A debut author's journey through trad publishing

Heya,
not sure if this was done before, I remember an excellent thread on self-publishing, so I thought I might do the same for trad. Hope this will be helpful.
My novel will launch on 1 July (after having signed in March 2018) and the idea is to give you - well, an insight into the journey. I’ll post sporadically, this first post is all about how I got from querying to a publication date.

The backstory
How did I get the contract? A pitmad pitch, followed by a submission and a request for a full. Then I got an R+R (Revise and Resubmit). That basically means a publisher is sniffing around your novel, but they want to see changes. They also want to see whether you CAN make those changes, how you respond to feedback.
I did my best and jumped the hurdle. A contract was offered. A closer look at it revealed the same scary conditons that seem to be normal these days. With the help of a few savvy WP friends I got some bits shifted, but not a lot. That is normal. It’s a case of take it or leave it.
I took the offer, for the simple reason that I wanted to have professional support for my debut novel. Self publishing is an option, but AFTER I had learned the ropes.
Money is not an issue insofar as I have no aspirations to ever live of my novels. What I would hope to see is a steady side income. So, low royalties and no advances never bothered me. That might be different for others.
I still think a professional partner for the debut novel(s) is a good idea.
Anyway, after that for quite a while - crickets. They had my revised manuscript and my editor was working on it.
Rule Number One - Trad publishing takes time. IF you have a good publisher, that is. Some just fix a few bloopers and slam the novel out there. THAT I would not recommend. Alternatively, your novel is so brilliant already, it just needs polishing and it can go out. Mine wasn’t, so in October 2018 the feedback from my editor landed in my mailbox.
I knew it would be bad. And it was. I searched solace in a bottle of nice wine (shared with hubby, of course), shoved up my sleeves and went to work.
But I tell you - that feedback smarted. She was factual, her comments were shrewd and incisive. They still smarted. But okay, that’s what I wanted. Professional advice.
So, I took her comments to heart and rewrote the novel. Not touched it up. Told the same story but better, because I now had pointers that told me what was wrong. Too much telling and lack of logic in some instants. I’ll spare you the details.
Rule Number Two - Editing sucks
But it is necessary. How else am I supposed to hit industry standards? I submitted the new version and waited some more. In May the response came and we were in much better shape. There still were comments, but now we were talking mostly language. I fixed that in two weeks and send it back. The response this time was a lot faster, I got another revised version with only a few comments left. That got fixed and the final manuscript went to the Chief Editor.
I then was asked to provide the author’s questionnaire, bio, blurb and input for the cover.
At the end of the summer, I got told the novel had gone to typesetting.
Crickets again.
I asked about a release date and got told summer was on the cards, but I had to wait.
On New Year’s Eve (what a nice surprise), the Chief Editor showed up in my mailbox, with the typeset novel as an unproofed ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). And a cover.
Rule Number Three - Make sure you get your input for the cover right
It’s your key visual, an important part of your marketing package. A lot of readers “judge a book by its cover”. I LOVE my cover. I did tons of research into cosy mystery covers, what elements they featured, fonts etc… The publisher took my instructions to heart and created something truly nice (and fitting for the genre, which is most important). They even translated the theme (a bit olde-worlde) into the novel itself, chose a serif font that works very nicely.
I’ll do a cover reveal on my profile a bit later.
As to the ARC, I started proofing straight away. Nightmare - all italics gone and a lot of bloopers introduced. It appears, they used a new typesetter (who they are not using anymore).
Proofreading the manuscript (from an author’s point of view) is vital. this is your last chance to get YOUR novel out there. I’ll give more input in another post.
Any questions are, of course, welcome.

Did you also have an agent? How did you decide which publisher you wanted to send your manuscript to?

(By the way, congrats on being published – that’s a huge step! :relaxed:)

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Awesome! So glad you’re going to share this journey with us.

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Congratulations. First of many, I hope

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Nice thread. Congrats.

I don’t have your patience. But I agree the first novel benefits from working with people in the business.

Looking forward to your experiences AFTER it’s published.

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No agent. I participated in Pitmad, got a like from the publisher and submitted directly. Indie presses (and sometimes - for limited periods of time - the bigger ones) are open to direct submissions. Getting a pitmad like means you have a solicited query and it moves to the top of the queue. I got a few nibbles from publishers but this was the one I wanted. In the meantime, they made it into the top 10 indie publishers.
the reason why I wanted that particular publisher - they aim for well-written books and spend a lot of effort on polishing the manuscript. They also are very supportive during the launch process, very responsive and I’m very, very happy I chose them.

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You’ll get those as well… :heart:

Well, did I say editing and proofing sucks? I think I did. What sucks even more is when “your” editor forgets something important.

