Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Publishing Process and last round's winners

By Jill Williamson

Today we’re going to daydream. Pretend you have an agent and you two have worked hard to get your book and book proposal perfected. Now she's ready to submit your proposal to an editor. She will likely send a quick email to tell you, “Just submitted your proposal to Tom over at ACB Publishers. Now we’ll wait and see what they say!” Depending on how you communicate with your agent, she might call you to tell you this.

What happens next depends on the publishing house. Some houses are really slow. Some move faster. So you might get an update from your agent in a few weeks, or you might not hear anything for many months.

Meanwhile, here's what Tom is up to over at ACB Publishers. As the young adult editor at ABC, he works from seven in the morning to about eight at night. He’s on salary, so there is no overtime pay. He works on about twenty-five books in a year. Today he’s working on a content edit for one title, slogging through some more pages of a line edit on another, he’s got a meeting with a cover designer to give feedback on a reprint cover, he’s got to talk to Rachel in marketing about a book trailer, he needs to call the publicist in New York to talk out some ideas one of his authors has for promoting her book, he has a meeting with his boss, the publisher, to touch base, and he had 356 emails in his inbox, including some projects to reject, and he'd love to get his inbox to 300 before he goes home.

A few weeks later your agent calls to follow up. No, Tom hasn’t had a chance to read your proposal yet but promises to try and get to it today.

When Tom finally gets a chance to read it, he LOVES it! He still needs a good fantasy project in his spring 2014 line, and this could be the book! He’s so excited he puts the project on the agenda for the next editorial board meeting. He doesn’t have time to call your agent and let him know this, however. So you don't know either!

But Tom does bring your proposal to the next editorial board meeting. At ABC, this meeting is made up of four people: Tom, the YA editor; Sue, the children’s editor; Kathy, the middle grade editor; and Mike, the editorial director, a guy in charge of all the editors. Even though each of these editors are responsible for different things, they work as a team when they develop the ABC children’s line. In this meeting Tom will pitch your project to the other editors. If they hate it, they’ll say so. And if Tom can’t get the editorial board excited about your book, he likely won’t take it any further. Your book might be rejected here.

Here is a sample conversation from the editorial meeting after Tom presented your book to the team:

Kathy (middle grade): I love it. But the premise sounds younger. Maybe you should send it to me.
Mike (editorial director): Tom, you think this should maybe be a middle grade project?
Tom: No. I want this one for YA. I think it has great appeal for an older reader.
Sue (children’s): My concern is that this is a new author. You’re so busy right now. Do you have time to work with a new author? You know how they can be.
Tom: I love this project so much it will be worth the extra effort. I’ll work on it from home if I have to.
Mike (editorial director): Wow, okay. Who’s the agent?
Tom: Melanie Smith.
Mike (editorial director): Good! Melanie wouldn’t send us someone who couldn’t follow through.

The editorial board likes the project, so Tom makes a note to include your book in the next pub board meeting and puts the whole thing out of his mind. He’s got a lot to do, after all.

Since the pub board—publishing board—only meets once a month at ABC Publishers, the next time your agent follows up, she learns that Tom intends to present your proposal there. Tom tells your agent how much he loves the project and is hoping it will fill that last publishing slot in the spring 2014 line. Your agent emails or calls you to relay this information.

You're doing a happy dance. You want to tell everyone and their cat, but you hold back. There is still a long way to go.

Things are still crazy over at ABC, so crazy, in fact, that the next pub board meeting got pushed back two weeks to deal with a crisis from a bestselling author who demanded a six-month extension on a book that’s already pre-sold 200,000 copies. It’s “all hands on deck” at ABC to fix this thing. Thankfully, Tom is not the editor working with this bestselling prima donna, but he still gets drawn into the drama.

Eventually, the pub board meeting rolls around. This meeting takes place in a long room at a big table with chairs all around it and a lot of snacks in the center. Since ABC Publishers is a smaller house, there are only ten people present. The publisher (boss), the editorial team (Tom, Sue, Kathy, and Mike), the sales director, his top sales rep, the marketing director Rachel, her assistant, and the finance director.

Here Tom gets his (and your) big chance. He spent a few hours preparing a video presentation to illustrate your project to the pub board. Mike tells everyone that Tom is going to present a young adult fantasy novel by a new author and that the editorial board things this could fill that last slot for spring.

