Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Long and Writing Road

Originally published during the Blue Fire blog tour at Tall Tales & Short Stories
So, what’s it like being a published author? you ask. Has my life changed any since I published my book?

Not as much as you’d think. There have been changes for sure, but more in the time management area than anything else. However, the first year did go differently than the second year. Not all of it was what I expected, and some of it I wished I’d been better prepared for.

Year One: Book One
What I Expected: Lots of edits from my brand new editor in the form of those “edit letters” I’d read about. Not a lot else, actually. I’d heard so much about how little authors are involved in the covers, the marketing, the business side, I wasn’t sure how much interaction I’d really have with my editor.

What I Got: A lot more attention and involvement. My edit letters (I got more than one) weren’t as bad as the stories I’d heard, and the suggestions were almost always dead on. They were similar to the critiques I get from my crit group in style and tone, so there were no “scary letter from my editor” or anything. I did the changes I agreed with, sent it back, thought I was done, then I’d get a “just a few more queries” e-mail with things she caught again. I also found it interesting that they refer to questions as “queries,” so I guess you never escape “query letters” (har har). My editor and I spoke on the phone, we e-mailed, we talked again. There was a strong sense of a partnership to make the book the best it could be.

Then came the copy edits. A post-it-apocalypse of notes and comments. All of them good, and very impressive from a proofreading standpoint. I was awed by what the copy editor caught. Things like consistency of terms, spots where the voice didn’t sound right, unclear areas, etc. Several rounds of these, same as the regular edits.

And during all this, I got to meet my publicity person from Harper (through e-mail and phone), who went over the marketing plans for the release. I got to fill out an author questionnaire to help them with their marketing efforts. I had taken an online marketing class to prepare for this, so I sent her what I’d done in class and she was thrilled. She asked me about local bookstores and events so she’d know what things to focus on.

My agent was also right there through it all, making sure I understood what everything meant and asking questions I hadn’t known to ask. She also kept me updated on marketing efforts, print runs, how the bookstores were reacting to the book. She definitely had my back the whole time.

What Surprised Me: The edits were done on hard copy. I fully expected it all to be electronic. I was also allowed to participate in my cover designs. My day job is as a graphic designer, so the cover was important to me. I asked to be included and my editor graciously said yes. I was also surprised by the sheer number of people working behind the scenes to make sure my book was as good as it could be. The biggest surprise though, was how much influence book buyers have. Two major chains in the US didn’t like my title (though they loved the book), so we changed the title. It makes sense now, but I wasn’t expecting that.

What I Wish I’d Known: Even though I took the marketing class, I wish I’d done more to prepare for that side of it. My publisher did a lot, but I feel like I missed a few opportunities here and there over that first year. It wasn’t until much later that I figured out a good pitch line to describe my book to folks who asked (and they do ask). Or had cards printed up so I had something to hand them when they did ask. Or a catchy “sales speak” tagline about my book to put on my website and marketing materials. I was still treating my book like a book, but by then, it had become a product that needed selling.

Year Two: Book Two
What I Expected: The same things that happened in book one. Every book goes through the same process, right? Book two would be as easy to write as book one, and everything would go just as smoothly.

What I Got: Second books are different on practically every level. They aren’t kidding about that second-book slump, where your second published novel is hard to write and makes you want to give up. There was also less hand holding. My editor was as attentive as before, and I didn’t feel neglected, but she knew I’d been though it and now I understood how things worked. And she knew how I worked and knew I wasn’t going to melt down if she had a lot of comments or wanted me to do any major revisions. The copy edits were the same, though we did a lot more of them since the book was such a mess at first.

I also was assigned a new publicity person. They don’t do as much marketing on second books because you already have a reader base from book one. So that meant a little more effort on my part.

They let me become even more involved in the cover design, and I got to create mock ups for the illustrator. The cover of Blue Fire is my concept, (so is the idea for book three) and illustrator Brandon Dorman did an amazing job with it. This meant so much to me as a designer.

What Surprised Me: How hard book two was. I’d written plenty of novels, so it wasn’t like it was a real second book. But trust me, the book you write under contract feels a lot differently. I was also surprised by the change in the marketing, though it made sense, because my first PR person dealt more with debut novels, and I was no longer a debut. The biggest surprise – how supportive everyone was about me missing my deadlines and struggling so much with the novel. They all knew this happens and they were right there helping me through it. The book would not be getting the great reviews it’s getting now if it weren’t for my editor and agent. They had the faith that I could do it when I didn’t. They pushed me to do better and made me realize I really could do this.

What I Wish I’d Known: How hard it was going to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was all worth it, but the pressure is a lot higher on a second book. You’re writing book two while book one is out there, and you’re checking sales figures and reading reviews, and promoting your work and that takes a lot of time and energy away from the writing. And most books aren’t a runaway bestseller out of the gate, so there’s that added worry that your book will fail, even when it’s getting good reviews. You feel like you need to do so much, but the more you do the more you wear yourself out. You need to pace yourself, take care of yourself so you can stay in for the long haul.

