For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.
With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.
How many times have you been published?
When was your first book released?
1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1
Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?
How many publishing house read your book before you signed?
How many books were included in your first contract?
42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)
Has the entirety of your publishing career been with the same publishing house?
If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with?
Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?
(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)
7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70
What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?
- Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
- It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
- Always be writing.
- Enjoy the honeymoon
- Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
- Market a lot at first, keep writing too
- Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
- Don’t compare to other authors!!
- Get an agent.
- You’re not done waiting.
- Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
- Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
- Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
- Build a mailing list!
- Keep your day job
- Be clear on the expectations
- Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
- Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
- Try not to fret social media
- Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
- Don’t be a jerk
- Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
- You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
- Be patient and keep writing
- Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
- All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
- Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
- Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
- Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
- Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
- Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
- Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
- Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
- Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
- Everything is going to be fine.
- Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
- The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
- Enjoy it!
- Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
- Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
- Start networking!
- Just keep swimming
- Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
- Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
- Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
- Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
- Ask questions!
- Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
- Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
- Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
- Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
- Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.
What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?
- Be patient and prepared for change
- None. I’m about to do the same thing.
- Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
- Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
- Be patient and start working on something else
- Keep writing.Keep submitting.
- You’ve got this.
- Keep moving forward
- Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
- If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
- Keep your chin.
- It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
- If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
- Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
- Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
- It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
- Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
- Solidarity, friends.
- Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
- Good luck and keep writing.
- Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
- All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
- Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
- Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
- Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
- Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
- Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
- It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
- Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
- Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
- Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
- As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
- My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
- It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
- Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
- Get writing on something new
- Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
- Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
- Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
- Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10
How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add?
Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.