Sales Director: I think this one is great. It’s got a Percy Jackson meets Hunger Games vibe that I can totally sell.
Publisher: I still don’t understand what a crowl is.
Marketing director: Offspring of the gods and an elf. Think Galadriel.
Publisher: So it’s Lord of the Rings meets Percy Jackson meets Hunger Games?
Sales: I like adding Tolkien. That will tie in with the upcoming Hobbit movie.
Publisher: But didn't Percy Jackson do the Greek god thing to death? Can we sell Greek gods anymore?
Marketing director: This one isn’t Greek gods. They’re crowls, which are Greek-like gods set in a fantasy world.
Sales director: I can sell anything I can relate to the Hobbit right now, you bet.
Publisher: Okay, Tom, tell us about these crowls.

Everyone is silent as Tom shares your plot in pictures, almost how a book trailer might look, though Tom narrates the story himself. He also presents the profit and loss statement and talks about sales figures for similar titles, how you have a YouTube channel where you post humorous video book reviews and have a huge following, and how he thinks you would be a great author for ABC.

Publisher: And you want this for spring 2014? You think a new author can turn around the edits that fast?
Tom: Yes. And I’m willing to put in the extra time to make it work.
Mike: The manuscript is done. And the writing is great. 
Finance Director: But it’s a lot to invest in an unproven novelist. Can you sell really sell twenty thousand copies on a new author? 
Sales: With the Hobbit angle, I can sell fifty. 
Finance Director: *snorts* Sure you can.
Publisher: I still don’t understand what a crowl is. It sounds like crone, and what teen wants to read about old ladies?
Sales: A crowl is the new hobbit.
Marketing: A crowl is nothing like a hobbit.
Sales: It is if I say it is.
Marketing: Whatever.
Mike: Well? Do we make an offer on this one?
Finance: Cut that advance in half and I say yes.
Sales: I say yes. I’ve been looking for a Hobbit angle to sell.
Marketing Director: I vote yes. It’s clever and smart, but accessible.
Publisher: It’s not my kind of book, but I didn’t like vampires or the dystopian craze, either, so I trust your judgment, Mike. And if we can sell twenty-five at the lower advance, I’ll go for it.

And so you get an email or phone call from your agent with an official offer from the publisher! Hallelujah! And offer might look like this:

1. World English language rights
2. All international language rights, worldwide
3. All electronic/digital and ebook rights to the text of the book
4. Non-dramatic audio rights, both on a hard medium (such as a CD) and digital audio download rights
5. DVD curriculum rights

Advance: $5,000 ($2,500 payable on the receipt of signed contract, $2,500  payable on acceptance of manuscript)
Royalty: On 1 to 20,000 copies sold 8% of net, on 20,001 to 40,000 copies sold 9% of net, and on 40,001 and up 10% of net.
Format: Softcover, $9.99, approximately 300 pages
Delivery: April 2013
Target Publication: March 2014

Here you might bring up your concerns over the advance, the royalty rate, or when the manuscript is due. Your agent will negotiate this with the editor and, once she's done, email you a PDF of the book contract. You read this carefully, ask your agent any questions you have, and when you’re done, print three copies, sign each contract, initial each page, and mail them off to the publisher, who will process them, keep a copy for themselves, mail one to you, and the other to your agent. Sometime later, you’ll receive the first half of your advance payment in the mail, minus your agent’s 15%.

What happens next? Tune in next Tuesday to find out.

So what do you think so far? Did you realize how many people the acquisitions editor needs to convince to publish your story? Did you realize that his job was so much more than reading new manuscripts?

And congratulations to those who finalled in last round's contest!

First Place
Lindsey Bradford
Rebekah Hart

Second Place
Elyssa Blow
MacKenzie Pauline

Third Place
Skye Hoffert
Margaret Paquette

Honorable Mentions
Taylor Copeland
Eliza Salinas
Julie-Anne Hepfner
Laurie J. Curtis


  1. Cool post! I wonder how they work with books all the time and don't get sick of it? That's my one fear of being an author--that I would get tired of writing all the time and get burned out. But I guess it's a risk you have to take if you want people reading the book, huh?

    1. Allison, most writers I know express frustration over not writing MORE. With marketing and all that a writer is expected to do these days, work time is surprisingly diverse.

    2. That's true for me, Stephanie. I have so many ideas and not enough time to write them all. I'll never get sick of writing. But I often get sick of a project or of marketing and the other stuff.

