The road to publication - personal experience with my debut Oct 28, 2020 7:02:30 GMT -6
Post by farida on Oct 28, 2020 7:02:30 GMT -6
As I’ve posted somewhere below, I found an agent last year and got a publishing deal in January. My debut, The Long, Long Afternoon, will be published in February 2021 by Manilla Press, an imprint of Bonnier UK.
It's been... a journey. No two journeys are ever the same, but I thought I'd sum up here what I've learned, in the hope that it's encouraging and useful for everyone on this awesome forum. So, here’s a long and long-winded post about my road to publication.
First off, The Long, Long Afternoon is the 6th book I’ve written. So much for ‘debut’ author. It's worth bearing in mind that I needed to get quite a few 'practice novels' out of my system before I wrote one that passed muster.
Here’s how that happened:
Book 1 = too rubbish to submit to agents
Ditto book 2 and 3
Book 4 = submitted to 20+ agents, two requests for full manuscript, both rejected
Book 5 = submitted to 20+ agents, NO requests for full manuscript. Not even one… DEPRESSION!
Book 6 = submitted to 10 agents, 3 requests for full manuscript, and 1 OFFER OF REPRESENTATION!!!!
But one is all you need
What did I learn from the querying process?
- Personalised pitches are the key. Research your potential agent, find out what they like and look for, and reference that in the query letter
- Keep queries short and succinct. No need to include detail on world-building. The story has to be catchy, that’s the most important thing
- Query emails have to be perfect. Spelling mistakes are a no-no. If in doubt, have a friend proof-read yours
- Prepare yourself for a lot of disappointment and for the long-haul. It took me 50+ rejections/non-answers and nearly two years of work to find representation
What happened next?
My agent read the manuscript and suggested edits. Some of these were small, some were structural. I took out one minor character completely and changed the motivations of another. We went through two rounds of edits to fix issues around plot, pacing and theme. Identifying and fixing these issues was a team effort, but I had to do the writing part (just mentioning this because many budding authors think an agent or editor will do the editing for you – they won’t!).
I found the agent in July 2019 and in November, we were done with the edits.
Once the book was ready for submission we sent it to about 12 publishing houses. My agent had sounded them out before and they had all expressed interest in seeing the manuscript. This was a nailbiting time! Four publishers made an offer and the manuscript went to auction. This meant that, out of all the offers, the lowest one was taken out, and the remaining publishers had to bid again. Rinse and repeat.
When two publishers were left, I spoke to both on the phone to understand where they wanted to take the book. They both submitted a publication plan with details on marketing, cover ideas, ect. My agent supported me with advice. In the end, we chose Bonnier UK.
Once we signed the contract, in January this yaer, the publisher announced the deal in trade magazines. Then there was a pause of about two months while the editors at Bonnier (I have two) went through the manuscript. They also had some requests for changes and edits. I spent most of March revising the book as to their specs. Again, I want to stress that the decisions on what to change were collaborative – I was able to say no to some of their suggestions, and did – but the writing work fell to me, as the author.
At the same time, my agent pitched the manuscript internationally, and found a few takers (Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands...). This is an ongoing process. Once a book gets interest in one country, other publishers might make offers, too.
Meanwhile, the staff at Bonnier UK made me a website and started the cover design process. They also worked on a marketing plan. When the final big edits were done, I received a line edit (in April), where both editors had made small changes and corrections throughout the entire manuscript, which I had to approve. There were still some minor rewrites, but it took me only about three days to go through them.
After that, it was all just a matter of approving different things. The cover, the sensitivity read, the copy edit, the layout... In September, the publisher printed 500 proof copies. Of these, around 75 are going out to reviewers and magazines, and the remaining ones go to bookshops.
In November, Bonnier UK will check how many pre-orders have come in and decide the size of the first print run. 4 February is the launch day. Squeeeee
So, what have I learned?
Patience, determination and professionalism are incredibly important. You have to be prepared for lots and lots of rejections, and shouldn’t take them personally. Books get rejected for a million reasons – not all of them necessarily related to your writing or your ideas.
That said, a manuscript has to be as perfect as you could possibly get it. No agent or publisher is interested in fixing your half-baked novel. They want something that is already good, and that they can make sparkle, with your help. So, make sure you only submit stuff that is your absolute best. Anything else is a waste of your time.
Be choosy about your agents. I submitted way too much in the beginning. Picking fewer agents gives you time to perfect your query. The more I honed my queries and the more I personalised them, the better the response.
Be yourself! I broke some query rules. For example, you’re supposed to dive straight into the pitch, but I always started my emails with a “Hello XXX, hope you’re doing fine”. It just felt better to me. And it worked.
Once you have an agent, the world turns 180 degrees. While unrepresented, you’re begging for any scrap of attention. But when publishers are bidding for you, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with compliments and praise. Don’t let it get to your head. They flatter you because they want your book. You have to see beyond that and go with the publisher who honestly makes the best offer, not the one who compliments you the most.
Also, the publishing world in general has a tendency to hype. Every single book is always “stunning”, “evocative”, “unputdownable”, “incredible”. Publishers want to sell books, so they’ll market them as best as they can. Next time you read an announcement about someone’s “standout debut of the year” and you get depressed because you think that will never be you – take it as inspiration instead. Because it's simply a book. And it could be you, next year!
Good luck to all you writers out there! Happy to answer any further questions.
If you want to read The Long, Long Afternoon, the stunning, evocative, unputdownable and incredible end result of this whole process, you can pre-order on Waterstones and Amazon, or in your local bookshop