Today, I am pleased to present the last of my holiday treats for all of the members of the Author! Author! community, and let me tell you, it’s a peach. Longtime blog reader Thomas DeWolf, whose fascinating book, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History will be coming out January 9th (congratulations again, Tom!), has graciously given into my blandishments and agreed to share his experiences with us. He has even — brace yourselves — agreed to give us an author’s-eye view of what happened when throughout the publication process.
Pretty great, eh?
A couple of years ago, Tom was precisely where so many of the members of our little community are: he had a good manuscript to pitch, but was new to the publishing industry. Through a willingness to learn the ropes, persistence, and having a heck of a good story to tell, he was able to bring his book to publication.
He is living proof, in short, that it IS possible — and Tom has very kindly agreed to take the time during the INCREDIBLY busy last weeks before publication to tell us about it. (To give a tangible sense of just how busy he must be right now, and thus what a kindness this is: I have it on pretty reliable authority that Amazon has already started shipping the presale copies.)
So please join me in thanking him for joining us. Take it away, Tom!
Thank you, Anne, both for announcing the upcoming publication of my book, Inheriting the Trade, and for inviting me to write this “guest blog” for your site. Based on your message that your readers appreciate hearing about the post-contract phase of the publication process, here’s the condensed version of my experience so far:
For several years, as I dreamed of holding a hardbound book with my name inscribed on the cover and spine for the first time, I did my best to figure out how others successfully navigated the confusing, sometimes twisted path to publication. I attended trade shows to rub elbows with authors. I went to author readings and watched them on C-Span’s Book TV. I read about them. I asked for advice. I tried not to be too obnoxious, but occasionally probably was (sorry about shoving my children’s book manuscript into your hands, Richard Bach, I trust that the bruises have healed…).
My path over the past couple of years included attending both the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ annual writing conference in New York in April 2006 and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual conference in Seattle in July that same year. I couldn’t afford it. I went anyway. Prior to PNWA I found Anne Mini’s blog through her “resident writer” posts on the PNWA website. In addition to the helpful hints on writing in general—and my focus on query letters and book proposals specifically—I paid close attention to her profiles on agents. Based on the subject matter of my book I felt that about a dozen agents scheduled to attend the upcoming PNWA conference might be interested in my work. Rather than wait to approach them at the conference or after, I sent a query letter to each of them two weeks in advance of the conference. Approximately half of them responded to me before the conference began! All but one eventually asked to see my book proposal.
July 2006: At the conference, I took advantage of the Pitch Practicing Palace (sorry to learn it is no longer available), met every agent I could, or at least attended workshops where they were on the panel so I could confirm my impressions of their suitability for my book. I rewrote my book proposal for the umpteenth time and, after I returned home, sent it to the dozen agents who requested it.
September 2006: Within two months (and 16 rejections) after the conference, I received a call from Lauren Abramo, an agent with Dystel and Goderich Literary Management in New York who had attended PNWA. She offered to represent me (a moment’s pause while I relive my joyful scream…Yahoo! Okay, continue…).
After revising my book proposal to fit DGLM’s standards, Lauren sent copies to twenty publishers. In March 2007, I signed a contract with Beacon Press in Boston (pause again, more briefly due to looming deadlines… Yee-HAW! Okay, back to work…) and immediately began working with my editor, Gayatri Patnaik, to revise my manuscript. I understood that the typical publication timeframe, from contract to bookshelf, was at least 12-18 months. Beacon’s commitment with me was to have my book published in 10 months so that Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History would be available in time to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United States (which occurred in January 1808).
My completed manuscript ran approximately 450 pages. My contract called for no more than 350 pages. Though I agreed to the page limit, I’d already pared it down, over many, many rewrites and edits, from my original 1500 page manuscript (I know, I know, ridiculous, huh?), and couldn’t see how I could remove another 100 pages without cutting the heart out of my story.
March 20, 2007: Eleven days after reaching verbal agreement on a contract with Beacon Press (and one day after actually signing), I received the first half of my manuscript, along with comments from my editor, Gayatri. I actually didn’t even freak out. Yes, I realized, she’s cut a third of the first half of my book away. Yes, some of my favorite moments were gone. But I could see where she was headed. She has a vision for my book. This is going to work, I thought.
Then I received the second half of the manuscript with the rest of her comments. Now I freaked out. Key sections were eliminated. My last chapter, my favorite chapter in the whole book: gone. We talked. Gayatri explained that my book is her baby now, too. I need to trust her. She knows what she’s doing and part of her job is to protect me from myself. I had to think about that one for a bit.