The Year Three: Book Three Plan
I’m better prepared now. I know what to expect on both sides, good and bad. I’ll schedule my time and efforts better so I’m not so overwhelmed. I’ll work on marketing efforts far enough in advance so I’m ready for opportunities and not rushing at the last minute to get everything done. I’ll take a more proactive hand in marking and promotion, but not let it take over so I’m not getting any writing done. I think I’ll be able to find that balance between life, day job, and writing so none of them suffer and I’m not a crazy person half the year.

At least that’s the plan...

ETA: Since this was first posted last year, and now book three is done, I thought it would be fun to see if I accomplished my book three plan.  I'm happy to say I pretty much did. Darkfall took a little longer than expected, and I needed to do two drafts before I was happy, but it was a much easier book to write overall. The hard stuff was tough only because it was wrapping up the series so there were a lot of things to tie up and keep track of. That required more tweaking on my part. I didn't balance life and writing as well as I'd hoped, but I did balance writing and marketing. 


  1. Thank you for posting this. So much of my awareness of what it's like to be a writer is based on everything up to and including the query letter stag that I don't know anything about what happens after that.

    Sounds terrifying and exciting!

  2. Paul: Most welcome. Terrifying and exciting about sums it up :) Mostly good stuff though. My experience has been wonderful so far.

  3. This is an awesome post Janice. It's great to read about what happens behind the scenes. I've just started querying my first novel, and I'm in the "notes stage" of planning my second, so what you wrote about book #2 really resonated.

    Thanks for the information. I really like this kind of post.


  4. This does sound awesome! So often we don't hear about what happens after you get published. It's good to see what waits for us on that side of things.

    Are you going to do marketing posts? Or talk about some of the things you did to promote your book? I know you did a blog tour, but I am not sure of what else. :D

  5. I'd love to know more about the marketing class you took online or any of the marketing stuff you'd care to share :)

    Thank you for this whole article. I try really hard to learn from what other people go through, and I know my weak link is marketing, so...

  6. It was good to read this again. I'm with Paul above, I never really thought beyond querying my first novel so it's nice to have an insight into what happened next. The idea of marketing both fascinates and terrifies me!

  7. Janice, this is a really wonderful post! thank you so much for sharing this journey with us and pointing out all the ups and downs. This really, really helps and it's very generous of you to share it with us. Best of luck, and I can't wait to read Darkfall!!! I really miss those characters!

  8. Wow thanks - this was so informative! It's great to get some behind the scenes info :)

  9. It's great to hear about the goings-on behind the scenes for traditional authors. I've heard a lot of negative on editors, how much control you have of cover design, etc. It's interesting to hear your story, which is in direct contrast. Would you say your experience has been an exceptionally good one or that the negative is overhyped?

  10. Thanks so much for sharing your journey--this was very insightful!

  11. That's hugely helpful to know, and there are a lot of things in this post I didn't! I wonder if it's about the same experience for other published writers.

  12. Wow! I feel like I could've written this myself and you have no idea how much better that makes me feel! Thank you for this!! I'm a month out from my debut release date, and 6 weeks out from my revision due date on Book 2, and holy cow is it different this time around! Definitely harder, esp. because of the time management. But I love that you've gotten it under control. Give me hope! Thanks again for a great post!

  13. Tracey: Thanks! Good luck with your querying.

    Elizabeth: That's one of the reason I like to talk about it. I know I was curious (heck, still am) about the whole process. I've done some marketing posts, and I'll probably do more as I ramp up for Darkfall's release. You can always click the "marketing" link in the menu and see what I've done in the past.

    Suzi: It was MJ Rose's Buzz Your Book. I just checked the link and it's broken at the moment (Backspace hosts it and they just redesigned their site) but you can probably get some info here:

    I believe she also has a book out as well which probably covers what the class did. Just not the instructor feedback.

    Sarah: It's a little scary but it hasn't been that bad really. Most of it is just trying different things until you find a set you enjoy. What you like to do and can keep up with matters more than the details. It's all about making connections.

    Melanie: Most welcome! and thanks so much :) Hard to believe the story is over now. I've been living with them for so long.

    WritersBlockNZ: Anytime :)

    Elisa Michelle: Probably both. I think the negative stuff gets talked about more (gossip travels fast), and many authors are just too busy, or prefer to be private, about what goes on after the sale. I think I've been lucky to work with wonderful folks, but I don't think my experience is that different from the norm. At least I hope not!

    Elle: Most welcome!

    Chazley: I imagine it's pretty similar. There are bound to be some differences in how houses and people work, but the process is basically the same no matter where you go.

    Jess: You're welcome! And grats and good luck on your upcoming release. There's hope for sure :) Both my agent and editor told me my book two struggles were normal and practically everyone goes though it. You'll make it ;)

  14. Thanks so much for sharing, Janice! I love reading these kinds of posts because while we often find a lot of information about finding an agent and writing the first book, I haven't found much on what happens after that first contract is signed. Great insights here!

  15. Thanks! I wonder if authors aren't sure what they can and can't say? Maybe that's why you don;t see as much of it.