Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Signing in Blood

This entry is third in a series called Manuscript to Book Metamorphosis (be sure to scroll down and read the previous two posts if you haven't already: Proposals from the Heart and After the Proposal, Marriage).

So you've finally made it to that over-the-rainbow place where your book dream is actually coming true; your manuscript has been accepted by a publisher! Yay! (pause for cheers here)

Believe it or not, the real work is just beginning!

First you or your agent (if you're fortunate enough to have one) will receive a contract which should be reviewed with a good, strong magnifying glass. Included will be such items as your royalty (ranges from 6% to 16% for first books) and your advance.

Contrary to popular belief, an advance is not free money; it's exactly what it says it is - an advance of the royalties the publisher expects you to make in book sales during the first 6 months. This choice morsel (although it's never as juicy as you hope it will be) is simply to allow you to eat during the 1-2 years before you book actually hits bookstores (one of mine took nearly 3 years). You won't receive further royalties until you "earn out" your advance. If by chance you don't earn out your advance, some publishers require the author to pay back the difference (check your contract for fine print).

Many authors (including myself) opt for a relatively small advance, which they usually sink right back into book promotion/marketing, to avoid the acid burn of worrying about earning out the advance. The advance is usually paid in halves; half upon signing the contract and the other half when they receive the completed manuscript.

Other items included in the contract are the due date and length of the manuscript, release date,
rights (electronic, domestic and foreign), revision requirements, author copies (you receive complimentary copies, usually anywhere from 10 to 50; some negotiate for more), and a myriad of other details that your agent should discuss with you. Make sure you understand everything.

Many points are negotiable and this process can last several days to several weeks. Remember, it's like buying a car - the first offer will likely be low and negotiating is actually expected. After ping-ponging a few times until points are agreed upon, the final contract is drawn up by the publisher, signed by both parties, and a copy is returned to you. The advance check will follow within a matter of weeks.

You are then put in touch with your assigned editor and begin to hash out your editing schedule and rewrites. You will be given a written and verbal synopsis of the process and expectations and then you buckle your seat belt and hit the gas on revising your manuscript.

Your editor will be hands-on at this point and will become intimately involved in your work. This will chafe at times. Sort of like a boody rash. You may differ in opinions, but choose your battles. Bear in mind he/she has been in the biz longer than you have and likely has a broader perspective of what sells and what doesn't (that means success for you in the long run).

A measure of author angst is usually involved at this stage as you hold your breath to see how your beautiful "baby" will be dissected. Sometimes an arm is detached, a foot is grafted onto a tummy, or the head is turned around backwards. But you must believe that the result will be better and even stronger than before.

This back-and-forth process between you and your editor will continue until your manuscript is spit-shined and polished to a blinding gleam. Just like your pearly whites as you smile at the incredible almost-finished product.

Stay tuned next week for the fourth stage: Proof is in the Putting