What do You do When it’s Your First Time?
Guest post by M.J. Moores, OCT. Author. Editor. Freelance Writer.
So, “IT” happens – after dozens of rejection letters from agents you dedicated the last three months to finding a small publisher looking for exactly your kind of book… and you found one. The company rep sends you the standard first-time client contract and at the end of the email writes –
“Just look it over, print it out and sign it. Then scan it and email it back to us and the rest is history.”
Nuh-uh – you’ve only just stepped into the worm hole and there’s quite a ride until you pop out the other side. First off, if you don’t belong to a renowned writer’s community like SFWA (Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America) or a local writer’s union/guild who employ or provide access to literary lawyers and professionals of a similar stature then you’ll need to find someone in the know to look at your contract before you sign it.
Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that you’ll be able to change much (if anything) on the contract but you need to know what it is you’re signing – What are they promising? What do you get out of the deal? How many books are you in for? What kind of procedures do you need to be aware of? And what kind of emergency ejection button is there to push – if any?
These are the big leagues after all and if you don’t have your head in the game from the moment the rocket ship launches, you’ll leave more than the contents of your bowels behind.
But I’m not here to go over contract details with you – hire someone to do that, really. I’m here to share some of my own mistakes in dealing with my publisher ,without an agent to act as a buffer between us.
Lesson 1: Even if they encourage you to ask questions – know that they have limits.
I was curious about everything since self-publishing was a very real option for me before signing on the dotted line – I was asking about marketing techniques, cover layout, distribution options, you name it… and then I was unceremoniously told (in not so many words), “Trust us. We’re professionals. If you want to micro-manage then you should have self-published.”
Lesson 2: Don’t assume your assigned editor will do any of the grunt work.
After we agreed to edit according to the Standard Canadian Lexicon (which is an interesting cross of British spelling and American colloquialisms) I was advised to make sure that all of the words spelled the American way in my novel be changed to the British spellings – iz’s became is’s (realize to realise, etc.). I highlighted the entire manuscript, changed the word processor’s language of choice from Canadian English to British English and fixed all the words that were underlined in red. When I read through the “Artwork” (that means final formatting for print) I was still finding iz’s where there should have been is’s… the publisher was not impressed with having to correct this basic error throughout the entire manuscript in end-stage when it cost money to make changes with the printer.
Lesson 3: When they ask you for your opinion on something – lie.
The company graciously offered to do the e-book covers for my four free prequel Lost Chapters which were released each month leading up to the launch of my book (even though this was not covered in our initial contract). We talked about keeping them simple and all the same except for colouration and titles. They sent me the proof and I nearly died – it was nothing like what I imagined our conversations would take the graphic artists to… I was horrified and told them so… in almost as many words. They implied at my ingratitude for the extra work from the design department and flat out said that if I didn’t like it to pay for someone’s services elsewhere – but I needed their final approval first before settling on a new cover layout. I’d really poked a sore spot there.
I apologized (and hired an external graphic cover designer who exceeded my expectations).
Lesson 4: Be humble.
If I listed the number of times I had to apologize for doing the above goofs and more, this post would be twice as long and you’d be highly second-guessing ever working with a small publisher. Seriously, I’m friggin’ opinionated and lack couth. I’ve been working to correct this bad habit since I first noticed it in high school many moons ago. While I may not always agree with what my publisher is saying or doing, I chose this option because they are professionals and they know what sells. It was important for me to be traditionally published so that I might speak in local high schools and give workshops there (I was a teacher in a past life and this only made sense to me) – among other reasons.
So, swallow your pride and apologize in order to keep the peace.
In the end, I’m extremely pleased with the cover design and interior layout of my book. While there are still elements there and in the media kit I’d prefer were done differently… I have to trust my publisher. With book two at 20,000 words and climbing my saving grace at this point is my ability to learn from my mistakes. I have promised that the editing and work-up of book two in the series will go so smoothly that my editor won’t even remember the number of bumps we hit along the way with book one.
She laughed – thank god… and I hope you do too. It’s a process after all and we each have a learning curve, especially when it’s our first time.
M. J. Moores began her career as an English teacher in Ontario, Canada. Her love of storytelling and passion for writing has writing has stayed with her since the age of nine. M. J. relishes tales of adventure and journeys of self-realization. She enjoys writing in a variety of genres but speculative fiction remains her all time favourite.
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