The Deixis Press Weekly - Issue #39
It’s been a couple of weeks, so I’m well overdue for an update to you all. In terms of press work, I’ve been doing the boring stuff I don’t often talk about. But I wonder if you know the process of putting a book together? I’ll go through it.
First, the publisher needs a manuscript. Now: if you’re an author looking for an agent or a publisher, it is absolutely crucial that your manuscript is in immaculate condition, as far as you can ensure. Please don’t think that things like punctuation, consistency of character names, plot holes, and so on are things that your agent or editor will help you with.
“Wait!” you might say. “I thought that was an agent or editor’s job!” Well, yes and no. In some cases, the person who decides to take your work on will be so thrilled by your talent and potential that they will work with you from everything to refining your structure and fixing all your little drafting mistakes. But the reality for most people is that fiction is a *buyer’s* market. If I am an agent (I was) or a publisher (I am), in many cases I’m self-employed. The reason people say “time is money” is that it’s 100% true, especially for people who really can’t spare the extra hours to revamp your manuscript.
Consider: If I have hundreds of very good submissions to read and pick from (as a publisher, I do; as a completely unknown fledgling agent, I had a little less but still a lot), which manuscript am I going to take on: the really good one that needs a lot of work, or the really good one that needs very little work?
(Bear in mind, as well, that at large publishing houses you don’t get taken on by an editor, and then bam, you’re published. That editor then has to sell your book and your concept to a team of people. They aren’t going to put the work in to edit it ahead of time. If that team of people is not impressed by what they see, they’re not going to allow that editor to acquire your work. This is especially important to know if you are submitting to publishers while unagented.)
So please, for your own good and to maximize your success, make sure that at least a few people have read your manuscript—and, if you can, get someone to proofread it professionally. It really can make a big difference to your success.
So I, as a publisher or agent, have now acquired a manuscript. Counter to what I’ve said above, I will now work with the author of that manuscript to turn it into something that I love and believe I can sell. From this point forward I’m going to speak as a small publisher, but agents do this first part too. I work with authors where I can to refine their manuscripts.
For many of the books I have published, I was first an agent for the author—which is what drove me to become a publisher rather than an agent. During the pandemic, as a new agent, I found it tricky-to-impossible to meet and get to know commissioning editors. Many people were on furlough, and I myself found Zoom frustrating and impersonal. But I thought about it and said to myself, “I don’t actually need anyone’s permission apart from the authors to get these books into the world.”
I’d briefly like to paraphrase Alan Moore in his incredible BBC Maestro storytelling course (which I very much recommend to anyone). He says that early on in his writing career he learned that nobody was going to help him be a writer, but that nobody was going to prevent him either. And this point is true for almost any endeavor you may have. Nobody helps. [more on this perhaps astonishing assertion here]
Even your best friends, your family, your children: unless you are extraordinarily lucky, not even the twin you were born holding hands with, with whom you invented a secret language that only the two of you spoke until you were 15 years old, not even that twin will read all of your books. Or care too much about your macrame plant holders that you’re selling at the local craft fair. Or use the first mug that came off your pottery wheel, which meant everything to you because it was the first, so you gave it to them, but which sits kind of funny and actually scratched up their table.
But you know what? They’re not going to prevent you from doing any of that, either. Nobody is. The responsibility falls entirely on you to love what you do and believe in your own capacity to do it.
That was a very roundabout way to say that I didn’t have to do too much work for the first few authors I published, because I had already done a fair bit as their agent. (And also because I only took on manuscripts when I was an agent that didn’t require too much extra work. See point 1.) But for later books, I hired other freelance editors to help me consider structural and copy edits.
Meanwhile, I employ a designer to create the cover and a publicist to help build a strategy for getting the book under influential readers’ noses. All of this takes time, and you need to be in touch with high-profile reviewers a few months before the book is actually released if you want any kind of press. 3 months is the bare minimum, but that’s pushing it. 6 months is much better.
Once the manuscript is in good shape comes the typesetting and final proof-read. I do my own typesetting at the press, but I hire proofreaders, because there is only so much time you can spend looking at the same words before you become blind to them.
After typesetting/final proofing, I supply the digital ARC to NetGalley to get early reviews from consumers, and I send the books to my printers for proofs. Larger publishers have a stage where they have books in physical proof copy (always with a different, often very cool, cover) before the book is ultimately released. I do not have the time or money for that stage. My proof copies are identical to the books that eventually get printed and sold.
The hard part is done! No, it isn’t. The easy part is done. Now I have to do all of the marketing I can, selling online, pleading for my friends and family to buy the damn books, submitting them to prizes, trying to market on Twitter and Facebook, looking for inexpensive advertising venues, begging readers to review the books on Amazon and Goodreads, looking for book fairs, and so on.
This is the hardest stage for me. I can do all the rest with full confidence in my ability. Selling has never been my strength or passion (sorry, whoever was my boss in the various jobs where I sold stuff). (I remember once talking to a customer on the phone and saying…oh god, no, this story is too embarrassing ever to tell. Let’s just say that I tripped over my own tongue pretty badly.)
Anyway, I’ve been in stages 4 and 5 for the past couple of weeks, and it’s hard work, so I’ve been quiet. I’m still fighting with Ingram regarding their inability to list Adam Saint’s THE TRANSFER PROBLEM as available in paperback. I’m still fighting with Waterstones because they keep telling our mutual customers that even available books are unavailable. I’m fending off weird mean comments on Facebook from a borderline illiterate man who seems to think I’m not a real publisher (yeah, you and me both, buddy).
But I’ve also had a wonderful conversation with a project manager and consultant who gave me a huge list of things I can do to improve my own success. It was such a fantastic and helpful conversation, and I am ashamed to say that I have been so busy that I have not even emailed her back to say thank you. But that is on my list for today.
My biggest takeaway from the conversation I had with her is that I need to hire a publishing social media person. This is tricky because I don’t have any money, but I also don’t believe in taking people on without paying them. I think she’s right, though, and part of my email back to her today will involve working out a strategy for how best to approach that. I’d really love to give someone who is struggling to get the experience they need to break into this industry a hand, if I can.
There’s also the work I’m doing for the First Novel Prize, longlisting entries and writing feedback for authors. (That closes at the end of this month, so act fast if you’re unpublished/self-published.) And my own personal passion stuff too (yes, even beyond the press). And thinking about next steps for potentially publishing digital only/digital first books on a smaller Deixis imprint with a different name.
ALSO I had a fantastic launch party for Adam Saint and Genevieve Jenner at Vout-O-Reenee’s! Just look at these literary hotties:
Also my dog is having her toe amputated today.
So there’s a lot going on. I just haven’t had time to tell you about it. But now I did. So leave a comment or something.