So, You Just Signed a Book Deal… Now What?
There are many unique things about the publishing industry - some good, some bad. One of these things is how opaque the industry is. I have been connected to the industry at least tangentially for nearly four years now, and I still feel like I’m walking around in the dark a lot of the time. But in the 18+ months since signing my book deal, I’ve learned a lot about the debut process, and how to stay sane while navigating it. So I thought I’d share that with anyone who might be going through that, or preparing for the day when they will navigate it in the future.
To start, as a disclaimer, everyone’s debut experience is going to be different. I don’t claim to be some kind of Debut Genie or something that knows the Absolute Right Way to do things. I just know the following things have been true for me and my experience signing with an imprint of a major publishing house. Your experience may vary, especially if you’re with an independent press!
GET READY TO WAIT
The first thing to expect from your debut process is that it is going to be SLOW. AS. FUCK. All those jokes you’ve heard about how slow publishing moves? Like agent Eric Smith’s hilarious references to “business months” rather than “business days” on Twitter? Yeah, those aren’t exaggerations. (Eric Smith is a great person to follow on Twitter, by the way, IMO. Lots of good info.) I had to wait about three months between getting my deal memo (initial offer for the book deal from the publisher) and actually getting the contract to sign. Then it was at least another month before it was announced.
That’s right. I had to sit on the news that my MOST CHERISHED, LIFELONG DREAM WAS COMING TRUE for over FOUR MONTHS. And I know people who have had to wait way longer than that.
After my deal was signed, I waited about eight months for my edit letter. Also, I received my cover art seven months before it was revealed. Meaning I knew what that gorgeous cover looked like, but I wasn’t allowed to show it to anyone… for seven months.
Long story short, things are going to move slowly. You will probably panic. Hopefully you have an awesome agent like mine who will listen to all your insane, anxious ramblings about it. If not, find a friend or a therapist or maybe all of the above. Because this process involves a lot of waiting, and a lot of keeping your greatest accomplishments secret until you’re borderline not even excited about them anymore.
(Just kidding, you’re still excited about them. But you get what I mean.)
MAKE ALLIES, NOT ENEMIES
The second thing you’re going to want to know for your debut year is that your fellow authors - and specifically your fellow debuts - are NOT your competition. They are your teammates. Don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to them and mentally tearing them down (barf emoji). They’re going through the same thing you are! That means you need one another. I’ve actually written a whole post about that here.
I won’t lie to you, there are times when this is going to be kind of difficult! Professional jealousy is A Thing! And it’s normal to feel some envy of peers who are succeeding in an endeavor in which you are also trying to succeed. A fellow debut may get a starred review from a trade, or make the NYT list, or accomplish some other goal that is a dream of yours. That’s awesome for them! But yeah, it can sting if that same trade gave you a middling review, or when you feel like there isn’t enough hype for your book, etc.etc.etc. Let yourself sit with those ugly feelings for a sec, then move past it. “Eyes on your own paper” is a truism in creative industries for a reason. Other people are going to get things you don’t get. That sucks. But letting it drag you down into a pit of bitterness is not the answer.
That being said, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself! Which brings us to…
SPEAK UP FOR YOURSELF
As a debut, it can feel uncomfortable to ask for things. We’re the newbies, after all! How dare we ask for updates or blurbs or whatever else? But the fact of the matter is, the folks on your publishing team are BUSY. They’re probably working on a billion things you will never know about. Be flexible, of course (you really ARE still the new kid on the block)! And be polite (that should go without saying), but if you need information or have a suggestion, it’s probably okay to shoot your team a message, or ask your agent to do so on your behalf. Will they agree to everything you’re asking for? Almost certainly not, lol. But if you’re anything like me, your instinct may be to approach publishing as a meek little mouse. That is not necessarily going to be the best path forward.
Lastly, let’s talk about reviews. Chances are, during the querying process and going on submission to publishers, you’ve gotten enough rejections to grow some thick-ass skin. Well, now it’s gonna need to get even thicker. Yes, you’ve faced years and years of people telling you your book wasn’t “good enough,” right? But those were professionals telling you via their work email in very clinical terms, most likely. Now, you’re going to get absolute strangers writing reviews about your precious book baby. Not as professionals. They’re off the clock and unfiltered. And, spoiler alert, inevitably, some of them are not going to like your book. FIRST THING’S FIRST: Reviews are for readers, not authors. Let’s repeat that for good measure:
REVIEWS ARE FOR READERS, NOT AUTHORS.
You honestly shouldn’t be reading reviews on Goodreads or NetGalley at all. They’re not meant for you. But I get it, I’m a curious creature as well, and sometimes, it’s damn hard not to sneak a peek. But if you decide to read them, don’t engage with reviewers. Again, they’re not on Goodreads to talk to you! They’re there to share their experience with your book with other potential readers. Other than that, my main advice here is to keep a Word doc or a Google doc filled with snippets of all the nice things people have said about your book. The trade review that loved it. The email from a friend who read it for you where they told you all their favorite parts. Then, when you’ve accidentally gone down the rabbit hole of 1* Goodreads reviews, pop into that file and remind yourself that, while some people will inevitably not like your story, there are plenty of people who will. Also, there is a Chrome extension to block bad reviews, if that’s of interest to you. The link is here. :)
All and all, try to enjoy the debut process. It’s stressful, and long, and your friends and family outside of the industry will have NO IDEA what you’re going through, which will suck. But try to keep things in perspective! You wrote a WHOLE ASS BOOK. And now a REAL LIVE PUBLISHER wants to print it. You only get one debut novel. Someday, you’re going to look back on these days with rose-colored glasses and remember only the good times. So, try to focus on some of those good times while they’re happening!