Like blurbs (endorsements/testimonials). Those are supposed to go on the cover and the back, to give the literary masterpiece (har, har) more street cred.
Unfortunately, in my case this got forgotten, and yesterday I received a panicky email telling me to get those endorsements like yesterday. They can’t go on the cover any more but they are vital for the inside.
Yeah. Right. Well, we’re all human.
For those of you not familiar with endorsements - It’s these little quotes that say things like "Charming, quirky and funny, this novel breathes fresh country air into the cozy mystery genre). Followed by name of author and the book/series they wrote. Or a magazine/newspaper. Beware about the latter - during my research I read repeatedly that readers don’t care so much about media reviews. Actually, the whle endorsement shebang is not entirely straightforward. But my publisher recommended it, I can see the point, so I do the work.

Not only does this mean cold calling (well not quite) fellow authors, cap in hand. Those need to be published and successful. It never ceases to amaze me, how helpful and friendly fellow writers are. Here I am, banging on people’s virtual doors and not only do I get fast responses, everybody is willing to do something.
Of course, this also means providing sample blurbs, since I cannot ask busy authors to do that for me. It also meant getting e-pub and mobi files since PDF’s are no good for reviewers in any form.
I’ll come to the subject of reviews a bit later once I have finalised my strategy. Yes, I have a marketing plan but now I’m going all out in earnest, things are changing a bit.
Oh, did I mention that?
You need a marketing plan, a blueprint for the launch campaign. And budgets, of course. Even if I just gift copies to those kind authors who helped me out, I need to allow for those costs. Indie presses do not provide the author with tons of paperback to scatter around. The big five might be different, but I’m not good enough for the big five. So, there.

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Patience is definitely the name of the game, eh. :joy: I submitted in 2016 and was published in 2018. My first book didn’t get a revise and resubmit, but my second book did.

Thanks for sharing your experience, and congrats on the upcoming release.

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First off, congrats! Would love to see an update later on for how you handled marketing.

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Thank you! My first novel I should never have queried. This is my third. And yes, patience is a virtue. A lot of it. Heaps of it.

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Absolutely, see latest post. Am still proofing, but the key focus needs to be on getting reviews and these author endorsements. Without especially the reviews, the novel will go nowhere. Readers these days are used to everything being starred in some form.

Marketing - Take One - Reviews

The advice I got from my publisher was “Get reviews. They are the hardest thing to obtain, and the most important.” I’m lucky, insofar as I got the advance proof six months before the launch. That is enough time to work out who to approach, understand their conditions/review policies, make contact, give the reviews time to review (very important, if you pop up last minute your chances are much slimmer. Reviewers are busy, very busy)
I’ve looked at a number of options and will probably go with three

  1. Onlinebookclub.org - they have a good system, they are more affordable than Kirkus Indie and they are very helpful. I approached them with the question whether to submit my unproofed, since I saw quite a few reviews where the author got slagged for “sloppy proofing”. Well, theoretically, reviewers should know that an unproofed ARC is - unproofed. But I didn’t want to run any risks. So, I will submit when I have something shiny and sparkling (well…), and send them an email. They will then expediate the review in time for the release. Excellent customer service, they gave me good vibes.
    Also, they were apparently tried by quite a few Literary Wanderlust authors, so this does seem to work.

  2. Netgalley.com - I still have to work out how the cooperations work, normally Netgalley is unaffordable, but there is a backdoor where you comp with other authors. However, one needs to choose those wisely, or so I was told. If a cozy mystery author like myself pairs up with Stephen King (as if I would ever get the chance) , the readers will be very confused. And dump one stars.

  3. Booksprout.co. Here, I have my doubts, but it is very cheap (I’m not taking the free option) and it was recommended by my critique group friends. There are TONS of abs in there - well on the covers, there are. How to stand out? Okay, I don’t have abs on the cover. Instead, I’ve got a cat, a headstone, an aluminum ladder and roses. That in itself might get people interested… But this looks tricky. On the other hand, not much will be lost if it doesn’t work.
    Otherwise, I will go for hand -selected bookbloggers. Getting those addresses is a hard slog. O-tone publisher “Some reviews you will have to pay for with money, others with time.” Yeah, right. I’m still collecting and will give you an update. The bookbloggerslist.com I found really annoying. It’s totally unvetted, hard to go through and when you check the site rankings (you don’t want to submit your novel to somebody who blogs once in a blue moon) - they are mostly down in the dumps. So, not really enamoured.

