I’m in the early stages of my journey as a debut author, so I thought I’d blog about my experiences and hopefully offer advice for anyone in a similar position!
- My first blog in the series looked at tips for writing a novel.
- The second blog tackled how to find a literary agent.
- The third blog explored my literary agent’s top tips when querying.
- This fourth blog is about editing and what happens when your book goes out on submission.
- Keep an eye out for blog number five…
The final stage in the publishing process (for traditional publishing) is when your literary agent pitches your manuscript to publishers. It’s arguably the most nerve-wracking part of the publication journey (yep, even more than querying agents!) because it’s the final hurdle before signing a book deal.
Please note: as is the situation with literary agents, no money exchanges hands between an author (or agent) and a publisher. If a publisher wants you to pay for your books to be published (also known as ‘vanity publishing’) you should be wary and careful about entering into an agreement.
Working on edits
When you sign with a literary agent, the first step afterwards is editing and polishing the manuscript (after celebrating, of course!) Your agent will probably have some thoughts and editorial ideas that will strengthen your manuscript before it goes out on submission to publishers. This can mean larger structural edits, for example, major plot changes, or smaller points, like word repetition and style guidance.
Looking back at my manuscript edits with my agent, Liverpool Literary Agency founder Clare Coombes, as an example (but without going into too much detail – no spoilers!), some of the major points we changed included:
- Location: The book was originally set in London, but it’s now in Liverpool!
- Structure: We swapped and changed specific aspects of the plot, as some issues were resolved too quickly and easily, whereas one major plot point was a bit late – so we moved things around a bit to improve the structure, flow and overall plot.
- Characterisation: Strengthening the roles of the supporting characters and the protagonist’s voice.
- Tension: Building tension throughout the story (especially romantic – it wouldn’t be a good rom-com without some tension!)
The word count also increased from approximately 80,000 to 100,000. Altogether, Clare and I did around four rounds of edits until we were both happy with it. Clare’s input and vision strengthened the book in more ways than I can count!
Then it was time to approach publishers…
Going out on submission
ARGH. Submission. Just when you think the most nerve-wracking part (querying agents) is over, you discover that being out on submission is EVEN worse. (Well, for me it was!)
Firstly, your agent will create a list of editors at publishing houses looking for submissions in your book’s genre. Then they’ll pitch your book to them.
If the commissioning editor is interested (yay!), they’ll read the full manuscript. If they’re still interested (double yay!), they’ll then pitch it to their team (made up of representatives from all relevant departments) in an acquisitions meeting. The editor needs the support and agreement of the team to go ahead with the book and offer a deal to the agent and author.
As this process has many different stages, it explains why the wait can typically be quite long. It’s natural to feel downhearted when time passes by with no news, especially if you’re reading announcements in The Bookseller about debut authors landing six-figure deals in 24-hour pre-empts (quite torturous – I do not recommend spending your time doing this!).
Ask any author and the majority of them will tell you that being out on sub is a waiting game. However, no news can be good news, as it means your manuscript might be getting second reads by the team and/or the editor is waiting to take it to the next acquisitions meeting.
My top tips for dealing with submission anxiety
I’m probably not the best person to be offering tips for dealing with submission anxiety as, see above, I struggled with nerves! HOWEVER, I did learn a few things…
- Be patient. Easier said than done when you’re checking your emails 5,672 times a day, BUT the process is notoriously slow. No news doesn’t mean your book isn’t getting traction.
- Don’t compare. As mentioned above, steer clear from reading about those huge six or seven-figure book deals. They make the news because they’re rare – if those deals were normal and happening every day, then they wouldn’t make the news!
- Remember, it’s out of your control. There’s nothing – nothing, nada – that you can do to change the outcome. Have faith in your agent and their expertise, they’ll be championing you and your book. You just have to sit tight. (Or do the opposite – walking really helped me, I averaged 15-20,000 steps a day while out on sub!)
- Keep busy. Now is the ideal time to start your next book and keep your creative juices flowing. Not only is it a distraction from thinking about your book (and Twitter-stalking commissioning editors) – but it’s always good to have other book ideas or outlines in your pocket.
- Engage with the writing community. It’s the last tip, but probably the most important. I’m so grateful that my fellow debut author buddy (the super talented Meera Shah) and I went out on submission within a week of each other. We exchanged daily messages about our excitement, anticipation, nerves and worries (pretty much every emotion under the sun!). It helped us both because we knew exactly what the other was going through. The writing community on Twitter is hugely supportive and can be a big help during all aspects of the path to publication, including when you’re out on submission.
Thanks for reading this blog series about my debut author journey (so far!) I’m very excited to write the final chapter in this series! Watch this space…
If you have any questions about this blog or any of the others, I’m more than happy to chat and answer any queries! Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram or Twitter.