Every writer understands that penning a novel takes time. For some, the process may take months, years, even a lifetime. Many don’t understand that once the novel is complete, that’s when the clock really starts. For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to bypass the process of finding and signing with an agent and skip ahead to the first sale.
On average, it takes roughly eighteen to twenty-four months for a traditionally published novel to go from deal to bookshelf. Ouch! That was certainly a surprise to me and I was not prepared. What could possibly take so long? First, for a traditionally published novel, there’s scheduling and positioning, where the editor places the book in the publisher’s greater schedule. Then editing. Even if the novel needs minimal work, that’s still a step that takes time. Then copyediting to correct the text for continuity errors, punctuation, and grammar. Following that comes book design, cover design, marketing, sales, publicity, and probably a few steps I’m forgetting. The point is, there are many steps between acquisition and actual publication.
This guest post is by Michael Haspil. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he had the opportunities to serve as an ICBM crew commander and as a launch director at Cape Canaveral. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as lon gas he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, science fiction, fantasy, and horror have whispered directly to his soul. When he isn’t writing, you can find him sharing stories with his role-playing group, cosplaying, computer gaming, or collecting and creating replica movie props. Lately, he devotes the bulk of his hobby time to assembling and painting miniatures for his tabletop wargaming addiction. Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of the KT Literary Agency and Adrian Garcia of the Paradigm Talent Agency.
If a novel is indie-published, the process may be faster, but often because the team behind the book is smaller (and might even be a team of one) it may take even more time to get everything right.
Consider that any single step may cause additional delays and eighteen months starts to look like warp speed. What is an author to do?
Here are five things I did to survive while my book was undergoing the production cycle.
This sounds simple, but for some artists it is a hard thing to do. I, myself, have something of a dour complexion and tend to dwell in melancholy moods as my natural state. But consider the effect on others when every time they bring up a book, they meet a serious expression or an indifferent one. They will feel the same way about the book. Mission failed.
In my case, friends were very excited for me when I announced that TOR had acquired my novel. If I didn’t understand how long the path to publication would take, think about what they thought. Many of my friends believed once I’d gotten a book deal, they could buy it within weeks or months. They grew impatient. Luckily for me, they kept asking about it.
Even though I felt frustrated at times, I trained myself to smile as a reflex whenever anyone mentioned my novel. From the instant I made the deal public, I reminded myself I was in marketing mode. Everyone I spoke to about the book got a smile first.
Publishing isn’t all sunshine and roses. Many obstacles will surface in the path to the bookstore. I had to let it out. I was mindful of my audience when I did. My agent, my wife, and my critique group heard many a tirade railing against the inequities of the publishing world. Don’t go beyond that. My co-workers and acquaintances never caught mention other than everything was going according to plan.
I don’t know where I picked this up, but this is a useful exercise to practice when experiencing a negative emotion, particularly anger and its secondary offshoots: frustration and defeat. Don’t dwell on them. Be mindful of what the emotion is and set a timer. I set a countdown on my phone. During that time, I allow myself to feel that emotion 100 percent, and I vent. When the clock runs out, I remind myself that this emotion is not helpful in the current situation and I move on. It is a tough exercise to execute, but gets easier each time.
Most importantly, stay off social media and email when venting. A single angry tweet may undo years of hard work. Just don’t do it. I try to make it a point to never engage on social media unless I’ve got something positive to convey. It’s the old adage, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I try not to say anything at all.
3. Celebrate Everything
A very successful author recently gave me a useful piece of advice. He was unknowingly echoing the advice my agent, Sara Megibow, had given me when I started with her. Celebrate everything. The artist experience will hit with more bad news than good. So, when the good news comes, celebrate. Break out the champagne and share the good times with everyone you know.
It makes the bad times a bit easier to bear. I need to remind myself of this one constantly. I love to dwell on everything not happening instead of all the good luck I’ve had. There’s a saying, “Concentrate too hard on the unachieved goals and you’ll miss the victories along the way.” Put another way; make it about the journey instead of the destination.
4. Control the Controllable
When I set off to write a story, I can’t control if others will like it. I can’t control if it will sell. Sometimes, I might not even be able to control how my characters behave. I can control my level of effort and that I will tell the best story I can.
Along those lines, don’t jam up the production process by introducing an additional delay. Don’t miss deadlines. When the editor or copyeditor sends feedback, respond to it as fast as possible.
Try not to worry about what is happening out of sight. I can’t say it enough times. Control the controllable. I forget it too often. I should probably get it tattooed.
5. Keep Writing
Don’t stop writing. When I sold GRAVEYARD SHIFT, for the first few months, I stopped my routine. I painted armies of miniatures. I played scores of video games. I did lots of research for a sequel. It was rough to get back into the habit of butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard writing every day. When I finally did, it didn’t come back easily. It was a battle. For my two cents, write something different. Don’t write another work set in your world with the same characters. Unless a deal for a series exists, there’s always a chance that the sequel might not get picked up. Write something else. Anything: a short story, a novella, a different novel. At the worst, it may serve as a palate cleanser, at the best, it may lead to the sale of completely different series!
Those are five tips that helped me survive during my voyage along the publication production road. It may not be the same for everyone, but they are helpful. I have to believe that because I’m still sane (mostly).
Something to keep in mind is the sheer scale of it all when one considers the raw numbers. How many prospective authors never finish their novels? How many finished novels never make it to publication? It all looks impossible.
However, consider that you’ve done it, and (to steal a line from Joss Whedon) that makes you mighty.
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