What Does a Publisher Do?

           There is often confusion about the role of a book publisher. Some people think that a publisher should just take your manuscript, format it as a book, and put it up on Amazon. Then in a few weeks, the author sees the money roll in. The process is quite different, and there is much more involved.

            In brief, the publisher solicits manuscripts, decides if there is sufficient interest to contract an editor for the manuscript, and prepares a contract for the author. This is just the beginning of what can be a very lengthy process.

            Traditional, big firm publishers often rely on agents to find manuscripts. Today, one can contact small independent publishers directly. Thus, the publisher is the first person to look at submissions. I read at least the first 50 pages. If the plot, characters, or grammar errors are substantial, then the manuscript needs developmental editing. I send it back but remain open to looking through it again. If the resubmission is clean and a good fit for our company, then I assign the manuscript to an editor. Once I have an editor for the book, I send the author a contract. I negotiate and answer questions about the contract. The publisher issues all contracts.

           It is important that the author and editor have a good working relationship, and if there is a problem, then I find one you can work with. The author/editor relationship is crucial. It may take several months to get the manuscript in shape.

             When the author and editor have completed their work, then I look at the manuscript again. I am the last person to look at the manuscript before it is published. I am the ultimate quality control. This averages 90 hours per book. Multiply that by the number of novels published in one year and you can see where the majority of work lies.

            The most common problems that arise are authors who think they have submitted a completed final manuscript which they believe needs little editing. Afterall, they have likely worked on the manuscript for months—sometimes years. However, the authors who are most successful are those who are willing to compromise and accept that others are offering input which they believe will increase the likelihood of success for the book.

            Publishers aren’t running a charity for authors. There is no reason for a publisher to invest in a book if the author thinks that it can’t be improved. If you think your manuscript is already perfect, then you can easily and fairly quickly upload your manuscript to Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. The reason to sign with a publisher is because you are seeking their expertise for editing, grammar, cover design, and layout.

            The other issue that arises is marketing of the book. Some people think that signing with a publisher means that someone else will do the marketing and the author can sit back and wait for the money to roll in. This is far from what actually happens. Traditional publishers—the big firms—require their authors to go on extensive book tours. This usually involves lots of travel and lots of time over weeks or months. Any money that the traditional publishers spend on this marketing is subtracted from the expected royalties.

            Small publishers typically do not have large marketing budgets but like the traditional publishers must rely on the authors to do most of the marketing. The publisher may share some of those costs—entering book contests, for example, but it is up to the author to blog, create a website, and in general have a social media presence.

            Everyone wants to write a book, and today, with the Internet and companies such as Amazon and Lulu, anyone can be an author. In fact, an entire cottage industry has popped up, eager for their share of the pie. Many aspiring authors are intimidated, confused, or even discouraged from pursuing their dreams because the publishing process is complicated and varies from one company to another. It doesn’t have to be that way. Dreams don’t have to be realistic, but the manner by which you attain those dreams must be grounded in reality.

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Visit Crystal Publishing LLC's website here

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The Pitch

            You are five minutes early for your pitch session, take that last sip of water.  You’ve found the right room; you’re next.  Dressed in business casual, you chose your favorite colors.  The blue jacket with the lighter blue shirt evokes tranquility.  Or perhaps, you go for some shade of red, the power color.  Stand straight.  Smile!

            You introduce yourself as you approach the table, making eye contact with the publisher or agent who has been listening to pitches for the past three hours, twenty minutes at a time.  Shake hands.  Are you smiling?  Sit down.

            Pause, lean a little forward.  Start that two-sentence pitch, designed to hook the listener into wanting more.  (Helen M. Pugsley described an elevator pitch in her blog from February 11, 2019.)  Lean back slightly.  Push your One Page across the table.  You spent days working on that One Page.  With some bright graphics, it contains a synopsis of your story, details such as word count, age of targeted audience, and genre as well as your contact information.  If possible, include a photo of yourself.  Keep in mind, you want the publisher/agent to remember you, to be able to sort you out from all the other hopeful writers. 

            Give the publisher/agent time to read your One Page.  Don’t fidget.  Be ready for questions, which you can prepare for days in advance.  Think through how you would answer:  what was your motivation, how long have you been writing, and what do you want to happen to your story? 

            When the publisher/agent finishes examining your One Page, lean forward once more.  Make eye contact.  Actively listen.  Too often we start formulating our reply before we have heard all that is being said.   Are you smiling?

            The first time I pitched my stories, I was so focused on those opening two sentences, making certain that I had memorized them to the letter, but I never thought past it.  I had my One Page, which the publisher liked, but I had not given one thought to how we might fill the eighteen minutes left of the twenty-minute session.  Find a friend, perhaps a writing buddy that will practice with you.  Brainstorm questions that a publisher might ask.  Construct your answers so you aren’t left “umming” and pausing while you think.  And of course, smile.

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Visit Diane Nighswonger's website here

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Develop a Thick Skin

            And now for the touchy subject of rejection. It’s going to come before fame and fortune. It’s going to come with fame and fortune. There will be people who absolutely, do not, no matter what you do, will not like your work. That’s okay. Keep going.

