Guest Post: 5 Things To Know Before Launching Your Career

It’s May Marketing Month, and Kate McMurray has tidbits on how to handle being on the cusp of a writing career!

When I decided I was finally ready to start submitting my first novel to publishers, I had a little bit of a leg up because I’d been working in the publishing industry for about 7 years by that point. I’d sat in on editorial board meetings, I’d taken a few books from contract through publication, and I’d mailed so many review copies out that I could fill out FedEx forms in my sleep.

It takes a lot for publishing to surprise me. In other words, I sometimes take for granted that not everyone has this insider knowledge. So I thought I’d share a few things you should know as you’re getting your career started, from a publishing insider’s perspective. I tried to pick things that are common misperceptions, so hopefully I can set the record straight and let you know what to expect.

  1. The First Rule of Publishing Is “Hurry Up and Wait.” Everything takes more time than you think it will. Everything is also always on a rush schedule. Here’s why: every single person who works in publishing is juggling, like, eight projects at a time. In any given day, your editor probably has to edit a manuscript, read a few submissions, attend a couple of meetings, and stare forlornly at her email inbox as the messages pile up faster than she can respond to them. So while you wait for edits, your editor is doing a zillion other things.

If you have a print deal, the deadline is the deadline. Publishers schedule time at the printers months in advance. So the end dates are not flexible—if you miss the file-to-printer date, the book might not get printed. Digital has some flexibility, but publishers also schedule out their books to have a set number of releases per week.

Bottom line: publishing is a deadline-driven industry. Things have to get done when they have to get done. So what often happens to authors is they sit around waiting for things to happen, and then a lot happens all at once.

  1. It’s Cool to Ask Questions. In Fact, You Should Ask Questions! This applies to everything from contracts to the editorial process. Even if you have an agent, it’s worth it to carefully read through your contract and make sure you understand what it’s saying. Contracts are written to benefit the publisher, but many clauses are negotiable to a point. It’s your agent’s job to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal. If you don’t have an agent, it’s worth it to get an intellectual property lawyer to read through the contract and make sure there aren’t any traps. But bottom line, anything you don’t understand, ask about. It’s important to know what your rights are.

With editorial, it’s better to ask than to guess. If your editor is asking for a change you don’t understand, if there’s some part of the process that feels mysterious, do speak up and ask for clarification. The staff at a publisher are human; you will never be penalized for asking for clarification. In fact, your editor wants you to ask, because it will decrease the number of rounds of edits you have to do to get it right.

  1. Editors Are Not, In Fact, Trying to Wreck Your Soul. Art is a tough thing. We spend time on it. We put blood, sweat, and tears into our novels. Then an editor comes along with a red pen and tells you everything wrong with your book.

Fact: The editor is not trying to destroy or shame you. She’s trying to make your book as good as it can be. Edits are suggestions to improve the book.

Fact: You can dispute changes you disagree with.

Probably you’re not going to argue about grammar and punctuation. (Although I recently got into a bit of a tiff with a copyeditor who wanted a word to be lowercase that I knew should be capitalized. I got out my Chicago Manual and gave her citations, because I’m a dork. I was right. She let it stay.)  But if an editor suggests a line of dialogue that is not at all what the character would say, or suggests a scene that doesn’t make sense in the context of the plot, or if she wants you to change something you feel strongly that you don’t want to change, it’s okay to leave a comment for the editor explaining that you won’t be making the change and why. I do, of course, recommend trying not to be defensive and to give each comment the benefit of the doubt; if you get an editorial suggestion that makes you balk, mull it over before quashing it. But as long as it’s not a house style or convention of the imprint, often you can say, “I don’t want to make this change because…” and the editors will go along.

  1. A Lot of Marketing and Publicity Is Invisible. It seems to be conventional wisdom that authors have to do all the publicity heavy lifting these days, but I think a lot of authors don’t actually understand what publicists do, and also, it’s in the publisher’s best interest for your book to sell like gangbusters—if you make money, they make money—and they will do what they can to make it happen.

