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Category — DIY MFA

Do You Need to Plot Out a Novel Before You Start Writing It?

To plot out or not to plot out a novel with a manuscript outline has been on my mind this week because I’ve just returned to writing a new book after taking a break to sketch out the remaining chapters.  This is the way I’ve always worked.


Image: Chris via Flickr

I get an idea for a book, and I think about it for a long time.  Maybe months.  I’m usually writing something else — finishing up the prior book — when the idea first starts to grow.  I let it emerge willy-nilly without plucking out the weeds; just jotting down notes as they come to me, even if the notes start contradicting each other.  (She’s a dancer.  No!  She’s an astronaut.  She’s a dancing astronaut.  She’s a teacher.  She’s jobless.)

Sometimes I name the characters during this time.  Sometimes I give them a temporary placeholder name knowing that I’ll change it when I know more about the book as a whole.  Sometimes I pick the setting.  Most of the time, I don’t.  I’m just sort of dating the idea.  It isn’t that serious yet.

And then it comes time to write the book.  And I make the book a promise that we’re going to go steady.  We’re certainly not engaged, but we’re not going to see anyone else for the time being.  We’re going to enter into a monogamous writing relationship.

So I sit down and start writing.  I write a first chapter and a second chapter.  I get to the third chapter and take stock.  Is this book interesting?  Is it the sort of thing I’d want to read?  Do I have the energy to finish it?  Do I think it will go anywhere once I finish it?  (Meaning: will it be published.)

Sometimes I realize that while it was a nice idea, and I really loved it while we were together, we’re better off as friends.  It doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy my time with it, but I need to stop dating that book in order to try a different book relationship.  No hard feelings.

Sometimes I realize that this book relationship is really developing, and I could see myself taking it to the next level: book marriage.  I could see myself wedded to this book; taking care of this book day-in-and-day-out.  But I keep that information to myself and give the book another three chapters or so to prove itself.  Books are a saucy minx: they flirt with you and make you believe that they’re going to be there for the long-haul and then end up cheating on you if you don’t choose carefully.  So I give the book another few chapters before I make a final decision.

And then one day, I get down on one knee and tell my book that I’m not doing a yoga pose: this is it.  I’m proposing.

On that day, I set aside the book for about a week and plot out the rest of the chapters.  I pull together all the notes I’ve taken and compile them into one outline.  I move plot points around so I have a better arc.  Novels move in four parts: stasis, catalyst, climax, and stasis.  And all those little plot points also move in four miniature versions of those parts.  I need to introduce them and set them moving and resolve them and create the new normal, for each individual plot point.  You don’t want it rushed.  You have to think about pacing.

I write and write until I have a chapter by chapter outline containing an overview of the scenes and bits of conversational text.  My outline tends to be 15 – 20 pages long, single spaced.  The one for the new book is 18 pages long.  It starts out with a character list where I can dump facts about the characters as they come up.  And a few overarching points I feel I need to remember as I sit down to write each day.  And then after that, it’s a breakdown, chapter-by-chapter, of what I need to write.

I do it this way because I think it helps me to not get too committed to a project before I see if we work well together, AND it later enables me to walk away from the novel for days at a time and return knowing exactly what I need to write.  Outlining the book isn’t planning the wedding: it’s planning the marriage.

I know there are people who can’t write this way.  They either need to plot out the whole book before they’ve written a word (Plotters), or they need to just write by the seat of their pants (Pantsers).  But this hybrid method works for me.  Maybe give it a try if you find your novel is falling apart after a few chapters.  It may not be YOU, the writer.  It may be your novel.  Because… you know… not every novel you date will become your life partner.

(Life partner is based, of course, on the life of the book.  A writer marries many books in her lifetime.  A book only gets one writer.)

November 19, 2014   11 Comments

How Many Twitter Followers Do You Need to Get a Literary Agent?


The quick answer: why are you concerned about Twitter followers?  Is it because someone once told you that you need a big social media following to get a book deal?  Even though there were clearly authors before Twitter and clearly authors who are not on Twitter?

