Well, it's been nearly a year since my book was sold to Headline Publishing, and what a year it has been!
I've learnt more about the industry and how it all works. I've learnt a lot, and I thought that I should share it! So here goes . . .
Before I even sent the manuscript to an agent I read a lot of books about the publishing industry, which were very useful indeed.
One of the first things I discovered was how difficult it is to get an agent in the first place - they take on about one tenth of one percent of the manuscripts they receive each year. To increase your odds, you must spend a lot of time reserching who is going to be the right one to approach. All too often, people send manuscripts to agents who deal with different subjects than their books, and the slew of rejections that follow can often put them off from submitting again.
So the second thing is therefore do not get put off! Everyone likes different things, and that's what makes us special.
Another thing is, of course, deciding what you want to write; but you also have to be flexible about this. Agents and editors know what sells, and like 'safe' projects, i.e. guaranteed sales. If you are unwilling to edit your book according to professional advice, don't be surprised if nobody wants to work with you!
Let's move on to the sales process. You've got an agent, and a project ready for submission - now it's out of your hands! Your agent will try to sell it really hard and get the best possible price, because agents work on commission, and it is therefore in their interests to get the highest price. The result of the price it is sold for is as follows - generally, the bigger advance you get, the more effort the publishing house will put into promoting the product. This is simple economics really, as the publishing house will need to recoup their initial investment.
There are only handful of books which become a phenomenon through word of mouth only. Generally, a book becomes a major bestseller because:
- It's picked by a famous book club or TV show (in the UK, the Richard and Judy Book Club, for example)
- It wins a major literary prize
- It has enough money behind it for marketing and promotion
- The right person happens to read it and champion it (in other words, luck!)
So, you've managed to sell your book for a decent advance. You're thrilled. There is all the build-up before publication. Your book cover is great. You get your proofs in the post. The day comes and...
Being published with a major publishing house doesn't guarantee being on the bookshelves in the bookshops! The publishing house's sales team has to sell it in to individiual places. This still doesn't guarantee that it will appear on the actual bookshelves though - copies might remain at central distribution hubs only, or (as in some reported instances from supermarkets), the books might not actually be taken out of their boxes and put it on the shelves even if they have been widely distributed.
So how do books get sold? The publishing house has to buy shelf space! As well as space in the charts. If they don't, your book can still be found on Amazon, but who will even know it exists?!
Let's talk marketing. Your book will be submitted for review to different bloggers, newspapers, magazines and so on. But in general, unless you're one of the 'lucky' ones with big cash behind you, then your expectations should be suitably modest - most of the marketing for the book will have to be done by you.
Big day - PUBLICATION of your debut has arrived! And then it has passed, as most of people don't even get a launch party (unless you organise it yourself)!
Your book is in the shops! But you have to hope that people buy it quickly, because in only three to four months, the stock will change and unless you have achieved very high sales by this time, your book will be taken out of the shops and become a 'back list' title.
So you want to check how your book is doing - be prepared to pursue this yourself, as publishing houses are not know for their timely communications! If you what to know anything, you have to ask - they do not typically supply it of their own accord.
I'm not telling you these things to moan or complain - rather, the more you know about the process, the better equipped you will be to deal with things when they happen. For instance, I had always assumed that novels published with the big houses would automatically be in every book shop in the country, and would stay there indefinitely. It was a big (and unpleasant!) surprise to find out that this is not how it works, but shows my ignorance of the industry rather than anything else! Forewarned is forearmed, and I hope you find the information useful.
Despite my lack of knowledge of how the business end of the industry works, I have to say that all the people I've met (agents, editors, booksellers, readers) are genuinely lovely, and I would definitely never want to do anything else than be a writer!
Good luck to aspiring authors - and remember to buy new authors' books! It might be you next time trying to get noticed.
May the odds be ever in your favour! :)