    3. I rarely tire of it, but sometimes I need time away. Like last week after I finished editing, ugh, at that point i was so tired of the story! Glad to know getting tired of it is rare!

    4. Sometimes, I think you just need time away from whatever project you're working on. I just started working again on a story I had written a couple months ago. At the time, it was the greatest idea ever, but then I spent every single moment on the story, and the spark faded away. Ever since I picked the project back up, I have been so excited about it again and more ideas have been flowing!

  2. This is such a great post! I've learned so much about the publishing process since joining GTW, but mostly what I know is from the writer's angle. I loved reading about what may go on from the editor's and publishing house's angle. When everyone agreed to make an offer, I was so excited and it wasn't even my book! :P

    BTW, I think you could totally start a crowl fan club now. I know I'm intrigued. ;)

    1. LOL!

      Yeah, that crowl thing came from out of nowhere. And my little script was a very short and very best case scenario. What happens most often is that the sales people shoot down lots of good ideas because they can't see how to push the book. It's kind of sad. And those meetings often go on and on and on for hours. Every editor has a project or two to pitch, and they also will talk about where they are on current projects, what's selling well, what is selling poorly, things like that.

      Crowls rule!

  3. Great post!! It really helps me understand what all goes on. Very insightful.

    Thank you so much!

  4. I want to thank you for this post. The way you added dialog made the process come alive for me, and I know understanding what all these poor editors have to do will make me much more understanding when I finally get to submitting my novel. It was interesting to see things from their POV as well; so often editors get cast as the bad-guys who won't publish the protagonist's book, but this shows that there is a lot more going on. I do have to ask though: is that the normal size of a royalty for a debut author? I knew it was hard to make money as an author, but I didn't realize they'd pay me $0.08 a book. And what about the rights on the contract? Are those normal? And what do they mean; what all do they entail?
    Thanks again!!

    1. Yes, editors are people too, and they are very busy. But they are nice and several have informed me in the past that they don't bite. They really are looking for the perfect project, but they have a lot of people to convince. But they work hard to present the projects they believe in to the pub board and they fight for the book they love. Which is cool.

      Royalties for a debut author often start at 8%. Your agent can try to negotiate a higher rate. Most authors only make their advance on their books. Of all the books published, few books become blockbuster bestsellers. But publishers are always looking for authors who can produce great content. Books that will sell steadily, even if they don't even become bestsellers.

      I will say that having been published with Marcher Lord Press, a small press that gives no advance but a large royalty, and with Zondervan, that gives a large advance but a low royalty, the money, so far, is about the same. But I've sold many more copies with Zondervan because they are in bookstores and have a larger reach. Where Marcher Lord Press is online sales only. But it takes time to build your name. The more books I write, the more people hear about me, and maybe someday I'll get lucky and have one book breakout a little, which will bring attention to all my other books. Being a full-time author is an investment. Very, very few authors breakout in a success story like Rowling or Meyer or Collins. It's rare. Most authors work hard and build a brand for themselves over time. And that 8-15% adds up. And the more successful you are, the bigger royalty rate you can negotiate for yourself.

      The publisher will ask for all the rights, but the contract "should" say that if the book goes out of print or should it stop selling a certain amount of copies, the author can ask for the rights back. My contract says that I can ask for the rights back after four months of the publisher either putting my book out of print or my book having super low sales. And the contract says the number. It's like 250 copies a quarter, or something like that.

      This clause protects me from the publisher hanging onto the right of my book when they're no longer making any copies or selling only the ebook. I can get the rights back, sell them to another publisher or publish them myself, should I want to.

  5. This was an amazing post. Thank you! I love the dialogue - the way you made it humorous really gets across the idea that these people are actually humans, not just robots with red pens who speak in scary monotones. :)

    1. Thanks, Allisons! Yep, real people they are. My editor at Zondervan is a huge Halo fan and she loves to dress up in costumes when she pitches books. (It's that fun!)

      And my editor at Marcher Lord Press is married with three kids, one of which he and his wife adopted from China. And he loves science fiction!

  6. Way to go winners :)
    Ha ha, now I'm scared to get published xD It's a difficult process!

    1. It's a lot of hard work, but it is so worth it! Don't be intimidated. Editors continually need good stories of they'd fail at their jobs!

