My debut YA novel, Traveler, is in the bag and set to be in bookstores in a little less than 7 months (squee!). It’s still a bit surreal, being published by one of the “big five.” (Swoon Reads is an imprint of MacMillan).
I’ve previously self-pubbed under my other monikers in both eBook and print, but this was my first foray into the big time, and what a ride it’s been. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world!
I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve learned:
1. Your editor is honestly, truly there to help you build a better book
This one was kind of a no-brainer for me, of course they want the best book they can get, right? Good book=more buyers of book=more money. Publishing is a business, and they want to make money off your book, their product. Quality matters.
But it goes deeper than that. I was expecting a lot of “Change this, chop that, hate this, move that…” and what I got was “How do you feel about…? Do you think it would make sense to…? Can you find a better way to clarify this part…? It’s reading slow here… I want more!”
The bottom line is, they didn’t take the story from my hands, but instead left it there, giving me suggestions as to how I might mold it, shape it, turn it, invert it, and it emerged altered but dramatically better for the open conversations that preceded all the changes.
2. They know the market
One of the things that I was kind of unsure about was my book cover. The publisher’s books (in this particular genre) all had a sort of “look” to them, I thought. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want my book to blend in and get lost with a cover that looked like every other book they published.
Then I started really prowling the aisles at the bookstores and online at Amazon, and it turns out….those covers are the happening thing in book covers in this particular genre. They all bear some of those elements, and that’s what makes them identifiable to the readers. I ended up with an amazing cover that bears some of that whimsical styling, but still captivates and makes people want to pick up the book.
3. Don’t be afraid to push back
Did my editors and I agree on every change? That’s a definite no. There was even one point when two of my editors completely disagreed with each other on how they wanted the ending to play out. I finally ended up making the call, and I feel it was the right one.
I had three major plot points rubbed right out, and two of them really did need to go. One I sort of wish I’d fought for, but I’m going to defer to their better judgement when they tell me it makes the story too dark.
There were a few key points, however that I stood my ground on, defending my reasons, and in the process, realizing that I needed to clarify that not just for the editors, but for the readers as well. Once I did, my points were much stronger, and the editors saw their value in the story.
4. Keep your deadlines (but tell your editor if life is handing you a crap sandwich)
I met every single deadline for book one – early on all of them, in fact, but book two’s first turn-in ended up getting pushed back. My plot took a left turn, my MacBook died (setting me way back on writing), and I just wasn’t feeling great about it as that deadline neared. I had an honest conversation several weeks before the deadline, and my editor told me to pick a new date and we’d make it work.
I gave myself an additional 30 days and I am so very glad that I did. I also plan to (cross fingers) never miss a deadline again. Luckily, book two isn’t due out for another year and a half, so they could be more flexible, time-wise. I will never, never miss a deadline on a closer time frame. I don’t care if I have to write 10k a night to do it and my brain leaks out my ears.
5. Thank your fans, Thank your fans, Thank your fans
I came into this process with fans already on board, and that has been invaluable. Some followed me from one of my blogs, some from the fanfics I’ve written, some from the Swoon Reads website that beta-read the original incarnation of the book, and of course, my friends and family. Every one of them is invested in me and in this book, and you cannot possibly put a price on that. So I thank them sincerely every single time one of them interacts with me or shouts me out, or drops my name. You’re nowhere without them, and you owe them everything.
I could write a book of everything I’ve learned so far…in all that free time I have when I’m not writing other books. But these were the big things and all in all, it’s been such a tremendous experience.