Getting Published: Part Two - An Interview with a Publishing Insider

October 09, 2013

Hello Fellow Junkies,

By now you’ve all see part one of this interview. If you haven’t, read it here now. In this second part of the interview, I asked my Publishing Insider some more specific questions about both budding authors, and the more experienced indie authors, and how they can go about either getting published traditionally, or how they can improve their presence on social media. 

If you’ve found these two posts helpful/informative/interesting/life-changing, feel free to leave me a comment at the bottom of the post.

1. If you’ve just written a novel, how long should you wait before submitting it to an agent or publisher? Should you make sure it’s completely, 100% polished before passing it on, or should it be in its raw form, ready for polishing by a professional team of copy editors and editors?

First impressions are important, you should always submit the best quality manuscript you can. While most Agents or Publishers only require a few chapters to be submitted initially, the entire book should be completed and be as polished as possible. If you can afford to do so, have your manuscript professionally assessed (many writer’s association’s offer this service for a small fee).

The same goes for editing and proofreading, if you can afford to do this, it would be encouraged. It will be re-edited if it is picked up by a Publisher, but often books are restructured and edited many times before they are deemed fit for publication. The main thing is that somebody else has read the manuscript – whether they are in the publishing industry or not - often authors will spend years writing a novel and may be too close to the content to see where changes may be necessary.  

2. Are there any ‘for-the-love-of-god-don’t-do-that’ things authors do that you see all the time which prevents them from going any further than a query letter stage?

1.  A widely overused (and incredibly irritating) first sentence on a synopsis: “this is the best book you’ll ever read”.

2.  Signing off your synopsis: “if you don’t publish my book it’ll be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make in your career”.

3.  Don’t send sample covers or artwork unless requested (even if self-published).

4.   Don’t submit your manuscript on beer coasters, no matter how amazing your brainstorming session went with your mates at the pub (this doesn’t happen often though, just enough to make us laugh).

3. What’s the usual process once a manuscript has been accepted? How long from query letter to seeing the book on the shelves?

There are generally three factors that determine how long it takes from initial submission to a book in print:

1. Initial review and assessment: it may take up to 3 months to be notified if the publisher will be accepting the manuscript.

2. Contract negotiation: generally 1 month, but this depends on the author or the agent – some negotiations go on for some months.

3. Editing: on average, a manuscript will take 6 months from the time the editor receives it, this includes editing, proofreading and printing. This does depend on how much work the manuscript requires, for example, if the ending needs re-working or a large amount of structural editing is required, this can take about twelve months.

4. If an indie author has previously published, what’s the process if their manuscript is picked up? Are the covers redesigned? Are the books taken off the various platforms and relaunched?

The process may be slightly different for everyone, depending on how established the existing title is, but generally the manuscript is taken in as a “new title”. So the manuscript will be re-edited if necessary, changes may be suggested, the formatting will need to follow the individual publisher’s branding guidelines so this may mean re-typesetting.

Covers are generally the most controversial and often the hardest aspect for authors to relinquish. Covers will be re-designed as there are branding guidelines, logos and font requirements. There are a team of expert designers on hand that know the market really well, so in the end most authors are happy with the final new design.

E-books are generally re-branded and re-launched, often in a new e-book format (whatever the publishing house is using). This is to avoid issues with version control and pricing, as well as to ensure all content meets branding guidelines.

5. What’s the standard contract for an author like, and what are the parameters i.e. is there a certain number of books they have to produce in a set time period, how much are they paid, what’s their royalty percentage and are they obligated to do a certain amount of public appearances?

There isn’t really a “standard” contract. All publishing houses have various templates that are used as a starting point, but all contracts are negotiated based on so many variables that it would be unwise to comment. 

I will say that the benefit of going through an agent is that their job is to get the best possible deal for their author. It is very exciting for all parties to sign up a new author – make sure that you take the time to look at all your contractual rights and obligations and query anything that you are unsure of.

