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'07 Authors Insider Tips

by Louisa Burton
Formatting Your Manuscript
Scams / Choosing an Agent
Pitching Your Novel...
From The Call to Published...

Hard Business
From Greg Herren
Who Is Telling This Story?
It’s Work, Not A Hobby
Where Ideas Come From

Sexy on the Page
With Shanna Germain
Plotting Erotic Fiction
Seducing Your Muse
Creating Characters...
Description, Action & Dialogue
Fucking on Paper
Ten No-Nos of Erotic Fiction
Climactic Moments: First Draft
Critique Groups
Revising Your Erotic Story
Finding the Perfect Markets...
Just Submit Already
Rejections and Acceptances

Two Girls Kissing
With Amie M. Evans
Verb Tense Confusion
Coming Up with Story Ideas
Attend a Writers’ Conference
The Fundamentals of POV
Should I Sign That?
Etiquette for Authors
Erotica is Serious Work
No Body Writes for Free...
Shameless Self Promotions
The Myth of Writer's Block

The Write Stuff
From Ashley Lister
The Time is Write
The Beautiful People
A Book by Any Other...
Synopsis: the Necessary Evil
Erotica or Porn?
Feedback Whine

2007 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
What's it like being a writer?
An Apology to Salespeople

Get All Worked Up
With J.T. Benjamin
About Secrets
The Perfect Fuck
About Choices
The Age of Consent
The Kingmaker
Kids and Sex
The Price of Beauty
The G.O.P.
All Worked Up About Hate
Real Men

Pondering Porn
With Ann Regentin
Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
Thoughts on the Orgasm Gap
The Very Bloody Marys
The Doomsday Erection
Online Threesome Porn

By Louisa Burton

From "The Call" to the Published Book

There's a great quote of Lawrence Block's that's probably familiar to a lot of you:  If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

In my opinion, the time to take the two aspirins isn't before you write the book, but afterward, when you've actually gotten someone to agree to publish it, because that's when the headaches really start. Don't get me wrong, the headaches are well worth it. But they do come, especially with that first sale. As always in this column, I'm referring to the print publication of novels, although there are some common denominators with electronic publishing.

The problem with that first sale is that you've never done this before. It's all new. You've suddenly plunged yourself into a brand new industry with its own specific culture, its own particular rules and customs and etiquette—and it's not a culture you're used to. You may know everything there is to know about teaching or nursing or parenting or practicing law, but you don't know everything there is to know about handling that first book sale. So you end up with a bad case of "Imposter Syndrome"—you know, that queasy feeling you have with a new job, where you're trying to appear better informed and capable than you really feel.

I used to suffer from that syndrome pretty much until the day I gave my notice at a job. Even so, I wasn't quite as overwhelmed following the sale of my first novel as were my friends who sold around the same time, because I'd worked in publishing when I lived in New York City. That industry wasn't foreign or intimidating to me, although I'd been a promotion manager, not an acquisitions editor, so I wasn't completely up to speed on publishing contracts and editing. Luckily, I had an excellent agent—who still represents me fourteen years later, by the way—and she guided me through the process fairly painlessly.  

The Role of an Agent. As I emphasized ad nauseam in my second FictionCraft column, Literary Scams and Choosing an Agent, it's a really good idea to have a representative if you want to get a novel successfully published. Yes, it is hard to land a good agent, but the effort is worth it, so if you choose to submit your manuscript yourself to publishers, I would recommend submitting to agents simultaneously. That way, you'll be acquainted with a few of them by the time The Call comes. Even if your favorite agent is too busy to take you on as a client, or isn't 100% in love with your novel, he or she might very well agree to close that one deal for the standard 15% of profits on that book. The benefit to you is that you'll probably get more money (so don't begrudge the 15%) and better contract terms than you could possibly have gotten on your own. You'll have customized "boilerplate," or standardized language, that's favorable to you and which your publisher will include in all your future contracts, and this is a very good thing, indeed.

So, when the editor calls to offer you a contract with an advance of a certain amount, thank him and tell him—without accepting that dollar amount!—that you've been talking to agents and have narrowed it down to a couple you like. When you say it'd probably be best if an agent negotiated the terms, the editor will likely agree; not only does he know full well that your interests are better protected if you have a qualified representative, most editors prefer to deal with agents when it comes to the nitty gritty of clauses and filthy lucre. If the editor doesn't agree that you're best off having an agent, your BS alarm should go off. I'm not saying walk away from the deal! I'm just saying it is never, never, never in your interest to sign a publishing contract—which is crafted by the publisher's lawyers for the sole benefit of the publisher—without someone in your corner making sure you get what you're entitled to out of the deal. If you can't get an agent to handle the negotiations for you, there are literary attorneys who can be hired for this purpose.

