When I visit schools and festivals, the most frequent question I am asked is: how do you get a book published?
Of course, there are plenty of stories now of writers who publish only on websites and have been spotted by publishers, who make it their business to trawl the internet in search of new talent. I’ve never done this, because I was taken on by my agent and then published conventionally very quickly. So I’ll leave it to somebody else to tell you what they know about Internet publishing and the websites involved.
It is becoming more difficult – but not impossible – to be published without an agent, as publishers receive so many unsolicited manuscripts (that is, sent on the off-chance by writers). Some publishers admit to only having the time to read manuscripts sent to them by agents. The rest pile up on the floor (‘the slush pile’) and are often given to a junior or work experience intern to trawl through.
Somebody told me to use any contact I could. I refused. I wanted to do it my way.
The agents I contacted refused me because I wasn’t published. Some didn’t reply. Raven Queen was as perfect as I could make it. What else could I do?
My husband came back from the famous Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. On the flight, he found himself sitting next to a very well-known literary agent. They talked. He mentioned that I’d just finished my first teen novel. The agent gave him her card. I sent in my manuscript, mentioning that they’d travelled together.
It was the stuff of dreams! This agent read my manuscript straight away and rang the same day, offering to represent me. My husband tries to take all the credit – but, of course, it was the manuscript itself that takes the credit.
An agent will send out your manuscript to publishers and, if they place it with a publisher, you will pay them 10% of what you earn from the book. An agent will also read your contract, decide on who will sell the rights to the novel overseas and/or for translation, films, etc. Publishers will give writers an advance (which can vary) and they receive a royalty (which is usually up to 10% of the book sales) with which they have to pay off their advance before receiving anything.
What’s it like to work with a publisher?
Raven Queen needed only three small alterations, so I had very little revision to do with my editor. Since it was a two-book deal, I had a nine-month contract to produce the second novel. This manuscript needed more revision. My editor was always careful to give her reasons for changes and I was never put under pressure. All cover and back page blurb suggestions were discussed with me. This is my only niggle. I’d love to write the blurb myself. But what interests an author might not attract buyers. I have to admit that Sales and Marketing know that better than I do.
I love launch parties. I was given a wonderful launch at the Shakespeare Globe theatre in London for Raven Queen, attended by people connected with the world of children’s books: reviewers, writers, school and public librarians and people who ran children’s book groups. I asked if I could have young people to do the readings – the same age as my characters – and had two marvellous people from a youth drama company.
I’m telling you this because it is good to create as much buzz as possible with the first novel. The launch parties get smaller and smaller each time because, hopefully, the writer will have gained readers by then.
Winning a prize always helps sales and to increase the fan base. Like many writers, I dream of winning the Carnegie Medal… but meanwhile, I am happy to receive regional prizes. My first novel won the Scottish Highland Book Award. It means that from then on, the publisher can use the blurb ‘award-winning novelist’.
It’s really important for writers to accept that the Marketing and Sales departments have a huge job to do – and sometimes they know better than the writer. My last novel, Traitor’s Kiss, was given a cream cover, which I loved. Then purple came into fashion in a big way and they changed the cover to purple. I didn’t like it very much, until I heard that the posters in schools were being vandalised!! Why? The purple was exactly the right shade for graduation ball gowns and students were tearing little bits of the posters to take shopping with them. Now that’s a winner!
For me, being published is the best thing that’s ever happened in my working life. However, a little voice keeps whispering, “You’re only as good as your last book.” There are masses of talented writers out there, so I never take being published for granted.
Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk
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