6. How important is an author’s presence on social media? Can you offer any advice about how they can use social media more advantageously?

Incredibly important. My advice would be to blog, blog and blog some more. 

1.   It shows that you are open to using technology and are aware of new publishing trends (as there are a lot of authors that are not open to e-books or an online editing process, if the authors are good enough, we’ll work around it, but it’s always a big plus if authors are already across technology).

2.   It showcases your writing ability and ability to create a network of fans. There have been several major titles in the last few years (Fifty Shades of Grey, Wool) that were picked up after a Publisher saw their blog and the amount of interest they had generated.

3.    Practice makes perfect – the more you write the better you will become at it. Blogs in particular will show the good writers from the not-so-good-writers, as blogs are generally written quickly, without peer-review and without professional editing - so it is an art to do this well!

Websites are good for showcasing your “author brand”, it need not be expensive or flashy, a simple and easy-to-navigate website is always good to have, whether you have books to showcase or not. In fact, there are some agents that will not look at an un-published author unless they have their own website.

Join relevant online groups and increase your online presence – put your “marketing cap” on – who do you want your book to go out to (either publisher or fan base), what social media avenues would they frequent and what will get you noticed (in a tasteful way…the saying “all publicity is good publicity” is not always true).

Make sure that you list your social media links on your synopsis with your manuscript submission.

7. What advice would you offer to authors who are looking to get published?

1.   Review your manuscript as much as possible – it is rare for someone to write a perfect manuscript on first attempt. Review your own work, have others review your work and learn to take criticism constructively, not personally.

2.   Network – use social media to boost your profile, join writers groups, go to writers festivals – most authors will go through the traditional agent/publisher route to being published, but there is a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time.

3.   Research your Publisher or Agent – you may be wasting your time just by going to the wrong one. Go to a bookstore or and find books similar to yours – look at the imprint page to see who published the book.

4.   Ensure your synopsis is a “must-read” – think of it as a sales pitch – this needs to be a compelling and well-written introduction to your manuscript. This is the first thing that is read when your manuscript is received and if it is poorly written and doesn’t make us want to read more, chances are that your manuscript may not be read, or may not be read past the first few pages.

5.   Follow the author submission guidelines as listed on the Publisher’s website. If you are not sure where to find these, call the reception desk to ask – if you do not follow the guidelines, your manuscript will rarely be accepted. This relates to what you need to submit (if it asks for a chapter, do not send the whole book), word count, page layout (double-spaced), delivery method (most publishers now prefer online submissions), whether they will accept unsolicited manuscripts (many publishers are now introducing one-day a month time slots for unsolicited manuscripts to be read directly by a reviewer – these are only accepted between certain time slots, so you have to do your research and get in quick).

6.   Be patient and do not give up. Sounds simple in theory, I know - but no matter how many rejection letters you receive, if you believe that you have written something of value that you need to share with the world, don’t give up.

I just want to thank my Publishing Insider so much for granting me this interview. Due to some restrictions from the publishing house they work for, I have been unable to name my source, but rest assured they are from a major publishing house with offices in 41 countries world-wide.

If you’re still interested in pursuing the traditional publishing route, I’d recommend QueryTracker. With this website, you can find agents who represent specific authors or genres. It will also tell you whether unsolicited manuscripts are being accepted, whether they prefer email submissions, or postal submissions and also where they are based in the world. 

If you’re an Aussie author, check out the Australian LiteraryAgents Association for information on their members. 

And if you’re just starting out on this journey, an amazing query letter is in order. Check out some of these sites for help:

  • RoniLoren – a national bestselling author of romance novels – has a whole section of her website dedicated to helping authors. For her advice on writing a query letter, click here.
  • PublishingCrawl has a lot of helpful articles about getting published. This one is about writing the perfect one-page synopsis.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post. If you’d like to add anything, or simply tell me what you thought of the post, you can leave your comments below.

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