Tips for Writers and Authors
Surviving the Publishing Process
Novice writers might be surprised to learn that the publishing process isn’t a quick and easy thing. It can take a year or longer to go from manuscript to printed book. Here’s the step-by-step process and a few tips to help you survive.
Step one: writing the book. This may seem obvious, but it must be done before anything else can happen. After the book has been written, it should undergo a thorough editing. Not by you. Spend the extra money to have your work professionally edited. It's worth every penny. All grammatical and spelling errors should be corrected, as well as any problematic plot issues. Manuscripts with errors are not accepted.
Step two: finding an agent or publisher. These days, most works need an agent to see publication. There are several resources writers can use to find agents (www.agentquery.com, or a book called Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market). Make a list of agents or publishers who might be interested in your work. Research their submission requirements. You may need to write a query letter or a book proposal outlining your book’s summary, your credentials, and a marketing plan. There are plenty of books on the market which can help you do that.
Step three: accepting a contract. If you’re lucky, your work will be accepted. You will then receive a contract from the publisher. Go through the contract carefully. Make sure you understand which rights you are keeping and which you are giving to the publisher. The legal jargon can be a little confusing. If you need help, don’t be afraid to contact a lawyer. Most of the time, your agent will be able to help you with the tricky aspects of accepting a contract.
Step four: passing the editorial process. So you thought what you submitted was the way it was going to be? Think again. The publishing house has its own editorial process. You may be asked to revise your work several more times before it’s ready for publishing. Swallow your pride and work with the editor. Adhere to whatever deadlines are set. Always be professional and follow your editor’s suggestions.
Step five: reviewing the galley proof. After the book has gone through a design phase, you will receive an early printed version of the book, called a galley proof. Read through the proof and make any corrections before returning it to the publisher. This is the last stage of the editorial process.
Step six: marketing your book. It’s time to get out and tell the world about your book. You might be asked to make promotional appearances. Do as much as you can to promote your book.
Step seven: Last but not least, your book is printed and shipped. Pat yourself on the back – you wrote a book and you survived the publishing process!
Get Off the Bus and Into Schools
Are you and your books stuck on the school bus like bubble gum under a seat, riding around in circles? If the royalties you earn barely cover a daily cup of coffee, I have a solution that can help. I’m here to tell you how to un-stick yourself by getting into the schools as part of your marketing campaign to sell books.
What many people don’t know is that writers who are able to earn a living do so by giving presentations related to the topic of their book, or to the craft of writing. I am a children’s writer. School visits are something I have added to my marketing strategy. They’ve yielded a nice chunk of change.
The first step to getting started with school visits is to figure out what your presentation will look like. What age range are you comfortable with? (Age 5-7 = grade 1-2; age 7-11 = grade 3-6; age 11-14 = grade 7-9; age 14-16 = grade 10-11.) How many people will you talk to per session? How many sessions will you have per day, and how long will they be? What type of sessions will you have (e.g., reading with Q & A, talk, interactive workshops, or drama sessions)? Will your session cover any aspects of a school’s curriculum? Once you’ve figured these things out, you can create your presentation. If you’re lacking ideas, you can always go online and see videos of what other authors have done.
Before approaching schools or other venues, consider making a one- or two-page flyer. This visual representation of your brand allows organizers to learn who you are, see a summary of the presentations you offer for particular age groups, and know what to expect during your visit. The flyer should include your author photo with a personal message about how you enjoy school visits and what you hope to accomplish, such as getting kids excited about reading, and ways to contact you to request a visit. Let them know what your technical requirements are. Do you need an overhead projector, a microphone, or something else? Of course, you want to sell books, so tell the school if you’ll bring books with you, or if they need to pre-order. And, do you charge an honorarium or travel fees? Be upfront about financial arrangements. (A note about fees: if you’re a beginner, consider relying on book sales for your earnings. When the word gets out about how awesome your presentations are, then start charging for personal appearances. Some authors charge $300 for a half day and $500 for a full day. The best-known authors can command more than $1000 a day.)
It’s also a good idea to create a “librarian kit.” The kit includes electronic files of Jpegs of your book covers, interior illustrations, a customized price list that students can take home to parents, and Power Point presentations. Later, you might want to create book cover posters that you can snail mail to the school.
When you’ve created your presentation and librarian kit, you are ready to contact schools. Google searches provide lists of schools in the cities you wish to visit. Call the schools to ask how to arrange an author visit. Usually, you’ll speak with the librarian. Keep track of who you’ve contacted and the responses you’ve gotten. Spread sheets are useful for this. With a lot of tenacity, you will schedule a visit.
Two weeks before your visit, confirm the date and time of your session, the equipment you will need, the group size, number of books needed (paperback: two for every three children; hardcover: fifteen percent of the total number of children), how books are supplied, and fees. The day before, run through everything on your own equipment. Make sure it all works and that you’re comfortable with the presentation. On the day of your visit, arrive thirty minutes early. Be nice to everyone, because it’s important to make a good impression. Be ready for anything. Stay calm even if things aren’t going perfectly. Make it enjoyable for your audience and make sure a teacher is in the room with you. After the visit, send the organizer a thank you card. If sales were especially good, you might include a Starbucks gift card.
It takes time and energy to visit schools and build your experience with them. Once you’ve done a few, you can post information about them on your Website. Include photos and reviews you’ve received. Eventually schools will approach you. With a little effort, you can make money by getting off the bus and going into schools.
More Helpful Information
Here's a book with a lot of useful information for those wishing to do school author visits: Sell Books and Get Paid Doing Author School Visits by Kim Norman. She has a website with other great tips, too.