Revisions. When an editor offers to buy your book—and a second unwritten one, because it will probably be a two-book contract—he might ask for revisions before the deal is finalized. This is very common, and nothing that should surprise or dismay you. The revisions might be in the form of a detailed revision letter, or he might, say, ask you to cut 2,000 words of narrative in order to perk up the pacing. When you're considering the revisions, bear in mind that although it's good to be a team player and not act like a diva, it's also important not to make a change that you feel will really damage your novel. After all, it's your name going on that book cover. You might decide to make all the revisions, delighted that they'll improve the novel, or you might make most and then politely challenge others. The key in dealing with this sensitive territory is to keep your cool. If you're outraged about what's being asked of you, do not call or email right away! Wait until you've settled down and can discuss the matter in a calm, businesslike way. Challenging suggested edits is fine; it's done all the time. But if you're perceived as a high maintenance prima donna who's hard to edit, three guesses how it'll impact your writing career.

The Contract. Now comes the formal publishing agreement, the terms of which will be hashed out between your representative and your editor. If you're handling these negotiations yourself, it's a good idea to bone up on publishing contracts by reading a book on the subject; there are several in print. With any publisher, some clauses are negotiable and some aren't. You should take your time with this first contract and try to get it as favorable to you as possible, because as I mentioned before, your custom boilerplate will follow you throughout your career with this particular publisher. This back-and-forth will take time and delay your advance payment, but it's worth it, believe me. I don't have the space here to discuss specific clauses; in next month's column, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Publishing Biz But Were Afraid to Ask, I'll touch on the most important ones.

Stuff You'll Need to Provide. Although your book will be edited on hard copy, it will be typeset electronically. Soon after it's sold (and revised, if necessary), you're going to be asked to send in an electronic version via email or disk. You probably won't have to save it in a special format, although as of this writing, some publishers can't yet open docs with the Word 2007 .docx extension.

At some point early in the process, you'll probably be sent, via email or snail mail, a form to fill out about yourself and your book. This information is used by copywriters, the art department, the sales reps, and so forth. In addition to basic stuff like contact information, you'll be asked for a brief bio, which is always written in third person, and a brief synopsis of the book. They might also want to know about your day job, any literary awards or past publishing credits you might have, media contacts, your local periodicals and bookstores, interview and speaking experience, and which other authors you think might read the manuscript and give favorable cover blurbs. The form itself might be called the "Author Questionnaire," "Art Sheets," or something else, and it could brief or twenty pages long. My most recent such questionnaire was so incredibly long and involved that I got a little punchy toward the end. When they asked whether I had any special travel requirements or restrictions, I wrote, "Like Dick Cheney, when I check into my hotel room, I expect the television to be tuned to Fox News."

You'll probably be asked for a publicity photo, also known as a head shot. You're going to have to live with this for a while. It will be your face to the world, so have it taken by a professional or by an amateur who really knows what he's doing. If you're a woman and you go to your neighborhood portrait photographer, the one who mostly does senior photos for the local high schoolers and some wedding work, he's going to try to pose you with your hand resting coyly next to your face, pinky extended like a little girl pretending she's having tea with the Queen. When this photo is cropped for your book jacket or a periodical, that truncated hand is going to look like it's been Krazy Glued to your face. Tell this person—and you will have to tell him over and over, because likes his standard, no-brainer poses—that you want a PUBLICITY HEAD SHOT. Just your head and shoulders, no appendages, no mirrors, no cute backgrounds, no funky hats, and for the love of God, if you're a romance writer, please, please, please, no boas or similar frippery. Omigod. Do not get me started. A prop or pet that's low enough in the frame to be cropped out without impacting the head and neck is fine. Women, be warned: dark lipstick looks black when your photo is reproduced in black and white, so if you're not aiming for a Goth look, go with something fairly light. Oh, and powder up. Then powder up again.

Your Title. Don't fall in love with it. Along with the cover art and back cover copy, it's seen as part of the book's "packaging," and therefore you may be asked, or required, to change it to something deemed more appropriate or marketable. Only once in my publishing career have I won an argument to keep my title, and I've bloodied my knuckles over quite a few of them. If you choose to fight the good fight, do so according to the rules of civilized warfare, bearing in mind that your editor wants the same thing you do—to sell a lot of books. And, of course, be ready to raise the white flag. You should also be ready to suggest other titles for consideration. It's gotten to the point where I have a whole list of alternatives waiting in the wings for every book I finish. Some years ago, after having about half a dozen books retitled by a particular editor, I sent in a manuscript titled Name This Book.

