As a first-time novelist, the internet was my go-to guide to the mysterious world of publishing. Yet the Internet only led me so far. Here’s what I wished someone told me before I started on the wild and crazy journey to publication.
Professional Editing is Minimal
When Penguin Random House acquired my novel, Girls Who Travel, I assumed the revision process would be long, difficult, and trying. I was prepared for a fight, certain that they would want to change things like my character’s first name; or add a different sub-plotline; or set it in Istanbul instead of London. But I was surprised by how little structural edits happened during the revision process. Truth be told, most of the edits were restricted to line edits and small cosmetic changes—nothing major. My worry that the editors would try to change everything were quickly replaced with the worry that everything needed professional change. My brain at the time sounded like this: “You guys aren’t going to fix this for me?! You’re letting me go to print like this?!” But once I calmed down and came to terms with it going to off to print as is, it was oddly assuring to understand that this is why the publishing process is so competitive—because there aren’t major editing overalls.
What I learned: No one is going to do the work for you. Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as possible before you even consider submitting it to publishing houses because it’s all on you.
Your Opinion Matters
True story: When I saw the proposed cover artwork for Girls Who Travel I got teary-eyed. They were not tears of joy. The artwork featured a convertible and California coastline, which is all well and great, until you understand that my book has nothing to do with convertibles or California coastlines! Sure the artwork was misleading, but what really bothered me was that I just didn’t like it. I guess I’m just one of those people who does judge books by their covers. I was especially torn up because I had read online that first-time authors don’t get a say in things like cover art. However, I still thought it was worth voicing my concerns. I explained my thoughts to my editor very politely, and she was not only extremely gracious about the less-than-ideal feedback, but she also had the cover reworked. I now have a cover that I’m absolutely thrilled with.
Before inking my book deal, I thought of publishing houses as these members-only clubs, full of snooty elitist or bottom-line, sales-driven cutthroats. But after my first glimpse over the fence, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. In my (admittedly limited) experience, it seems like publishing is full of largely reasonable people who—at the end of the day—just love books.
What I learned: The fickle publishing gods are actually real people. You don’t have to be afraid to speak up (just be polite about it).
It Takes A Really, Really Long Time
Okay, fine, so plenty of people told me that getting published takes forever, but I still didn’t get it until I lived it. I’ve written out my timeline to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about:
-I finished Girls Who Travel in early 2013.
-I got my agent in September 2013.
-I found out that an editor from Berkley (a division of Penguin Random House) was interested in July 2014, and a few days after she expressed her interest, she made an offer. (The offer part came really quick!)
-After accepting this offer, the official contract wasn’t signed until October 2014, and—presumably because of Berkley’s publication schedule—my book wasn’t released until December 1, 2015.
That is not an inconsiderable amount of time! I could have had babies (babies—plural!) in that time! So yes, I knew that it would take a while, but I’m still taken aback by it.
What I learned: As a writer of contemporary fiction I had to be careful with timely jokes, fashion references, as well as referencing any current events. I quickly learned it was potentially easy to dress my characters in dated attire or have them listening to a band that’s so two years ago. As you can imagine, there were more than a few lines of copy that needed reworking between 2013 to 2016.
Don’t Wait Until The Last Moment To Do Your Acknowledgements
Not being a jerk is very important to me, by which I mean I like to thank people for their help. So you can imagine my panic when I realized I had only a few days to write the acknowledgements. In fact, I’m still worried that I left out an early reader or helpful friend that answered a technical question.
What I learned: Start an acknowledgements file ASAP in the writing process, so that you don’t forget to give credit where credit is very much due.