            If you choose to traditionally publish you will have to work through an entire tracking sheet of queries. (I recommend The Writers Market for a nice tracker graph.) If you choose to traditionally publish you will get rejected a lot. You will get rejected so many times you will make “JK Rowling got rejected seven times before she found a publisher for Harry Potter!” look like a joke. It’s good and it’s normal. I’ve heard of groups of published authors coming together, sipping coffee, and comparing rejection numbers like badges of honor. “18? Go home, kid. Try 35!” War and Chess got 25 in the five years I worked on it, and Tales from the Gishlan Wood is at about 15 right now. According to the anonymous void that is the internet, the internet says you should query about 80-100 publishing houses and agents before you give up.

            If you choose to self-publish, and thus sign yourself up to do your own marketing, there will be rejection too. Only, after the book is published! Book stores will tell you they don’t want to carry your book, libraries might choose not to carry your book if you’re not a local author, some of your friends won’t like your book, not everyone you know will read it, and not everyone who reads it will like it. (Traditionally published authors face these trials too.)

            What I’m getting at is that you need to develop a thick skin. You can’t just curl up in a ball and cry every time someone tells you they don’t like it. I mean, it makes Christmas awkward but Aunt Franny always spoke her mind anyway. What did you expect? Jokes aside, are you really going to have a horrid day every time an email rolls in that reads “Thank you for your submission but this isn’t what we’re looking for.”? I’ve heard of people scream crying and moping over each one. Even as a 14 year old girl I was like “Ya’ll need to calm down.”

            The only thing worse than a crybaby is the writer who explodes with anger. Sometimes, if I actually finish a book I though was “Meh” I go check the author’s Twitter page to see if they’ll come after me if I say their book was “Meh” on Goodreads. I once saw an author whose work I love but every time she got into an argument with someone she’d screenshot their Facebook profile, post their full name, the name of their hometown, and the slight, then tweet it so that maybe her loyal followers would harass the unlucky soul. “John Doe of Yoder Wyoming, you have stolen my tarts!” I unfollowed her. Another author made headlines a few years ago when he tracked down someone who gave him a poor review and smashed a wine bottle against her head. She was a teenager working in a grocery store. All’s I’m saying is don’t be that guy.

            It’s easier said than done but you need to develop a skin so thick that someone can just stand there and tell you all the things they didn’t like about your book while you sit there and don’t even blink. That’s the goal, anyway. You need to realize that rejection will happen. You’ll get your ego hurt. But how you respond to rejection is what defines you.

            It’s worth it though. It’s all worth it when someone comes up to you on one of your not so bright and shiny days and says “Omigosh, I read your book in one night! I couldn’t put it down!” and then goes on, and on, and on, for half an hour about how much they loved your book. Or even the “Your poetry is so raw and beautiful.” Comment on Wattpad. It becomes worth it when you hold a copy of your book for the first time, or your very first book signing when you introduce your book to the world, or when your close friends start giving each other copies of your book for Christmas and then they send you pictures of how happy receiving a copy made them, or a stranger within your target audience comes up to you and says “I really enjoyed this.” It becomes worth it. You just need to know there’s two sides to every coin, and prepare yourself for both. There’s nothing wrong with drawing the shades and hiding from the world once in a while, though.

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Find Your Joy in Writing

            Write ‘til you bleed! Quit your day job! Write 2,000 words a day at least! You’re a failure if you don’t work for six hours straight! So the writing world seems to scream at us. At least with all the memes. Look doll face, you’re not James Patterson. You don’t have to produce a novel every month. Cool it.

            Right now I’m between novels. Writing them, I mean! I finished the first draft of book 4, sent book 2 off to an editor, and I am editing the first draft of book 3. I got wild and started in on book 5. Unfortunately, I completely forgot the format of the Gishlan books and messed it up so bad I had to throw the whole thing out and start over. Only I didn’t start over…

            I swear I’ve been meaning to! I’m really excited about it! It just needs a little more time to gestate in my head, I guess. In the main time I’ve been writing these short stories. I don’t care if they turn out terrible, and when I write them I’m sure no one will read them. So because I don’t care they’ve been turning out great! (If I do say so myself!) I sent one to my friend when she was having a bad day and it made her laugh. I broke all the rules! I used swear words as adjectives, I made my characters talk about sex, I made a pond demon appear with no setup for magic on the timeline. It was fun! And then I polished it up and sent it to a magazine.

            I honestly feel like my teenage self again (but without all the angst). When I was ages 14-19 my absolute favorite thing to do was to sit up all night writing, usually short stories, that were just pure fun! Even though writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. Once I published War and Chess I got a little too serious and it’s only now I’m falling back in love with the craft.

            What I’m driving at is this: Write for the joy of it! Even when you’re taking yourself seriously, (finally!) don’t let yourself suck the fun out of your writing because this is what you want from life. To write. Enjoy it. If writing 2,000 isn’t working for you don’t write 2,000 words in a day. If you don’t have six hours to write, don’t write for six hours. Quitting your day job is dumb. And honestly… How does one write ‘till they bleed? Chill and find the joy in it.

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