Sunday, 16 October 2011

... published a novel: 1 - FAQs

There are many things nobody tells you about publishing your first novel, comb writers' guides and read author interviews as much as you like. Here's my top five, in case you're interested, and my answers, for what they're worth:
  1. How much money do you get?

    Author advances (so called because you get the money – mostly – in advance of publication) range from a pittance to a fortune. Frequently, and especially for first-time authors, they equate to less than a year's salary (and not a banker's salary either … more like a shop assistant's). 

    So there's no real answer to this one, as it depends on the author and the book, but I can tell you that you don't get it all in one big chunk; instead it's usually split into four:
    1. Chunk 1 comes on signing the deal. This is the point at which your agent takes you out to lunch and you buy that dress/HD TV/car you've been eyeing up … (depending on how much you get)
    2. Chunk 2 you will get on handing in the final version (with all the editor's suggestions incorporated, or at least dealt with).
    3. Chunk 3 comes on hardback publication, for those who get it (increasingly rare – what often happens these days instead is that the first edition is a B-format, i.e. larger than usual, paperback). But if you are lucky and expensive enough to get a hardback edition …
    4. Chunk 4 will be paid to you on publication of the paperback – this means that however much your advance is, it's often spread over at least two years, so don't go bidding for that house yet ...

  2. How much do you have to rewrite and edit your novel?

    LOADS. Anne Enright said “A book is only properly done when you can't look at it without throwing up,” – and, having read through mine three times in microscopic detail over the last two months, I tend to agree. The proof-reading and copy-editing process has revealed a number of things, including: 
    1. I am rubbish with dates and the passage of time, often taking refuge in a cavalier Doctor Who-esque approach to chronology, (now beaten out of me by the attentions of not one but three proof-readers – my sincerest possible thanks, ladies).

    2. Two of my favourite words (excusable – I hope – since my book is Victorian Gothic) are “dark” and “cold”. In case you're wondering, my two new favourite words are now “black” and “chill”.
      Personally speaking, I did one major rewrite for my former agent, one minor one for my current agent, another minor and major one (including a cut of 20,000 words) for my editor, and a full proof-read and copy edit for and with my copy-editor. And that's not counting the minor tweaks in between. It took about three years in total, although much of that was spent assiduously procrastinating. 
  3. How long does it take?

    I started writing The Whores' Asylum in early 2007. It's being published in February 2012 – so all in all, five years – but the first draft was written in about a year and a half (including procrastination time and a few months off about 75,000 words in). Second books are usually a lot quicker to market, mostly because it doesn't take as long to sell them … :)

  4. What do agents, editors and publicists actually do?

    Your agent is technically your gateway to the editor, but in many cases she (and it's very often a she) function as an editor herself, making rewrite suggestions, commenting on character and plot etc. until she feels it's as good as it can be and is ready to go out into the big bad world of submissions to publishers. Beware of any agent who has no opinion on your book, or thinks nothing needs to be changed: either you have genuinely written the Great American, British or Swahili Novel, or else they haven't read it properly. For this work (on spec until they sell your novel) they get 15-20% of your total fee for the book.

    Editors are the people at publishing houses who decide to buy your novel. She (and it's very often a she) will have to believe in and like it enough to spend several thousands of pounds of the company's money on buying it. She will, of course, also make editorial suggestions – being an editor and all – which will be different from your agent's. Don't worry about it (different strokes for different folks) and do take these suggestions very seriously indeed. Your editor is your boss, effectively. Ignore her at your peril!

    Your publicist, on the other hand, works for the publisher, but also for and with you. Expect her (and very often, etc.) to get you gigs and readings, interviews and reviews, and to sort out your author photo. But don't expect her to do everything – come up with your own suggestions and contacts. You make your own luck, and PR, a lot in this game. Besides, nobody cares about your book more than you, except possibly your mum, and unless she runs a publicity firm (or publishing house) her support will have to remain moral …

  5. What about rights?

    Every contract differs slightly, but a good rule of thumb is to assume that the author gets about 10% of the book's cover price – so if it retails for a tenner, expect a quid per copy. But – and this is a big but, especially if you've been given a big advance – you don't start getting royalties until you have earned out your advance. This means that all the money your publisher paid you upfront has been earned back by sales. So if they pay you fifty grand, you have to sell about 50,000 copies before you start getting royalties – although this can also be offset by selling foreign rights, film rights etc., which can definitely add up – especially if your novel's a runaway hit.
Got any questions for me? Stick them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer ...

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