This blog is not my original thoughts, nor experience. Personally, I'm at the very beginning of my journey. However, I found this information on Rachel Vincent's website (author of the Shifters series...you gotta check them out) to be priceless.
Without further ado.....
[Disclaimer (You knew one was coming, right?):
This is the road to publication my first book traveled. The path varies widely from publisher to publisher, author to author, and book to book, so don't be surprised if what you read here is different from what you've heard elsewhere or experienced personally.]
In January, 2006, my literary agent negotiated my first sale. She worked very hard on my behalf, and I did what every newly contracted author does: I celebrated. For about a day. Then, less than twenty-four hours after the deal was made, I sat back down at my computer with one goal in mind: to figure out what comes next.
I found quite a bit of information in small threads, which I could probably have woven into a larger tapestry on my own, had I been so inclined. I also found literally dozens of stories of "The Call." What I did not find was a single, detailed, step-by-step account of what happens to a book between the time it's acquired for publication and the day it hits the bookstore shelf. Now, for the record, such an account probably does exist. But I didn't find it. So I'm making my own.
This is what happened after my very first sale.
The Offer (of representation)
November 22, 2005
(Yes, I know this isn't really after the sale, but since I get more questions about how I found my agent than about anything else, I thought I'd include these first few entries even though they're not exactly what I said would be here.)
By the middle of November, I'd completed four novels and was half-way into my fifth. I'd been querying my third book, an urban fantasy called STRAY, for a little while, and was getting almost as many requests for material as flat-out rejections. At first the requests made me hopeful. But when the SASEs I sent out with my partials came back stuffed with form rejections, I started losing my confidence. By the 22nd, I'd already decided not to send out any more queries for STRAY once all the submissions I had out were rejected.
Then, late that morning, my phone rang. I almost didn't answer it. Seriously. I was physically and mentally exhausted from staying up late every night working on revisions and new material. In fact, I was taking my first nap in ages when the call came. One of the best decisions I ever made was to answer that phone call. It was Miriam Kriss.
She introduced herself, and in my sleep-fuzzy state, I was only vaguely aware that I was on the phone. Until she said she was an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. That woke me up. Instantly. I'd never gotten a call from a real live literary agent before. In fact, I'd only gotten one rejection with my name on it, so at the time, a personal phone call seemed monumental. It still does.
Miriam said she loved the material I'd sent her, and she wanted to know if I could please email her the rest. Since I'm not a complete idiot, I agreed, and she gave me her email address. Other than that, I can't remember a single thing about that phone call. What I do remember, however, is double checking the phone number on my cell phone screen at least half a dozen times. Then looking up the area code, to make sure the call really had come from New York. It had. From Fifth Avenue.
Since I'd told Miriam I would email the rest of the manuscript immediately, I did what any writer would do in my situation. I sat down at the computer and spent the next two hours looking for mistakes. Eventually I had to admit to myself that it was too late for proofreading. STRAY would have to go out as is. It had already been rewritten five times. Apparently that was good enough.
That night, only six hours after I'd sent the manuscript, Miriam called again. I knew it was her. I don't know how I knew before I saw the number on the screen, but I did. Of course, it's entirely possible that I would have thought it was her even if it wasn't. But I'll never know for sure, because it was her.
Miriam said she'd finished my novel. My ever-articulate answer was something like, "Already?" She said, "Yes." Then she said that she would very much like to represent me. There was more after that. Compliments and enthusiasm from her, incomprehensible babbling from me. Then I recovered enough of my wits to ask for a couple of days to gather my thoughts and compose a list of questions for her, because I couldn't think straight enough at the time to do it right then. She offered to call me the following Monday, six days later. I told her that would be great.
Over the next week, I wrote down every question I could think of to ask a potential agent. But I was only doing it because that's what I'd been told to do: ask all the right questions, and make sure you're happy with all the answers before you agree to anything. So, that's what I did. But I'd already made up my mind. I liked her from the beginning. So after she'd answered my questions and told me a little bit about herself, I accepted her offer of representation. Eagerly.