Over the course of six weeks, we went through three complete revisions. Initially, first-timer that I am, I feared that the role of an editor was to simply take my work, cut-fix-shift-add-revise-submit-print it, and I would lose control over my work. That was not the case at all. I did as much writing in those six weeks as I had done the previous six months. Gayatri didn’t rewrite my manuscript. She told me what I needed to do to make the story work effectively. We cut sections, rewrote others, and added new ones. My 450 page manuscript that I agreed to cut down to 350 became 272. To this day I remain amazed at how that happened without my realizing it until after the fact. And even with all my “babies” we killed, I am pleased with our final manuscript.
May 2, 2007: My talk-every-day-sometimes-several-times-each-day routine with Gayatri abruptly halted. She handed me over to others for the next phase of the process and she moved on to other books. Copyediting is something completely foreign to me. Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure are not my strong suits. But I’m learning. The manuscript was sent to the copyeditor hired by Beacon Press. She would copyedit the entire manuscript, and I would get it back, within three weeks. I sent the un-copyedited version of my newly revised (and incredibly thin!) manuscript to five others who are close to the project for their final input and fact-checking.
May 23, 2007: I received the copyedited manuscript and was given two weeks to review it, accept or reject proposed changes, and resolve any queries from the copyeditor. This would also be my last opportunity to make other necessary changes before the book was to be typeset. I read the manuscript three complete times, focusing on different aspects of the story each time (first, simple flow; second, making sure story arcs and character actions are complete and questions raised are all answered; third, nit-pick the details). I also learned a trick while reading Neil Gaiman’s website. He’s a heckuva blogger. I did a word search to check for “ly.” Most adverbs end in “ly” and this is a great way to locate and destroy them. The two new red pencils Beacon Press sent me to mark up the manuscript ended up as nubs. I returned the marked up (so much red; felt a bit like blood) pages to Beacon Press on June 6.
July 18, 2007: The fully-designed, typeset galleys for my book arrived via FedEx. I spent all day, every day for the next two weeks, proofreading my book. Four others agreed to proofread it as well and let me know what they found.
July 31, 2007: I returned the galleys to Beacon Press with approximately 55 proposed corrections and/or alterations that I felt were important and necessary for my book. And that was it. Other than responding to a few specific questions that resulted in a few more minor changes, I was finished writing my book.
August — October, 2007: I was surprised when my agent called to tell me she had sold the audio rights to Inheriting the Trade to Brilliance Audio (third brief pause to celebrate… Yippee!). Since my book is a memoir, I didn’t want anyone else’s voice narrating it but me. Brilliance agreed to allow me to audition for them. I downloaded some recording software to my computer and narrated the preface and first chapter along with an introduction that explained why I was the only logical choice to narrate my own work. Brilliance agreed and flew me to their studios in October where I worked with a director and an engineer to record my book over the course of three days. The audio version of Inheriting the Trade will be available at the same time the hardcover hits bookshelves in January.
The vast majority of my time since July has been dedicated to the business side of my book’s publication. I work closely with my publicist at Beacon Press to coordinate my book tour With strong support from James Perry, one of my distant cousins and fellow travelers in this journey who also happens to be quite savvy with computer technology (a trait I completely lack), we created a website and blog. I’ve read books on publicity (The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity and Publicize Your Book), media training (Media Training A-Z), and “buzz” (Unleashing the Idea Virus and Building Buzz).
I’ve made contact with people in the media I know and have asked friends and colleagues to send me contact information on reporters they know, all of which I pass along to my publicist as she prepares to send press kits and review copies of my book to media outlets, large and small, around the country (with emphasis on cities I’ll visit on tour). My publicist is working to set up television, radio, and newspaper interviews wherever she can as soon as the book is published. I’m working on an Op-Ed that she wants to submit for publication. The variety of ways to publicize my book seems almost endless.
I’ve heard stories quite different from my experience. Working with Beacon Press has been as close to perfect as I can imagine. I have received support and advice from other people in this industry (including some gracious agents and editors that rejected my proposal) that has proven quite valuable to my journey. I’ll do my best to share more about my experience (as it unfolds) on my own blog and hope that it will provide those who share the dream of getting published with a few tidbits now and then that I hope will prove useful.
One additional thought for writers and aspiring writers: part of the business of writing is finding ways to raise the visibility of your work and you. If someone asks you to write a guest blog, and it is appropriate to your work or subject matter, you graciously comply. Then you provide a link to your own blog. And you write a post in your own blog that links to the guest post you’ve written. Hopefully, other bloggers will then write about your “guest blog” on their own sites; all of which contributes to increasing the visibility of your web presence and spreads the word about your book while also helping raise the visibility of the blogs you’re linking to. If you are learning about me and my book, Inheriting the Trade, for the first time here you’ve just experienced all the evidence you need that what I’ve just explained works.
Thanks again, Anne. It’s been great reconnecting. I wish you all the best and send kudos your way for keeping up your amazing blog that helps other writers in so many ways.
Thanks, Tom, and best of luck on your book!