Think about that for a moment.

Brooke Warner (my editor for Navigating the Land of If at Seal Press who started SheWrites) has a great piece explaining author platform, which I think can be a confusing thing to understand and therefore people simplify it in their minds as meaning that they need to be active all over social media in order to get a book deal.  But that isn’t the case at all.

Social media, Brooke points out, is just one piece of the puzzle, and it’s a small one at that.  She places it at 10%.  I’d argue that it matters a bit more than 10% but that is because I think active social media users do a lot of networking.  And unless you are additionally doing a lot of face-to-face networking, you aren’t building the remaining parts of your social media platform.

The point is not to gather followers: numbers mean little to nothing.  The point is to become active and have your voice heard.  To be able to show interaction.  When it comes to the online portion of your platform, agents and publishers want to see you responding to others and others responding to you.

Back in that How to Get Published series (links to individual posts are on my right sidebar), I talked about how your platform is your reach.  Think about your words as a set of arms: who do they touch if you hold them out?  Are you a respected voice in your field (non-fiction) or a unique voice in the literary world (fiction)?  Do you have traditional media contacts?  Do people listen to you on social media?  Do they read your blog?  Do you have people out there in the world who will help you with the publicity of your book?  And, mostly important, is it all somewhat consistent?

Meaning, you don’t need viral posts; you need to show that you can consistently produce content that people respond to.  If you already have published a book, your proof is in the response to the prior book.  If you haven’t already published a book, your proof is cobbled together from blog posts, speaking gigs, social media accounts, etc.

The best things you can do to build platform as you write your book:

  • Write Blog Posts: they are a litmus test for your ideas.  Do people respond to your voice?  Your ideas?
  • Participate in the Blogging World: it’s not enough to just write good content; you need people to find it.  Get out there and participate in the blogging world so people find your posts.  In other words, be a good member of the community and do everything you want people to do for your blog: read other people’s blogs, comment on them, share good blog posts via your social media accounts.  Others will start doing the same back to you.
  • Network on Social Media: become an active user of a network you enjoy and start interacting with book bloggers, agents, publishers, and potential readers.
  • Network off Social Media: don’t fall into the trap of having your entire world online.  Take classes, go to conferences, make friends with other writers, start a face-to-face writing group.  The most valuable part of an MFA program wasn’t learning how to write; it was helping me make connections and placing me around other writers.
  • Practice Writing: platforms don’t get you book deals.  Good writing gets you a book deal.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve set up for yourself (unless you are Paris Hilton) if you’re a crap writer.  Continuously write: it’s impossible not to get better at writing if you’re doing it all the time.

Please note that the reason I give the specific advice above is due to where you’ve found this information: the Internet.  That is very very important to note.  If you were a student in my class, I would not be so focused on the online world.  But I’m going with the assumption that YOU are comfortable here; “here” being the online world.  It’s where you seek information.  Therefore, it’s likely a place where you will try to build your platform.

But it’s just as valid to not try to build it online if that’s not a space where you feel comfortable or where you excel.  If you’re more comfortable offline, I may tell you to submit to literary magazines, get involved in a literary magazine, submit to anthologies, attend workshops, and attend author readings.  I would tell you to teach a class in your subject, build up your contacts in a given field via volunteer work, and ingratiate yourself to people who may review your book in the future via mainstream media outlets.

In other words, every person will build their platform differently, and the best platforms are a happy extension of the author, not a painful exercise in spinning too many plates.  Do what you enjoy to get your voice out there.  No book deal is worth trying to fit yourself into places where you don’t feel comfortable.

So stop worrying about Twitter followers.  And read Brooke’s adviceAnd let me know if you have any questions.

Totally off-the-topic side note: tomorrow is #MicroblogMondays.  Write something now so you have something go.  Great way to build platform and find new readers for your blog!

