Wow! It’s been a long time since I had a new entry in my Labyrinth series, hasn’t it? Between the A-Z Challenge, being out of the country, the upcoming release of my debut novel, and my second book wrapping up its first draft, there just hasn’t been the time for a long, meaty blog post. But things have slowed down a little bit, and I’m here to talk about the spot where the process becomes business: signing with a publisher.
Congratulations! Somebody likes you. It’s so exciting and validating when you receive that call or email from your agent telling you that its finally happened after all your months of waiting. Here are five things that I learned from the day Caitlin called me with the news and the day I signed my contract with Curiosity Quills Press.
1. Do your research.
Before you even start talking to the publisher(s) who want your book, take some time to google them. Read about them. What do they publish? Who do they publish? What’s their business model? What do they usually offer for an advance? What about royalties? Who would you be working with?
These are all things that you can find out on your own time. It shouldn’t take you more than an hour to take some time to get some notes together, and it’s going to make you a lot more comfortable and get you on steady footing. Knowing what you’re walking into gives you a feeling of control over the situation.
Plus, It always looks good when someone walks into a meeting prepared!
As a final note, if you have anything you want to be clear on before you go into talks and you can’t find it through google, ask your agent! This is information that she’ll have access to, and her job is to facilitate this very conversation.
2. Stay confident.
I remember laying on my bed, trying to keep breathing. It was my first conversation with a publisher. I was on a conference call with Caitlin, an acquisitions editor, and the specific editor at the house in question who was interested in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. Now, I’m not great on the phone at the best of times, and during this conversation, I was a babbling mess. There was a bit of interference on the line, which had me flustered beyond belief. I had to keep asking them to repeat themselves. It was awful. I kept thinking – oh no! I’m screwing this up! I need to impress these extremely important people who are doing me the favour of being interested in my work!
I only really realized once I’d hung up the phone and laid there basking in my humiliation that I had it all wrong.
For those of us who have been writing our whole lives, dreaming of the day we see ourselves in print, it’s easy to go into these talks thinking that we’re being done a favour. These people are giving us our greatest dream. We need them to like us. We need to wow them. We create a power imbalance in our heads that just doesn’t exist.
You need to realize, just like I did, that we’re actually the ones in the position of power right now. When you have a publishing house on the line, you’ve already impressed them. They want to publish your book. They’re already convinced. They’re there to convince you.
Keeping this in mind really helped me get my feet under me and I handled myself a lot better after that first conversation. Every time I started to find myself getting starstruck by the knowledge that the people I was talking to had the power to publish my book, I just took a second and reminded myself that they wanted to publish my book, and were trying to convince me to let them. It helped me screw my head on right every single time.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
You’re about to make a really important decision. The publisher you sign with is going to have a lot of influence and control over your writing, and you two are going to spend a lot of effort and time trying to make money from one another. So as you go into this, you want to be totally informed and comfortable. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, ask for clarifications.
There’s no such thing as a dumb question! So long as you did your research like I said in step one, anything else is fair game. Your publisher will know that you’re a first timer and this is all new for you.
Signing a contract is a big deal. Don’t keep your mouth shut if you’re confused about something just because you don’t want to rock the boat. Get out in front of it!
4. Decide what matters to you.
I was torn between multiple offers when I was going to sign. The decision was agonizing because the offers came out to be equal, but in different ways. I was choosing between a traditional and a risky business model, between a bigger advance and a better understanding of my novel. What was the right choice?
Caitlin told me this:
Remember this is a business transaction, so you do want to consider whether the offer is worth it to you from a business perspective to proceed. But it is also an artistic endeavor, so it also needs to be a publisher you feel comfortable will reflect and respect your vision and authorial intent for the work.
It’s such a simple thing, but it stuck with me. Something about how she said it and how she laid it out just made things click in my head. There was no right or wrong answer. What I had to decide was what I valued more. What I was willing to sacrifice. Worrying about your vision doesn’t make you a diva, and weighing the money involved doesn’t make you a mercenary.
There are a lot of moving parts to an offer, and when you get multiples, it can be really hard to know how to weigh those different parts. I lean back on what Caitlin told me. Each individual element is worth… exactly what it’s worth. The worth you assign to it. So if you’re trapped between offers, just sit back and think about what you value. Nobody else is making this decision. You’re the one who’ll live with it.
5. Trust your agent.
I know that I have a well documented good relationship with my agent. I only sing her praises, like, 100% of the time! But even though no other agent in the world can possibly be as amazing as mine… you hired yours for a reason.
Your agent exists for this very purpose. She is there to facilitate this very thing. She is your advocate in the field. She wants you to succeed and she wants your career to be long and inspired and successful. Not just because she presumably likes you and your work, but because she’s hitched her wagon to yours. An agent wants her clients to be happy, productive, and successful, because that’s how she pays her rent! She wants you to end up with the right publisher. She wants to be right there to help you find that publisher.
If your agent has something to say, listen. If you want her opinion, ask for it. If she has misgivings, heed them. You’ve never done this before, which is why she’s there. This is her job.