Signing the Deal - The Steps in Traditional Publishing

So you've written a novel; now what? In this series, debut author-to-be Crystal King describes the traditional publication process from start to finish: the lead-up, what to expect along the way, and how building her social media platform has made a difference. In this installment of "On the Path to Publication" Crystal talks about signing her contract with Touchstone Books and learning about the steps to be taken in the months leading up to the launch of the book.

In just two weeks it will have been a year since the first email came into my inbox from my agent, telling me that there is an editor at Touchstone Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) who was interested in talking to me personally to learn more about FEAST OF SORROW. I was thrilled but still skeptical that it would amount to anything. A couple of days later I hopped on the phone and had a lovely conversation with the woman who would become my first editor.

Ten days went by. I was sick, I mean, really sick, with the flu. It was in the evening on a dark fall day when I got the call from my agent that she had an offer from Touchstone. Even writing about it right now I tear up a bit--it was truly the best news I have ever received. I remember being on the phone with her, bawling like a child, my snot and tears mixing in the most disgusting way. But I was deliriously happy! I had a book deal!

Some haggling happened after that, with my agent going through the contract with a fine tooth comb, conferring with me, then with Touchstone lawyers. I signed the contract the first week of January of this year, 2016. 

What happens after the contract? A lot, it turns out. Each publisher has their own way of doing things and sometimes even within the same publishing house the process is different depending on the type of book or the editor who owns the book. I've been fortunate to get to know several other authors who are debuting in 2017 and one thing I've learned is that there isn't one size fits all. So bear that in mind as I describe the steps that I'm taking--it may be somewhat different if you land your own book deal. 

So far this year I've done the following:

  • Filled out an author questionnaire. This is one of the first steps for most new authors, often before the contract is even signed. It's very comprehensive, with questions about everyone you know, the bookstores in your area, details about your social platform and a lot more. 
  • Two primary editing passes on the novel. Combined this took about four months. My editor had done a pretty thorough reading of questions outlining scenes she wanted cut and scenes she wanted added. This was fairly deep editing which vastly improved the story. 
  • Received my cover. This happened in June, nearly 10 months before my book is out, which I think may be early compared to other authors. In my discussion with other debut authors, this is a step that wildly differs from publisher to publisher. Some authors have a lot of say, providing ideas and sometimes even the art itself. Others, like me, don't have that initial input. I think this is one of the most emotional parts of the process. When I received the first cover I have to admit that I was stunned. It was a gorgeous cover, but not for my book. It had a woman on the cover and a Romance feel. Women tend to read more historical fiction so I understood why they went that direction but there was nothing about the food, and I don't have female protagonists. It was a nice cover but not for FEAST. The second cover was better but my agent and I had a lot of back and forth to get the details right--making sure the food on the cover would have been found in ancient Rome, that the porcelain fruit stand was covered up, that the chiton (Greek) dress that the person had on was changed to be more like a toga. The person on my cover is now more ambiguous (man or woman?). It took me a bit to come around to it but I really do like my cover. 
  • A LOT Of copyedits. In fact, I'm not even done yet. Part of this is done in Word and much of it is done with pen and paper using copyediting marks (see photo). Here is the production schedule that came from my editor:  
    7/20: We'll send your copyedited manuscript to you for your review and edits.
    8/3: Copyedited manuscript with your edits due back from you.
    8/31: We'll send first pass (typeset) pages to you for your review.
    9/14: First pass pages are due back from you with your edits.
    [9/14:  Bound galleys available (these are made from the same files as 1st pass, so the changes you make to 1st pass won't be reflected in our bound galleys)]
    10/19: We'll send second pass pages to you. This round will have all of your final edits incorporated.  (I'm on this stage now).
    11/9: Second pass pages are due back from you.
    11/30: Final pass pages to you.
    12/21: Final pass pages due back from you.
    4/25/2017: Publication!
  • Blurbs. I was responsible for getting all my blurbs, which most debut authors have to do. Sometimes a publisher can dive into their pool of authors and help you but at least for the first round of blurbs, I was responsible for getting them. I'm fortunate in that I know a LOT of authors because of my connection with Grub Street. But I did reach out to a few authors in my genre, a couple of them that I did not know at all, and they graciously agreed to receive a galley. I lucked out and received ten wonderful blurbs--these blurbs were the first truly outside feedback I had received and I had to admit to a few happy tears when the blurbs rolled in. 
  • Advanced Reader Copies. I just received a few of these a couple of weeks ago and oh! Seeing my book in book form was very moving. ARCS go out to booksellers and long lead reviewers. Some of my ARCs will be going to the American Library Association Conference in January, which is exciting. 
  • Met the Touchstone team in person. I went to NYC for the day, had lunch with my editor and met the team. This was one of the best parts of the whole experience. My publisher has been so fantastic and seeing the people who have been working so hard on behalf of my book was wonderful. 
  • Filmed an author interview. Simon & Schuster/Touchstone does a lot of video author interviews for their books. It was a quick process, just answering a few questions. They're editing it now. I sent them a whole slew of photos that they can edit into the video. I'm a bit nervous for the outcome! 
  • Networked with other debut authors. This has nothing to do with my publisher but it's a step in the process that I highly recommend. Facebook and other social networks will often have groups for new authors. I lucked out and was invited to partake in a group for adult (i.e. not YA) authors debuting in 2017. This group has been SO helpful in knowing I'm not alone, seeing what may still be upcoming, giving me ideas to ask my editor about, etc.
I have a feeling that this stuff is just the tip of the iceberg on what is to come. I'm actively working on planning for the launch now and there is a lot of pre-promotion as well. I'll talk about those subjects in an upcoming post. 
About the Author

Crystal King is a 20-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

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