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  8. Jill, this was edge-of-my-seat fascinating...wowzers, there's a lot involved that I *knew* of as in I-know-piranhas-exist but now I understand much better. Thanks for this! Can't wait to see part two when I get back from my mission trip!

    1. You're welcome, Rachelle! :-) I hope you have a fabulous mission trip!

  9. This was *very* interesting! Thanks! Since this is a best-case scenario, is the profit (royalties, advances) also best-case? I want to get an idea about if you can make more if you self-publish.

    Thanks again for the awesome post!

    1. No. It depends on the publisher, honestly. And young adult tends to pay less than adult because the adult market is bigger. (There are more adults in the world than teens.) Best case for a first-time author might be a 20,000 advance and 12% royalties, but you'd have to have an AMAZING project that publishers are fighting over. And that does happen. It's called a bidding war. Your agent would send your proposal to several houses in hopes that they'd all want it, then they'd start bidding. And may the highest bidder win.

      That's every author's--and agent's--dream.

      So, you have the potential to make more with self-publishing, but you don't have the audience. And when you publish--at least the first few books--with a traditional publisher, they'll sell your book for you. They'll market it. They'll get your radio and blog interviews. They'll get Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist to read your book and review it. These are things that self published authors can't do so easily for themselves. In fact, small publishers even have trouble with it. I helped Marcher Lord Press get reviews in the beginning and it was difficult. And some stores didn't accept MLP as legit until I won the Christy Award for By Darkness Hid. It's not fair. But at the same time, you see how busy the editor was. The editors who work at magazines are just as busy, and they can't read every self-published book that lands on their desks, so they just say no to all of them.

      All that to say, you "can" make more self-publishing, but very few make over $500. Because there are just so many books out there and no one knows who you are. It's the whole platform dilemma. It's a tough one.

  10. This was such a great post, Ms. Williamson! It really helps to understand what goes on "behind the scenes" at a publishing house. I really enjoyed reading the dialogue, too! :)

    Just out of curiosity, what do you think the hardest part of being a published author is?

    1. Thanks, Jill! :-)

      For me, it's the insecurity that creeps up and tells me I stink and no one wants to read my dumb old books, anyway!

      I don't like that voice. And I try to ignore it. But it's always there, whispering at me.

      But I keep plugging away because I love this too much, and I know the voice is wrong.

      I also have trouble finding time to write. I'm so random and busy that I'll waste countless hours doing who knows what instead of writing. So I have to crack the whip and just type, even if it's icky. I can always fix it later.

  11. This was a great post! I love the conversation about what a 'crowl' is...I guess I never thought of these publishing-business people as every being interested in the *story.* I imagined them to be all business, talking about sales and marketing, etc. It's nice to think that the reason they want to publish someone's story is because the *like* it (and it fits into their schedules and plans, of course.)

    And congrats to the winners!!

    1. Yep, they want a story that they like, if they can get it. Especially the editor who has to work on it with the author. The sales guys tend to be more business oriented, I think. :-)

    2. This is such a good point. I've never thought about whether or not publisher's like your book or not... Because I've been so busy focusing on how things look from the non-published side! But I love that they love your story. :D

  12. In all honesty, it sounds very frustrating. First time I go through it I'll be going insane.
    At the same time, I feel a little bad for those that work for publishers. Are they always so harried??

    You know the whole statistics thing abour writing...so many people want to write a book. Some small % actually do & then an even smaller % are publisher. Then another smaller, smaller % are multi-published. Do you think it's a matter of perseverance or that some no matter how persaverant won't be published?

    1. I think they are. Publishing is a deadline kind of business. And not every employee plans in advance for things. So I expect that most publishing houses get that way. There would be lulls of slow times too. Depends on the season, I expect.

      And it can be very frustrating. But I wouldn't trade it. I worked in the fashion industry for five years before I started writing. That was so much worse! I love the publishing industry in comparison. It's not all roses, of course, but you get used to it.

      Absolutely persistence matters. I am not an amazing writer. I try to tell an fun story and to write interesting characters, but I'll never win a Pulitzer. I know that. I'm just not a literary genius. I write what I write.


      I have always been crazy persistent. Nobody tells Jill she can do something. And when I want something, I am patient and will keep at it until I win. And most authors who get published are that way. They're the ones who didn't give up even when it was hard.