October 5, 2014   7 Comments

DIY MFA: What Happens Next — Wrap Up (Part Eleven)

Welcome back to your Do-it-Yourself MFA program.

We’re now at the end of the journey — the book is in hand, the readings are set-up, the reviews are pouring in … so what happens next?

Well, first of all, I think we need to examine where you are emotionally.  Anne Lamott described it best in Bird by Bird, and if you haven’t yet read her book, this will be the perfect receptacle for all of the anxiety that accompanies the release of a book.

I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self esteem.

This did not happen for me.

It didn’t really happen for me either.  Which is not to say that there weren’t exciting moments; happy moments that came close to Hallmark-land.  For instance, the first time I held the galleys, the first time I held the finished book, the first time someone read it and told me they liked it, the first review to go up on Amazon.  All of these were huge happy moments.

But in between, there was self-doubt and jealousy and anxiety and frustration.  You wonder if you chose the best words for that paragraph and wish you could still pick at the manuscript.  You’re jealous of other writers and what you perceive to be their easy success (after talking to them, you realize that they too are going through the same emotions as you, so “easy success” becomes more myth than reality.) You worry that no one will read the book.  You’re frustrated with the pace — it’s race, race, race, wait.

Hopefully, knowing that everyone else is going through those same emotions will help you be able to set them aside for the moment and savour the happy parts of the experience.  Because if you don’t, you may miss the fact that this is a very happy experience too — a nerve-wracking one where you never feel as if you are doing “enough” or getting “enough,” but happy nonetheless.

And you wouldn’t trade having a traditionally published book for the world.

You’re also probably wondering what happens next, I mean, after the book signing parties and interviews and readings and reviews peter out.  Because traditional publishing is a bit like a drug.  You want to quit — book writing feels so good, but publishing makes you feel terrible — yet you can’t because you’re also addicted to the book publishing highs.  I mean, there is someone out there who thought your writing was good enough that they were willing to make an investment in it.  And then there are people — not even people who know you at all — who are willing to buy your book and read it.  And those highs are what make you wrack your brain for the next book project.

Something you should know before you dive into the next book is that you probably have a ROFR or Right of First Refusal written into your book contract.  This means that your publisher has the right to see your next project before anyone else and decide whether or not to purchase it.  Even if you have a fantastic ROFR that says that you can show your next project to your publisher two days after you turn in your final manuscript, you are probably going to see a large lag time between when you can start working on your next project and when you should.

Publishers are going to want to wait and see how the first book does with sales.  Unless you already have a multi-book contract, they are not going to want to see your next idea for a bit unless there has already been incredible pre-sale buzz for your book.  So you may find that there are years between when you turn in the manuscript for your non-fiction book and when you should aim to turn in the next book non-fiction book proposal to that publisher (and yes, baring a terrible working relationship, you do usually want to remain with the same publisher if you had a decent deal the first time around.  There is a lot to be gained from an ongoing publisher-writer relationship).

So what do you do with yourself in the meantime?

You can always go a different route and try your hand at a different piece of writing.  For instance, if your last book was non-fiction, you can fill the gap with a fiction book at a different publisher (which is the route I took).  You can write freelance articles, directing traffic to your published book (and you should do this regardless).  You can take the time off to really savour and reflect on your first publishing experience.  Or you can race ahead with the next proposal and tuck it away so the second your agent tells you that it’s okay to shop it, it’s ready to send out.

Now that you’re an author, you’re going to field two kinds of requests — ones that help you while helping someone else, and ones that only help someone else.  Let’s examine both kinds:

  • Interviews Requests: you are going to get requests for quotes or interviews from journalists, and I recommend that you help them for two reasons.  (1) It helps get information about your book out there, even if it’s simply a line such as, ” … says Melissa Ford, author of Navigating the Land of If.” (2) They are a writer just like you, and it is karmically good to help another writer with their project.
  • Book Blurbs or Book Reviews: you are going to be asked to blurb books or review someone else’s book, and I recommend that you do it.  This helps the other author a lot more than it helps you, and it is a big time commitment, but it is difficult to get book blurbs and reviews.  Hopefully, what goes around will come around again when it comes to your next project.  This is about supporting a fellow author.
  • Agent Introductions: you will probably be asked to introduce people to your agent.  Sometimes, you’ll be excited to pass along a good find to your agent because it helps both your friend and the agent.  Sometimes, you won’t know the person doing the asking, but their project will sound so interesting, that it’s probably worth your time to pass the introduction along.  I’ve never been asked by a complete stranger to vouch for them, but if this was an ongoing situation, I would probably put up a statement on my website explaining why I don’t do this.  I love my agent and would hate to abuse her time by becoming a human slushpile.  So, for anyone reading this who was considering asking a stranger to recommend them to the writer’s agent, please rethink that.  People you know = okay to ask.  People you’ve never met or even emailed with = please don’t go there.

Hopefully, you’ve gotten to the end of this series and haven’t been scared away from the world of publishing.  I think it’s always best to enter with your eyes open and realize that there is a HUGE difference between book writing and book publishing.  Again, Anne Lamott said it perfectly in Bird by Bird:

I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be.  But writing is … It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.  The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Writing is unbelievably wonderful, and I’ll always be grateful that I get to attempt to make a living doing something I love.  But book writing has nothing in common with book publishing.  They are two completely separate entities (hence why self-publishing has little in common with traditional publishing, and why self-publishing may be the best route for you if you love book writing, but can’t stand book publishing).  I went into book publishing thinking it would be just as much fun and just as creative as the writing side of things, and it probably is for the editor or publisher.  But for the author, it’s the hard work.  It’s a struggle because it’s outside your expertise.  You are a writer, after all, not a salesperson.

But you learn how to fit these other hats on your head because to return to the original point, there is no business like book business, to paraphrase Ethel Merman.  There is nothing like getting that phone call from your agent that an offer is on the table.  There is nothing like opening the envelope that holds your advance check.  There is nothing like walking through a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf.  And that’s why you keep plugging away, even when you have a huge stack of rejections and you’re frustrated as all get out with the publishing industry.  Because, unfortunately, if you want the highs, you also need to take the lows.  You need to send out those query letters and edit that book opening and beg other writers for book blurbs.  But I promise you, it’s worth it.

Okay class, any questions on what was discussed here or in any other section of this series? Please leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them in the comment section below. This is the last installment in this series, so consider it a free-for-all for any unanswered questions.

Heads Up and Looking Back: topics that will be covered in future installments or that were covered in past installments

1. Before You Even Get Started

2. Are You Ready to Be an Author?

3. How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

4. Why You Need an Agent

5. How to Get an Agent

6. Querying Agents

7. What Happens Next–Waiting for a Book Sale

8. Self-publishing and Self-representation

9. Working with an Editor

10. Be Your Own Publicist


August 22, 2010   4 Comments

DIY MFA: Be Your Own Publicist (Part Ten)

Welcome back to your Do-it-Yourself MFA program.

Now it’s time to get out there and sell the book.  Actually, this part should be happening while you’re still writing the book (if it’s non-fiction) or editing the book (if it’s fiction).  In other words, it is never too early to create buzz.

Here’s an analogy: sometimes PR people contact me, wanting me to write about their product.  The reality is that it’s almost never a product I already know–iPods sort of sell themselves–but instead, a small niche product.  Here’s the reality–if they had purchased some ad space on a few blogs and I had subconsciously heard of the product several times before they approached me, I’d probably be more interested in getting a sample and writing about their product.  But when they’re cold-calling me without any prior poke into my subconscious, it would have to be a pretty incredible product to get my attention.  And frankly, if it was that incredible, they probably wouldn’t be approaching me to write about it because it would already be selling like hotcakes.

