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Learning Lessons

copyright 2014 by Sherry Garland

from THE LOTUS SEED

from THE LOTUS SEED

I have now officially been a published author for thirty-two years — books that include novels for adults, picture books, YA and MG novels, some non-fiction for both adults and children and a couple of magazine stories. I am the first to admit that I have made many mistakes over the years. Hopefully I’ve learned from the mistakes and haven’t repeated them, although only time will tell. Here are the lessons I’ve learned in three categories: submitting, editing and publication.

Lessons Learned – Submitting:

1) Publishing is a business. Do not get insulted when the editor refers to your beloved book as a “project.” You may be emotionally attached to your work, but the editor has to look at it as something that will make the company money. Today, the sales/marketing department has tremendous influence. For example, if the company already has five books about possums on their list, chances are they will not acquire your possum book no matter how good it is or how much the editor loves it. That is why it’s important to study a publishing company’s list before you submit.

Possum

Possum

2) Be cool headed when negotiating. When an editor makes you an offer, you may be so excited that you are tempted to say “yes” to anything. Be cool. Take your time. Consult with other authors before you make your decision. Be happy, but also be realistic. You may read about six-figure advances in trade magazines and on the Internet, but most first time authors don’t get paid huge advances. It is staggering how small some of the advances are, and for smaller publishers and some educational presses the advances are tiny or non-existent. This is a true story: a guy who knew nothing about the publishing industry asked me to help him get his novel published because he “was in deep debt and needed to get $50,000 by the end of the year.”

Lessons Learned – Editing/Revising:

1) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Like any relationship, there will be give and take between you and the editor. If you have an editor who loves your work totally and agrees with every word written, consider yourself in the Twilight Zone. Of course, the editor is going to make change; that is his/her job. But sometimes you are tempted to argue over things that really aren’t significant. Choose your battles. Fight for that quirky character that the editor wants to cut out, but don’t fight over the color of her socks.

Voices of Dust Bowl

Voices of the Dust Bowl

2) Roll with the punches. Oh yes, there will be lots of punches to the gut in this business. One of the hardest to take is when an editor you adore leaves the publishing company. Here are some  of the reasons my editors have left the publishing houses they were with: got pregnant, decided to become a school teacher, decided to become a children’s author, company went bankrupt, company laid off half its employees, decided to edit only adult literature, moved to another publisher that didn’t like my work, disappeared from the face of the earth and hasn’t resurfaced yet.  All you can do is move on. If you had a good relationship, you can keep in touch in hopes that one day the editor will be looking for the kind of work you write.

Lessons Learned – After Publishing:

1) Re realistic. Unless your book is another Harry Potter, your sales will probably be “acceptable.” The company will earn enough money to make a profit, but it won’t be a blockbuster. You probably won’t be able to quit your day job for awhile. There are exceptions, and it is perfectly okay to think your book is the exception. But in case it isn’t, realize that you are in the same boat with the majority of children’s authors. In fact, many children’s author make more money from school visits that they do with actual book sales.

from Children of the Dragon

Postcard for Children of the Dragon

2) Think twice about advertising. I’ve done the bookmarks, postcards, mail-outs, booth rentals, and so forth. When I purchase postcards, they typically cost about .20 cents each (sometime .12 cents depending on the quantity). My royalty for the book is .45 cents. So, if my handing out ten post cards @ .20 cents each causes the sell of one book, I have a loss of $1.45. Math doesn’t lie. I know some self-published authors who spend lots of money on promotional materials and never get back what they put into it. I will continue making postcards and flyers to hand out, but for the purpose of getting school visits, not for the purpose of selling books.

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Voices of Pearl Harbor

Last Lesson: Love it or leave it. There is nothing more gratifying that making a good living at being an author, writing what you love and knowing that a publisher will buy it and people will enjoy reading it. On the flip side of the coin, there is nothing more miserable than working days on end, writing your heart out and never being able to make a decent living at the trade. At some point you have to decide if the joy of writing and being an author outweighs all the bad stuff. I’ve had some fantastic years and some heart-rending years. I’m at the point and age now that I’m not qualified to do anything else, an old dog that only knows one trick, so guess I will keep hanging on and hope for better days. Wishing everyone reading this blog (all three of you!) wonderful success with your writing careers.

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