With the holiday season quickly approaching and being shoved in our faces anytime we go into a store or turn on certain radio stations after November 1, so too comes the image of the family dinner table. The stress of establishing what you’re doing for the holidays and trying to make sure everyone is all on the same page. Trying to find the perfect gift for a loved one. Scheduling around work, school, and other obligations. And of course, who’s bringing what to dinner. And then there is the cliche of sitting down to that family dinner and being bombarded with any number of questions. Are you seeing anyone? How is so-and-so (even though you haven’t seen that so-and-so in several years). How’s work/school going? And that’s just a generalized list excluding the inevitable politics and family gossip. Among the questions, I’m often asked are ones about my writing. What projects I’m working on. Why I’m not published yet even though I’ve finished multiple drafts of several projects and always have at least one story in progress. And I feel this is something other writers might face. While these questions are well-intentioned, they can also be misinformed about the overall process of publishing a book, particularly in how involved it is and how much time it can take. This is one of those things that can vary from one writer to another, and even in projects written by the same person. It can be challenging to give a concise answer because the process is going to be different depending on if you are pursuing a traditional publishing path or self-publishing. With Thanksgiving falling on this coming Thursday (at least here in the States), I thought this would be the perfect occasion to tackle this—but I’m not doing it alone! I’ve recruited a few fellow writers from Twitter to lend their insight, which you can check out below.
I write clean/sweet historical romance, mostly Regency. I currently have two novellas published and one more [which launched] Nov. 20. Those are all self-published, two of them part of a multi-author series… I’m working on a French Revolution novel and another novella for a new multi-author series. Most of my work has ties to the Royal Navy. That’s my research passion. I’ve wanted to be a hybrid author for a while. So I’ll be publishing all my novels through a traditional publisher and all my novellas myself. I got started with self-publishing through my critique group. We wanted to do a little novella series together. One of the authors in the group is a very successful self-published author, so she walked us through everything. Hybrid publishing is great, because you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. (And the worst, I guess.) It’s nice to have control over timing and covers with my novellas, something I won’t get with my novels. But I also won’t have to deal with all the housekeeping things like layouts. Haha. I do photoshoots for the covers of my novellas, so they look exactly how I want them to. I also like that I can publish some quick novellas while waiting for my novels to publish. Self-publishing has a wide range on timing. Some authors publish every month, some every other month, some only once or twice a year. With self-publishing, it really is about going your own pace. For my novella releasing this month, it took me eight work days to write it. I did a few rounds of editing, which lasted a couple of days, then sent it to beta readers and critique partners. I gave them two weeks to get it back to me, and over that time I didn’t do much with the story besides create the preorder on Amazon. When I got all the notes back, I spent several more days editing. (Keep in mind, it’s only 26,000 words, or 106 pages. Significantly shorter than a novel.) I spent a day laying it out for print, and I have a friend laying out the ebook. I’ll spend a few weeks promoting and sending it to ARC readers before uploading the final versions and publishing. So start to finish, it took about two months. My cover was made about a month before I started writing because of how my designer’s schedule worked out. It took her maybe a week to get it back to me. The photoshoot took a day, though I was sewing costumes for it for several months before that. Most self-published authors just use stock photos, so usually the photo doesn’t take nearly as long to get.
After I finished the first draft of this [book], I did a few rounds of self-editing. These took a little while, as I was editing and publishing my first self-published novella at the same time. After that, I sent it to critique partners. With their feedback, I did another couple rounds of edits before sending it to beta readers. Then I did another couple of rounds of edits. When I felt like I’d got the story to a good point, I sent it to my publisher. Because of some special circumstances, I heard back from them way faster than usual (it only took a month, when usually it takes several with this particular publisher). My original plan was to submit to a couple other publishers in the market while waiting, but they got back to me so fast I didn’t have time. I had done a lot of research on the few publishers that were options, so I already knew this was the one I wanted. Even though the initial acceptance didn’t take long, it took nearly six months to get my book all the way through the approval process and get a contract signed. Currently my publisher is working on covers and release date info, and in the next couple of months I’ll be working with their editor on revisions. One of the hardest things is finding readers. I’ve sold quite a few for being a newbie, but not nearly as many as other authors I know. My multi-author series books tend to do way better. And I try to keep a steady presence on Instagram. I also do giveaways and I have a newsletter. The main point of the newsletter (besides updating readers on when my books are on sale) is to swap promotions with other authors. They share my book, I share theirs. Check out Arlem’s website and social media for more!