Books work with the same thought.  If you cold-call the reader, for example, just setting it on the table in the bookstore and hope they pick it up, 99 times out of 100, they will walk on by without glancing at it unless it has a remarkable cover or title.  But if you saw reviews and ads and met the writer in passing at a conference, chances are, when you bump into that book down the road, you’ll be more likely to give it a try.  Therefore, the marketing wheels need to be turning early-on in order to catch the crowds right at the book’s release.

Some of these avenues will be closed off to you if you self-published your book, but regardless of the size of your press, the rest of these are places to try to get a bit of publicity for your book.

  • Your Blog
  • Your Book Site
  • Other People’s Blogs
  • Reviews on Book Sites
  • Reviews in Print Mediums
  • Readings at Bookstores
  • Readings at Conferences
  • Speaking Gigs
  • Advertisements
  • Email List

Let’s explore these ideas:

Your Blog

Hopefully, you’re still writing on your blog and keeping up your platform.  You already have people who like your writing style so tell them about your book.  Not by continuously clocking them over the head with it, but you should use your blog to shout to the world that you do, indeed, have a book.

Your Book Site

And for the love, set up a book site.  A place to point people toward for information about your book’s release, upcoming appearances, and an excerpt.  Make sure that’s it’s both eye-catching and easy to navigate.

Other People’s Blogs

Otherwise known as a virtual blog tour.  You can ask others to write about your book or have them conduct an interview with you.   You may do a guest post on their blog if they’re open to the idea, therefore reaching new readers who may not know about your blog or book.  Sometimes, another person will organize the virtual book tour for you.

Reviews on Book Sites

The best place to have a review beyond a site that contains your niche audience for your book is on a book site.  After all, people who read book sites usually read books.  Try to make connections with book bloggers (and by make connections, I mean take the time to build a relationship.  Please don’t write a general email to every book blogger or reviewer begging them to look at your book) and you can usually arrange to have the publicist send them a review copy.

Reviews in Print Mediums

These are getting harder and harder to get.  If you have any connections, use them.  Your publicist at the publishing house will also be using their connections.  Instead of trying to get a review in People magazine or the New York Times, focus on your niche audience.  If it’s a non-fiction book, is there a magazine that covers the topic?  If it’s a fiction book, is there a smaller magazine that might do a review?

Readings at Bookstores

It’s not that publishers don’t send authors on book tours — there are people reading at bookstores every night of the week.  But do the math — there are many more authors and books than there are bookstores and not everyone will get a book tour.  In fact, most publishers no longer put their money toward book tours because they often aren’t worth the cost.  The exception is with big name authors who can pull in the audience.   Speak directly with local bookstores or the scheduler at your local big chain store.

Readings at Conferences

Are there conferences going on that are connected in some way to your book.  A piece of general women’s fiction might work well with BlogHer.  A book about a specific medical condition may fit with a conference being held on that medical condition.  Search to see if there are conferences you should be attending and networking at as well as places where you could speak about your book.

Speaking Gigs

On that end, if you have a non-fiction book, you may be considered an expert in a topic and get a speaking event at a conference or meeting where you can also mention your book.  If you have a piece of fiction, you may be able to get a speaking gig about publishing in general and mention your book there.


Purchase advertisements in smart places.  It might be worth your money to purchase ad space on a popular blog that is read by people who might like your book.  It is worth getting print advertising in a magazine that caters to people who would read your book, or buy advertising in a newsletter.

Email List

This is not a time to get shy.  Email out one or two announcements about your book or readings to your friends.  Ask them to forward it to their friends.  You do not want to be annoying and send out dozens of emails, but this is also a time to get by with a little help from your friends.

Other suggestions for ways people have publicized their book?

Okay class, any questions on what was discussed here? Please leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them in the comment section below. Keep in mind that I have a lot of topics to cover so your question may be answered in a future installment (see below). So keep your questions about book publicity.

