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My publisher hasn’t requested I do anything this past week, so I thought I’d share some of the books that I enjoy, that formed the author I am right now.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. If you’d asked me before 2013 what my favorite book was, I would have had a different answer. Hemingway said ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ This book if full of true sentences. It’s the story of an Englishman who lives in Southern California and works at a university in downtown Los Angeles. Christopher Isherwood was an English expat who lived in Santa Monica and worked at USC. True sentences.
While I love this book, the literary world seems divided. One of my friends, also a writer, read this book and absolutely hated the whole thing. Give it a try, I hope you’ll like it.  Fiction, but really a fictionalized account of the author’s life.

Detroit by Charlie LeDuff. This is the story of Mr. LeDuff’s two years at the Detroit News, and what he learned about the corruption and incompetence in the city that’s become the example for everything that’s gone wrong in America. It’s also a story of self-discovery for Mr. LeDuff and a lesson in ‘no matter how bad you think it is, the truth can be much, much worse.’ Non-fiction.

Dune by Frank Herbert. This is the space opera saga that David Lynch made into a pretty terrible movie, and that the SciFi channel made into a pretty decent mini series. The book, however, explores economic, political, and social themes while building an entire marvelous universe. My actual favorite book of the series is Chapterhouse Dune, but that’s the sixth book in the series and way down the rabbit hole of fandom. If you want to read the series you have to start with the first one, Dune.  Fiction

The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien. This is the second book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the shortest. It was The Hobbit that really got me reading sci-fi and fantasy all those years ago, but it was this book that sealed the deal. You really should start with The Fellowship of the Ring, but speed through that one to get to this one.  Fiction.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. This is the author’s first novel, and, wow is it good. It’s historical fiction with a fantasy element, the story of the immigrant experience in the USA just before the turn of the 20th Century, and it’s an allegory of man and woman coming together despite vastly different experiences in society.  Fiction.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I used to work as a waiter and a cook, and Mr. Bourdain’s book was like going back to work at the restaurant on a slammed Friday night. A great, completely true account of his time working as a cook and a chef. It’s a tragedy that he took his life recently, I know he had volumes more books like this one in him. Non-fiction.

Promethea by Alan Moore and JH Williams III. I’m a comic book guy – or used to be – and this is by far my favorite series. Alan Moore posits a heroine of the Immateria, or the imagination, who’s lived in many incarnations tied to mortals. The comics came out almost 20 years ago, and you can probably find them in comic shops, but the collected editions are available and the best way to catch up on the entire story. You can spend $10-$15 for one of the regular editions, $20 for one of the anniversary editions, or over $100 for one of the Absolute editions.  Graphic novel.

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Last time, I ended with my need to find out more about the editing process. There are developmental edits, copy edits, and proofreading, and these different phases take up a large part of the publishing process. So what happens in each one?

Developmental edit: this phase examines the manuscript as an entire story, including all the vital elements. Does it hold together? Does it move to slowly in some parts, or too quickly in others? Does the story fit the target audience? The editor will look for character development, plot, tone, and voice to make sure those things are consistent throughout the manuscript. Typically, the editor will not focus on typos or grammatical errors because whole sections of the text might need to be rewritten or might get thrown out entirely. There is back-and-forth between author and editor in this phase.

Copy edit: the meat and potatoes of editing. This phase is like handing your manuscript over to your 9th-grade English teacher, you’re gonna get it back dripping with red ink. This phase is where editors work on spelling and grammar and sentence structure and paragraph construction. There is back-and-forth between author and editor in this phase, too.

Proofreading: essentially the last pass at copy editing. This is the detail phase where the editor is trying to catch every remaining error. Which is, of course, impossible. I’m sure everyone has seen typos in major book releases, it’s unavoidable. But the editors in this phase try to get it perfect. This is usually an editor-only process, with author review after it’s finished.

Now that we know what’s involved, at least at a high level, with each editing phase, I can see a couple of possible issues.  And by that, I mean issues I’ll have with the process.

Dev edit – the editor and I might disagree on some major points, like tone, or target audience, pacing, or even major plot points. I hope this doesn’t happen, but I need to decide how I’m going to deal with a disagreement like this if it comes up.  I’ll probably defer to their expertise, unless their expertise suggests something stupid.

