This week marks the one-year anniversary of the night I sat binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix in my pajamas and - right in the middle of Rory and Dean's first date - received the email that changed my life:
Great news! We are all in agreement on the direction of the story.
The editors conversed and agreed we'd like to move forward with the contract stage of negotiations. You can expect a contract to be forthcoming early next week.
We look forward to working with you to flesh out Emma, Jesse, and Andy's stories and making a statement to the teen community on the dangers of bullying!
Thank you so much!
What an incredible feeling it was to see those words in print, to know that after all my years of journaling, reading, studying, working, drafting, querying, and rejection I would actually become a published author. And the wonder of it hasn't ceased. But, along the way, I've learned that there's a lot more work that comes in the weeks and months after a "Yes". And that's what I want to talk about today.
I can't speak for an author working with a literary agent or traditional publisher. Since I was published by a small press, I was able to do without the agent and work on The Best Kept Secret directly with my publisher. I got to know these women on a first-name basis and they all introduced themselves to me during this process. I worked primarily with the Acquisitions Editor on my contract, and she answered all my questions. It was pretty short and sweet, and within a week or two, we had everything signed and ready to go.
Before we could really get started on the story, there were changes Bookfish wanted me to make to my manuscript, things they knew needed additional work before they could even think about working on the heavy stuff. So I spent about a month going through their bullet points and making requested changes as best as I saw fit. Pre-editing wasn't so much about getting the book to a publishable stage, but getting it to an editable stage. Some authors have a harder time with this than I did, but I knew when I first queried Bookfish that there were elements of the narrative I wanted to change; I just didn't know how. Pre-editing actually helped bring the story to a more cohesive place, and I was grateful for that. It made the next process (slightly) less painful.
This is the most intense part of the publishing process, at least for the author. I spent a total of about three months working with my Content Editor, Jen, on the essential pieces of my story that were not clicking or simply needed more meat. We went through about three rounds of heavy editing, and I went through thousands of gallons of coffee. There were days when I just stared at my computer, feeling like the words would not come and the pieces would never fit. But fit they did. Eventually. And I have my editor to thank for that. She was so patient and encouraging, and at times she understood my characters on an even deeper level than I did. Still, I was incredibly relieved when I got her final email.
Also, this is the period of time when authors (or at least this author) start to hate their books.
Okay, line editing is evil. It's also absolutely crucial. My Line Editor, Ellie, was fantastic. She's from Canada and I'm from Georgia, so we did have some humorous emails back and forth about local vernacular, but that just made the process more enjoyable. Also, you think you've got a solid grasp on the rules of grammar until you start working with a line editor. You don't. Ellie and I spent a few weeks going through my entire manuscript
(Actually, Ellie went through it and then I followed by clicking "Accept" or "Reject" changes. Pretty sure she had the hard job.)
When the entire editing process was complete, I could finally breathe again.
Choosing the Cover Art
Let's face it, we all judge books by their covers. So this is an important step. It's also the most fun.
Our designer, Anita, started with one initial mock-up. I really liked the photo and the lettering she selected for the title, but thought the mock-up was too bright for the subject matter. It almost looked too happy, too cute. So she made it a little darker...but then it seemed to lose its luster. So Anita sent me a link to a page where I could browse a dozen other photo options. There were a bunch of beautiful photographs, but only one I felt portrayed what The Best Kept Secret was all about. So I sent that photo her way, and she responded a few weeks later with six very different mock-ups. One of them was made using the photo I had selected. Ultimately, the Bookfish team and I went with a shot of a woman walking down a pier with a sheer scarf trailing behind her. It was beautiful, with lots of whites and blues, but there was something about it that didn't quite fit. Since we were using stock photos to create the cover, I knew the woman in the photo was a real person. And, after a few days of staring at it, I realized her hair color was too dark and, bonus, she was wearing a WEDDING BAND. It was very hard to see, but it was there. By the time we realized these small errors, we were only three days away from the cover reveal. But, by the grace of God, I received an email from Bookfish while on vacation with my family telling me they wanted Anita to try something else with the photo I had originally selected. I agreed wholeheartedly. And when I received the final mock-up, I cried right there in my hotel room. It was the cover I had never really imagined, but always knew I wanted. And that is the cover you see on The Best Kept Secret. It was a big deal for me that Bookfish cared so much about my opinion and gave me an outlet to express myself. That's one of the things I love most about them.
These days, authors - even wildly successful ones - need to do most of their own marketing. It's the world we live in, and one-on-one connection - even online - makes a huge difference in terms of book sales and readership. I started marketing my book months before we were done editing because I wanted to generate enough interest to have a strong debut. I designed my own sneak peeks using stock images and quotes from the book and posted them on social media. I posted regular updates on all my accounts - including this blog - about deadlines, editing, and cover art selection...even going so far as to post countdowns until the cover art reveal and the day of the book's release. I didn't want to drown anyone in book posts, so I spaced them out between regular updates about life (mostly Lucy). Bookfish took care of my initial blog tour: they got bloggers signed up and scheduled, and then they posted/tweeted/retweeted their little hearts out during the first few weeks after The Best Kept Secret was released. I reached out to bookstores and local shops and got myself a little radio spot on the day my book came out. I also posted the first chapter for free the week prior to the release and did a number of giveaways on Goodreads, Amazon, and my own blog. I paid for those books myself, just like I have for all my events (except for the book signing at my alma mater), but I've reaped the rewards for those investments in increased book sales and, most importantly, interest. My sales numbers are nothing extraordinary, but for a small press and a debut author? I've been told they're some of the best Bookfish has seen. And that's pretty darn amazing to me.
I'm still hard at work, doing giveaways online and taking advantage of my connections to garner additional book reviews online. Reviews from fans (or haters) are vital. I can talk about - or pay people to talk about - how amazing my book is until I'm blue in the face, but unless people are reading the book and sharing their opinions with other potential readers, it's not going to get me very far. And it's an ongoing process. I'll be marketing this book until the day I die because I believe in it that much. And it's actually kind of fun.
I've covered most of this in the Marketing section, but I'll add a little more. The work doesn't stop at "Yes" and it doesn't stop when the book comes out. It keeps going as long as you want to have a career. And I plan on having one for a long time. My ultimate goal is to become a New York Times Bestseller - and to actually make a living as an author - but even if that happens I'm still going to hustle. It takes all of three seconds for any given post online to be lost in a sea of updates, so it takes consistency. And it takes planning. It also takes a lot of patience and passion for what you're doing, which means you need to keep reminding yourself why you started writing in the first place. I'm lucky because instead of rejection letters to push me forward, I now have a book on my coffee table with my name on the front cover. And I'd like to see two or three or twenty more, not because I have to be voted "Most Popular" to be satisfied (I've never gotten that vote in my life!) but because I'm a writer. And writing is what I do.
I hope this post has helped you understand a little bit more about the publishing process! And I hope, if you're a writer, that it has encouraged you to keep going. We're all in this together.*
*cue High School Musical theme song