Heads Up and Looking Back: topics that will be covered in future installments or that were covered in past installments

1. Before You Even Get Started

2. Are You Ready to Be an Author?

3. How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

4. Why You Need an Agent

5. How to Get an Agent

6. Querying Agents

7. What Happens Next–Waiting for a Book Sale

8. Self-publishing and Self-representation

9. Working with an Editor


11. A Mishmash of Leftover Questions and Answers

August 15, 2010   2 Comments

DIY MFA: Working with an Editor (Part Nine)

Welcome back to your Do-it-Yourself MFA program.

I’m really not sure what happens when you self-publish, so hopefully someone can chime in on the comment section below.  This installment will be about working on a piece of non-fiction or fiction with your editor.  Everything from the signing on the contract to publication day.

First we need to go back to those terms and define some roles.  You are going to be working with an editor and a publisher.  Sometimes, they are one and the same person, but they’ll be doing two very different jobs with you.  An editor is working with you to tighten (or produce) the content.  They will be looking at ideas, character development, tone, pace–and they may also do a little line editing.  The publisher–the person who acquired your manuscript–is more in charge of the life of the book after it’s done.  They were the ones who negotiated with your agent and know the details of the deal, and they’re also the ones who are thinking about marketing and how well the book will do in sales.  You will also work with a book designer and a copyeditor, though your relationship with them will likely be through your editor or publisher.  You will also work with a book publicist, brainstorming ideas based on your contacts and their reach.

I asked an associate editor at a Big Six Publisher about the various jobs associated with the creation of a book and he says,

Your editor is your point-person at the publishing house.  The first thing he is going to do is work with you on shaping your manuscript.  Depending on the book, the editor may do A LOT of line editing, and the publisher may be involved from the first step.  Part of a goal of a big publishing house is to get the whole house behind it, so that Marketing, Publicity, and Sales all strive to make your book the one that breaks out of the morass on the shelves.  Your publisher works with all of the departments to position your book, which can often be something as simple as “People who read Jodi Picoult will want to read this, so let’s see how Jodi Picoult is marketed, designed, and publicized, and we’ll try to copy that.”  The sheer number of people who will help bring your book to the shelves at a big publishing house would rival the end credits of a movie, and one of the biggest advantages of a publishing house is that every person in the process believes that they are integral, rightly so.  Someone is actually putting a lot a lot a lot of thought into the trim of your book, into what font to use, into the running heads (those bits at the top of the page that say your name on one page and the title of the chapter / book on the other).  It helps.

With fiction, the manuscript is complete, but you’ll still do an edit.  Or two.  Or maybe even more.  I had my Big Six associate editor explain:

You’ll do however many edits the publisher / editor requires to feel safe in the belief that they are going to be putting the best possible product into the marketplace.  One of the biggest mind-leaps for an author is that while their manuscript is a work of art, once they sign a contract with any publishing house, big or small, it is also a commodity, and a good relationship with your editor / publisher will maintain that sense of the artistic throughout, there are always considerations as to how the novel will spotlight itself in the marketplace.  In other words, when you finish a manuscript, figure out the hills to die upon.  If changing the ending would make your book no longer yours, bring this up to the editor / publisher who is going to buy the book.  You should definitely be able to have a conversation before the contract is signed, and you want to make sure that you have the same artistic vision as the people who will be adding a marketing and publishing vision to it.  If every word is sacred and you’re going to bristle at editorial guidance, whatever the reason, self-publish, and hire a freelance marketer and publicist.

In other words, the point is to tighten up the manuscript and take it to its best possible place, which is why I’ve said several times that there is a big difference between writing a book and publishing a book.  While books are obviously about the story or the information contained within (in other words, the content), publishing is about the marketability of the book.  About getting it into the right hands.

After the manuscript is complete, you will receive back a series of pages called proofreading and copyediting pages, but we’ll talk more about that below with non-fiction.  You’ll also be asked to think about and approach other authors for book blurbs at this point, which are those small quotations that publishers slap on the cover of the book.