Copy edit – I need to repeat my mantra of ‘be patient, be kind’ when this phase starts. I hate, hate, hate nitpicky edits to my stuff, and that’s something I’m going to have to get past. Yeah, I ended a sentence with a preposition, so what?

Proofreading – I’ll have a go at it when the time comes, but, honestly, by that stage I will have gone through the manuscript three or four times already, I’m not sure what I could add to the proofreading process after that kind of fatigue. But I’ll grind it out.

When these phases begin, I’ll let everyone know. And, of course, I’ll keep you posted on the details as they happen.
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I got an email today regarding the schedule behind getting my novel published. As you may have guessed, it’s a lengthy process, an estimated 38 weeks. That’s a lot of weeks. I’m sure I can short-cut some of that because I’m highly motivated and can get my part of the schedule done under the estimated time. That still leaves others and their workloads to consider, though. I only have to worry about me, the publisher has to worry about me and everybody else in their pipeline.

There are seven (7) caveats the publisher puts right up front, before outlining the schedule.  These include things like larger project volume (more books in the pipeline), or complicated formatting requirements, or… author problems.  They don’t say ‘author problems’ but that’s what they mean.  More time required by the author than estimated = ‘this guy’s taking too long’ and Changes requested by author at a later stage of the project = ‘author suddenly realized he wasn’t taking this process seriously enough at the beginning.’  I get it, authors are the major barrier to getting a book published.  The whole enterprise would go so much smoother without them.

Be patient, be kind. That’s my mantra when I go to the grocery store, it’ll be my mantra with this process, too.

So what’s the schedule look like?

Contracts – 4 weeks
Developmental edits – 5 weeks including author and publisher time
Copy edits – 5 weeks including author and publisher time
Edit review – 1 week, publisher
Proofread, second editor – 2 weeks, publisher
Proofread review, author – 1 week, author
Print formatting – 1 week, publisher
Kindle formatting – 1/2 week, publisher
Formatting quality check = 1/2 week, publisher
Print and Kindle review, author – 1 week
Proof copy upload and order (I’m not sure what this means) – 1 week
Marketing and trade reviews – 16 weeks

Whew! My manuscript is going back and forth over and over again! If I’m counting right, SIX TIMES! No wonder the publisher puts a lot of language in their contracts to protect themselves, that’s a ton of work on spec. Imagine if I were a writer who didn’t know what compromise or collaboration were, I’d drive the editors crazy. I understand collaboration, but that still doesn’t mean I won’t drive the editors crazy. I’ll just try to be polite about it.

It looks like 22 weeks (-ish) for the process to reach a final product.  That’s 5 months, or somewhere in February for a release.  I’m guessing.

The first thing I want to know: what’s the difference between developmental edits, copy edits, and proofreading? Luckily, the publisher spells that out for me. I’ll fill you guys in on the details in my next post.

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Next Changes? The Editing Phases

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I got assigned my first deliverable this week. I have 14 days to hand everything over, but homey don’t play that. I’m not screwing around here, I finished in 2 days. They wanted:

  • A filled out copy of their Author Checklist.
  • The most recent version of my manuscript in .docx format.
  • A professional headshot.

The Author Checklist. No problem. At first. The doc mentions attached documents but they’re actually links. Download the links. Answer the questions, like ‘how do you want your name spelled’ and ‘what are good phone numbers’ and ‘include links to your author website.’ No issues… except… there are references to an ‘About The Author’ section in my manuscript. My manuscript doesn’t have one of those. I check the Internet (thanks Al Gore!) and don’t find anything. I decide that I’ll roll with the punches and just create an About The Author section and include everything that the Checklist seems to think should already be there. I hope I don’t miss anything, I hate re-doing work because of my own oversight. So far I’m knocking the Author Checklist out of the park.

Then I come across the item that asks for 6 alternative titles. (cue dramatic overture) Everybody should know their limits, and I’m terrible at titles. The worst. The fact that this novel has even one title is a miracle. They want SIX MORE?!! Okay… fine. I’d been zooming along with this until ‘extra title time’ came along. An evening turned into two days. I worked at it sincerely, no half-assing anything, and I got six alternative titles. But I’m sure they suck. Suck-diddly-uck. Let’s see what the publisher thinks, but I need to assure them I’m not sandbagging, I really do suck at titles.

