Writing a book is serious business. There are so many things to keep in mind, including character development, setting, world building, pacing, and more—and I didn't even get to the revision process. But writing a book is still focused on the craft. The process of submitting your work and getting published is the next level.
Many writers who have been published multiple times still don't understand all there is to know about publishing (and big secret: Even many publishing pros are constantly learning and trying to keep up with developments). So one of my favorite questions to ask recently published authors is something along the lines of, "What was your biggest surprise in the publishing process?" The answers are sometimes completely unexpected.
Here we've collected some interesting and enlightening surprises from 10 authors featured in our author spotlight series.
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10 Biggest Surprises in the Publishing Process
"I knew nothing about publishing when I started writing and could best be described as green. Along the way, everything was a surprise. I turned to fellow writers, blogs and podcasts about writing and the romance genre, and googling.
"After I signed with my agent, she was wonderful about explaining publishing nuances and sharing resources. The most important thing I've learned is that everyone's publishing journey can look different, even with the same imprint."
"There weren’t any surprises during the publishing process other than you always think it’s going to be easier or faster than it is, but there was one thing that happened right before the book was out. Allegiance has a couple of essays that touch on my estrangement from my only brother. It’s been going on for almost 20 years, but we were almost completely out of touch for the past 10 years.
"A week before the book was published, he reached out to reconnect, something I didn’t think would ever happen. It is one of the biggest moments of 2020 for me, if not the biggest moment, and yes, that includes the pandemic. After several days of talking almost daily, I told him about the book and let him read an advanced copy. It became a huge source of healing and re-connection for both of us.
"I was reminded that we write for ourselves first, as honestly and generously as possible, rather than try to respond to the marketplace. I believe this is true even with fiction—you always want to follow the stories and ideas that are exciting and important to you."
"I've had to be seriously tenacious. Jubilee has had four agents and countless rejections, often difficult to decipher, for one major publisher said she loved the book and called me 'a bright star on the contemporary literary horizon' though it ultimately wasn't 'right for their list.'
"I've discussed elsewhere the difficulties for Latinx writers to find their champions in the traditional publishing world where publishers and editors often narrowly define the Latinx experience, and I sense that is true of Jubilee. So the path to publication has also meant fighting systematic barriers in the publishing world as well."
"The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. As businesses and schools across the country closed their doors and we moved into lockdown, each piece of the publishing process became a question.
"Will pub dates change? What happens if your editor gets sick? Are people going to buy books despite the nosediving economy? Will I be able to get through 1st pass pages while also doing my day job at home and helping my kids manage remote school? (And will I stay sane while doing so?) Will there be paper ARCs? Will books actually be printed? How will bookstores and authors produce virtual events? Will readers attend virtual events? How do you screenshare in Zoom? What is a ring light? OMG, what if we run out of toilet paper? How will authors sign books from afar? So many questions.
"Thankfully, publishing has proven itself to be both resilient and inventive."
"Surprises: The folks at Macmillan were incredibly kind. As a newbie I asked a ton of questions, which they patiently and promptly answered. They put a great deal of effort behind the book, as professionals who truly know their business.
"My learning moments: understanding how much a novel is the result of collaboration. My critique group reviewed one chapter a week, listening to me perform it. I write very short chapters, so that's over 70 weeks!
"The original title was The Rajabai Tower Mystery. Google it and you'll find the article about the tragedy of the Godrej Girls. However the word 'Rajabai' was too unfamiliar for an American audience, we felt. We brainstormed. My mentor Jay came up with a simpler title that reflects the colonial flavor of the book, and I was sold.
"Another learning moment for me was absorbing my award-winning editor Kelley Ragland's detailed revision notes. She insisted that I trim down the Pathankot adventure in the middle of the book. It was difficult but I did, and the book is much better for it."
"That I am lousy at picking titles? Seriously, though . . . I wanted to call this book, The Secret'st Man of Blood—a line from Act 3, Scene 2 of Macbeth. Macbeth speaks these words as he reflects upon the tendency of murderers to be revealed by supernatural events. My wonderful editor at Skyhorse was like: 'We dig this book Scott, but that title is a non-starter.'
"And so, Lake of Darkness."
"I think I'm always learning new things about the publishing process. There are so many moving parts, and it's a business at the end of the day. I think it's fair to say that a lot of writers set out to create, and maybe don't have a lot of knowledge about the way things work behind the scenes. And for me, every book has been a different experience. I learned to be flexible.
"Most of the publishing process is out of a writer's control, and I've found the best way to combat that is to focus on what I can control, which has always been the words—the next story. Because even if everything goes topsy-turvy, I'll still have a fresh, new project to focus on. It feels a little like leaving a light on; something to help guide me even when it gets dark.
"And I like staying hopeful. It keeps me in a good place, mentally, emotionally, and creatively."
"There was a really quick turnaround with this second book in the Sassy Cat Mysteries. I guess series followers don't want to wait too long before the next release. Mimi Lee Gets A Clue had just been published when I received the artwork from the publisher for this second book. The pre-order link went live soon after that."
"As with every book I've published (not just this series), I'm always mystified by the decision process that goes into choosing the month of a particular book's release and this one was no different.
"Various books in the series have been published in January, February, and November, so when this book—a book with a decidedly festive cover—was scheduled for October, I was surprised but not disappointed since October is traditionally a 'spooky' month.
"As with many things in the publishing process, there are things I can control (like the writing and the cover art), and there are things I can neither control nor understand. Like publication month. I've been told the next book in the series will be published in Fall 2021."
"Most of the big publishing surprises walloped me during my first rodeo. This time I had a better idea of what to expect but I'd still like to delve into some of publishing's deepest mysteries…how exactly are decisions made when a publisher formulates their list of priority releases, for example? What constitutes good sales? How does one get in touch with Reese Witherspoon? That kind of thing."
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