What Happens When You Get Your Book Published?
Updated: Apr 19
A lot of advice and discussion online seems to focus on ‘how to get your book published’, but I can’t find a great deal that talks about what happens after you’ve received that most exciting of e-mails, a publisher’s acceptance of your work. So I thought that, in today’s post, I would share some of my experiences so far.
To date I have written two traditionally-published novels, and have two more on their way in the next few months; these four traditionally-published releases span three different publishers (HarperCollins, Bloodhound Books, and TCK Publishing), and although each has handled things a little differently, many elements of the process have been common across all three organisations.
(Please note that this post is aimed at people who have their book published as an eBook and/or paperback by a large or smaller 'indie' publisher, and released solely online. Self-publishing is a different beast altogether, which I'll perhaps cover separately one day, and I also cannot comment on elements of the process for authors successful enough to have their books sold in bookshops or advertised via mainstream media – that dream for now remains an elusive one!)
The acceptance letter
You’ve finished writing your masterpiece, prepared a fantastic query letter, sent it to the publisher of your dreams, and they’ve replied to say they’re interested – time to celebrate!! (I’ll perhaps write another post in the future with some tips on how to approach publishers or literary agents, but of course the best advice is to send them a well-written, original and gripping book that isn’t riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.)
However, this is not the end of your journey – in fact, it’s only just beginning! So, once you’ve polished off your year’s supply of prosecco, it’s time to knuckle down for a pretty bumpy ride over the next 6-12 months while your book is dissected, debated, deconstructed and (hopefully) reassembled into perfect shape to be successfully released.
Agreeing a contract
The first step when a publisher has expressed interest in your book is to sign a formal contract with them. These will vary from publisher to publisher, and of course you should take proper legal advice if you have any serious concerns, but a few things to watch out for include:
- Don’t pay a publisher any money for publishing your book.
If you are struggling to convince traditional publishers, it might be that your idea needs a little more work. Alternatively, if you think your idea is simply a bit too niche/visionary/controversial, or you want to try your hand at self-publishing (as I did with my two short horror fiction collections), then Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) really does make this process astonishingly easy, and costs nothing (they take a significant cut of your sales revenues but there is no up-front cost). My two self-published books are available as eBooks or in paperback (click here for more information), and I’m really happy with the results. Put simply, I can see no reason to do business with a ‘vanity’ publisher that wants to charge you for the privilege of publishing your work.
- Be clear on what you’re expected to deliver, and also what the publisher is committing to do.
The contract should say clearly what you are committing to provide (e.g. ‘a 60,000-word novel by 31st March’), what the publisher will do with it (e.g. publish the work no later than 31st December), and how much they’ll pay you (e.g. 10% of all gross* sales). The contract will also refer to the editing process, and what rights you have – the norm is for you to have the final say over any proposed changes, although the publisher may insist that the title of the book will be their decision.
(*Note that if the contract refers to net sales, this means that the publisher is permitted to deduct costs like printing and distribution before your share is calculated, which will significantly reduce the amount you can earn. Please note also that the percentage is usually much lower for paperback/hardback sales – typically around 10-15% – than it is for eBook sales, where it is typically around 40%.)
- Make sure you’re happy with the format your book will be published in.
Some publishing contracts, like my first one, are for your work to be released in eBook format only. This is totally fine and is a very popular platform, but if you want your book to exist in printed form, make sure that’s what the publisher is actually going to produce. A publisher will often provide you with a small number of ‘author copies’ of the print version of the book to use for promotion and to give to family and friends, and you should be able to order more from them as required at a reduced cost.
- Make sure you’re comfortable with what the contract says about future works.
Most publishers will specify that any direct sequels you write must be offered to them first, while others will insist on getting first dibs on any subsequent work. This isn’t necessarily a problem – it can be great to have a captive audience – but just make sure you’re happy with this. If not, challenge it; they may be prepared to remove the clause altogether.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you don’t understand any of the wording, or are confused or worried about anything appearing in your contract, just ask. Any publisher worth their salt will understand that signing a contract is a big deal, particularly if it’s your first, and will be happy to help you. There are also many resources available online that can also provide guidance and assistance.
I've signed a publishing deal - now what?
First of all, time to celebrate again!
There are then a number of things to do, and these can happen in a variety of different orders and timescales. Your publisher should make this process and timings very clear to you, so once again, always ask them if you're unsure about anything.
Agree the book's title
You may not be entirely happy with your book’s title and hoping someone can come up with a better one, or you may absolutely love it, but the important thing is really whether the publisher likes it… or, more accurately, whether the publisher thinks it will help to sell copies of your book.
As mentioned above, the final decision on the book’s title is likely to be at their discretion (depending upon what it says in your contract) so you might not have much choice if you don’t like their suggestion. If that’s the case, communicate your feelings to them; you don’t want to come across as someone that is hard to work with, but if you can clearly explain any reservations you have about a title change, they will listen to your concerns. And if you can’t explain why you don’t like it, then perhaps you'll need to accept that it’s a very subjective thing – try bouncing the new title off a few friends to see what they think before dismissing it outright.
Agree the cover image
Once the book has a title, your publisher can get to work on its front cover! This is one of the most exciting parts of the process, although your level of creative input can be highly variable – it really depends on the publisher. One of my publishers essentially said ‘there’s the cover, like it or lump it’ (luckily I liked it!), while another took all of my suggestions completely on board (needless to say, I loved that one!)
Again, you might need to make some compromises here, and recognise that the publisher is drawing from their experience in what sells well to your target market. But, again, if you are really unhappy with the proposed cover image, and can articulate why, then do so – you only get one chance!
My next crime thriller will be released in June 2020, and the copy editing process is going to commence in the next few weeks – I have therefore blocked out time in my diary for what promises to be a pretty intense fortnight!
What copy editing means is that your publisher will assign an editor, who will read your manuscript, making very detailed notes and proposing changes. Some of these will be broad suggestions relating to plot and characters (e.g. in my first novel, I was strongly encouraged to rework the ending to remove a supernatural element), while others will be detailed changes to correct grammatical and stylistic errors, as well as any inaccuracies or inconsistencies (you'll be amazed – and embarrassed – at how many they find!)
It is very important that you go through these changes with a fine-toothed comb – your editor is only human and may have made some mistakes of their own, or you may disagree with some of their stylistic alterations. Once again, the onus is on you to explain clearly why you disagree; I’ve found that if you do this (and are polite and friendly of course), editors are often happy to discuss and amend their proposals. However, it is very important to remember that the editor is drawing on years of experience, and that the vast majority of their suggestions will be very good ones, which will both improve the quality of your writing and increase the book’s chances of success.
Needless to say, it is also vital that you hit the agreed deadline, which your publisher should have communicated to you weeks in advance, for returning the final version of the manuscript, otherwise you risk undermining the entire publication schedule.
Once you have performed the necessary surgery and agreed a final version with your editor and publisher, and got over the horror of having to mangle your ‘book baby’, you will then progress to the proofreading stage. This is where a final ‘proof’ version of your book (hence the term proofreading), which is laid out exactly like the finished product, is checked for typographical errors, formatting blunders and so forth.
It is really important that you ask to see the final version after this checking process, because once again it is quite possible that you’ll spot something your proofreader has missed, or even a new problem that has arisen from the process of a manuscript being reformatted, or passed back and forth with many iterations of changes being proposed, amended and accepted.
In my second crime thriller, Never Rest, a big part of the story is the discovery of a series of garbled and disturbing writings scrawled by a missing person and plastered all over the walls of their rented home. I wanted to recreate these in a certain style in the novel, and this meant that the formatting had to be quite specific in certain sections. Understandably, editors and proofreaders might not share your ‘creative vision’, and in this case it meant that a lot of formatting was changed in the final proof. Thankfully I asked to check it and was able to get the necessary adjustments made (what a diva, eh?) The point is that, after the initial proofread, your publisher won’t always send you a final corrected version to check unless you ask, so make sure you do.
Pre-order and promotion
At some point, possibly before the edits are finished, your book’s cover will be ready to be revealed to the world! This 'cover reveal' is a big announcement, so make sure you bombard social media with images of your upcoming release.
Soon after this announcement, your book will be made available for pre-order, so once again it’s time to take to Twitter, Instagram and so forth to try to drum up some advance sales – however, there is a school of thought that says too much promotion before the actual release day can damage the impact the book makes when finally launched.
There are many other strategies you can adopt for pre- and post-publication promotion, which I covered in a previous blog post, so I won’t go into further detail here.
As mentioned above, your publisher will usually send you a small number of hard copies of the book, and will often give you the option to buy more at a reduced price. These can be invaluable tools for self-promotion, particularly if you're planning a launch event.
I have so far arranged a launch party for only one of my books, and to be honest I found the process of arranging it incredibly stressful! However, such events are a valuable part of the promotional process – not just to generate sales and interest on the night, but to make new connections, and to give you something to post about on social media. If you can find a suitably cheap (ideally free!) venue such as a local event space or bookstore, and can depend upon enough people to attend, then a launch party is certainly worth considering (but by no means essential if it isn’t your cup of tea). Good ones I’ve been to have usually involved a (short) reading by the writer themselves, as well as a generous supply of free booze!
And there you have it: your book has been edited, checked and double-checked, released for pre-order, plugged and promoted, and by now you’re pretty much sick to death of the thing and convinced it will be a huge flop! But launch day is where you really need to count on your network to help broadcast the book’s release – nothing beats the sharing of Tweets or Facebook links to make sure as many genre fans as possible find out that there’s a new book out there for them to enjoy.
The more reviews you can get in a short space of time, whether from friendly bloggers, paid blog tours, or friends and family that have read the book, the more this will help bump you up Amazon’s rankings and towards that elusive ‘bestseller’ tag.
Of course, the work doesn’t stop there. Writers must constantly promote their work to drive sales, and must balance this activity with creating new material. It's a very challenging equilibrium to achieve, and I have by no means mastered it! On which note, I should probably get back to work on my own new novel…
I really hope this post was useful, and look forward to sharing some more tips and insights with you in future.
Until then, happy writing!