With non-fiction, you’ll start working on the chapters and you’ll probably create an outline with your editor to make sure that you not only have time to write the chapters, but you have time to edit them too.  Don’t be surprised if your publisher hires an independent editor to work with you.  This isn’t unusual with small presses that have small staffs.  You should have good communication with your editor and take deadlines seriously (because they can’t do their job if you don’t do yours).  After the manuscript is complete and turned in, you’ll also wait for the next step (proof-reading and copyediting) as well as pulling together those book blurb people.

Our associate editor points out the most important thing to remember: to hit your deadlines.

Take deadlines as serious as a grease fire.  If you sign a two-book contract, you will have a date in that contract for when the second book is due to the publisher.  You want to make sure you can meet that deadline before you sign, because a publisher will hold you to it, and can cancel the contract if you do not.  It is vital that every author anticipates how much time they will have to write (keeping in mind that, while you are writing book two, you will be publicizing book one) so that you never, ever, ever miss a deadline.

You will receive bound galleys from your publisher, which are a draft of the book layout, usually without the final cover in place.  You will also usually receive unbound pages that show the final layout of the book.  This will give you a chance to correct any mistakes that came with the layout as well as catch more type-os and grammatical errors.  Your publisher will have a formal way they want you to edit which will be a balance of reading the pages yourself as well as answering queries from the proofreader.

Those galleys will also go out to those authors who are blurbing your book, and sometimes to reviewers instead of printing a separate “advance reading copy” or ARC.  It all depends on the finances or protocols of the publisher.

Usually, you’ll go through one or two proofs (also called first pass and second pass).  The second proof is the final proof–meaning, you’ll check that all of your first corrects were made, you’ll search for any other errors, and then the manuscript is out of your hands.  This is where you’ll also see how the final pages look–any graphics or sidebars or tiny icons should all be on these pages.  Once you send back your notes, you’ll wait until you get your copies of your book in the mail.  Some publishers will only send the first proof, so there is only a single chance to catch and correct all the small mistakes.

Er … wait … there’s also the cover.  Most publishers will ask the author a few questions to get a sense of what you envision in the cover design.  The bottom line is that they want you to be happy with your cover.  But you’re also not a marketer and they have had experience picking covers that catch someone’s eye.  Therefore, it will be somewhat of a collaborative process, with your feelings taken into consideration, but ultimately, the book designer creating the cover.

Most publishers will listen and make tweaks (and in some cases, go back to the drawing board) if the author isn’t happy with the cover.  This is a place where your agent should help with the negotiations (remember, this is the person who always has your back).  Our associate editor states,

Your agent earns his or her percentage not by selling your book to a publishing house, but by representing your business interest.  That includes the cover, the marketing, and every other business-related aspect of your book.  If you have a concern or question, the best person to speak through is your agent.  Think of it like you would an attorney.  If you are having a legal dispute, and you’ve hired an attorney, you’re going to let that attorney be your mouthpiece, no?  If you have concerns about the cover, they should go through the agent.  You should be focused on the artistic endeavor of writing and revising, which you should be doing with your editor.  The agent should handle virtually all other matters with the house.

Ultimately, the final cover design is in the hands of the publisher.

So one day, you will get a box with copies of your book.  You will hold your book and cry, thinking about the whole journey from idea to holding it in your hands.  You’ll drop the book in your bag and show it to all your friends.  And soon after that, the book will be sent out via online booksellers or on the shelves of bookstores.  But before all of that, the marketing part begins…

Okay class, any questions on what was discussed here? Please leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them in the comment section below. Keep in mind that I have a lot of topics to cover so your question may be answered in a future installment (see below). So keep your questions about working with an editor and publisher.

Heads Up and Looking Back: topics that will be covered in future installments or that were covered in past installments

1. Before You Even Get Started

2. Are You Ready to Be an Author?

3. How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

4. Why You Need an Agent

5. How to Get an Agent

6. Querying Agents

7. What Happens Next–Waiting for a Book Sale

8. Self-publishing and Self-representation


10. Be Your Own Publicist

11. A Mishmash of Leftover Questions and Answers

August 2, 2010   Comments Off on DIY MFA: Working with an Editor (Part Nine)

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