Jenn A. Morales
I’m Jenn and I’ve been writing for almost 11 years now. Finished a few first drafts (10+) but only one is polished. I write in Paranormal Fantasy/Romance with a couple Sci-fi stories in the mix. I’m currently working on The Kalista Chronicles’ third book, An Angel Falls which I’m talking for Nanowrimo, though this sickness and fatigue make it hard to keep my eyes open long enough to write. I’m also working on a few other books of the Born Angel Novels, the AU where Kalista’s books are set. I’m also working on Querying. I need to finish the Query letter for Kali’s first book and send it to my dream Agent… it’s been intimidating and staring at me for a few weeks. Just can’t concentrate on it and when I do I can’t summarize enough or cohesively. I am trying to go the traditional route. It’s not easy for pansters like me who only have a rough idea at the beginning and then wing it after that. Time management is hard. I tend to get lost in writing. But when I have other things to do like doctors appointments and such I make sure I can access my document from my phone and type while I wait. Making it all work can be a challenge at first, but each person is different and you have to make a schedule that works for you. I guess what appeals to me more is that some things (editor, publishing costs, etc) are handled by the publishing house rather than myself. Though my biggest fear is that my creative freedoms will be taken from me. But that’s all contractual anyhow and I’ll be sure to watch out for such things. The self-publishing route. Do to it right and actually see the return from it, would be more money than I can afford right now, which was my main reason to go traditional. I think we all want to try it and then some of us just decide to go indie when it “falls through” in our mind. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Many other successful authors weren’t published until later. A first draft is simply just putting words on the page or the bare bones of a book. Don’t stress so much on it that you forget the fun of writing. Words can be added or cut later. Just get it down, though some editing is ok for the first draft, don’t concentrate on it. My favorite piece of advice is more of a Meme from Jenna Moreci: “You can’t edit a blank page” or “the first draft is always shit”. I get a lot of my advice from her and even though she’s an indie author, she really does give good advice to all writers. You can find Jenn on her website, DeviantArt, WattPad, as well as Twitter.
Vanessa Paige Israel
I have loved storytelling since I can remember. As a kid, I didn’t tell those stories to any adults, mind you. My sister and I made them up together, she and I the only ones who knew the worlds and characters we created. I even wrote down several works that I believe would be considered “flash fiction”. They were stilly stories about my toys. I liked making them up, but I put little thought into them. When I was about 11 years old, I began reading with a passion. I read about 3 books a week. A year or two later, I read Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. That has been the most influential book in my life because only a few nights after having read it, I had a bizarre dream. At that moment I knew I wanted to be a writer and when I awoke, I proceeded to write out the idea inspired by my dream. That project turned into my first Novella. I enjoy reading several different genres, fantasy, romance, regency. I love YA novels, MG novels, NA novels. I really enjoy classic literature. Fantasy is my favorite though. It has a way of explaining reality in a way that holds more truth to me and thus makes it more interesting. I therefore write in fantasy. I enjoy legends, folklore, and mythology. I am an enthusiast of medieval England and relish in tying all these elements into one story. My main project right now is a novel I wrote that I have titled Beyond the Veil. It is about the innocence of childhood and grasping the reality that the world is a dark place. It is told by the storyteller, through the eyes of a fairy looking into the human world. I finished writing it a while back, recently finished revising it, and am now having it edited by beta readers. I hope to publish through ImgramSpark in the late winter/early spring of 2020. I have also begun working on ideas for another novel within the same universe as the first one, but I am reluctant to give any more details than that. [Ingramspark is] also one of the biggest book distributors in the US. They distribute books all over the world. You, as the author, get to choose your royalty rates based on book size, cost of book, and what wholesale price will be. One of the biggest things to me (why I think I am going to choose them) is because of their distribution options. Rather than having book sellers (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, independent bookstores, etc.) buy the book from the author or some random publishing house, those companies just make most of their purchases from one platform: IngramSpark. It’s a great way to go if you want to have booksales from more than just Amazon because a lot of stores will NOT buy from Amazon…IngramSpark, to my knowledge, is the distributor. IngramSpark is they’re publishing side. Plenty of people who choose to have them distribute their books do not necessarily publish through them.
I have not published anything yet, only looked into it. Writing the book has plenty of challenges, but it’s easy at the same time. Does that make sense?? Coming up with ideas, characters, plots, etc. It’s fun and it’s easy. Choosing the right names, where the story takes place, the right words, dealing with writer’s block. That makes it challenging. For my journey so far, the most difficult/tedious part has been the editing. I hate editing, I’m going to say that right now. Going over my story again and again, choosing who I want to edit, will I pay someone or won’t I, do I get beta readers, who do I choose, how many do I choose, having to go over my book AGAIN once the beta readers/ editors are through.
I had a difficult time deciding how I wanted to go about choosing my beta readers. I ended up going with five individuals. My mom, my sister, two author friends, and a little sister of a friend (someone in the young age range the book is targeted for). Each person, I told to edit as best as they are able. I sent a letter to each explaining what I expected from them and I sent the tools to get the job done such as sticky notes, page tabs, and a highlighter.
