“Are We There Yet?”: A Publishing Reality Check

Being a writer is a difficult thing.


Any job can be difficult, of course. When I was a teacher, a stage director, a textbook translator, and a bookseller, I thought those jobs were plenty difficult. My friends work in jobs that are difficult. When my partner comes home for the day and begins to groan about a code not working or numbers not reaching optimal level, I nod my head sympathetically. I have no idea what they’re talking about, of course. But it does sound hard.


Writing comes with a set of standard difficulties like any job. The deadlines can be tough. The pressure to please your readers is tough. Generating the expected word count. Making narratives hit the correct beats. Taking your main character through a satisfying arc…


BUT


There is another difficult part about being a writer. Because while as a society we don’t presume to know all the ins and outs of being an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor, or an electrician… people do presume to know a lot about what it means to be a writer. This makes sense, as humans are natural storytellers. We love narrative! But the process of publishing entails far more than the act of telling stories.


Since the announcement of THE DERBY DAREDEVILS, I’ve had bits of advice, concerns, and comments make their way into my emails, phone calls, day-to-day conversations, etc. Relatives have advised me to release on kindle, because people don’t like collecting hoards of books, or to release in paperback because hardback books are too expensive. Several friends have urged me to just illustrate the book myself since I like to draw. I’ve been asked many times why the book isn’t coming out sooner if I sold it a whole year ago. Past teaching colleagues have told me to bring free copies of my book for their classrooms.


For a long time, I swallowed my frustrations about these comments and curled up behind my computer. But I’ve recently realized it’s actually my responsibility to help set the record straight.


If you are a writer, a reader, a friend or family member of a writer, this is for you! While writing a book and sharing it with others can seem like a simple process, the truth is, publishing has as many confusing and occupation-specific details as any other job. So here’s a few “fun facts” about my career behind the scenes:


Selling a Book


· I wrote book 1 of the Derby Daredevils series in fall 2017. I needed a whole book to send to editors to consider, not just a sample or proposal. First I edited the book with my agent, then we took the book on submission in the spring of 2018.


· Now that I’ve sold books 1 & 2 of the series, when I try to sell book 3, I won’t need to write the entire book first. In fact, my editor will probably want to have a lot of input in how the plot forms. So instead I will put together a proposal with a synopsis and sample chapters.


· Sometimes writers submit completed manuscripts to editors, and sometimes they submit proposals. The format will depend on both the writer’s history and which publishing houses they want to take the book for consideration.


· “Submission” is the word used when a writer and their agent are trying to sell a book or book proposal to an editor at a publishing house.


· “Querying” is the word used when a writer is trying to get a literary agent to represent them.


Timeline


· I sold the Derby Daredevils back in mid July 2018, but I couldn’t announce that deal until we had secured an (AMAZING) illustrator and got all the paperwork finalized. Things were finally ready to announce in early December 2018. That kind of wait is pretty typical for book deals with authors and illustrators. Sometimes authors have to wait only a few weeks before they can announce. Other times, the wait can be longer.


· Selling a book in the summer of 2018 and having it come out in spring 2020 is again, pretty typical! Most books take around two years from offer to publication. What happens in between is all the revising and editing with the author, then all the layout work from the publisher.


· Publishing imprints release information at different times and in different orders. Some fellow spring 2020 debut authors know their exact release date and have seen their finished cover, but haven’t seen their book in typeset, or laid out as it will be once it’s printed. I don’t have my release date or final cover yet, but I’ve been working with my book’s layout since March!


Illustrations


· There’s a really good reason why a lot of authors won’t illustrate their books, even if they like to draw. It’s all about finding the illustration style that suits the narrative. I draw portraits from photos, not characters that can be put in all angles or settings. Also, my style doesn’t go with the Derby Daredevils. I was very picky about finding the right illustrator for the story, because at the end of the day it’s about what’s best for the book.


· When an author is showing you their cover or an illustration in their book, the image isn’t really about how realistic the characters are drawn, or how artistic the composition is. In many ways, a cover or character sketch symbolizes that author’s initial vision finally becoming real. It's magic.


Marketing


· At this point in my publishing journey, I still don’t know where I’ll get to go to promote my book and connect with readers. I’d love to travel everywhere and meet kids who like reading about kick-butt girl groups, or queer stories, or sports teams. But in the end, my publisher and I will decide how to best spread the word about the Derby Daredevils. I might not get to make it to your specific library or school, which is why book ambassadors (like you!) are SO important.


· I don’t get to decide a lot of details about how my book is released, including what format it comes in. Those decisions are made by my publisher. While paperback books are indeed cheaper, a lot of books need to first be released in hardback to make the investment viable for the publishing house. And hardback books are great for libraries and a lot of readers!


· I would be lucky to receive even a few “free” copies of my book, and I’m meant to use those copies for marketing. This means I research book reviewers or figures in the book community that can have a wide reach and help me promote. It hurts my feelings a little when others ask for my work for free because they know me. I’m working hard to make writing my job, which means I need to get paid for it.


Support


· Despite the miscommunications that get passed around, or frustration I feel when those I love don’t understand everything that goes behind a book, in the end I am endlessly grateful to everyone in my life who reaches out with any level of interest about my work. Thank you thank you THANK YOU for being part of this journey with me.


· Sometimes other people seem impatient about how long my book is taking, but believe me that I’m looking forward to its release more than anything! When the Derby Daredevils series does finally hit shelves in spring 2020, I’ll get to share a labor of love with the world, and that is a lifelong dream come true.

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Illustrated and designed by Danika Corrall