You’re Offered a Publishing Contract. Now What?

Recently, a follower on Instagram asked me “‘Who, or what, inspired you to become an author?’” I thought about this question and recalled that the obsession with writing all began with one simple assignment in my fifth-grade writing class. Mrs. S asked each of us in to write a story. Not one for being brief, I wrote a 10-page story about a dog, and my excitement was so palpable that my mom encouraged me to keep writing because one day I could be an author. So, there I was, a mischievous 9-year-old, thinking about becoming a published author when I grew up. Simple, right? You write a story, send it to a publisher, make a couple edits, and then BLAMO, you’ve got a published book. Alas, earwax (name that book).

Throughout this blog series, you’ve heard about the tremendous amount of grit and determination required to not only write a book, but to edit it, query publishers, and edit it again. Today’s post is going to cover even MORE ups and downs (but then the ups again) after receiving a publishing contract. And for the aspiring author reading this post, I hope that this will give you an idea of what to expect onto your own journey to publishdom.

On 9 December 2019, I was offered a contract by The Wild Rose Press (TWRP). After a careful review and discussion with their president, I signed the contract on 23 December 2019 and received the executed copy on 24 December. That made for quite the Christmas Eve celebration. I did it. After all the hard work, I did it. I was holding a signed publishing contract, something that very few writers can claim. But I wasn’t to the mountaintop yet, I was just at basecamp. “Isn’t that what the last two blog posts were about?” Well, yes, I had thought so too. But those prior steps in the journey were merely picking out the mountain and buying the supplies. Now was time for the adrenaline-fueled trek. Now was the time to get the manuscript converted into an actual published book by an actual publishing company.

Basecamp

One week after signing the contract, I was sent two editing guidelines and instructed to review and edit the manuscript per these documents. I was also given the following items as “homework”, due back to the publisher prior to the book’s release. So if you are in the querying process now, you might want to have these next items in your back pocket ready to go:

  • A “blurb” for the back cover
  • A tagline
  • A list of key words
  • Completion of a cover art inspiration form for the artist
  • Completion of a manuscript information form, including selection of an excerpt not to exceed 1000 characters

If my journey were a movie, here is where there would be a montage of me feverishly typing away by dim light to illustrate the passing of two additional months and the axing of even more words. Yup. Another 1100 words were struck down by the backspace button. Each one an agonizing choice, but each one for the greater good. As Leap Day neared, I electronically sent my revised manuscript back to the publishers.  

After waiting approximately seven seconds, I moved on to the blurb. I should have only waited three, because dang that sucker was tough. Where’s a blurbologist when you need one? Here’s the thing about blurbs, they are the Goldilocks of writing. Your blub can’t be too long (100-120 words is the max), can’t give away too much information, yet it has to tantalize the reader. It has to whisper in the reader’s ear, “Hey, read me.” I took the Edison approach and found a few hundred ways that did not work, until I found my blurb.

Next up – the tagline. This is the cutesy one liner that works alongside the cover to get the passerby to stop and read the blurb. So, I spent a few days brainstorming and came up with 20-30 possibilities. I ran the best ones by my family and settled on one I thought was terrific. Feeling good about my accomplishment, I submitted the blurb and tagline and waited.

I didn’t have to wait long! In four short days, TWRP’s blurb committee quickly shot back my blurb and tagline with a sweetly worded “Try Again Later”. Ten days after that? Manuscript edits were tossed back too. Rather than get discouraged, I just reminded myself that they chose me and they wanted my work to be at its best.

Another montage of late nights and continuous pots of coffee brewing, I scoured the manuscript for passive sentences waiting to be reworded. Mrs. S’s class was a long time ago, so off I went to the worldwide web for answers. Guess what! There are a TON of articles out there on the subject! Back into the manuscript I dove, armed with Google articles and a desire to get this round of edits done. The result? An en route manuscript that was 2000 words leaner.

Starting the Climb

A few weeks later, I received the second round of edits. I needed to focus on adding variety to my verbiage (the dreaded word/name dump), but I also needed to review some crucial scenes (no spoilers!). I spent the rest of my spring and early summer whipping that manuscript into shape. By the time I sent this second round of edits back to the publisher, it was athletically toned and another 6000 words lighter. I was climbing confidently after my editor accepted all the changes and sent it off to preliminary galley (it’s put into a “published” format to see how things lay) and landed on the desk of a copy editor employed by TWRP. Before I started my climb toward the final galley, I packed a new tagline and blurb that were both, thankfully, approved by the committee. WHEW!

Tough Decisions on the Mountain

When the manuscript came back from copy editing in early July, it was in great shape. The only issue was with some intellectual property rights concerns, primarily my use of Harry Potter references (the main character, Sara Donovan, is a Potterhead). It felt rather apropos that during Harry Potter’s birthday month I was being asked to remove all references to HP. Tough decisions were made on the side of that mountain, as I was going to have to cut loose a quirky part of Sara’s character. Addressing the necessary changes were not too technically difficult, with the exception of one pivotal chapter – the Quidditch Match. Sara, despite her graceful challenges, was all about College Quidditch (it’s a real thing – look it up!). I’m not going to say why (read the book 😉), but it was imperative to the story that the chapter remained. What do you do when you are hanging off the side of a mountain like Ethan Hunt? Rewrite a chapter, of course! In just one day I completely rewrote the chapter as a dodgeball match and, I have to say, it came out better than the original Quidditch version. Evidently “practice makes perfect” applies to writing too – who knew!

Final Galley

My manuscript and I have not quite made it to the summit yet, but the air was getting thinner when I saw that we had made it to the final galley stage. During this stage, the PDF document is fairly set in stone so only minor adjustments are allowed; key phrase being “minor”. Always the perfectionist, I found 69 minor changes/tweaks that I offered to make and TWRP kindly obliged.

Finally, seven months after signing my contract, I was given a release date for the publication of my debut novel. September 16, 2020. I felt a load lift off my shoulders and the next day, I started plotting out the second book in the Mauzzy and Me Mystery series. 😉

Next week’s blog is going to be a fun one. Make sure you tune in because you won’t want to miss it! Only 16 days until that mountain peak.

Be safe, be happy, and have a great week.

B.T.

Want to read an excerpt of Against My Better Judgment?

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