If you’re being published by a large publisher, you will likely be assigned a publicist. Smaller presses have smaller staffs, so there might be one or two publicists for the whole company. A lot of what they do, you won’t see. Publicists send books out for review. They put catalogs together to distribute to librarians and booksellers. They talk directly to book buyers for both indie bookstores, bookstore chains, and big box stores. A lot of that is not splashy and you don’t see it, which I think is what has led to the perception that even the big pubs don’t do any publicity for authors. Just what I’ve described there is a lot! But often they are also working on social media campaigns, attending conferences, making print ads for websites and magazines, designing promotions, etc.

Obviously, the expectation these days is for authors to do some of the work, too: you should have a website, a couple of social media accounts, and you may wish to sink some of your own money into advertising. But publishers do a lot you don’t see, too.

  1. Writing Is Never Easy Money. It’s possible your first novel will be a runaway bestseller. That’s awesome if it is! But don’t quit your day job just yet. Consider this: If you get an advance, which is increasingly rare, for a first novel it’s usually only a few thousand dollars. You probably won’t get it all at once; publishers usually do part on signing and part when the manuscript is turned in. Then remember the hurry-up-and-wait thing? A digital-first book has a production schedule of about six months; a mass market or trade paperback of about a year, give or take. Publishers pay out royalties on varying schedules; some pay monthly, many pay quarterly, some only once per year. There’s also a lag on third-party vendor payments, usually 2–3 months. So figure, once the book goes on sale, you won’t see any money for it until at least a quarter/3 months after it’s been published, and probably longer. And if you did get an advance, your royalties go toward paying it back until it’s paid back—it’s an advance on royalties, after all—so you might not see any royalties at all for a while.

Which I say not to discourage you! It’s definitely possible to make decent money from writing, and I know a few authors who have quit their day jobs. But I recommend being smart about it and waiting until you have some books in your backlist, which helps make the income stream a little more predictable.

Hopefully I’ve clarified what to expect for you, but feel free to ask questions in the comments!

 

erinKate McMurray writes smart romantic fiction. She likes creating stories that are brainy, funny, and of course sexy, with regular guy characters and urban sensibilities. She advocates for romance stories by and for everyone. When she’s not writing, she edits textbooks, watches baseball, plays violin, crafts things out of yarn, and wears a lot of cute dresses. She’s active in Romance Writers of America, serving for two years on the board of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter, and three—including two as president—on the board of the New York City chapter. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with two cats and too many books.

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Coming May 13th . . . Newsletters

RW chat topic newsletters

May is Marketing Month! We’re chatting branding and promo, and this week it’s email lists!

Email has the highest return on investment of any marketing channel, and it gives authors the power to connect with their audience whenever they want, about whatever they want, but it can be daunting when you don’t know what to do. How often should you send emails? What should you put in them? How in the hell do you even build an email list? Join us on Sunday, May 13th to talk about email tips, tricks, and best practices. 

Coming May 6th… The Author/Brand Connection

Welcome to May Marketing Month, RWchatters! The next four chat we’re talking branding, newsletters, and other promo fun stuff. 

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Every author has a brand, whether we intend it or not. Our writing combined with our interactions with readers forms our brand. Figuring out how our personal likes and social media voices intersect with the subject and tone of our books takes time. Join us to talk about your experiences with merging your author voice with your brand. Is it something you think about or work on? Or is it something you prefer to let fall naturally?

Join us to talk about it, Sunday 4pm PST / 7pm EST on #RWchat    

Coming April 29th… Relationships with Editors and Agents

 

Every writer needs an editor when it comes time to publish a book. Many in pursuit of traditionally publishing have agents, too. But these professional relationships are complex and come with their own systems of etiquette that can be tricky to navigate at times. If you’ve spent lots of time working with editors/agents, come share your tips. If you haven’t worked with one yet, come with your questions.

Join us Sunday 4pm PST/7pm EST on #rwchat

Guest Post: Let Them Eat Cake, The New Show Don’t Tell

Michelle Hazen has some wise words for us on the essence of the SHOW DON’T TELL principle! (This post was originally published on Michelle’s blog.)