The Edits. Your manuscript will be edited and proofed in three stages:

1.  First, a line editor—usually your acquisitions editor—will read through the manuscript and do what's called, unsurprisingly, a line edit, where he may suggest rewording or question certain things. What he's looking for isn't incorrect usage and the like, although he will correct for that if something jumps out at him. He's looking for the flow of the language, and also content issues—character problems, awkward plot elements, that kind of thing.

2.  The manuscript is then passed on to an in-house or freelance copy editor, whose main job is to correct grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation in accordance with that publisher's house style and preferred authority, such as Webster's Unabridged or the Chicago Manual of Style. She will also correct typos, mark the manuscript up for the typesetter, and make note of any content problems that leap out at her, such as inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies. These she will either correct on the page or query, which means attaching an adhesive flag on which she's written a question for you.

Usually, once the manuscript is line- and copy-edited, it's mailed to you for your review. It's important for you to see both your line edits and your copy edits, so that you can either approve or nullify them. The latter is done by underlining the edited material with dots and/or writing "STET" next to it. Editors of both types are well-meaning; they want to make the book better. But sometimes there are things they don't get, or misinterpret, or assume, or whatever, and they make changes that are just wrong for the book. It's then your responsibility to undo those changes—without any snide comments in the margin, no matter how wrongheaded you think the change was. There's never anything to be gained by making your editor look foolish or making yourself look supercilious and snippy. This is your last chance to make any substantive changes, so be sure, before you send the edited manuscript back, that it's exactly how you want it.

3.  Next, you'll receive your galleys, or page proofs. These are actual typeset pages to be proofread by you at the same time they're being proofread by one or more employees of your publisher. Any changes you make at this point should be minor—correcting typos that made it through to this point (and you'll be surprised how many do) and taking care of those last few little tweaks that just didn't register before.

Cover Copy. The back cover blurb may be written by a copywriter or by your editor. Often, it's sent to you for comments, and they're generally welcomed—but remember, this is essentially advertising copy, not storytelling. The point is to entice someone into buying the book, so you want to highlight those aspects of the story that seem the most compelling in as few words as possible. In other words, don't go suggesting a lot of longwinded detail that's just going to get in the way of the message.

The Cover Art. Your input may be solicited for cover art suggestions, and in my experience, editors and art directors are eager for good ideas. In fact, since I have an art background and never know when to stop, I've gone so far as to send in very detailed descriptions and even sketches and the like, often with positive results. Just remember, if you choose to volunteer waaay more than you've been asked for, to acknowledge when you offer it that you know this isn't your job. It's someone else's job, and you're sure they're really good at it, but the light bulb went off, so you thought, what the heck; I'll throw it out there. A little humility goes a long way, as does a measure of good-humored fatalism should they choose to go with something else.

Usually you'll receive one or more cover flats some weeks or months before publication, and these can be handy for promotional purposes. Speaking of which...

Self-promotion. Not gonna go there. Just way too big a subject to address here. Some authors promote, some don't, and there are genuinely excellent articles on both sides of this much-debated issue.

The Fun Part. Getting your author copies delivered. I don't care how cool you think you are, you are going to squeal like a twelve-year-old girl when you open up that box and see your novel AS A BOOK for the very first time. The guys, too. A twelve-year-old girl. I guarantee it.

The Really Fun Part. Seeing your book on the shelf in the bookstore. You tend to stand there gazing at it like it's Jesus on grilled cheese. You want to shout, "Look! It's my book! I wrote that!" People actually tend to edge away from you when you do that, like you're some wacko with delusions of grandeur. I mean, I would assume.

So, in between all this pre-publication hoo-hah, you will, of course, be expected to produce Book #2 of that contract, all the while dealing with the day job, the kids, the spouse, and maybe book signings and speaking engagements as well. Life can get pretty complicated and crazy once you've made that first sale, and I won't lie to you, it can be a headache.  My advice?

Take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass. Then get up and write that second book.

Don't touch that dial! Next month: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Publishing Biz But Were Afraid to Ask.

Louisa Burton
December 2007

"FictionCraft" © 2007 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.

About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martin's. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at

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