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.
I’ve never worked with any of the Big Five (they used to be the Big Six before Random House and Penguin merged, and how I wish they’d renamed themselves Random Penguin). Instead, I went down a different – and increasingly popular – route, by being published through a small independent agency that employs some leaner, more innovative ways of working.
The actual process of publication varies slightly from agency to agency, and how much input you have in each step depends on the agency concerned 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 the book.
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, but it gives an understanding of your publisher’s priorities, and you should not be afraid to identify if any of yours are different; is there a particular publication date you want to aim for because your book marks an anniversary? Speak up, but also listen.
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 that the writer just has to 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.
The first thing you will encounter after that contract is signed and sealed is a discussion around the editing process. The best thing I can tell you about this is; embrace the editor as an old friend and welcome the editing process as a positive, constructive one that will help you improve as a writer.
The best editors are the ones who believe in the book almost as much as you, and ask questions to encourage you to look at the storyline and structure again to understand how it can get better. Do consider the questions the editor has put to you. 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 back in 2015, I worked with an editor to look at the story again with the benefit of hindsight now that its sequel had come out. I knew that I could expect a few comments from her, but I then 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.
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, lovely photograph taken by IQ’s art director at the time. Artwork is incredibly important, and you must contribute your own thoughts to the process. Consider half a dozen titles in your favourite 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, forcing you to pick it up and turn over to the synopsis?
Getting it out there
As the author, the book’s marketing does rely on your ability to be a significant part of the policy; the publishing house can – should – do a significant amount of marketing; organising the reviewers, getting out press releases, helping to organise photos and interviews, and so on, but don’t be passive as the author. If there’s something local to you that you know about 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, taken part in podcasts, and handed out books in the middle of Dover high street – all in the name of publicity.
Let’s talk book launches. What you do on the day itself is often up to you; personally, I prefer to keep things comparatively low-key; having a meal out with friends to celebrate usually suits me, as well as some book signings.
Cash up front?
Oh, and while I think about it, don’t ever – ever – pay money to anyone calling themselves “a publisher.” If they’re demanding money, they’re a self-publisher or a vanity press; a traditional publisher would never demand money up front. Publishers take a decent amount of the book sales, that’s undeniable, but they also have a certain amount of risk as well, so make sure that’s a consideration when you’re consulting the contract.
If the words “self” or “vanity” never appear anywhere in the contract or the conversation, and yet the contract stipulates a particular amount of money to be paid into their coffers, call them out on it. You may be willing to go down the self-publishing route – I’m not knocking it; I’ve considered it myself for a book that’s not within my publisher’s sphere of interest – but the company concerned should at least be honest enough to admit what they’re in it for.