Getting your nonfiction book pitch accepted by a publisher can be titanic news for a new author, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.
There is an immense amount of work still to come—work that remains hidden. When I heard about my publisher’s decision to proceed with my first book, I was thrilled. But soon I realized this was only the beginning. As a new book author, have you completely considered the following?
Accepting and Negotiating the Contract
With realizing that doing this was completely out of my league, I took my offered contract to a lawyer (and first confirmed that she had previous experience and expertise with such things). New and eager authors may be tempted to accept the contract terms as presented, but don’t hesitate to negotiate.
Publishers will often build some “wiggle room” into their contracts and may be more ready and willing than you may think to revise terms (or delete them entirely). There are some areas of a contract (e.g. royalty payment amounts) that cannot be negotiated; however, not everything in a contract is written completely in stone.
Hiring a lawyer can be expensive but doing so can better enhance your own professional image, protect you and your written work, and may better compensate you as well. I consider involving legal help with my book contracts as one of the best decisions I have ever made. She ensured that all the “I’s” were dotted and the “T’s” were crossed correctly.
Noting Requested Delivery Dates
Your publisher may not just ask for one delivery date, but several! Before writing my first book, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians, I was asked for the first chapter initially (perhaps to give the publisher a better “feel” for my work), followed by deadlines for subsequent chapters, and a completed rough draft.
Keep on top of these delivery dates. I marked these prominently on my wall calendar where they were always in clear sight. Your publisher intends to offer a completed book by a specific date and needs the project finished by then. (Authors are welcome and encouraged to submit completed work earlier than the deadline—doing so will help the publisher and, often, put you and your book project in a better light.)
Following House Style Guidelines
Ask your publisher for their house style writing guidelines. These will give you a better direction with what you will provide. Writers could also skim through other books from the publisher. This will give them a better idea of what the publisher likes to see.
Working With an Editor
As a common practice, many nonfiction book publishers will have an in-house or contracted editor on staff. This editor may wear many hats and manage substantive/content/developmental editing, structural editing, copyediting, and proofreading. This can be greatly beneficial.
While the author may have been endlessly writing and rewriting, the editor is coming at a submitted book project with fresh eyes. Authors constantly reviewing their own work may find this process tiresome and may either miss important details or become resistant to making copy changes. Through submitting my own chapters to my publisher’s editor, I gained a tremendous respect for what she did and greatly appreciated her editorial comments designed to polish my work.
Understanding Cover Design and Artwork
While a writer can often make suggestions here, these are the publisher’s responsibilities. This goes for a book title, page layout and design, and accompanying images (photos, graphs, charts, etc.). Publishers are in the business of selling books and will know what makes a book attractive and appealing to readers.
By leaving these decisions in the publisher’s capable hands, authors can better concentrate on doing what they do best—writing a compelling story. While I initially thought I could recommend a catchy book title, I decided to trust my publisher to do this instead.
Reviewing the Galley
A “galley” or “galley proof” of the finalized book will be provided to the author. This has been edited with a fine-toothed comb and will be publication-ready. The author, however, will have a final opportunity to review the work and make any changes or corrections. Authors need to note that these final revisions should be more cosmetic in nature—grammatical and spelling errors are preferred over whole-scale wording changes.
Promoting the Book
Successful authors will also work with a publisher following book creation and placement in traditional or online bookstores. The publisher’s involvement may likely be short lived here, as they will have other authors’ projects to develop. Publishers are, in fact, counting on authors to contribute to and continue with marketing efforts.
Motivated authors can dream up and carry through with different promotional avenues—I have participated in bookstore signings; written news articles and blogs; participated in media interviews; guested on blogtalk radio programs; exhibited at senior’s trade shows, conferences, and so on; partnered with business owners to offer consignment sales; hosted webinars; explored bulk sales opportunities; become more active on social media; and used my own word-of-mouth advertising.
As many writers are more introverted by nature, new authors may be nervous to “put themselves out there.” But self-confidence can increase with time and practice. In addition, thinking up new ways to sell a book can be exciting.
Wise authors will also begin marketing their book in advance of publication. Avenues to explore include direct mail/email marketing (contacting all your own personal and professional colleagues to “create a buzz” and let them know about your project and the intended publication date), producing a newsletter/e-newsletter, and arranging media interviews and/or author events.
In the early days of my first book, my publisher recommended I begin blogging. While I did so briefly, I have since grown to prefer using social media (Facebook and Twitter)—both platforms have a tremendous reach. There have been learning curves with both Facebook and Twitter, but one thing I have learned is that posted messages on social media should vary—readers will quickly tire of authors who constantly promote their own books … instead, I like to share links to relevant news stories, statistics, helpful resources, articles I have written, and so on. With Twitter, you can also easily “follow” others interested in your same subject matter and retweet messages posted by others (and thus build your own following).
Getting a book pitch accepted by a publisher is only the start. New authors, however, may focus only on what is conspicuous and overlook the many steps required to see a book published and become available for sale. By recognizing these steps and following due process, an author will greatly enhance their professional relationship with the publisher, and be better able to complete their nonfiction book project.