      The same is true of any profession. Think of Olympians or doctors or lawyers or musicians or actors. They stuck with it. They failed a lot. They invested a lot of time and effort and money. Nothing comes free in life. And while you always hear those rare success stories and cling to them and hope, there is no better formula for success than blood, sweat, and tears. It's so very worth it! So be persistent! Put in the time to learn and grow and you will make it, methinks.

    2. You worked in the fashion industry! That's so exciting. What did you do?
      My resting WIP has a fashion theme :)

    3. I was an assistant designer. My first job was cost sheets. I figured out what each dress cost. I also cut a lot of swatches, assigned style numbers. In my second job, I also ordered buttons, made beaded straps, drew sketches of each style for the line book then switched to taking pictures of them later on. I was also in charge of tagging the line and mailing it out to New York--this was stressful. If you ever need to pick my brain, feel free. :-)

  13. Congrats to all the winners! Any chance we'll be able to see some of the winning entries?

    And Ms. Williamson, thanks so much for this post! I'm nowhere near this stage yet, but it does make it a little less scary :) Apparently editors and sales and marketing directors are real people too, haha.

    1. Yep. And most of them have two eyes, two non-pointed ears, a nose, and a mouth. Totally human, non-alien beings. :-)

    2. Yes, the winning entries will be posted on Friday. It takes a bit to get all the emails sent out and receive permission to post them. Thanks for asking!

  14. Lydia Grace HartJune 19, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    So proud :) "Can I get a WHOOP-WHOOP?"

  15. "With the hobbit angle I can sell anything!"

    LOL :D

    Great post. Made me laugh, and I love getting a little peek into the publishing process.

    1. Thanks, Lauren. ;-)
      Laughing is good.
      Want to laugh?

  16. Wow... this post gave me a whole new respect for editor people and such! I knew their job had to be difficult, even though I never think about it, when I do start submitting my book I will keep in mind all the hard work they do... and thank them profusely when they do read it x)! lol.
    I do writing for the sake of writing though, and I don't think I'll ever focus just on the money aspect of it. I want to do my small part to put great *clean* literature back into the world. It's hard to find a good book that's clean... usually you find either a good book with icky content or a really drab clean book. Sadness. :(

    1. Yeah, I think editors deal with a lot of drama.

      Jazmine, you have a great goal. Go, amazing yet clean fiction! Keep at it!

    2. Jazmine, I am totally with you on this! This is what I want to do too! The world needs more positive, clean fiction, and to be taught that it doesn't have to have icky stuff to be a decent - or even awesome - story. A story's awesomeness depends on the story itself and its message, not how icky/unicky its content is, and I think a lot of people (especially some teens) have forgotten it. Here's to putting good clean fiction back on the shelves!!

  17. Fun!!!.....Are editors really that goofy?;)

    1. Oh, yeah. I think they're even more goofy. In fact, my editor sometimes wears costumes or does puppet shows when she pitches her projects. Seriously. Gotta do something to liven things up a bit after the financial person does their thing, right?

    2. Haha, that's awesome!

  18. Um, Jill? You kind of write so good that I forgot I was reading a blog post and thought I was reading a novel about editors. Great story -- I was hooked!:P

    1. Yeah, Jill, those Christy people seem rather fond of you....

    2. LOL! Thanks, Emii!

      Oooh... I story about an editor. I wonder if mine would let me follow her around for a week as research. Hmmm. Probably not.

      Steph- :-)

  19. You do realize, Ms. Williamson, that you will have to write novels about editors and crowls now, don't you? ; ) Thanks for a great post!

  20. Maybe I should start a FB page for The Crowl...

    1. Do it, do it do it! Seriously. I will join (once I get a FB account) and it will make my day.

  21. Dear Ms. Williamson,
    Do I have to get an agent? Can my writing sell itself without an agent's help? (I have to finish my novel first...)

  22. This was really helpful, I've always envisioned editors as these villains who hide in a scary fortress, cackling and tossing manuscripts into a big bonfire.

  23. The way you talk in this post it sounds like you need to have an agent?
    Is it necessary to have one, or just harder to get published without an agent?

    1. Are they absolutely necessary for getting published? No. I've met a few multi-published writers who did it without an agent. Usually they met an editor at a conference or something like that. It's definitely easier to get publishing houses to pay attention to you when you have an agent, though.

      And, really, what you want is the RIGHT agent. Here's a post I wrote about that: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/10/finding-right-literary-agent-for-you.html

  24. What's a good number of words for a novel?
    Also, is it possible for writing to be a part time career? Or is it only full time?