Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stuff They Never Told Me About Publishing #1

You know those video games where all of the unexplored portions of the map are covered in darkness—they call it “fog,” and you have to go there to reveal what’s hiding? And sometimes the stuff that’s hiding is freakin’ awesome (like a special weapon or nummy digital food or an extra life), and sometimes it’s an obstacle you can’t get around and you have to go another way, and sometimes it’s stuff that wants to slay you and splatter your viscera on the walls? Publishing is kind of like that, except for the splattering viscera. The sense of adventure is really honkin’ cool, so if you’d like to learn everything as you go, then by all means, stop reading now. But for those aspiring writers who’d like to know, I thought I’d share a few things I didn’t find out about publishing until after the deal was made and I started walking through the fog. This will be an ongoing series with absolutely zero splattered viscera.

Book tours aren’t cost effective.
I’ve been surprised at how many people ask me if I’m going on a book signing tour. There seems to be an assumption that all authors do it. I knew that couldn’t possibly be the case before I signed my deal, but I didn’t know the reason why. I discovered that, economically, it’s not sensible for a publisher to lay out that kind of bread—airfare, hotels, meals and so on—when you might get twenty to sixty people showing up to buy a book at any given site. The publisher’s money would be better spent on marketing and social media networks. Most authors you hear/see doing tours have established reputations or prior celebrity status and are sure to draw big crowds of fanboys and fangirls. But debut authors like me? Nah. It doesn’t make sense to expect people to skip their favorite TV show and go to Borders on a Wednesday night to meet a dude they’ve never heard of before. What I’ll probably do is a few signings in Arizona because the books are set here, but that will be it to begin with. I'll continue to appear locally as often as I can because it'll be on my own dime. But honestly, a large part of this process is still in the fog for me, because from what I understand signings don’t get arranged until a couple months from the release date, and I'm still four and half months out.

You need a platform.
You have to blog and tweet "and stuff." If you do it well, then you have this thing called a platform, and this is something you absolutely must have. Everybody says so. But here I must confess that I’m not too clear on why. It’s kind of like the importance of getting good grades in high school: all the adults tell you it’s vital for your future, and so you study for the quadratic equation test because you hope it will make sense someday.  That’s kind of what I’m doing with my blog. I try to provide some info for aspiring writers (because I know what it’s like to be one) and some entertainment as well (mostly for myself), but I’m sort of in a continuous cringe, waiting for someone to swoop in and say, “No, no, no, McFly, you’re doing it wrong!” And I’m also waiting for someone to explain exactly how x number of followers on my blog or on Twitter translates into x number of sales I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I don’t mind blogging or tweeting—I enjoy both quite a bit! But I don’t understand how the mechanics of this platform thing truly works. (Does anyone? I've heard of social media experts, but I don't know them socially, so how expert can they be, right?) This is one of those things that don’t get adequately explained to newbie authors and thus you might as well get used to it. You need a platform because everyone says so and everyone’s doing it. Now go and build one, and don’t forget to write your next book. ;)

There are many people involved in publishing a book, and they’re all awesome.
Agent. Editor. (Those are the two I knew about because those are the people aspiring writers are understandably obsessed with getting to.) But since the deal, I've played jokes on my Assistant Editor and have been pranked in return. And then there's the Copy Editor. Managing Editor. Marketing Dude. Publicity Dude. (Marketing and Publicity are two different departments and I didn’t know that before; I know who my marketing fella is, but I don’t know who’s in charge of my publicity yet—that’s still in the fog.) Typesetting House. Art Director. Photographer. Model. Digital Artist. A department of people who deal with Subsidiary Rights. The nice lady at the security checkpoint in the Random House building who prevented me from injuring myself. There’s somebody named Phil in Accounting and he sounds like a cool cat. And then there’s the printer, of course, and the people in Sales who take my book to the buyers for the bookstores and say LOOK, THIS BOOK IS FRICKIN’ RAD AND I WILL BE YOUR BEST FRIEND IF YOU MAKE YOUR EMPLOYEES TACKLE YOUR CUSTOMERS AND THRUST IT INTO THEIR HANDS! And we can’t forget the distributor, the warehouse workers, the nice guys who drive my books around, and the spiffy people who work in bookstores and never tackle their customers. I’m sure there are plenty more but I’m not aware of their existence yet. All those people have buttloads of work to do to make sure my book hits the shelves on time and calls to people with the lure of a siren. They come online at different stages of the process and I couldn’t possibly thank them all, but once you think about it, it makes sense why it takes about a year for a book to get “out there.” And it also makes sense why self-publishing often doesn’t work out so well; it’s because you’re trying to do all those jobs yourself and you can’t.

That's all for this installment. If you'd like to hear about something specific, let me know. :)


  1. Kevin, great insights! I've been lurking on your blog for a while, thanks to an agent who tweeted a link, and have really enjoyed following the process of your book's publication, and your honest, newbie reactions to everything. Also, dwarves and beer ftw!

    You've commented a bit, here and there, about the process of your book's cover design and the back-and-forth you had with the art department. I'd be curious to hear details - exactly how much say did you have? Did they make every change you requested, or only a few?

    Covers are so critical to catching a reader's attention! And not in this kind of way:

    That is the stuff of my publication nightmares.

  2. Ah, that's an excellent idea for a post, A.B.! For me the process was entirely positive and I learned quite a bit, but you're right, I haven't shared everything yet! I will see what I can cobble together. Thanks for commenting—glad you've enjoyed my ramblings!

  3. :O But...in the games I play, it's always zombies and four to eight-legged spiky creatures lurking in the fog, waiting to impale or poison me, or poison then impale me. *trundles off the rethink this whole publishing thing*