I’d done the research, read the books, but there were still plenty of surprises to be had about the publishing business.
1) I thought starred reviews equal big time face-outs in bookstores everywhere. Nope. Well, everyone does want starred reviews, but it doesn’t mean your book will get faced out on the shelves or even stocked. I’ve heard more than one author lament that their books—with multiple starred reviews—weren’t on the shelves in the big chains because they were hardcover YAs. Yes, the big chains do stock hardcover YAs, but a starred review isn’t a guarantee—even a healthy sales history for previous novels won’t necessarily mean your next book will be stocked. I don’t know the mystery behind the choices, but I was floored that the big chain can and do overlook starred reviews.
2) Speaking of the big chains—did you know they can influence the cover of your book as well as your name? One recent middle grade release got a whole new cover before publication because Big Chain X said they would buy more copies if the publisher agreed to change the cover. Another author interviewed in the Connecticut Post cackled madly in an interview about pulling the wool of the Big Chain X’s eyes—they weren’t buying many of his newer titles anymore, and due to lackluster preorders for his last few books, he and his agent decided to give him a new name. Using a pseudonym, this new author got a huge preorder sale. I was also surprised the author was bragging about it in print, but apparently fooling the big chains was one secret he couldn’t keep—or maybe he had already come up with a new name for his next book.
3) Publishing houses are constantly evolving and changing staff. OK, not a huge surprise—editors quit, get fired or jump houses all the time—but because of this, authors are frequently caught by surprise. The sale of my first novel was a dream come true. Three weeks after my agent sent my story out, we had an offer. My new editor called me on the phone to chat—she was so enthusiastic I couldn’t help but love her. Two months later she quit the business to relocate with her husband, and Uninvited was an orphan. I was devastated wondering who would love my book as much as my first editor?
In the following year, Uninvited was assigned to two different editors, and then moved to a new imprint after a S&S restructuring. I lucked out—I got a fabulous new editor and my pub date got moved up a year. On the other hand, one friend went through three editors—one fired toward the end of the revision process–and another author got her pub date moved back three years! Expect the unexpected.
4) Speaking of revisions—the amount of time you have to revise a book can be very surprising. A friend spent almost nine months going back and forth over revisions with her editor; they finished up a little less than a year before her book was to debut. Me—I got four weeks—boy was I surprised! The amount of time you have to revise can vary wildly depending on the publisher and your editor’s schedule, but be prepared to hustle! On the flip side, selling a novel on a partial can mean completing it in short period of time—two to three months—a far cry from the leisurely pace many of us completed our fist novels in.
5) Figuring out how many books I’d have to sell to cover my advance was a mathematical headache. Just before my book was released, I was going to get out a calculator and figured out how many books I needed to sell to earn back my advance. Before I wasted my time, my agent informed me that it’s not a straightforward formula based on the percentage listed in the contract. Whatever discounts various stores sell my book for cut into the percentage I earn. And then royalty statements can also factor in books that might be returned. Surprise! Perhaps some of you authors with a few statements under your belt can shed some more light on this—I’m still waiting for my first—but I’ve got my fingers crossed that my third printing might do the trick.