As an editor and a publishing consultant, I’m often in the position of having to break bad news to authors: “Your manuscript needs quite a bit of revision.” “Your subject matter isn’t marketable on a large scale.” “Your point of view runs the risk of offending some people, by which I mean, um, everyone.”
When I’m working with authors who already have an agent and a publishing contract, you’d think my job would be easier. What bad news is left? What expectations could possibly need to be managed at this point, once they’ve hit the publishing jackpot?
I work frequently with writers of nonfiction, whose primary goal once they’ve obtained their contract is to finish their manuscript and have it accepted by their publisher on deadline. The goalpost of that deadline becomes etched in their brains. Five chapters left to go, four to go, and so on, until they’ve submitted their first draft to their editor. Then comes the revision process, and then, gloriously, the manuscript is accepted and off to copyedit. They’re done! Free! But not really.
The truth is, once that final manuscript is accepted, the work has only just begun. Yes, there’s a little respite while the copyeditor does her job, but then the manuscript is back with hours’ and hours’ worth of work to be done on the minutiae. Should that semicolon be there or not? Are the sources cited to the copyeditor’s satisfaction?
And then come the design rounds, the proofreading, the catalog and back cover copy to review, the foreword or endorsements to procure. First-time authors might well wonder if they will ever have the opportunity to go off the grid again, take a vacation, or focus their attention on the next book. Even those authors who are relatively knowledgeable about the publishing process are often surprised by how very involved they need to be each step of the way as they move closer to their on-sale date.
All the while, as they’re working to finish the book itself, they’re preparing to promote it once it hits shelves. This process gets going around six months out and can involve anything from event planning to social media campaigns to coordinating with the publicist on media outreach. And there’s yet more writing to be done at this point—op-eds, blog posts, website content, etc. Then, once the book is on sale, if the author is lucky, there are book signings and launch parties to attend, radio and, ideally, television shows to be on. The promotional schedule can feel even more rigorous than the tightest writing deadline. And they’d thought writing was going to be the hard part!
But hey, these authors have an enviable problem. The fact that their publicity efforts continue months and months after the book’s been published means that it’s selling. Yes, there are people like James Patterson whose books sell on their own, but then their job turns into running a publishing empire between stints on the beach. And I don’t think I need to remind you how rare that experience is.
So what to make of all of this? It’s not my intent to depress anyone—just to prepare you. A client recently told me, “Publishing a book isn’t for the faint of heart, is it?” And this post is meant to answer that rhetorical question. Publishing a book is a huge accomplishment, and being a part of it the whole way through is enormously satisfying. But authors would do well to understand the endeavor fully from the outset. It is like raising a child or founding a business. It’s personal. It’s business. And yes, it’s a whole lot of work.