When you first get a book deal, a number of things happen. You dance around the house, pop open a bottle of champagne, and, still humming with joy, dive into less glamorous activities, like paperwork and contract details. There’s often a significant waiting period between the moment you get “the call” (mine was on April Fool’s Day, of all days) and when you can officially share the announcement with family, friends and the wider world. It’s a wonderful moment, when people who’ve been following your writing journey for years finally hear that your dreams are becoming reality. And, of course, they have questions:
(Caveat: this post is concerned primarily with traditional publishing, either through a Big Five house or smaller indie publisher. Self-publishing has a different process with different timelines and challenges)
Congrats! When will your book hit the shelves?
A few months after I announced my book deal, some family friends asked me if I could bring a few copies to a Thanksgiving dinner. They were shocked to learn that my book wasn’t going to be out for another year, and that there wasn’t even a cover to share. But if you’re going the traditional publishing route, this is the norm. In fact, a year is the minimum timeframe between your contract getting signed to your book being released. For many Big Five imprints, the release date could be as far as two years out.
Why is this the case? A lot of things need to happen before a book is ready to go to print. There are developmental edits between the author and the editor, a process that can take many months, depending on what kind of changes are needed. The book’s assigned editor may want entire characters removed, scenes rewritten, plot elements restructured. Then, there’s the more detailed copy edits, to check for grammatical issues and typos. Books need to be sent to production, where Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) are created and sent out to early reviewers. There’s marketing and promotion. And between all of this, yours is not the only book the publisher is working on. Editors and other publishing employees are busy people, juggling multiple books at different stages of development. All of this takes time – and patience.
Where can I find your book? Will it be at B&N, my local bookstore, etc.?
No clue, especially ahead of release. Online ordering is straightforward, but physical distribution is something that the publisher’s sales team manages with distributors. All books have to fight for space on the shelf – both with other new releases and more established titles. Big Five publishers will have more access to bookstores, while smaller, indie publishing houses may not get their books everywhere.
I don’t know exactly where my book will end up – but social media is full of authors wandering into a bookstore and discovering, to their joy, their own work on the shelf. If I find The Sentient out in the wild, expect the same!
How much control do you have over the book cover, design, book blurb, etc.?
If a book is self-published, the author has full creative control over their cover design and other aspects of the book – at their own expense. With traditional publishing, a team at the publishing house will design the book cover. It is, however, a collaborative process between the team and the author. The author may make suggestions or share ideas for the cover and will have a chance to give input before it’s finalized. Publishers want their authors to be happy and will work with them as much as possible to reach a shared vision. At the end of the day, however, if both parties can’t get on the same page, the publisher will make decisions based on what they think is best for the book’s success. They are professionals, and know what works and what doesn’t.
In my case, my publisher came out with a cover that I LOVED, and they also incorporated feedback that my agent and I gave during the process. The end result is a much better cover than I could ever have come up with, even after years of living and breathing my novel.
Are you going on a book tour?
Book tours are not the norm for a debut author and are becoming less prevalent in general. They’re more likely to happen when you have a big-name author with a high-profile book from a big publishing house, but for the average author, they’re not the best way to move sales. With so many virtual options to promote and learn about new books (virtual blog tours, social media, Goodreads, etc.), it makes less sense to spend the time and money traveling around the country to sell a book. An author is more likely to do local events, such as a reading and signing at a neighborhood bookstore, especially when they have personal and professional obligations to deal with. Which brings me to my last question…
When are you quitting your job?
I can’t tell you how many people, at work and beyond, ask me this question out of the gate. Don’t get me wrong, it would be wonderful to wake up every morning and have the entire day to just WRITE. But writers who make enough money to focus on their projects full-time are the exception, not the norm. Especially with new authors – there’s that occasional success story of a six-figure book deal on a debut, but most new authors earn MUCH smaller advances, or no advance at all. Publishing is risky and new authors are unproven. And for more established authors, it still takes a lot of sales and growing readership before it becomes economically sound to quit that dreaded day job.
Even a six-figure advance, impressive as it may sound, will only get you so far. Here’s why – you have to earn off that advance before seeing additional revenue from book sales. So, if your advance is $1,000.00, you need to earn that much in author royalties (a percentage of the book’s price) against that advance before additional royalty earnings kick in. If that advance is for multiple books, that could take some time. It could also never earn out, meaning that you, the author, don’t earn any more money from sales and may have a disappointed publisher. Your next advance could be lower, as a result. There are no guarantees in publishing and a lot of uncertainty, which makes it smart to hang on to a steady paycheck as long as possible – even if it’s hard to work a day job, live your life and find time to write that next novel.
So in short, I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon. If and when I do, that’ll be announced here to much fanfare and popping of champagne corks!
Any other questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments.