Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Publishing process

I have worked in newspapers since I left school, usually weekly or bi-weekly publications and now I am with a Sunday newspaper, so I am used to a relatively short deadline for publishing. But in the world of books, the pace is much, much slower.
The Wounded Guardian (although it was called The Dark Warrior then) has been a work in process for about four yeas.
Usually what happens is you send a section of your manuscript to an agent - usually about four chapters and a summary. If they like this taste, they will ask for the entire book. Now, from what I have been told, only about five per cent of submitted manuscripts get this far. Most get sent back with a polite letter. Mine picked up several of these! Of the five out of a hundred who get the chance to submit their entire manuscript, the bar is raised much, much higher. Now the agency is looking at whether they want to represent you.
Many things go into this process - the quality of the writing, the plot, the characters, who it is aimed at, the genre it sits inside, the state of the market, the other writers they already represent. Of the five out of every 100 that get this far, perhaps one gets an offer. Sometimes less! My agent told me she would be delighted to know one out of every 100 manuscripts she reads would become a book!
Anyway, one agency, Cameron Cresswell, was interested in The Wounded Guardian and wanted to read it all. This was back in the day when you had to print everything out and, one ream of paper and an expensive ink cartridge later, I had the manuscript sent away.
Much nervous waiting followed, then she rang to say it had all got messed up and, as I had not numbered the pages, could I send it again?
Another ream of paper and ink cartridge later and I was back to chewing my nails.
On my birthday, in 2005, she rang to tell me it was very promising but there was too much work to be done on it for her to take it on - especially as she was about to go on maternity leave.
Obviously I was gutted but managed to ask her what sort of work needed to be done. Usually you get nothing like this from an agent. Perhaps the fact I had sent it to her twice, or perhaps my birthday helped. Whatever the reason, she told me how my main character, Martil, was very well developed - but everyone else suffered against him, because they weren’t developed enough.
After I got over the kick in the guts, I realised what a gift I had been given, and furiously re-wrote the book, changing the whole focus.
That was a huge break for me.
So many would-be writers don’t get proper feedback on their work - and by that I don’t mean someone saying they loved it. It has to be constructive criticism, pointing out the flaws - for there will be flaws. Far better to find out what they are than have them seen - and not commented on - by an agent who will conclude your manuscript is too flawed and needs too much work to take further.
Once again it was ready to send, and once again I was back at square one, looking for an agent.
As anyone who has tried to get a book published knows, there are few enough Australian agents - and even fewer taking fantasy submissions.
As I was ringing to see if any were interested, and not having much luck, one suggested I ring Stephanie Smith at HarperCollins direct, as I worked for The Sunday Telegraph. Normally I would say, I don’t want to abuse my position, I want to achieve things by myself. But at this point I was going to take any help I could get, so I rang. She was happy to take a few chapters … and the next stage in the process began.
I had fondly imagined that, with the extra advice I had received, the book was now up to the required standard.
Not quite!
Stephanie gave me more valuable feedback and wanted things rewritten, then for me to submit it again.
Obviously I was delighted at that and her advice was excellent, so more rewriting followed.
For more than a year - from about May 2005 to July 2006 - we went back and forth, with me working in new ideas and improving the book each time. Finally it was ready - but about 40,000 words too long!
So out came the chainsaw, followed by the axe and finally the scalpel as I sliced 40,000 words to get it down to the 180,000-word target.
At long last it was ready to go to what they call the Acquisition Committee. As I understand it, this is where all the section heads sit down with the big boss and put up the manuscripts they think should be published.
The Wounded Guardian went to its first meeting in August 2006 - and received neither a yes or no, just a maybe.
So I sweated bullets for another month, biting my nails down to the stumps, until one Tuesday in September, when my mobile phone was about out of battery. I had just plugged it in to recharge when it rang.
It was Stephanie, to tell me my book had been approved for publication!
It was one of the best days of my life and well worth all the effort it had taken to get it that far!
Of course, if I had found an agent, then I would have signed an agreement with them and then they would have pitched my book to one or more publishers. I went through the back door of this process but it was still a long journey!
After I had my offer from HarperCollins - and it was an amazing sight, seeing your name on that sheet of paper under the HarperCollins logo! - I went back to the agent who had given me such good advice, Siobhan Hannan from Cameron Cresswell.
There were two reasons for this - first, I had been advised that if I was serious about writing, I should get an agent. The second reason was more like karma, I suppose.
Would my book have been good enough to attract Stephanie’s interest if I had not had that advice from Siobhan? Would I have wasted that chance, the opportunity that has led to a three-book publishing contract? I don’t know - but I do know it helped my book and helped me as a writer.
Anyway, your first step in being signed up is an offer memo, which outlines the broad terms of the agreement - publishing dates, print runs and your advance and payment
Once you have signed that, then you get the full contract, with all the details of everything.
It looked daunting, so I was glad to have an agent at that stage, who could go through it - although as she said, it was an extremely fair contract anyway and there was hardly anything she could see worth changing.
After all that excitement had died down, not very much happened.
I was busy writing book two but the most exciting thing that happened was the need to change the book titles I had originally chosen The Dark Warrior and The Golden Queen as the titles for books one and two - only to discover those were already taken.
Coming up with new titles isn’t easy. Not only is there the creative process but you have to keep checking through amazon.com that no one else has already picked them!
Finally I came up with The Wounded Guardian and The Risen Queen, with The Radiant Child as the third.
Meanwhile I finished off book two and still nothing much had happened with book one (which had a publishing timetable of October 2009 back then).
Then things began to happen!
First came the cover, with an Australian artist called Les Petersen working on that.
Then everything moved forward - from October to July 2009, with the other books also coming forward, to January 2010 and July 2010 respectively.
Then the book went to the copy editor, Abigail Nathan, who did an excellent job of spotting flaws within the book.
A thorough rewrite later and it went out to proof-readers.
At this point, HarperCollins also printed up review copies (full of little mistakes but very exciting to hold it in print!).
After the proof-readers, I spent an hour on the phone with Stephanie, going through corrections.
Then it was time for a final read by me, then a final proof-read - then off to the printers!
Probably the biggest thing I learned was to keep rewriting - and to find people who can offer you constructive advice that points out the flaws in your work. Because there will be flaws!
It is a long road … but well worth travelling!

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