenty of typos that were likely fixed before the book actually went to print).

ARCs are commonly used in the publishing industry in order to strike up a buzz about a book, whether by distributing them to bloggers and reviewers, or by giving them away in contests to fans (like how I got mine). It’s really important for authors and publishing houses to advertise a new release in the months between finishing with the final edits and actually releasing the book to the general public, especially with debuts, because–no matter how well-written a book is and no matter how well-executed the concept is, nobody will know to read it unless someone lets them know it’s there as an option.

In the past, the marketing departments of publishers put a lot of time and effort into getting books into readers’ hands, but these days, with the rise of the internet, it’s becoming the author’s job more and more. Now, in general, the publishing house will simply go around to all the book stores in order to convince them to stock the book, send out some ARCs to reviewers, and the rest of the business is the author’s job–which is actually pretty cool, because it means the author gets to be more involved in whether or not their novel succeeds.

Generally, as the release date draws nearer, the author will begin doing interviews, writing guest posts on book bloggers’ sites, and giving away copies of their novel–anything to spark other people’s interest in reading it.

Like everything in the publishing industry, it’s a lot of work for very little credit. Most advertising these days is done by the author, free of charge (because, I mean, hello–who’s benefiting from you selling more books? YOU). But I hear it’s also a lot of fun and a great way of making new writer/reader friends; I really hope I’ll be able to experience it someday.

Let’s Review: Timeline from Book Deal to Book On Shelves

Snapshot_20130703_1“It takes HOW long…?”

Something I sort of skirted over in this post, but is very important to realize, is the timeline that all of this takes place over. Generally, it takes one to two years after signing the publishing contract for your book to come out. This isn’t because publishers think it’s fun to watch you squirm in anticipation–this is because it actually takes that long for the entire process to work itself out.

There’s a lot of work that has to be done once you’ve signed with a publisher, and the work doesn’t stop when the author’s portion of it does. There are so many people involved in making a book possible, and really: I have only given you a GLIMPSE into what the whole process is like, here. So just remember this the next time you’re complaining about how your favorite author is taking ages, and ages, and AGESSSS to get their next book out.

(If you’re interested in seeing how books are printed, you can find a really cool video about it HERE.) (I know, I know, I know. It’s Twilight. But this is one of the best videos on book printing I’ve seen.)

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… So, I think that’s about it for today and, unless anyone has any burning questions about the publishing industry still, that’ll probably be it for the Publishing Industry for Non-Writers series. Is there anything else writing-related you’d like me to talk about? Leave your ideas and questions in the comment section, and vote for the “writing process” option in the poll, and I’ll get on it!

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 1”)

I’ve been getting lots of questions on the writing/publishing process the past half a year or so, due to my work on Cadence, so I figured I’d do a condensed overview of what trying to publish a novel is like in a series of Wordy Wednesday posts, for anyone who’s curious, specifically addressing the questions I most frequently get asked. This week I’m going to focus on the process of getting your novel ready to query, and then what querying exactly even is.

I give you–The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 1: From Idea to Agent

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Brainstorming/Writing

This is me writing. You can’t see the laptop, but just know it’s there.

The first step in publishing a book is, of course, writing one. Sometimes a writer will get an idea flash and start writing Chapter One or a particular scene right away, giving up all semblance of having a life for two weeks, and then they’ll be finished writing practically before they started. More commonly, writers will spend weeks or months brainstorming for a novel before they ever write word one. Some people are “plotters,” which means that they make complex outlines that detail various events, character arcs, etc before they begin a novel, so that they can comfortably know where they’re going before they begin to write. Other people are “pantsers,” which means that they write by the seat of their pants, or more specifically: don’t outline. Instead, they let the plot and characters take them where they take them. They might have a vague idea of where the story’s going, but they never know any specifics.

I’m personally, most definitely more on the pantser side, but I also can’t go into a story completely blind, like some writers do. While I rarely outline on paper, I usually have the basic structure of the story, and a lot of the major scenes, already worked out in my mind–and I normally spend a few months, if not closer to a year, working all of that out. Then, once I get closer to writing the end of the novel, I make notes detailing what needs to go into each of the remaining scenes and chapters, just to make sure that I don’t leave a bunch of subplots unresolved (because I’m like Dory the fish as far as remembering stuff goes), and I follow that rough outline pretty closely (although it’s always subject to change). I usually have a few different endings swimming around in my mind, and I won’t know how the novel’s actually going to end until I’m writing that final scene.

Unlike the super-writers who finish novels in two weeks flat (several of which I’m friends with–hi, guys!), I’m more likely to spend half a year working through a first draft. The shortest time it’s taken me to write a novel was four months; the longest was fourteen. Cadence took about seven. I didn’t know what direction I was going to make that plot go (I set it up with five or so different possible antagonists) until I was already halfway through the climax. I think writing this way is a lot more fun than having a structured plot to follow, although it does make it a bit trickier when revising, because then sometimes things that I’ve written with the idea of Billy Bob Joe being a bad guy don’t make sense when he turns out good in the end.

Revising

Snapshot_20130602This is my Revising Face.

After finishing a first draft, the rules of the game state that you’re supposed to put it away for a while (at least a month, if not longer), try to stop thinking about it to the best of your abilities, and then pull it out again after that month-or-longer to start revising.

Everyone revises differently, but I tend to do a quick read-through myself, fixing any and all problems that jump out at me (plot, specific sentence structure stuff, whatever is bugging me), then sit back and do another one more slowly, making sure that the writing flows and the plot truly is justified. Then I hand it off to my critique partners, or “CPs,” (other writers who you exchange writing with) and “beta readers” (people who critique your writing without expecting to really get anything in return) in order to, you know, critique. Some people only have a couple of CPs and betas, others have upwards of fifteen or twenty. I have about three who I use regularly, along with another five or so who I exchange writing with more sporadically.