As of Monday, November 28, 2005, I was an officially agented author. Sort of. My agent/author agreement got lost in the mail and for more than two weeks I was afraid to call and tell Miriam I'd never gotten it . When I finally worked up the nerve, I was half-afraid that she'd changed her mind about me and didn't want to hurt my feelings. She laughed (kindly) and said she'd send a new copy. I got them both on the very same day. I signed one and sent it back. Then I was an officially agented author.
Agent Requested Revisions
November 29th, 2005
I got my manuscript back from Miriam via email, the day after I accepted her offer. I'd expected lots of complicated changes, but there wasn't really much to it, which was a huge relief. She had one question, found one minor inconsistency and two omitted words, asked for more punch on the last line of the book, and gave me two compliments. And she suggested the addition of one new scene. I don't want to say what scene, because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone planning to read Stray when it comes out in February. But I agreed that the scene was appropriate, and enhanced the story. So I wrote it.
STRAY Sent Out
After Miriam approved the revisions I made to Stray, the book was ready to go out on the first round of submissions. She already had a list of editors in mind when she called with an offer of representation, so the submissions process should have been pretty simple. Unfortunately, I underestimated Murphy and his pain-in-the-neck law. On my end of things, whatever could go wrong did.
I was supposed to send Miriam six clean, good-quality copies of Stray to be sent out to editors all over New York. Even though I'd never snail-mailed an entire manuscript to anyone before (I made mostly electronic submissions during the querying process) I knew without being told that printing and mailing six copies of a 409 page manuscript could get pretty expensive. So I crunched some numbers. I got estimates from two different professional copy shops and from the copy center inside the local Office Depot. Then I estimated how much it would cost me to print the manuscripts myself. Printing at home should have been a lot less expensive than any of the professional options, so I made a trip to my local Office Depot to pick up 2,500 sheets of 40lb, paper. I think it was 102 brightness. I also picked up some heavy duty rubber bands, two HP Deskjet ink cartridges, and some shipping labels. Then I went home to start printing.
I have two printers at home, both of them Ink Jet machines marketed as photo printers. One's the Dell that came with my laptop, and the other is a Hewlett Packard Deskjet that I've had more than four years. I started printing on them both, to speed up the process, and for a while, everything went well. I moved both printers into the living room so I could watch TV while I worked, inspecting each page for quality as it came out. After less than an hour, the Dell ran out of ink. Dell ink has to be ordered over the Internet and takes a couple of days to arrive, so rather than waiting for it, I put the Dell printer up and continued production on the HP. I printed all day, until nearly midnight that night, and got less than two full manuscripts printed out before the printer quality began to fail. I should have seen it coming. Apparently there's a limit to how long you can run a printer before it starts to overheat, or freak out in some other equally catastrophic way. The print coming from mine was tinted blue and hazy, and each line had a blank stripe running through it.
I stopped printing for the night to give the printer a rest, and resolved to try it again in the morning. I resumed printing at nine a.m. the next day, and the pages looked no better than they had the night before. At that point, I had two options. I could suck it up and go support my local Kinko's, or I could find another printer. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately,) the decision was taken out of my hands: I'd already bought the paper, and Kinko's wouldn't let me use my own. Left with no other choice, I called a good friend and asked if I could come over and borrow her printer. Angel that she is, she said yes without hesitation.
On the way to her house, I stopped at Office Depot again and bought two ink cartridges for her printer. We put her printer to work all day long, printing until nearly five pm. When I had to go home for supper, we still had two manuscripts to go, so she said I could come back the next day. Thank goodness for good friends, because it took the entire next day to finish printing, and by then it was too late to make it to the post office. In all, the printing took three days, three different printers, and countless cartridges of ink. And by the time I got the box of manuscripts mailed, the New York transit workers were on strike and (almost) no one on 5th Avenue was able to make it to work. There was no one to confirm delivery of my manuscripts. With the strike, and the combined Christmas and New Year holidays, I didn't know for sure that my box had arrived until the first week of January, when Miriam told me she was in the process of calling editors about the book, that very day.
