The author: 10 things I learnt about the publishing process
Abir Mukherjee won the Harvill Secker/Daily Telegraph crime writing competition with his debut novel A Rising Man and he has since published his second book, A Necessary Evil. As a supporter of Penguin Random House's WriteNow programme, here Abir shares 10 things he has learned about the publishing process.
Congratulations! You’ve got a book deal. It’s been a long and arduous journey to get here – probably years’ worth of work, sweat and tears in pursuit of your dream. You’ve beaten the odds, so take some time to enjoy the feeling.
Done? Ok, here’s where the fun starts.
1. A steep learning curve
You might think that you’ve done the hard part, but your draft novel is just that – a draft. There’s a long way to go and a lot of work to be done before your draft becomes a final, polished novel. For me the process of editing and redrafting was where I learned how to write – from properly structuring a novel, to pace, and to saying more with fewer words. The good news is that your editor is there to guide you along every step of the process. Which takes me to point two…
2. Listen to your editor – (S)he knows an awful lot
Some weeks after you’ve handed in your draft, it’ll come back to you, possibly covered in red ink and a million comments. While a lot of these will be positive, some (quite a lot in my case) are suggestions for how your draft can be improved. These might include some points which require significant structural changes to your manuscript and you might disagree (perhaps even strongly) with some of them. But my advice is to stay calm. Perhaps have a cup of tea or go for a walk, then smile and accept that your editor knows best. I decided that, unless I had a damn good reason to do so, I wouldn’t question any change suggested by my editor, whether I agreed with her or not. After all, I was a new author and she was one of the best editors in the business. And as I made the changes, I realised she was right about almost everything, and the final version was far better for it.
3. Don’t give up the day job just yet – and learn to manage your time
First-time authors don’t often earn a lot, and it may be hard to survive on your advance, especially if you have a family to support. As such it’s probably wise to defer the down-payment on the private jet for the moment. What it also means is you’ll probably have to keep doing your day job for some time to come, and that means your life is probably going to get very complicated. You’ll have to learn to juggle work and family time with your new editing and writing responsibilities. This can be one of the toughest challenges you’ll face. How you deal with it will also affect those close to you, so it’s important to discuss it with them too.
4. Everything takes time – so get to work on the next one
I remember my first meeting with my editor. I almost fell off my chair when she told me they planned to launch my book in approximately eighteen months’ time. A year and a half seemed like an eternity, but there was a huge amount of work to do between then and the final completed product. Not just editing, but artwork, proof-reading and initial PR. And it’s important to use the time when you’re not editing wisely. I was told to work on the first draft of my next novel and to have it ready before the first book was published, because after that, the next few months were hopefully going to be a bit mental. It was good advice, and while I didn’t quite manage it, I was almost finished the first draft of book two when A Rising Man was published.
5. Get on your bike
You’ve done your editing and your book has been printed. You’ve held it in your hands, admired the fantastic artwork on the cover that you weren’t sure of when you first saw it, but have since come to love, and consider it an improvement on the Mona Lisa. You can relax now, right? No. Sorry. While your publisher will help in many ways such as by obtaining reviews from the mainstream press, it’s also beholden on you to raise your profile as effectively as you can. This means developing a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook, and hopefully not saying anything silly on either. It also means getting out and about, visiting bookshops and libraries, attending literary festivals and doing whatever you can to publicise your book. A lot of authors are self-effacing by nature and find it difficult to talk about themselves or their book, but if you don’t do it, you make your publishing team's job a lot harder.
6. It’s a team effort
It’s easy to view writing as a solitary profession – just you, sitting in your attic or your study, tapping away at your keyboard – and while that’s true in a sense, publishing your work is truly a team effort. Besides your editor, there are more than a dozen other people who will have a hand in shaping your book and your writing career, including your agent (if you haven’t got one yet, get one!), the artists and designers who create the covers, proof-readers, the PR and marketing team, the people that sell the international rights to your book and many more. It’s important to realise the part played by all these people in the creating the final product, and to thank them. If you’re looking to keep writing, they’ll be some of your biggest supporters.
7. Try and meet your deadlines
So you’re writing the first draft of the next book, editing another, writing thought-pieces for blogs and doing other initial marketing, and you’re having to fit in the rest of your life somewhere along the way. With all that’s going on, it’s easy to let deadlines slip (trust me – I missed the deadline for writing this article). But it’s worth remembering that publishing is a business run by professionals, and it’s important for you to be professional too. Your publisher may have positioned your next book to be launched in a certain month, but unless you deliver your drafts and re-drafts on time, that timetable might slip, and that has knock-on effects not just for your book, but possibly for other titles that your publisher is going to launch.
8. Other authors – the friends you never knew you had
One thing that has really surprised me is just how welcoming and supportive other authors are. The notion that authors cast an envious eye at each other is, in my experience, a total myth. Maybe it’s because they’ve all been on the same journey as you from struggling wannabe to established author, they all seem more than happy to help, whether it be a word of advice or an introduction to someone who might be able to help advance your career. And very soon, you’ll be doing the same for other new authors.
9. Reviews – the good, the bad and the downright ugly
One of the joys of having your book published is receiving messages from people who tell you how much they’ve enjoyed reading it. It’s one of the most satisfying experiences a writer can have. But alongside those wonderful reviews, you’ll also receive ones that are less effusive. And that’s to be expected. After all, peoples’ tastes are different and you can’t hope to please everyone. Still, it’s always difficult when you receive that first one-star review on Amazon. Your book is like your child and you want the world to say nice things about it. A one-star review is like someone calling your kid ugly. Not just ugly, but very ugly. If, like me, you suffer from a lack of confidence in your writing ability, it’s easy to attribute far too much weight to those reviews and not enough to the nice ones. But the truth is that all writers get one-star reviews, even those who’ve been best-sellers for years. Go and check out Amazon if you don’t believe me. The trick is to take whatever positives you can from such reviews, so that your next book is even better. And never…ever…get into an online conversation with someone who doesn’t like your book. That way lies madness.
10. Take time to pinch yourself
Becoming a published author is, in a very real sense, the culmination of your dreams. But with still so much to do, it’s often easy to get caught up in everything and forget just what you’ve achieved. The future entails a lot of hard work, but there will also be an awful lot of wonderful days: holding the first copy of your book in your hands; seeing it on the shelves in bookshops, receiving your first review in the press and many, many more. It’s important that you take time to pinch yourself, tell yourself it’s all really happening, and to enjoy each and every special moment. Because it’s these memories that you’ll look back on with joy in years to come.