The most recent version of my manuscript. Got it, no problems, except for that whole ‘About The Author’ page business. The publisher takes care to point out that the author will not be able to make any changes to the manuscript until the editors are done with their edits. I guess they’ve had issues with people continuing to edit their work AFTER they’ve turned over a ‘final’ copy. I got no issues with that. Done is done, at some point you have to declare it finished and walk away.

A professional headshot. I think this may be the part that trips up most writers, and might be the reason the publisher gives two weeks to get this exercise done. They don’t want a snapshot, or a crappy crop out of a larger picture, they want a professional headshot suitable for inclusion on the back cover of a book. I can see where this might generate a bit of a panic in normally-introverted writers, who might not have sunlight kiss their skin for days at a time.

I used to be a working actor. I got headshots. I got headshots in casual wear, I got headshots in office attire, I got headshots in Hawaiian shirts, I got headshots in ‘tradesman’ attire. If you want a headshot, I got every casting possibility covered.  Except sherrif, I never got a headshot in any costume.

I picked one in a nice tweed jacket because tweed just screams ‘serious author.’ Also, I’m not smiling like a serial killer. Which is nice.

First deliverable – AWAY!

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Previous The Contract – part 2

Next The Schedule

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Last time (The Contract pt. 1) I went over the negotiation process, or at least how I approached it for my contract. TLDR – know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign, and get all the help you need to reach that understanding.

I signed, they signed, we now have a legally binding document that outlines our obligations to one another as we go about getting my novel published.

Sweet. But… hold on a second. I wrote the novel, isn’t my part in this exercise pretty much over? Not even close. If you want to get your book in someone else’s hands – and have them pay you for it – then finishing a novel is just the very first part. Your publisher is putting themselves out for you, especially if you’re a first-timer, and you need to realize you have obligations too.

Marketing

In the contract, my publisher outlines very specifically what marketing they’re going to do for me. For example:

  • Provide PR leads
  • Promote my book on their website and on social media
  • Outreach to influencers
  • … etc

The contract also outlines what marketing I agree to do. For example:

  • Build a website (where you are right now)
  • Journalist and influencer outreach
  • Contacting reviewers and responding promptly
  • … etc

This is a lot of promotion and glad-handing, and we haven’t even gotten to the editing process yet! Hokey smokes, can’t I just write stuff?

Nope. Being an author means, in the parlance of our times, you gotta hustle. My publisher will do everything they can to make my novel a success, but I can’t just lay back and wait for the cash to roll in, I have to take an active role in my own success. I have no problem doing that, I actually like it, but if you’re the kind of person who really would rather not, you’re going to need to get over it. If you want someone to buy your book, they need to know that it exists in the first place. Like it or not, you’re your own marketer.

Editing

While you’re revving up your marketing engine, you’ll also be going through the editing process. I’ll get into more detail as my novel reaches those stages, but in the contract there is section dedicated to the editing process. This is perhaps the most collaborative section, since the publisher and the author need to work closely on edits. The publisher protects itself, however, by outlining that when the author is unable or unwilling to make edits, the contract terminates immediately.

Honestly, I’m behind the publisher on this one. If you’ve gone through the effort to find this work and execute a contract to publish it, and the author digs in his heels and won’t make changes to the manuscript to make it fit for publishing, they’re not really someone you want to work with anyway. As I’ve outlined elsewhere, authors used to working alone might have a problem becoming part of a collaboration.

The contract also includes sections for royalties, payments, subsidiary rights, sequel rights, controls, translations, termination, auditing, etc. If you really want to go over any of that stuff, let me know, I can make another post about it.

The process starts in earnest tomorrow. I’ll fill you in as it moves along.

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Previous The Contract part 1

Next The First Deliverables

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In the beginning there was the contract. An agreement, a meeting of the minds, a legal document that outlines the responsibilities of both parties regarding that agreement. Offer, acceptance, consideration. But what the hell does all that actually mean?