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Tagging along for the ride! And congratulations on being published :tada: :confetti_ball: :kissing_heart:

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So, more proofing, but the manuscript has now gone back to the publisher, hooray. Now, find more reviewers. And contests. I went cross-eyed over the reviewers (we are NOT talking paid blog tours or book blitzes, we are talking individual reviewers. Those are hard to find. Or rather, it’s a hard slog to find the right ones).
Contests are tricky as well. Why would I even enter them? Well, for promo purposes is the obvious answer. But does an award help to promote your book? Nobody knows, nless it is a Pulitzer, or a Nebula or something similarily prestigious.
I’m a bit more modest (or thought I was) and checked out the Agatha awards for mystery writer. Whoa. Not only is the price shocking (entry fee to the convention I believe is 345 bucks. I didn’t look any further I must admit) but also the vote is by ballot.
I strongly suspect, if one is not part of the group, the book stands no chance. But the costs alone drove me away. After having found a few, I then checked here https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/contests/ to get a better understanding of what I should be looking for. Good job I did, for they ruled out two of the contests I had with question marks on the list.
Instead, they recommended the list from ALLI, the alliance of independent authors (three cheers to them), where I found a list with recommendations.
https://selfpublishingadvice.org/author-awards-contests-rated-reviewed/

Those sounded a lot more relevant, and affordable. I now have a few shortlisted.
However, the disadvantage of contests is that in most cases you can only enter with an actual book available for publishing. This is nothing to drive pre-sales. But there are some who take unpublished and that might be relevant for those of you still querying or self-published, needing some kudos. Hope my research is helpful

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Very – thank you!

Aren’t the Agatha’s run by Malice Domestic? I expect you’re right – you need to be part of the clique to win. The question I have, then, is how does one become part of the clique?

Can you make a mystery convention part of your annual expenses? Bare minimum, I would think you would want to join and be an active part of a mystery writers professional org – like Mystery Writers of America. The Edgar is nothing to sneeze at, and I bet they have lots of resources. The networking is nothing to sneeze at either.

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Up to the amount of money earned by the business. So if you don’t earn money from the business of being an author, you can’t right off expenses for that business on your other income. That’s what I think, but I’m not an accountant.

It depends on the country. In Ireland, I offset all my losses from publishing against my other income. In the past, those included expenses for conventions and seminars. It really depends on the tax legislation of the country you live in.

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Yup the Agatha’s are Malice Domestic.It sounded like a lot of networking on the hoof - which I can’t do from here.
My big problem is - I’m a (bi-lingual) German national writing out of Germany. I have a US publisher, which might get me access to some of these medal-fests, but simply not being a US citizen (or Canadian, or British etc.) excludes me, e.g. from the Edgars. I checked those out. The British Crime Writer Assoc. is more lenient, I submitted last year, but they didn’t bite.
Bugger.
Well, at least I got a book endorsement out of them. Not to be sneezed at either.
@SallyMason1 Something similar here. Author incomes are taxed at a lower rate and losses can be set off. Need to check on details as this will become valid next year. Income - muahahahah. Losses are certain.

@Blayde Here, during a start up phase, you can set off losses. But not forever.Isn’t this crazy? Not only do we have to excel at writing, we need to be super marketeers, salespeople, networkers, cover designers, and chartered accountants.
And we need to be rich to try this madness in the first place, right? grumbles

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So, a bit of time has passed and it was spent either
a) finding individual bookbloggers
b) proofreading.

As to b, I’m glad I got two proofreading rounds, since most of that was spent catching errors either introduced in the proofing process, or not addressed from the previous round. Eventually, the Chief Editor got quite upset over the quality, so she did the final typesetting herself. That took care of almost anything. I offered to check again, and I got the document for a third and final time. Only two minor issues left, so now I can rest with a reasonably easy concience.
There WILL be mistakes in the book, it’s inevitable, but at least we made a massive effort to get this as good as possible.
But from work, I know what will happen. 4 Round of proofing is concluded, with multiple reviewers involved using a master list. We send the publication to print. It gets delivered.
A “friendly” colleague saunters in, slaps the brochure on the desk and points at the missing serial comma on page 278. “Can you guys get ANYTHING right?”
Saunters out.
Yay!

Now, as to the bookbloggers, I used quite a few lists.




https://melanierockett.com/directory-of-book-reviewers/

Indie Review and Melanie Rockett are very good. The bookbloggerlist is chaotic and Reedsy quite outdated, though I found a couple there.
You need to limit yourself to your genre, check every individual blogger and make sure what they do matches the theme of your novel.
Also, make sure to check their review policy and the blog itself. Are the posts recent? Do they post reviews about comparable stories. Do you actually like the style of the review.
And, most importantly, make sure not to end up with reviewers who enjoy shredding authors to pieces (they might have large followings, but you might not like the reviews) or those who will penalise you for “having a single comma mistake. It will cost you. Beware.”

Then you create a “Swipe sheet” i.e. a document with text blocks, including a short and snappy blurb. For each book blogger you need to create an individualised letter, at least as far as the introduction is concerned.

I listed about 150 bloggers and so far, have sent out roughly 70 requests. Quite a few want to be contacted nearer to the day, so I need another trawl.
Oh joy.
As of today, I have 18 bloggers interested in posting a review (usually Amazon, Goodreads and their blog. A few instagrammers are among them, Instagram is definitely something to watch).

This is VERY time consuming, but it’s the best free promotion you can get.
Now, to paid promos next.
To be continued.

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Congrats on your achievement. Thanks for sharing your experiences. :grin:

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