So, Stray officially went out to editors on January 2nd, 2006. I was ecstatic, and very nervous, but knew better than expect quick results. I made myself settle in for a long wait, with plenty of disappointment along the way. But as it turned out, in spite of all my mental preparation, I didn't have much of a wait after all...
The First Offer
Friday, January 13th, 2006
I was composing a blog entry late on the morning of January 13th when I got The Call. Sort of. It was the first Call. My cell phone display showed Miriam's number, and my heart started beating really hard before I even answered the phone. When I did, she asked me how I was doing (as she always does), and I told her I was fine. Then she asked me what I would say if she told me that we'd gotten our first offer. I can't remember very clearly what I said after that, but I know it involved lots of grinning and unselfconscious jumping around. After a couple of minutes, the specifics of what she'd said sank in. She'd said we'd gotten our first offer. I asked what this meant, and she said she'd be surprised if we didn't get at least one more. And again, things got fuzzy after that. I gathered enough of my wits to ask about the publisher and editor, and to write down what she'd told me. Then, after I hung up, I saved my blog entry and googled the publisher. I spent the rest of the day reading everything I could find on-line about the editor/publisher who'd made the first offer.
I tried to call my # 1 fan, but couldn't get in touch with him for several hours. But when I finally did, he was just as excited as I was. And I think he did nearly as much googling as I did. That night, we went out to dinner to celebrate. If I'd known what would happen next, I might have held off on the celebrating for just a little bit.
Nah. Maybe not. ;-)
Tuesday, January 24th, 2006
In the course of my first Call, Miriam told me she was asking for interested editors to submit their initial bids by Tuesday, the 24th. At that point, I probably should have realized Stray had gone to auction. But I didn't. No one actually said the A-word to me, and I just couldn't believe that anything so wonderful could happen to me, a first-timer whose submission had only been out eleven days when the first offer came in. But my inability to believe didn't stop the auction from happening. Fortunately.
Unfortunately, however, I had to spend most of Initial Bid Day out of the house on errands, which meant I couldn't check my email every half-hour, as I usually do. And in spite of hours spent staring at it, my phone never rang. By the time I got back home late that afternoon, I was desperate for some information. I fired off a quick email to Miriam, asking about the status of the submissions, and she wrote me back after agency hours to tell me that we'd gotten offers from three more publishers, for a total of four bids.
It was a good thing I was sitting down, because otherwise I would have fallen flat on the floor. I was so surprised that it never occurred to me to ask who the other publishers were, what rights they wanted, or anything else. Honestly, at the time, none of that mattered. I was more than happy just knowing that someone wanted to buy my book. Four someones was a little more than I was prepared to handle at the moment. So #1 and I went out to dinner to celebrate. Again.
The auction took six days. Six mind-blowing, can-this-really-be-happening-to-me, unbelievably ecstatic, so-nervous-I-can't-do-anything-but-eat days. During that week, I got a flurry of emails from my agent, keeping me updated on which publisher was currently in the lead. And on Friday of that week, I called her, mostly because I couldn't not call her. I needed to hear her tell me that it was all real. That Stray really was going to be a book. A book with my name on it, comprised of words I'd written, of characters I'd created, and of places I'd invented. And I needed to thank her, as close to "in person" as I could get.
I asked her if she'd had any idea in the beginning that this would happen. She said she hadn't known, but that she'd hoped. I had no idea how to respond, so I asked if she thought it was just about over. After all, it had been four days. She said that yes, she thought it was almost over. Not quite, but almost.
Three days later, at 3:00 in the afternoon on Monday, January 30th (and yes, I know the exact day and time!), she called me. The auction was over. All the offers were in. We were ready to declare a winner. We spoke for several minutes, trying to decide on the best course of action, on the best thing for me, and for the book. More nervous than I'd ever been in my life, I made a decision. Miriam said she'd set it up.
