The Writer’s Journey

A fan asked me a while back about the publication process. This comes up a lot, and she seemed genuinely surprised by all that publishing a novel entails. Today I’ll make this my topic of conversation.

Of course, first and foremost, you need to write and complete a story. It has to be original, or contain a new twist on an old idea. This alone is a daunting task, successful only to those who truly believe in their work, and have the fortitude to see it through. When I tell someone I’m a published author, about half the time I receive the same reaction–“Yeah, I have a book I’ve been meaning to write…” Trust me. Meaning to isn’t doing, and doing is a lot harder than it sounds. I tell them all the same thing. Sit down and write a little every day. An hour is sufficient, as long as you stick with it. That’s the key.

So now you have a completed manuscript. Congratulations. You’ve nursed it, coddled and fed it, and the final words of the final chapter bring you great satisfaction. “I did it,” you tell all your friends. “I finally finished that book.” Well, guess what. You’re not even halfway down the path to a published work. Next comes self-editing. This is where you dissect that carefully assembled product and weed out the bugs. You’ll second guess plot and dialog, add, subtract and rearrange, polish every word until you can, honestly, read someone else’s work and think, Hey, mine’s better than that. When you reach that stage, it’s time to find a publisher.

Now, I can’t speak for publishing houses, but I imagine each must receive thousands of submissions every year. The competition is stiff. You have to sell your book right out of the envelope, so to speak, convince the house you are contacting that this book is worthy of sale. To that end, you have to first sit back with a blank canvas, choose the most important plot elements, and condense your book into a two-page synopsis. It has to be concise and tell the basic story, and it absolutely has to be free of typos and editing mistakes. Your writing style will be judged here.

Next comes the query letter, these days an email containing your completed manuscript and synopsis, and an explanation to catch the attention of the submissions department. I begin by naming the title, tell how many words and if the work is complete, the genre, and if the book is part of a series, the series title. A blurb outlining the idea of the story follows, and it should be brief, generally 150 words, and should make the reader want to know more. This is the same text you browse through on the back covers at your local bookstore. Now thank them for their time and consideration, and push send.

Then you sit back and wait for a reply. And trust me on this as well–it’s a killer. It may take as little as two, or as many as four weeks to receive a reply, depending upon how busy the publishing house is at the time. You really don’t want to hear back any sooner than that. A reply that comes two days later is probably a “Thank you, but not what we’re looking for” let down. In my opinion, the longer the wait, the more closely they’re considering offering you a contract. Don’t send followup messages every day and irritate the crap out of them, just be patient.

At long last, if you’re good and very lucky, someone will offer you a contract. Read it. Read it again. If you agree to the terms, sign and mail back. Now you can call yourself a published author. Go ahead and do your happy dance, you definitely deserve it! But the journey does not end there. Oh, no. You’ve only reached the top of the mountain. Now you have to work your way down the other side. And this, to many, seems the most surprising of all.

While you’re waiting to be assigned an editor, you’ll polish your blurb and submit information to the company for the development of your cover. You probably have a pretty good idea what your cover should look like, and you can express those ideas here. I’ve often found that giving just the right info–main character descriptions, etc.–and letting the artist do his/her thing is best. Once the final product is approved both by you and management, you can use the image to promote interest in your book.

By now, your editor is probably ready for you. Be prepared for compromise, and don’t be too much in love with your own words. These people are professionals, and know what works. Be patient, tolerant, and cooperative. Most of the time, you’ll progress smoothly through this step. You’ll go around a few times before you’re both happy with the finished product and are ready for formatting.

But there will be times when standing your ground is crucial. A good case in point is my own journey through my first Haven’s Realm novel. The editor I drew seemed, for the most part, fixated on another series, and pestered me no end until I finally had to say, “Look. The story is what it is.” There is nothing in the plot that resembles the work I have never read–I didn’t see the movies until after I first made my story public. Thankfully, when I moved on to book two, I was reassigned, and my new editor loves my work. I give her my full cooperation, but there are times when I need to explain why something is said a certain way, or point to a reference earlier in the story. I do have to say, however, that sometimes my editor has a suggestion on word usage, such as British slang or swear, that vastly improves that one sentence, and I’m always open to improvement.

At this stage, most of your pre-release work is done. You’ll see an email or two while the work is assembled and formatted, and I strongly recommend reviewing the entire manuscript every time. Until the day it goes live, there’s still time to correct that troublesome typo. In the meantime, you can organize your release party and prepare yourself for the day your book goes live. When that day finally arrives, and you’re holding a copy of your very own book in your hot little hands, do another happy dance, and move on to marketing. And, oh yes, get started on that next book!

Thank you for spending time with me today, cherished readers!

Tamara Monteau

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