When I got that emailed contract I was almost there. Just a hair’s breadth away from my ultimate goal of getting my writing published and available for people to purchase. Now I had to read this document, digest and understand it, and then determine if I agreed with it. Even though my novel is about a murder case, I am not myself an attorney. But I know people who are. I sent the document to my friend, also named Don, to get his professional opinion.

The reason you send legal documents to an attorney is because, as your advocate, your attorney reads that contract with an eye to any potential harm to you. In my situation, Attorney Don pointed out a certain section where I would be surrendering all rights, and two other sections that needed clarification on fairly technical legal specifics. Attorney Don made the corrections he felt were necessary to protect my rights, and I sent his suggestions (three total) to the publisher.

Within half an hour the publisher roundly rejected the corrections.

Among the things that fill my day, I am a mediator, I help other people resolve their disputes. I can recognize when someone is negotiating from a disadvantaged position, and in this matter I was that guy. I had never been published before, and this offer was a close as I’d ever gotten. They had what I wanted, and if I walked away chances were good another opportunity wasn’t going to come along. The worst case scenario for them, if I didn’t sign, was that they moved on to the next author; the worst case for me was going back to Corporate America with its enforced mediocrity and 10 Federal holidays a year. I absolutely had to sign. Right?

Not so fast. People make bad decisions when they’re rushed. That’s why those timeshare sales places are terrible, they want you to buy TODAY. I mulled my options over: sign a document that was almost but not quite what I thought it should be, or refuse to sign it because it wasn’t precisely to my liking. The details are unimportant to this story, the point is I had a choice to make, one I’d seen many, many people face during my time as a mediator. When is ‘good enough’ not really good enough? When do you walk away?

I did sign. I decided that the details of the contract meant the publisher was as invested in me as I was in them. Aside from a few quibbles about wording where I didn’t get my way, I believe they’re approaching it as a partnership, just as I am. In it together, which, honestly, is a fairly freaky proposition for me (see Publishing vs. Writing).

More on the details of the contract in part 2.

Signing a contract checklist:

  • Get an attorney to read it. Yes, this will cost you money.
  • Take your attorney’s suggestions seriously. They’re your advocate, they’re looking out for you.
  • Read the entire contract yourself. Understand every part of it. You will probably need your attorney’s help here.
  • If your attorney suggests changes, understand what those changes will mean for a revised contract.
  • Recognize your position, there’s always a strong side and a weaker side. Understand your side when you negotiate.
  • Negotiate in good faith. That means you don’t have a hidden agenda and you’re not trying to cheat, swindle, or screw over the other side. You’re going to have to trust the other side is approaching it as honestly as you are.
  • When you have a final proposed contract, read and understand it thoroughly. Do not let anyone rush you. If you’re pressured to sign before you’re ready, walk away.
  • After you sign a contract, make a list of everything you’re obligated to do. Post this list prominently, and add any dates to your calendar. Structure your work towards these obligations.
  • If questions arise, talk them through with the other party. Over-communicate. Bad things happen when people don’t talk to each other.

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Previous – Publishing vs. Writing

Next – The Contract, part 2

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When my publisher contacted me with the tentative offer of a contract, I got very excited. Which, if you know me, doesn’t really happen all that often. ‘Giddy’ isn’t an adjective people associate with my face. After the initial five minute high, though, I got to thinking. That’s what always messes me up, thinking.

I’d been working alone for years. My writing schedule was my own, my choice of project was my own, my creative decisions were my own. Once I signed that contract, though, I wasn’t alone. I would have obligations and timelines and other people depending on me and my creative drive.

That’s a huge change. Going from a one-man shop to part of a highly-specialized team. Could I do it? I’m not a hermit, in my day job I work with and around other people all the time. But this was my writing. My soul. Could I share it?

I really did have to consider this carefully, and it took me more than a day, including an almost completely sleep-free night. Getting published was my end-game. The ultimate conclusion to all the effort I’d been putting in. Of course I had to sign the contract. Right?

I did sign, and I know that things are going to change. I’ve entered into a partnership, there’s a quid pro quo. My hobby is now my business. I’m going to have to roll with the punches, and I anticipate I’m going to take a lot of punches. But the end result will be worth it.

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