She called me back half an hour later. This time it was the call. Mary-Theresa Hussey of Luna had bought Stray as the first book in a three-book deal. It was real. I was an author.
First Phone Call from My Editor
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Due to an unusual and unfortunate confluence of events, I had to wait a while after the sale before speaking to my editor. At first, I was worried that she'd changed her mind about wanting to buy my books, but if I'd been thinking logically (which is hard to do right after your first sale--trust me) I'd have known better. That wasn't it at all. Lots of things got in the way, including a sales conference, an illness she caught at the conference, a take-it-or-lose-it vacation, and a funeral. But I knew within the first minute of speaking to my editor that she was worth the wait. She was patient with me (I was so nervous my teeth were chattering. Literally.) and encouraged me to ask questions. Unfortunately, though I had tons of them, I was too nervous to remember most of them at the time, and they're still dribbling out bit by bit in emails.
She told me how much she loved Stray, which is one of my favorite things in the world to hear. She asked about my family, and about several of my local RWA chapter members she knows (at least one of whom she also edits), told me a little of what would happen next to my book. Which I'll write about in chronological order below, as each process unfolds. And...she offered to send me some Luna books, to help me familiarize myself with the line. Which was awesome. Anyone who gives me books is automatically my friend, like it or not. (I have a similar policy for chocolate, and for flowers that can be planted, but my #1 fan holds exclusive rights to those two. ;-) )
By the end of the conversation, I was relaxed, happy, and excited to get back to work. So, I dived headfirst into my new book. After all, I'm happiest when I'm writing.
Moved to Mira
Wednesday, February 23, 2006
My editor met with some people from the marketing and editorial departments, to make some decisions about my books. The next day, she met with my agent (over lunch, I believe, how cool is that?!) to discuss...stuff. I'm not sure what went on in either of these meetings, because I didn't keep very good notes, and now I have to rely on my sketchy blog entries. But, what came out of these meetings were the suggested due dates for my three contracted manuscripts/proposals, and the decision to release Stray and its sequels under the Mira imprint, rather than in the Luna line. I'm not exactly sure what prompted the change, but I've been assured that it was a business decision, and had nothing to do with me personally. And that the move will work in my favor. So I'm more than happy to be a Mira author.
Friday, March 17, 2006
(Note: according to what I've heard from other writer friends, the cover art process seems to differ more than anything else between Harlequin imprints and other publishers. I like our process a lot. Harlequin's system allowed me to have lots of input, not on what actually goes on my cover, but about the book itself, and the characters' appearances, setting, themes, cover styles I like, and lots of other stuff.)
On Thursday, March 16th, my editor called to tell me that Stray (along with lots of other books) was going to cover conference the next day. Due to a scheduling conflict, she wasn't going to be able to attend, but the senior editor for Mira would be there, and she would let us know what was decided. My editor said that my books had been loaded into the Harlequin on-line editorial system. She asked if I could try and log on, to make sure everything was working, and to enter the necessary information about Stray on the cover art fact sheet.
It was really cool. I was already in the system when I logged in, and it was absolutely amazing to see my name, and the names of my books (the third didn’t have a title yet, but was already up) on such an official-looking database. And they had an “on sale” date and an ISBN listed. I had no idea either of those had been assigned yet, so seeing them was awesome. I answered several questions about the book (themes, symbols, imagery, and stuff like that), entered a short synopsis, described the major characters, and included an image my agent had found for me on the Internet.
The next day, the senior editor for Mira met with representatives from the art department (And maybe the marketing department. I'm not sure who all was there.) to discuss possible concepts for the cover art. But it would still be several more weeks before my editor and I actually saw the design chosen.
Monday, April 3, 2006
A couple of weeks after the cover conference, my editor emailed me to show me what she was working on for Stray's cover copy (the blurb on the back of the book, which tells what the story is about). She was tinkering with three different ideas, each of which focused on a different aspect of the book. I found it fascinating that there were so many different ways to describe my story accurately.
