Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Perilously Painful Path to Publication

This isn't a moan, honest. Well, maybe it is a bit. I am very proud and thankful that something I've written has made it into print, I genuinely am. But, the process of getting there isn't always pretty, or fun, or stress free, or in any way enjoyable at all. Thought I'd share my own experience:

WYLMT - a history

In 2005 I spotted an ad in the paper for a competition called Undiscovered Authors. I hadn’t finished WYLMT at that point (I was about halfway through), but the comp only asked for a single chapter to be sent in, so I thought I’d give it a try.
A couple of months later I was informed that, although not a winner, my chapter had been shortlisted for the West of Scotland region, which was nice.

In 2006 I learned that the competition was being run again, and this time they wanted full manuscripts. I had finished WYLMT by that point and failed to get any interest from agents etc, so figured I might as well have another go, sending the book in, I think, October 2006.
In around March/April of 2007, I learned that WYLMT had been placed first in the Scottish region, and come third in the UK overall. The prize was a traditional one book publishing deal plus £1000. Happiness!

My contact with the publishers was a lovely, helpful lady called Natalie. She informed me that over the course of the next few months I would be assigned an editor and cover designer to work with. Cool!
The initial plan was to roll out all the winning books, one per month, between autumn 2007 and early 2008. The order of publication to be decided by which manuscripts were ready first. Fair enough.
Then the contract arrived. I had an actual publishing contract in my hands. I did read it, and noted that the prize money wasn’t due until ‘within’ six months of the book’s publication. It would have been nice to get it there and then, but bugger it, I could wait a few months. I signed.

The draft I entered in the comp was 145k words long (hey, the first draft was 170k!) and Natalie gently suggested I might want to try to cut the word count a little by myself, before it went to the editor. Being a na├»ve idiot who knew nothing about the publishing world, or average first novel word counts, I was of course incredibly offended by this. Still, I figured she must know what she was on about, and duly started combing through the MSS for bits I wouldn’t miss too much. Every lost word, phrase, sentence and scene was like being stabbed in the heart with a knitting needle, but I struggled manfully with the task set to me, and, eventually, managed to get it down to around 138k. That was the absolute minimum I was prepared to accept.
Then it went to the editor, who promptly cut another 12 thousand words. Some of the bits she got rid of were, I thought, essential to the story, and couldn’t believe they wanted me to take them out. I was wrong, of course.
Ah well.

Then, in, I think, September 2007, I got an email from the cover designer assigned to work on the book, and, over the next few weeks, we worked together (by which I mean he did all the work, and I made a couple of colour suggestion so as not to look too stupid) and came up with a cover that I am still extremely proud of. It was the highlight of the whole publishing experience up to that point, seeing that finished cover layout.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the only highlight I was going to get, for quite some time.

At around the same time as the cover was being put together, Natalie informed me that she was taking an extended sabbatical from the company. I was sorry to see her leave, even though she assured me she would be back in a couple of months, and that her boss, Jennie, would be looking after me in the interim.
Fair enough, I thought. After all, the edit and cover were locked, so there wasn’t much more to be done, and I was looking forward to seeing the book published within a month or two. I joked with Natalie that it would be out before she returned. I turned out to be right about that. I never heard from Natalie again. At the time I didn’t realise this was about to become a trend.

I received an email from Jennie in October 2007, letting me know everything was on schedule and she would let me know the publishing date soon. I was on my way! I was about to become a published author and, the painful edit aside, I had loved every minute of the process.

And then, well, nothing happened. A lot. For ages.

I emailed Jennie, oh, about 3 dozen times over the next month or two, but got no reply to any of my queries. Christmas came and went. The seasons changed, but the silence in my inbox didn’t.

Being a level headed, mature and sensible individual, I of course started panicking quite considerably. Where was Jennie? Why was she ignoring me? Why wasn’t I a bloody published author yet?

By February, I was a wreck. I had googled the publishers, and discovered they were being lambasted by writers, customers, former staff members, by pretty much everyone. They were called a fraud, a vanity publisher with delusions of grandeur they couldn’t follow through on. They owed people money, they owed former staff wages, they owed everyone.
They owed me a bloody published novel!
With a little more digging, I learned that they’d lost their partner/backer and their finances were in a mess.
Throughout all of this, I was still emailing Jennie, desperate for a response, for some reassurance.

Finally, it occurred to me that phone calls are slightly harder to ignore than emails, and I made the call. The person who answered the number I had for Jennie was a. not Jennie (the clue was in his name, Alan), and b. said a completely different company name to the publisher’s when he answered. I was not encouraged by this.

I explained my situation, and he assured me that yes, the publishers were still active and in business and that he actually worked for their sister company, a wholesalers, and was just manning the phones temporarily. He also explained that Jennie had ‘moved on’ several months previously and that the reason I hadn’t got an answer to any of my emails was that her account, although not cancelled, wasn’t being monitored. Bit of a screw up that, I thought but didn’t say. Alan assured me he would pass on my details to the appropriate person that day, and someone would call me back by the next morning at the very latest.
Three weeks later I still hadn’t heard anything. I phoned back. I’m convinced it was Alan who answered again, though he denied any knowledge of having spoken to me previously, and subtly failed to give me his name. Again, I explained my situation, and again I was assured that the appropriate person would call me back within the day. Have a guess if they did.
Another three weeks later, this was repeated, exactly.

