Tuesday, March 30, 2010

After the Call, Part I

We've been answering some questions from JT regarding the business end of things. She asked for some insight into what happens after you sell your manuscript to a publisher. Exact procedures vary somewhat from house to house, but in general, there are several departments or stages involved.


At some point, you or your agent will receive contract documents from the publisher. The contract will specify the rights being transferred, the payment for transfer (advance/royalty), options on future books, and other terms. Many of these terms, such as warranty and conflict resolution clauses, are pretty standard stuff and won't interest you much. Read them anyway, and make sure you understand them.

Depending on the publisher and the specific rights involved, your contract might be anywhere from a single page to 30 or more pages in length. Don't assume that the relative length indicates how good or bad the contract is. I've seen single-page contracts that stripped all rights and remedies from the author and two-pagers that were concise, fair, and clear. Most print contracts run longer than most e-book contracts, but there are plenty of exceptions. I just recently saw a 2-page contract for a print work, for example, from a reputable small press.

You may want to negotiate some of the specific terms. Don't be shy about that. It's expected you'll try, and it's expected you'll end up with a personally tailored contract that's somewhat different from the boilerplate we send to get started.


You may have done some editing before receiving your offer, but regardless of when it takes place, you can expect your manuscript to get put through the editing paces. This will include:
  1. Revisions, things like improving story logic, conflict, characterizations, and so on,
  2. Line editing, which is sort of like copy editing on steroids, with a spicy dash of low-level revision to keep us all awake,
  3. Copy editing for grammar, style, usage, and so on,
  4. Proofreading for typos, formatting issues, and similar "clean-up" issues after the book has been typeset.
Sometimes the four levels of editing are combined. Line editors might also copy edit as they go, for example. Copy editors might be charged with some formatting duties. A revision letter might also include instructions for line editing certain kinds of common issues. But the thing to remember through this process is that many hands will touch your manuscript, and they'll all share a common goal of improving the text. It can be disconcerting, but it's never adversarial. And it's certainly never personal.

We've talked before about how new authors are sometimes shocked by the editing process. There are other common mindsets, too, that we don't discuss as openly. But we observe that frequently the most talented and reliable authors are the ones who have crises of faith. They're the least certain of their own potential and ability. This doesn't mean that diva-esque sob stories are going to convince your editor that you're actually one of the greats in training. The great ones are also very reluctant to discuss their worries, as if airing them will expose their inadequacies. They feel lucky rather than good. They worry that their luck will abandon them, that their success so far has been a fluke, and that they'll never be able to repeat their victories, let alone continue to climb the ladder.

Then there are what I call the Adaptation trio. If you've seen the movie adaptation, you know the film is populated by several creative personalities. Susan is the creative intellectual whose success feels hollow. The twins -- no accident that they're twins, imo -- are the overeager newbie and the blocked and jaded midcareer writer. The orchid thief himself is a creative personality with commitment issues, first over-committing and then abandoning his passion in an endless quest for that one perfect creative outlet.

Believe me, we see them all. But regardless of your personality, in the end, what we all care most about is the book. It's all about the book. The pleasure of forming working relationships and getting to understand your unique place in the personality spectrum is just a bonus.

Cover Art

This is fun stuff. In most cases, you'll fill out a questionnaire for the artists. The questionnaire will ask for much more than eye color and hair color. For example, ours asks if the author prefers to show (or not to show) a bare male torso, the characters' faces, and so on. You might need to include a plot summary and any jacket blurbs.

So you'll fill out that form and probably forget about it until one day your editor shows you a draft copy of your cover. Generally, before it gets to you, it will already have been handled by an artist, an art director, an editor, sales and marketing reps, the publisher, and maybe some of the book buyers for the chains. Where you fall on this list can vary from house to house.

Depending on in-house procedures, you might be able to get changes made to the cover, and those changes might be big or small. In our house, changes to cover art are pretty rare, though, because the artists usually do a great job of honoring the questionnaire material and house style. Plus, the artists are just incredibly talented. When the covers are gorgeous to begin with, we don't see too many change requests. But they do happen sometimes.

An example of a big change: The heroine has the wrong hair color. Not just off by a shade or two, but way, way off. When this happened to a cover of ours recently, we returned it to the art director and asked for new graphics.

An example of a small change: At the request of a bookstore rep, we added some shading to one part of a cover. The art director said that wasn't difficult to do, and the result was a cover with more visual impact.

I don't know much more about the cover art process than that. I don't go to cover shoots. I don't interact with the artists. In fact, I rarely know which artist made which cover, because my contact is the art director, not the artists. She, likewise, doesn't contact the editors or authors directly, but comes to me. Yes, it adds to my email, but in a very fun way. I get to see all the squealing, happy emails when the authors first see a great cover. That's always a happy moment for me. And for everyone else, too!

Tomorrow we'll take a look at typesetting and marketing. This is a super-busy week for me, so please be patient if I'm slow to respond to questions in the comments. I see them. I am not ignoring you. We might just do a round-up post later this week and address them all at once.



Leona said...

Great post! I wondered how the cover art stuff came to be :) My contract stated I had two choices, but only got to see the second one if I didn't like the first one. I loved the first one, so that's what we went with.

Can't wait to see the next post. Thanks to JT for bringing in the business end questions :)

Julie Harrington said...

Is it dorkish that reading this blog made me squeal? LOL. Dare to dream to get this fair, that's for sure. :) And it doesn't seem *that* scary. It's so much less intimidating when you know what's coming and I love that question form thing for the cover. I've heard of houses using something like that but have always heard the author lament of "but nobody seems to read it/pay attention to it." I always love looking at romance covers and seeing what's In and what's Out as the months and years go by.

Thank you so much for tackling all these questions. It's such a huge help!


Genella deGrey said...

There are two instances when I feel like a *real* writer. One is when I'm working with a brilliant editor on my story and the other is when someone tells me the enjoyed the book.

Love this post, Theresa -

Genella deGrey said...

*they enjoyed the book.

See? Thank *God* for editors and the process!

Stephanie, PQW said...

Thanks for this post. It's very informative and reduces anxiety.

Anonymous said...

Wow, really fascinating post! Thanks, Theresa.

Like JT, I dare to dream to go this far too :)

Riley Murphy said...

Thanks, Theresa. Great information!

I once read a romance - that had a curly blonde haired woman on the cover - while every written page touted the heroine’s straight brown locks. It was tough to reconcile and you know? It really brought home the idea: that we do judge a book by it's cover. I had a visual going in and it was wrecked. I kept thinking that her hair color was going to miraculously change - but the time frame being in the early 1700's - I figured - short of a powered wig - that wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. And here it is - twenty some years later and I still remember that. *insert me shaking my head here*

I guess it could be worse for an author. I think it was Beatrice Small (in one of her earlier publications) that had a whole chapter missing in one of her books. I read the darn thing and thought - hang on a minute here. What happened to...? But it wasn't until a few years later that I read an interview of hers and she outed the fact. Can you imagine? I would have freaked!


Kristen Stieffel said...

As a copy editor, ;) I'd like to revise your statement "It's all about the book" to say "It's all about *the reader.*" Every editorial change, whether it's story structure or sentence structure or making sure the plural possessive of a surname that ends in S is formed correctly, is done to improve the reader's experience.