Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the
streets of London novelist’s journey from manuscript to book. But before we go anyway I must caveat in your general direction: I haven’t had a book published yet. I have only my own, limited, experience to draw on via the medium of a single publisher. Your experience will be/will have been different.
The broad sweep is likely to be similar, though, hence the ‘this might be of interest’-ness of this post. I also suspect that many of the stages will be applicable to all you self-publishers out there.
And, without further ado:
Step the First: Write a novel and make it good
Yes, it is possible to sell a novel on the basis of a pitch: Gareth Powell did that with his Ack-Ack Macaque stories (and very good they are too). But he did that on the back of a lot of previous highly-regarded writings. If you don’t have a track-record, or if you’re not already famous, you’re going to have to go the long way round.
Step the Second: Find a publisher willing to take you on
Yes, I know I’m skipping a helluva lot of steps here. But to detail every single rise and fall, every stumble and trip, in here would make this article three times as long. Besides, most of this blog is taken up with these gaps.
Step the Third: Sign a contract
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about agents here. That’s mostly because I don’t have one, though I’ve spent more time trying to get one than I have trying to get a publisher. Again, please refer to the rest of my blog ever for my agonies over a lack of agent: suffice to say that I’d really rather like one and this is where they come into their own.
A contract is a potential minefield and it’s here you can be shafted by an unscrupulous organisation. For that reason I recommend that as soon as you get a contract offer you join the Society of Authors. They’ll read through your contract and – very promptly – tell you if the contract’s exploitative and suggest amendments in your interests.
A few short notes:
- Money goes to you. It’s not a great sign if you’re asked to pay costs
- Keep your rights. Don’t sign away the rights to adaptations or the right to be respected as the author
- Make sure that, if something goes wrong (if, for example, the publisher goes bust), the rights to your work revert to you. Clauses that state you can publish your work elsewhere if the novel isn’t released within a year or two of manuscript submission, or if less than a number of copies a year are sold, are nice things to have.
Step the Fourth: Tell the publisher all about yourself
This, I suspect, is where people’s experiences will start to differ as different publishers will have different mechanisms for building up their publicity machines. Some may not do anything at all; others will have legions dedicated solely to your novel.
But as soon as I signed I was sent a huge document to complete: I was asked to write long- and short-form author profiles and a long and a short-form novel blurb. I was asked to give any useful contacts, any bookshops I lurked in, any podcasts I recommended. I was also asked to give ten questions and answers to provide to the media.
I was also invited to share any ideas I had for the cover, which I believe is, if not unusual, then at least a long way from standard.
This took a long time. I’m still not entirely sure what of it has been used, what will be used, and what has been forever dispatched into the netherhells.
The good thing about this is that, once done, it can be recycled: like the perfect submission letter you may tinker and rewrite but once the facts are down you’ll only need periodic updates. This work isn’t wasted.
Step the Fifth: Write something else
This process is full of gaps: of feverish activity followed by lean, fallow months. Don’t sit back and sweat: make your next book sing.
Step the Sixth: The cover
A few months pass quietly. Then I receive a proposed cover and for the first time see your name in, as it were, lights.
I was, at this stage, invited to comment and feed back on the mock-up. Not all publishers do this.
Step the Seventh: A long period of quiet with occasional stabs of publicity
This is where I needed an agent and possibly made my errors. Or at least the errors I’m aware of; I’m sure more are to come.
My publishers were hugely busy with a great number of books and I didn’t want to hassle them so I retreated to Step The Fifth – I got on with other things. I was also contacted by Unnerving magazine and asked to do an (email) interview, which was both good for my ego and helped me feel like I was helping.
But I feel this was where I should have been doing more to organise publicity for the release. Could I have tagged myself onto any festival lists? Should I have contacting bookshops or libraries, or at least haranguing my publisher into so doing? I’m really not sure.
Step the Eighth: Copy-edits
Aha! As if from nowhere, a task appears! To be honest this was a bit of a relief; doing something, even if it’s a difficult, angst-wrencher of a task, is better than waiting. It’s also a sign that the publisher knows what they’re doing (not that I doubted it, but still) and things are progressing. Huzzah!
Step the Ninth: Proofs
…and hot on the heels of the copy-edits come the proofs. The turnover was so quick as to be almost the same task; here the difference is really that I was working in a PDF (and thus was visible the pagination, the preliminary pages and so forth).Also the urge to skim was stronger as there wasn’t any handy marginal notes to draw my attention to Bad Writing.
This is, I’m led to believe, the last time you can amend your text without seriously annoying your editor. I also inserted thanks and dedications here.
Step the Tenth: Final (final) changes
Another email arrives and causes me to immediately cease all other activity: another PDF and a last list of editorial queries. This are all little things – the difference between a settee and a couch, for example, or whether something should be in a personal or a personnel file.
Step the Eleventh: Serious publicity
This is where I now sit.
Except I’m not really sure what I’m doing, other than querying my publisher’s plans and, upon invitation, sending them some ideas. It’s two months until the damn thing’s out there and I’m not sure how best to go about promoting myself and my work.
Except for going on about it here and the occasional humblebrag on Twitter, of course.
But I’m hoping things will come together. There’s still time; I have to trust my publisher – they want my novel to succeed as much as I do. In the meantime it’s time for me to return to Step the Fifth.
Step the Twelfth: The great release
So… what happens here? Will we go out with a whimper or a bang?
I’m still hoping there’ll be some sort of event to accompany the release. Even if it’s in my own house, in my own head, having one’s book actually living and breathing is a rare thing. It should be celebrated.
And if I do actually do anything, if there are any events to make the moment, be sure I’ll be letting you know, lovely folks.
Step the Thirteenth: The inevitable comedown
Things don’t stop when the book is unleashed on the public. There may well be continuing publicity. What there will doubtless be is more work. A debut is a beginning, not an ending.
A pause is worthwhile. A glass of reflection is earned. But then the work resumes.
Nothing sells a book like another book.
Back behind the keyboard, young ‘un. There’s more words to be mined.
* * *
Night Shift is due out November 6th courtesy of Flame Tree Press. Available in all good bookshops and libraries, and possibly some rather dodgy ones too.