I’m stealing Wiley Publisher Joe Wikert’s “Author Tip” category because it’s a good one and something I should have been using already. Thanks, Joe!
It’s sometimes a long road to signing a contract, but reaching a deal is probably the easiest part of writing a book, you still have to write it. (This goes for reference and tech and much narrative non-fiction, novels are usually finished before they’re pitched to publishers, with few exceptions.) Here are a few tips for staying on track.
After you sign your contract, make sure that you have your publisher’s guidelines, specs, templates and contact info. Ask for some sample books as well, this will help you to understand the series or approach your editor has in mind. Make sure too that your signing advance has been requested (it will take up to another 30 days to reach you), and that you get your countersigned contract asap.
Be proactive. Ask to be introduced to your project editor as soon as possible. Some acquisitions editors do double duty, and so you might skip this step, but make sure you know who you are supposed to deliver material to, and find out exactly what is expected of you. This isn’t rocket science but sometimes an author will tell me that nobody has contacted him, he “didn’t know what to do.” Don’t let that happen, if you don’t hear from your editor make sure your editor hears from you.
Look closely at your schedule and decide, with your editor’s input, how you plan to tackle the deliveries. Some publishers may want to see chapters delivered sequentially, especially for a tutorial, but if you’re writing a reference you can often juggle your chapters and tackle the book in an order that makes more sense in terms of research and time management. One client of mine does this religiously and feels that he can cut several weeks from projects if he manages the sequence of chapters right. Some chapters require research that will inform the rest of the book: tackle those first if you can.
Review your outline, take your subheads down one more level if you can. Good planning and foresight at this point will save you lots of time on the back end. Some publishers like to revisit the entire outline at this point anyways.
Make sure you understand how your publisher tracks your delivery benchmarks. Some publishers go by page count, others by element (which includes chapters, front matter, back matter, appendices, etc.).
Be sure to remind your editor or agent when you hit your advance payment benchmarks.
Ask about author review. Will you see chapters back as you’re writing? Or will they wait for the full manuscript before getting back to you? It’s helpful if your publisher can at least tackle two chapters and give you feedback on those as you’re writing. This can save a lot of time later and it’s very common with tech books, especially with series like “for Dummies.”
If you’re drifting from schedule, even if you’re only a day late, be pro-active and contact your editor and agent right away. Explain the delay and explain your strategy for catching up. Once an editor feels that a project is drifting unaccountably, they’re much more likely to red flag the book and this will impact not just your current project but the next you bring to this publisher.
Schedule matters. If you lose ground you can lose valuable editorial resources, not to mention your planned pub date. It’s a complicated job for a publisher to schedule editorial resources for twenty or thirty books in process. If you’re late and your publisher can’t adjust their internal resources, you’re wasting time and money. If it’s so dire that your pub date slips, you can lose pre-orders from the bookstores and often a publisher will simply kill the book at that point.
Agents are often credited with the work that goes into getting a deal but most of our work takes place while a book is being written: managing schedules, finding help, soothing egos, chasing money, and planning for the next project. Be sure to connect with your agent, no matter what. Although rare, after over 1000 books, I’ve had a client or two disappear into the ether, probably so depressed about their failure on a project that they can’t face me, or their editor. That’s no help. If you burn bridges in this industry you’ll think that maybe you soured your relationship with one publisher, but you’ll find that your project editor or acquisitions editor will work at many other houses before you’re ready to give up your career.
Not to mention, if you don’t finish the project you’ll have to repay your advance. Stay in touch no matter what, the worst thing that can happen is that a book is killed quickly, before wasting everyone’s time and money, and you may find that with your agent’s and editor’s help your project is back in the fast lane.
As you near the end of your manuscript you should start planning for publication. Ask your editor who you can talk to about sending out review copies, pitch the publisher some promo ideas and give them any ideas you have for selling your book.
While you’re working on a book, always treat your publisher as if they were your only publisher. It will pay off.