Everybody’s heard of show don’t tell, right? That’s so 90s. I say, stop abusing your readers. Let them eat cake!

Before you click out of this blog, grumbling, “There goes Michelle, off topic as usual,” think of it this way: what are your readers here for?

If you write fiction, your readers are here for a good time. A vicarious experience. So why would you short-change them by giving them the literary equivalent of Cliff’s Notes? That’s what you’re doing every time you SUMMARIZE (They sat down and chatted for a while, laughing easily as they got to know each other) or TELL (He was in love with her. More in love than he’d ever been.) Continue reading

Coming April 22nd . . . Show and Tell

RWchat 4-22-18

“Show Don’t Tell.” We’ve heard it from the time we first start writing–show what’s happening in the story, don’t just tell the reader. But there’s a balance. Sometimes it’s appropriate to “tell” sometimes it’s best to “show.” How do you decide which one technique to use? What has your relationship been with this touted of writing rules? Do you follow it, have you ever followed it?

Join us on Sunday to chat about it #rwchat 4pm EST / 7pm PST.  

Guest Post: From Pantser To Plotter, Sort Of

To get ready for our Project Management Chat, our guest today, Jemi Fraser shares her journey from pantsing (writing “by the seat of your pants”) to plotting a story in advance.

 

When I started writing, it was totally for me. As a kid, I’d created many, many stories in my head. When I had two little kids running around my house and a full time job, I decided to try writing down a Star Trek story. Over the months, every last angsty, over-the-top word poured out. I had a blast!

A year later, I wrote another story. This one was to be the first in a series with a slow-building love interest. The MC was a reporter, the hero a cop. That story poured out as well.

And thus a pantser was born.

If you haven’t heard the term, pantser applies to those who write without a plan, by the seat of their pants. This is in contrast to plotters who enjoy working with outlines and other devices of torture.

Over the next few years, I wrote a few more stories and at one point I thought I should try to write a Real Book. I discovered NaNoWriMo on October 31st that year and wrote my 50k during November, then wrote another 120k to finish the story.

That overweight story had some potential, so I ventured online and found out about agents and queries. I had no idea that so many people wanted to write novels and I was thrilled to find other aspiring writers. Then a critique group. And finally, FINALLY, I found out about revision. We’d had no creative writing courses in school and despite the thousands of words I’d written I knew nothing about revision. And the idea of plotting out the story in advance? Shocking!

Eventually I wondered if those crazy Plotters might have discovered something rather helpful. Maybe plotting wouldn’t take the joy of discovery out of the story. Maybe it would help with the ENDLESS rounds of revision I’d been working on.

Maybe.

With a little trepidation, I tried my own idea of Plotting.

  • Character names, jobs, and major personality traits
  • Setting
  • Crisis moment
  • Ending = HEA

Altogether, my plotting encompassed about 150 words.

It worked. Sort of.

Yes, I had a better idea of the shape of the novel, but it still left me with too much clean up.

I tried a few craft books. They hurt my head. I don’t make To Do lists. I think Big Picture and work mostly on gut and emotion. These books with their lists, questions, arcs, and bullet points probably work really, really well for people with more linear brains. My poor global brain did a lot of whimpering. Imposter Syndrome set in. Hard.

Then I stumbled across Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. This book helped my brain relax a little bit. Libbie’s style wasn’t a perfect fit for me (are any two brains really alike?) but it was a better guideline. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes added another layer.

Before I started my current draft, I thought a lot about my characters and their flaws. I thought about how those flaws would contribute to the plot and the problems they’d encounter along the way. I made a separate Path for each character. I blended the Paths together.

As I’m writing this, I’m nearing the end of that draft and feeling pretty good about it. I’ve tweaked the Paths as I’ve written, but I haven’t strayed too far. The biggest advantage is that the conflict is much easier to maintain.

Now I just have to wait and see how many revision rounds this story will take. Who knows, maybe it will be the one to kick start my querying process!

Continue reading