My editor asked if I had any thoughts about any of the ideas. She didn't have to do that. I was excited just to see the copy that early in the process, but the chance to help work on it was really great. I wrote out my thoughts and sent them in a reply email. After that, my editor and I sent it back and forth several times, tweaking some phrases and adjusting the wording until she had a version we both really liked.
However, in the end, Mira decided to go with a different version altogether. So I didn't actually have any input on the final draft, but it meant a great deal to me that my editor let me be a part of the process. Things like that go a long way toward helping a new author get comfortable with so many things coming so quickly, and I feel very fortunate to be working with an editor who goes out of her way to make me feel involved.
Cover Concept Revealed
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
About a month after the cover conference, my editor sent me one of my all-time favorite emails, containing a digital copy of the cover concept Mira chose for Stray. I absolutely loved it. Loved it. I couldn't stop looking at it. It was dark, and sexy, and...it had my name on it. My name. Because it was for my book. Somehow seeing the cover concept made the entire process seem more real to me, and less like a wonderful dream.
The only down-side was that I couldn't share the image with my Internet friends and blog buddies, though I sent it to my agent almost as soon as I got it. I wasn't allowed to post the image, because a cover concept isn't the actual art that will go on the front of a book. A cover concept is “a mock-up of art, design and type” to use my editor’s words. It’s made by the in-house art department and used as a guide for the artist commissioned to do the cover. It conveys the general pose and feel desired for the actual cover. I believe the art department uses stock images and photographs. The font types and sizes aren't final, and the text (cover quotes from other authors, or a short blurb about the story) are only present in the form of "place-holder" lines, so the artist knows to leave room there for them.
At this point, I still haven't seen the actual cover. I don't expect it to be done until sometime in/around August. But seeing the concept has made me very excited to see the real thing. I'll post it as soon as I'm allowed.
First Deadline Met
My very first edit letter came in on Monday, May 15, 2006, not quite four months after the sale. From what I've heard from other author friends, the length of time it takes for revisions to come in varies wildly. Seriously. It varies so broadly that I couldn't even come up with a ballpark figure. I know one author who got hers in about a week, and another who had to wait six months. It all depends on how early you turn the book in, how busy your editor is, when the book is due to be released, and any number of other factors. All that really matters is that you have enough time to make the changes before your deadline.
My first deadline was June 1, 2006, so I should have had two weeks, which would have been more than enough time. Unfortunately, I had a schedule conflict. I'd been planning for nearly six months to attend the Romantic Times convention in Daytona Beach, and my edit letter arrived less than forty-eight hours before I had to leave for Florida. I was at the convention for five and a half days, from Wednesday of that week, until late Saturday night.
I took my edits with me, but only took them out to show everyone I met what a genius my editor is, as evidenced by the insightful questions in her letter. So when I got home, I took Sunday off to relax and recuperate from the trip. Then, on Monday, I got down to business. I was determined to meet my first deadline, no matter what.
And I did. I worked 12-14 hours a day for the next eight days, only stopping for short food and bathroom breaks (thanks to my #1 fan for making such a grueling schedule possible) and to sleep. A little. I finished the revisions on Monday, May 29. After that, I took the next two days to read over the changes one more time for continuity and coherence (and trust me, coherence is a concern after eight days in a single chair, subsisting on coffee and fast food), then sent the manuscript in. A day early.
Regarding the revisions themselves, each editor does things differently. I asked around about what to expect, while I was waiting on mine, and discovered that...well, there was just no way to know what to expect, short of asking another of my editor's authors. Which I didn't do, because I didn't know any of them. But from the authors I did know, I found out the following:
Some editors send hard copy letters, making reference to specific page numbers and lines.
Some send revisions via email.
Some call their authors and discuss the book over the phone, mentioning over the course of the conversation what all needs to be done.
Some editors send a hard-copy of the manuscript, with notes in the margins, as well as line edits.
My editor sent me a letter via email. It was five and a half pages long, single-spaced, with lines between the paragraphs. It consisted entirely of questions from my editor about the book/characters/plot, which I was to answer any way I saw fit, within the scope of the manuscript. More about my revisions can be found here, in the May 24, 2006 and May 25, 2006 entries.