In general, one of my novels will go through a solid five drafts before I ever move past the revision stage, between finding stuff to fix on my own and going through my CP/beta edits. Unfortunately, though, with Cadence I didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I finished writing it in January, set it aside for a month, and then the beginning of March I had to begin hardcore revising it in order to get it ready in time for the Writer’s Digest Conference. I only had the time to exchange it with two of my critiquers, and I had only read the thing myself once before the conference. By now, it’s seen a little more love, but it was a really scary thing going in to talk with literary agents when I had barely read the novel myself.

Querying

This Is a Query LetterIf anyone writes this novel, I will pay you $10.00 cold hard cash.

In order to traditionally publish a novel with a major publisher, you need a literary agent. Contrary to what most people think, a literary agent is not the same as an editor and a literary agent does not work for a publishing house at all. A literary agent, instead, is a not-so-neutral third party who loves your story as much as you do and tries to champion it to editors at the publishing houses in order to sell it, thus getting you a publishing deal. It is next to impossible to land a contract with a major publisher without a good lit agent’s help, and even if you do land a contract without one, chances are you would have gotten a better deal with one. Agents know all the ins and outs of the publishing world; they know how to get you the best deal possible, and get this–they don’t get paid unless you do. Typically, a lit agent will take 15-20% of whatever you make off your book domestically, and a little bit more internationally. And they’re worth every cent.

However, landing a literary agent is almost as difficult as getting published itself. A typical literary agent gets thousands of query letters every year, requesting their services, and of all those letters, they only offer to represent one or two new writers. Luckily, there are a lot of great agents out there, so getting an agent isn’t nearly as impossible as that figure seems–but it’s still really, really hard. Some people spend years pitching one novel after another to agents without an offer of representation in sight, garnering hundreds of rejections. Others–the rare cases–get an agent in their first patch of query letters, off their first novel. Most commonly, a writer will write, revise, and query multiple novels before finally getting The Call. (“The Call” is a phone call from a literary agent, offering representation. It’s a momentous occasion that I hear generally involves lots of holding-back-tears and trying-not-to-pass-out and general-excitement-in-the-form-of-happy-dancing.)

In order to get an agent, there are a few different paths you can take, but the most common one is to query the agent. In order to do that, you have to write and send a query letter, which is almost as bad as revising your novel (I say “almost as bad” because it gets slightly easier with each novel you query, as you figure out the format; revising novels, however, NEVER gets easier). There are a few different formats you can use to write a query letter, but no matter what, the definition of the query remains the same:

A query letter is a business letter written to a literary agent (or other publishing entity) requesting their services, comprised of a “hook,” which is something that catches the agent’s attention (a brief quote from the work, etc); a brief description of the work–a “pitch,” which details what the work is about, the work’s title, its word count, and its genre, etc; and a brief biography of the writer’s history within the publishing industry, such as past publishing credits and education.

So yeah, that might have turned into a bit of a complicated run-on sentence, but if you’re interested in what exactly A Good Query Letter Makes, you can follow the following links:

AgentQuery Guide to Query Letter Writing

Writer’s Digest Dos and Don’ts for Writing a Query Letter

Examples of Successful Query Letters at GalleyCat

Generally along with sending a query letter, an agent will request that you send sample pages–the first five or so pages of your novel–so they can get a feel for your writing style. If they like what they read, they’ll request for you to send either a “partial” or a “full” manuscript. A partial request usually is for something like fifty pages. A full manuscript request is, of course, for your full manuscript, and getting a full manuscript request is probably the most nerve wracking thing in an aspiring author’s life.

You wanna know why? Once an agent has your full manuscript, that means they’re seriously considering representing you. And they can take anywhere from a day to a year to get back to you about whether (or not) they’d like to.

Getting a full manuscript request is really exciting. I screamed and started racing up and down the hallways of the hotel I was staying in the first time I got one (I’m sure I was popular with the other guests). Getting an offer of representation off an FM is still really rare, though. More likely, the agent will email you back after a couple of months saying that they loved your main character’s snarky voice, or your innovative concept, or your great world-building–but it wasn’t quite right for them.

Snapshot_20130605What can ya do?

As hard as it is to get rejected off full manuscript requests, these are the best kind of rejections. They remind you that even though you still don’t have that shiny agent contract in your hands, you’re at least doing something right, for an agent to have even wanted to have read your FM in the first place. The other kind of rejection–the more common one–is the form letter. This is a letter that’s generally only a couple of lines long that is not at all personalized to you that generally looks something like this:

Dear Author,

Thank you for thinking of me to represent your work of fiction, but I feel that I did not connect enough with the material at this time to further consider representing it. However, I wish you all the luck in placing your work with an agent who feels differently.

Sincerely,

Coolio Agent Person

Or sometimes the agent just never replies at all, which is a “no response means no” sort of deal.

Like I said before, agents get literally thousands of query letters a year. They don’t have time to respond to each one individually. So although getting form letters can be disappointing, it’s important to remember that each rejection is just one query letter closer to an agent who will say yes–because, after all, all you need is one “yes” in that sea of rejections in order to get published. And: Every. Writer. Gets. Rejections. Even the super rich and famous ones. Even JK Rowling.

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… And now that I have completely flooded you with information, I think that’s where I’m going to stop for today. Want to learn more about publishing? Vote for the “writing process” option in this week’s poll. Have any specific questions you want answered? Feel free to ask me–in the comments, through an email, on Facebook, or in person. Whatever floats your boat, I’m always open to talking about writing.

After all, it’s my job and I love it. 🙂

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~Julia