I asked for objective and subjective feedback. To let me know grammatical and spelling errors, but also if the plot needs work, or if something could be better worded, if it doesn’t make sense, etc.
Update | Check out Vanessa’s book here.
Maren M. Morris
I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school, but I really got into it in middle school. I wrote Hunger Games fanfic (it was literal trash, but you have to get the bad words out somewhere!) and some random little stories about my friends that we’d all pass around at lunch. As I got into upper middle school and high school, I fell madly in love with historical fiction. I worked on a few books just for fun throughout high school that I never queried, but it was a great way for me to learn about plot, characters, and the overall structure that comes with long formwork. I wrote a YA book set during the American Revolution when I was a sophomore in college, and it was the first project I ever queried. I got some full requests, but ultimately it didn’t pan out. I’m currently a senior in college studying Communication with a double minor in Theatre and Creative Writing. I’ve become as equally interested in fantasy as historical fiction, and my current project is an alternate history set during 1830s London! I do know that I want to stay in the YA realm, whether that’s with historical or fantasy pieces. I know how much stories meant to me in my middle and high school years (and even now), so I feel like even if I’m fifty, I’m still going to be writing YA. The publishing process feels like such a rollercoaster, even just looking from the outside! After polishing your manuscript, you query literary agents who use their industry connections to pitch their books to publishers. It involves writing pitch letters and a synopsis of your work, and a lot of agents will want the first five pages of your manuscript to get a look at your writing style. Authors pitch to agents who represent their genre of work, so you wouldn’t pitch a romantic comedy to someone that focuses on sci-fi. Some will want to read more and ask for a “partial,” where they read around the first fifty pages, and then they might ask to read the entire project. So many agents send out rejections, so it’s important to stand out and hook them. If the agent signs you, they’ll pitch your work to different editors at publishing houses that might be a good fit for your work. This phase is known as “going on sub,” where publishers decide whether to acquire your work or not. Sometimes they do, in which case, YAY you have a publisher! And sometimes books get all the way to the acquisitions table and don’t get bought. It seems to be full of highs and lows, and the timeframe can take months to years. Some people get lucky and get an agent after querying for two weeks, but some have to go through querying multiple projects to find their agent. Even after a house buys your book, and after you sign that contract and get an advance check while editing your project, there is still a lot of pressure to be a successful debut and to get your next book sold. That’s kind of my SparkNotes version of it! After your book gets bought, you’ll do rounds of developmental edits with your editor where you change basically any major plot points/character arcs. Then, the author will do copy edits, where you fix grammar and little word changes. Next, you’ll do line edits where you go line by line before it goes to the next round. Then, the publishing house sends you “pass pages,” which are mock-up sheets of what the pages will look like in the printed book, with proper chapter headings and all that jazz! This takes place roughly over the course of a year. Cover design, at least from what I can tell, happens anywhere from 6-8 months before the book comes out so the image can be used for promo. It seems like a lot of designers ask authors if they have any ideas, but the artist or graphic designer typically gets the final say. Also, upon turning in your first round of edits, you get paid a portion of your advance. The advance is a check that the publishing house gives you, and the amount is based off of the amount of money that they expect your book to earn. In order to get royalties (that percent of money that an author makes off of each sale of their book), the author has to earn out their advance. So, if an editor gives me a $1,000 advance, I have to sell $1,000 worth of books before I can make any royalties. Advances are sent in chunks to the author throughout the editing process, so you might have a $10,000 advance that’s split up into three payments of like $3,000-ish something per check. In terms of money, it’s super up in the air! I think some authors like Sarah J Mass get advances around $100,000 or greater for each book, but it varies a lot! I’ve heard as a debut to keep your day job In terms of marketing, I think a lot of it is put on the author (more than we might think). There are marketing teams, but I know a lot of authors pay to travel to events, and not every author is sent out on tour. Authors that have proven to be commercially successful once get more of a push, and even then, there’s still a lot of pressure to have an online platform on various social media sites. I think one of the main struggles is the doubt and the not knowing. So much of this industry is luck and timing, and it’s hard to gauge that because the path is different for everyone. It’s also easy to experience self-doubt. There is a lot of rejection, and sometimes it can pile up fast. My advice for writers trying to get published is to never give up! It sounds cliche, but hard work can go a long way. If you are working hard and putting your best work out there at the end of the day, then that’s all you can do! You can find Maren on Twitter here!
A huge thank you to Arlem Hawkes, Jenn A. Morales, Vanessa Paige Israel, and Maren M. Morris for taking the time to help me with this project! Be sure to check out their profiles and show them some love because they are genuinely fantastic people!