A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
So you’ve done it. You jumped through all the hoops and cleared all the hurdles and you’ve finally signed at the bottom of that contract. YOUR BOOK IS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED!
It’s the dream, isn’t it? It’s what you wanted all along. I did, anyway.
Only when I thought about it, my imagination sort of stopped there. Publishing a book, of course, doesn’t stop there. You don’t write a book, sell it and then forget about it until shiny finished copies arrive in the post. You don’t get the first part of your advance and immediately buy a house and change your life (well, maybe you do if you got an enormous, gigantic, mammoth-sized advance. But that’s not the norm). So what does happen after the book deal?
Here’s how it was for me.
1. A lot of work
There is a clause in publishing contracts that includes the phrase ‘on delivery’. What that means is you, the author, have to deliver a manuscript that your editor or editorial team is happy with before you can get the next part of your advance/before they can move forward with publishing the book. When my agent first sent the manuscript that would become The Lost Girl out to publishers, that manuscript was the fourth draft of the book. When the book pubbed almost two years later, the final version was the fifteenth draft. That means there were eleven drafts between Book Deal and Pub Day.
That’s a lot of work. I won’t go into the details, but in a nutshell: major things changed. Two important characters were cut. A few minor characters were cut. Some scenes were toned down because my editor felt they were a little too brutal. The opening changed frequently. The whole last third of the book changed five times before my editor and I were both happy with it. I always wanted to write sequels but none were officially planned, so I changed the ending several times because I was trying to walk a fine line between Resolution and Open-Ended in Case of a Sequel. (Subsequent reviews have readers ranging all the way from ‘LOVE how open the ending is, it’s so fitting’ to ‘what the HELL kind of end was that?!’, which just goes to show that I may or may not have toed that line well. But that’s just it: fifteen drafts and it’s still not perfect!)
And then the manuscript was ‘delivered’. But the work didn’t stop. While people behind the scenes worked on covers and design and cool little things like emblazoning Eva’s Mark onto the hardcover case (what’s a case, you ask? It’s the actual hard cover of a hardcover, the part under the jacket. If you knew this already, well done. I didn’t until my editor first mentioned it!), I worked on copyedits. These are the small things that make such a huge difference to the book when they add up: sentence structure, grammar, consistency, making sure I’ve got the facts right, cutting out extraneous adverbs, adjectives and repetition, etc. Basically the copyeditor(s) mark up the manuscript, it gets sent to my editor and me (digitally), I go through every little change or suggestion and decide whether or not I’m happy to make that change or take that suggestion, I also make small tweaks of my own, and then my editor and I have a three-hour phone call and go over every single change and tweak.
We did that twice before the manuscript was declared DONE. For the moment, anyway.
Because then came the ARCs. Galleys. And this is when you catch more things to tweak, typos, little things that nevertheless need to be changed and approved and sorted.
In short: you are literally not done until the day the finished copies of the book land on bookshelves. (And if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to change things even then!)
2. A lot of tedious sh**
Sorry about the language there, but the stuff I’m talking about warrants it. As magnificent as it is to write and moreover to be able to write for a living (and it is), you can’t get away from the fact that it is a job. And jobs, even the best of jobs, involve Tedious Stuff. (Again, if you get a mammoth advance you can probably hire someone to do all the Tedious Stuff for you, but again, that is not the norm.) For me, this included: spending weeks trying to get an ITIN from the IRS so that I wouldn’t be taxed in the US and here in the UK, signing up as self-employed with HMRC, filing tax returns, keeping a record of expenses and costs for the aforementioned tax returns, tearing my hair out over the fact that my first website was consistently and annoyingly full of bugs and took a good hour to update even when I just wanted to edit one line on one page, getting Certificates of Residence from HMRC so that I wouldn’t be taxed in Germany or Turkey when my agent sold the book there (and this used to be a pain; the first time I did it was in 2011 and I had to fill out two forms and write two letters and there was a muddle and then it took eight weeks for the certificate in question to arrive. Now, thankfully, you can do it online.)
It was. It is. This job is not easy and you shouldn’t do it unless you absolutely cannot live without writing. (Believe me, there are days when I absolutely hate doing this. And then I write something and remember why I wouldn’t do anything else.) The thing is, you can break it down to Before and After. Before the book deal, you’re free. You can write what you want, when you want, how you want. You can mix genres, change genres halfway through a manuscript, don’t write a word (creatively) for six weeks or write ten hours a day every day for a week (not that I did any of this. Ahem.)
After the book deal? Not so much. Because now you have people depending on you to produce the book you promised them. You’re contracted. And publishing likes labels. Books sell better when they’re easily defined. If you’re writing YA, you can push the boundaries but it still has to be YA. If you’re writing a mystery, you can’t stop halfway through because you find the romantic subplot more fun to write. You’ve got to write the book you sold. You’ve got to turn drafts of it in on time. You’ve got to give your agent, editor and/or publisher the courtesy of letting them know if you’re going to be going away on holiday, if you’re pregnant and probably won’t work much for several weeks after your baby is born, and you’ve got to do them the courtesy of not letting them down if you’ve promised to do something. This is like any other job: you’ve got to do it, even if you don’t feel like it. You’ve got to make your deadlines even when you’re swamped with the rest of your life.
And that means there’s pressure. And stress. And you have to be disciplined.
The downside is that you may feel like you’re no longer writing for fun. I do sometimes. Sometimes writing feels like work. This is inevitable, I’m afraid, but. But. It’s also
Because this is what it is in the end. All that hard work, tedious stuff and stress? They make books. They make your books. Gorgeous, shiny, fantastic things with pages and papery smells and shiny ebook covers and gorgeous fonts and jackets you can stroke. You can walk past a bookshelf in your home and grin foolishly because a whole shelf is crammed with copies of your book. You get to sit up in bed and flip open your laptop and work: no commute, no makeup, no fancy clothes. You get to sleep in (if your toddler is elsewhere, that is!) and work late at night inside. And that thing that was in your head once? Those people who talked to you nonstop? They’re on shelves now. In people’s baskets online. You get given money to do the thing you love. You get to meet brilliant new people – agents, editors, authors and readers – who love books as much as you do. You get emails from readers who loved your book. You get to tell the woman on the bus who asks what you do that you’re an author (and she will either look awed and impressed, or frown and ask you when you’re going to get a real job. I’ve had both. Oh, well.)
And the most brilliant thing of all? It’s still fun. And no matter how hard I work, or how stressful a deadline is, or how much I hate trying to remember where I put that receipt because I need it for my tax return… it never stops being fun.