Somewhere in between all of this (I can’t quite remember when, possibly December 07) I did get one email, from a lady who’s name I can’t recall, telling me that she was now in charge of my book, Love You Tomorrow [sic]. I answered her enthusiastically, relieved at this lifeline. She never answered, and I never heard from her again. I presume she also ‘moved on’.

By April/May of 2008, I had given up. It was over, I decided. It was a nice dream but it wasn’t to be. My thoughts turned to figuring out if I still owned the copyright of WYLMT, or if that was lost, too. This was not a happy time.

And then, in late May/early June, I got an email from Michaela. She was, apparently, now in charge of my book, though she didn’t have any of my previous correspondence, a copy of the MSS or the edited version on file. She had the cover though, thank God!
I pulled a bit of a sneaky at this point, I have to admit. As she didn’t have the edited version on file and needed me to send it to her, I took the opportunity to put back in a few of the bits the editor had removed. I know it was wrong, but it was only a few hundred words, a particular scene I was very fond of. Okay, maybe a couple of scenes. Okay, it was 2000 words worth. Bugger it, it was still nearly 50k shorter than the first draft!

Suddenly, we were back on track. I would have a proof copy for me to check within a matter of weeks. Result! I was elated, obviously. Then the proof copy arrived. The cover looked great, it has to be said.

Instead of sending me digital galleys (is that the term?) to proof and correct, they sent me a physical copy of the book, and asked that I list any corrections required and send them to the typesetters. Okay, how hard can that be, I thought? Well, discovering that every single instance of italics had been lost somewhere in translation made it pretty bloody hard, to be honest.
It took more than two weeks to list all the corrections. As well as the italics there were missing quote marks, missing para indents, line breaks where there shouldn’t be, no line breaks where there should, etc etc.
The final list of corrections ran to 32 pages and 12,000 words. Not my happiest writing experience, that.

Still, I got it done, and we were on our way again. Michaela estimated we could publish by September. She even asked if there was a particular date around then I would like to go for. Well, my birthday’s October 1st, so I figured I’d give myself a present.

And that was it, it was a done deal. I would become a published author on 1st October, 2008. Nothing could stop me now!

My thoughts turned to organising a launch. Well, more a celebration party, to be honest. In the book I mention a few Glasgow pubs, and a couple of real life local bands. One of those bands happen to play every Thursday in one of those pubs. Seemed an obvious choice. I booked The Scotia Bar’s lounge for Thursday October 9th. Mary, the lovely manager, not only gave me the venue for free, but let me bring my own wine and did some sandwiches on the house. Plus, as the band were playing anyway, the entertainment would be free, too. Result!

Then Michaela went on holiday for the entire month of September. And, you guessed it, no one monitored her emails while she was away. I needed forty copies of the book to sell at the launch. I sent email after pointless email, to no avail. When, by the last week in September, I’d still had no response, I had to cancel the launch. Mary very kindly offered me the option to rebook at a later date.

When Michaela returned she was hugely apologetic. Although the ‘official’ publishing date would still be 1st October, it would take a couple of weeks to actually get some copies together. She assured my that if I rebooked the launch for Thursday 23rd October, all would be well. She was nearly right.

She did indeed arrange for my forty copies to be posted up to Glasgow in good time. Unfortunately, she put the wrong address on the boxes.
I spent the 22nd, while I should have been at work, touring the greater Glasgow area desperately trying to find the delivery company’s depot. Finally, at 6pm the evening before the launch, I got my copies.

The launch, incidentally, was a great night. The band were great, the sandwiches were great, the pub was great, and they were all free! I had shrewdly avoided the necessity of doing a reading by hiring an actress friend of mine to do it for me, and she did a great job (she wasn’t free, cost me a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of chips, that one). All forty copies were sold, and I was a happy man.

And that was it, finally I was a published author. The book was there for all to see on Amazon and everything! The price was wrong, right enough. And it was worryingly showing as ‘out of stock’.
I had cannily asked a few friends and family members to order the book through shops, rather than buying it from Amazon. The publishers being not too large, established or, frankly, competent, I figured this was a good way to bring it to shop managers’ attention. As writers will know, to get a book from a shop it has to go via a wholesaler, in this case, Gardners.
Shouldn’t be a problem - the shop places the order with Gardners, they order it from the publisher, the publisher sends it to Gardners, Gardners send it to the shop, and the job is done.

Seven weeks later, not one of the shop ordered copies had arrived.

Turned out Gardners had been making the same fatal mistake I’d made myself in the past - sending the order to an email address that no one in the publishers thought it wise to monitor. Oh, how I didn’t laugh.

For the first time (amazingly, not sure how I held my temper up till then) in my history with the publisher, I sent a very rude email, detailing just how disappointed and shocked I was at their apparent lack of even basic business acumen.
That did the trick (I sent it to the MD).

Now, the book is readily available on Amazon (at the correct price), Gardners have a holding stock and it’s on the shelves of a number of Waterstones stores. It’s even in libraries. It got reviewed in the biggest selling Scottish daily newspaper (The Daily Record), where it was described as one of the best debut novels of 2008.

So, all’s well that ends well.

Heh.

The prize money (you didn’t think I’d forgotten about that, did you?). The book was ‘published’ on October 1st, 2008. Which meant that, according to the publishing contract, my prize money was due to be paid on, at the very latest, April 1st, 2009.

Want to bet if I’ve got it yet?