What happens next … advice for first-time authors from a Publisher

16 October 2012 / 1 comment

For a long time, it’s just been you and your book. You have been the master of your story. You have dreamt of someone wanting to publish this baby of yours. However, it can be a difficult time letting go of your book and letting other people care for it as well. Here is what Michael Hanrahan, Publisher at Rough Draft, has to say about what to expect in the production, editing and promotion phase of your first book …

For first-time authors the excitement of having a publishing deal is often mixed with insecurity about what happens next. They’ve worked hard to reach this goal, but suddenly after years of writing they realise they know very little about how books are published. I’ve worked with dozens of first-time authors over the years and there are some issues that keep coming up; let’s have a look at a few of them.

Many first-time authors are not quite sure how advances work. An advance is an advance payment on your future royalties, paid when the contract is signed, so it’s not extra money in your pocket. If a publisher pays you a $1000 advance when you sign the contract and six months later you’ve earned $3000 in royalties from book sales, your first royalty payment will only be $2000.

If an advance is not included in your contract and you’d like one, don’t be afraid to ask. Your contract is negotiable, though as a first-time author you might only get enough for a couple of movie tickets and some popcorn.

Once your book goes into production, an editor will be assigned to you. This will be either an in-house editor or a freelancer. First-time authors can feel a bit intimidated by their editor, but there’s no reason to. Your editor wants to create a great book just as much as you do, and is using his or her skills and experience to help you improve your work. And trust me, your book needs improving, even if only a little. Yes, your mum thinks it’s fantastic and you shouldn’t change a single word, but I could stand in the middle of the road with my hair on fire and my mum would call it a wonderful piece of performance art. If you’ve written a book that wouldn’t benefit from editing you’re the first person anywhere, ever to do so.

Your editor is on your side, so don’t be defensive or upset when they suggest changes or query something you’ve written. (Easier said than done, I know. But be ready, because it will happen.) Most first-time authors find that once they get started editing is an enjoyable process and editorial advice significantly improves the book.

You certainly need to be involved and out there promoting your book, but managing a marketing and publicity campaign are primarily the role of the publisher. They will send out review copies for you, chase up interviews and other opportunities, and generally plug your book at every opportunity. However, especially at larger publishing houses, the publicity effort can trail off after a few months as the marketing department moves onto the next titles. It’s then up to you to keep promoting your book.

Always keep in mind that you are now a professional writer, so make sure you behave like it. It’s not just a hobby any more. I once worked with a first-time author who missed radio interviews, hassled bookshops and generally annoyed everybody she spoke to. You can imagine what it did for her book sales. My boss at the time said there had been a few glasses of wine involved when he signed her up. He was joking – I think.

First-time authors often have no idea what constitutes a successful book. In Australia, a print run for a first-time author might be 3000 or 4000 copies (though this will decline as ebook sales increase). If you sell out your first print run you can consider yourself a success, and a bottle of champagne is in order if your publisher reprints your book. If you sell over 10,000 copies in Australia you’ve done very well. You’re not likely to be able to purchase a Lexus with your royalties (yes, I had an author who thought that), but a decent mountain bike is a reasonable goal.

Michael Hanrahan
Publisher, Rough Draft

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