I've read that some authors are surprised or disappointed by their first round of revisions, and I can understand why. A long list of mistakes/weak points can be a serious blow to anyone's ego, and we writers are not always the most confident bunch. But I knew going in that the manuscript wasn't perfect, and I was eager for a chance to improve it. And improvement is an editor's goal. Always. It should be the author's goal too.
I was very happy with my edits, and with the changes to the manuscript. It's a much better book now. I can't wait to see it on the shelves.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Two calls in quick succession from first my agent, then my editor revealed that both the release date and the format for Stray had been changed. It was originally scheduled to come out in trade paperback (those tall, sturdy-looking paperbacks) in February, 2007. Instead, it’ll be coming out in mass market (the regular paperbacks you’re probably used to reading) in June, 2007. The date change was a little upsetting for me (like delaying Christmas by four months), but I was thrilled with the format change. Mass market books are less expensive and have a much broader placement, meaning they can now get my book into more places in greater numbers. And that made me smile. ;-)
Once the date change was explained to me in a phone call from my editor, I was happy with that too. There was too much competition for a debut novel in February, so the date change was made to benefit my sales, which I consider worth the four-month delay.
June 28, 2006
My contracts came in almost exactly five months after my books sold. If I understand correctly, it doesn’t usually take quite so long, but since this was a first contract, there were many points to be ironed out, very few of which I understood or even asked about. I’m content to let my agent handle the business side of it. In fact, I’m grateful for the fact that she’s there to do it.
I read through my contracts and signed them the day they came in, and sent them back to my publisher the very next day. All three copies. Someone there signed them then, and they kept one copy, sent a second to my agent, and a third to me. It was official. I was truly a Mira author. ;-)
Second Deadline Met
June 29, 2006
I turned in the revisions for Stray on the last day of May, 2006. Then I took a day off to catch up on some housework. Then, on June 2nd, I dove right into the revisions for the first sequel, Rogue, the second book in my three-book contract.
Fortunately, Rogue was already in completed rough draft form when the books sold. Technically, the proposal for the second book (a synopsis and three chapters) was due on June 15th, but since I already had the book finished, my editor asked me to turn the whole thing in then. Unfortunately, I knew I couldn’t get it polished in only two weeks, mostly because of a new element the revisions for Stray added to the story, so my awesome agent procured an extension for me. I would turn in the entire manuscript on June 30, rather than a proposal on June 15th and the full manuscript on Jan 1st, 2007, which was the original due date.
I had my work cut out for me, but I made it, thanks to four more weeks of very long days. Fortunately, I love the work. ;-) In the process of rewriting, I excised 94 pages of original material and replaced it with 100 new pages. Nearly 30,000 words of new material, if I remember correctly. I turned in the rewritten version of Rogue on June 29, 2006, six months and one day ahead of my original due date. I was exhausted, but pleased.
Dedication and Acknowledgements
August 18, 2006
Okay, I have to confess, I actually wrote most of my acknowledgements and dedications way back in January, before Stray even sold. I was that excited about the possibility of a sale. But I didn’t actually have anywhere to send them until mid-August. So, I dug them back out and reworked them over the next few days, adding the people who have worked on my book since it sold. Then I sent them off via email. I can’t wait to see them in print!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Four days after my editor requested my dedication and acknowledgements, I sent them in. Three hours later, she called my cell phone while I was in the car to tell me she’d just emailed me my cover art! Two weeks earlier than expected! It wasn’t the final version, so I wasn’t free to share it with the world (and the Internet) at large just yet, but I was free to stare at it as much as I wanted. Number 1 printed it for me on photo paper, and I slept with it on my nightstand. Then I took it to lunch to show my in-person friends the next day. Here’s the blog entry I wrote about it at the time. Can you tell I was excited? ;-)
This was one author's experience. As I'm sure you've deduced on your own, all experiences vary. Good luck, and if you have an experience of your own to share, we'd love to hear it....