Getting Schooled in Publishing

I know what you’re thinking…usually the term “getting schooled” doesn’t have a good connotation. Used on the basketball court or in a competitive game of chess, it means someone totally better than you whipped your butt good and “schooled” you on how things are supposed to go. We’ve all been schooled. Part of living.

But I also think of “schooled” as a good thing…or at least it has been for me over the past two years.

See, I entered the world of publishing in Sept. of 2009 when I got the “call.” Up until that point I was chasing publishing around the playground trying to get it to notice me. But that day, publishing turned around and said, “Enough already. You can play with me now.”

Well, like that elusive group of cool girls (or whatever analogy you want to plug in here) there’s a learning curve. And it’s a whopper.

You can’t really tell anyone what it’s like because it’s different for everyone – especially now that there are so many ways to publish. So I’m not going to tell you what it should be for you. I’m only going to tell you what I’ve learned over the past two years in the world of traditional publishing with Harlequin. So this is your disclaimer right here. These are the views, opinions and experiences of Liz Talley. Please add your own in the comments section just to make it, you know, balanced.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

First, getting published is a great accomplishment. I won’t lie. Getting that call felt great and it still does every time I sell a book. So even though being published can sometimes make you chew your fingernails down to the quick and pull enough hair out that you have a symmetrical circle around your desk chair, it’s well worth it.

Second, the editorial process is a different process for everyone, depending on the publisher. Editors have different editorial styles. Some will give edits in the manuscript, some will type notes, some will give heavy suggestions, while other will be vague and leave you guessing in regards to what they want.   The most important part of the editorial relationship is communication and trust. Like any good marriage, you need to spend time building this professional relationship, establishing respect for one another, sharing visions for the manuscript and collaborating on the best way to make your book leap off the shelf into readers’ hands.

Be agreeable. This doesn’t mean roll over and expose your belly. It means don’t be difficult to work with…for anyone, including copy editors, art directors or editorial assistants….or your editor. It’s your editorial teams’ job to know their product and know their reader. They know it better than you. Yes, it’s your story. I know. But bringing that story to life – um, to actual print – is a job for all of you. Which means if you are difficult to work with, dig in your heels on the smallest of points, and turn things in half-done or extremely late, no one is going to feel kindly toward you. Doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. They’re buying your product, not you. But step out of your author shoes, and into the shoes of the team and think hard about your actions (or lack thereof). Basially, be a team player.

While talking about being a team player, cheer for your fellow writers within the line or the publishing house. Karma, people, Karma. That’s all I have to say about that.

Contracts are different from house to house, and they’re not easy to read. If you have an agent, great. If not, consider hiring a contract attorney to help you understand things like option clauses, royalties, and other things that sound very lawyery. As you can tell, I needed help. But different publishers have different contracts and they want to get the best deal possible. They are looking out for their interests no matter how wonderful they are, so make sure you look out for yours, too. That’s being responsible and part of a healthy relationship.

Expect the unexpected. I turned in my manuscript in early July. Just got my revision letter on the book last Tuesday. My critique partner turned in her book a week ago. She got her revision letter today. Same company, different lines…and each line works editorial differently. To a degree, I’m at the mercy of my editor, who happens to be the senior editor. She’s got lots and lots on her plate which means often I get pushed to the backburner to simmer for a while. This time for four and half months…and you thought everything would change once you sold. LOL. No, it doesn’t. I wait a lot.

Speaking of waiting, you have to keep producing. This is pretty important. No one wants to be a one hit wonder, so, baby, write your butt off. While you are waiting  to sell, write another book. While you are waiting on edits, write another book. While you are waiting at the doctor’s office, write down ideas. While you’re in car pool line, edit your synopsis. Anytime you are waiting, think about your writing. I often see a big problem for many writers is reveling in the glow of the first book – blog tours, reviews, tweeting about being a writer, booksignings – they all are great, but your true focus should be on the next best thing you have flowing out of your fingers. The more books you have out there, the greater reader awareness you can build. So don’t rest on your laurels, write.

Find a reader community. One of the best ways to build yourself as a author is to open yourself up to readers. It can be done quite easily on Facebook and twitter, but I really like forums like Harlequin community to connect with readers and other writers who are pursuing my line. Readers who frequent your publisher forums are likely to respond well to interacting with the authors of the books they like, and finding people who like your writing means finding people who will recommend your writing to others.

I’m sure there is much more I can say about publishing…that’s just all I can think of in my experience of bringing eight books to the shelf. And most of this I thought about after getting those revisions last week and having a tight turnaround (which means having to turn it around and have it to my editor in six days). After I waved goodbye to it from my outbox, I sighed and said “This is crazy.” Yeah, I thought you should all know. But I don’t think I would trade it for playing tennis at the club any day.

So, if you have questions, I will try and answer them. If you have different experiences, please chime in.


35 responses to “Getting Schooled in Publishing”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your publishing experience, Liz. I think it’s so important for everyone to know there are new challenges to deal with once you sign your first contract. I’ve been waiting a lonngggg time for the call and I completely agree with you – while you’re waiting, write another book. I’m onto my seventh ms now. 🙂

    Congrats on getting your revisions turned around in six days!

    • Liz talley says:

      I think producing is probably Ine of the most important things to do. You can’t control much else, but you CAN control what you do – whic is to write another good book. And I can’t wait until we have some Vanessa to grab off the shelf.

  2. Thanks so much for this, Liz! Definitely true. Once I sold my first book, I felt paralyzed for a few weeks wondering if I could even produce another publishable manuscript (which was something I hadn’t expected to experience).

    Great tips! It’s always comforting to know what other writers go through…and that waiting and hard work are two things that are never going to disappear. You just need to get them in the right order: work hard while you wait.

    • Liz talley says:

      I remember ( and I still feel this way) being uber careful and wanting to make the best decisions possible so I didnt look back and regret anything. Hard to operate that way. I have to constantly remind myself that everyone screws up and that I need to listen to my gut on things. It’s really easy to get distracted by what other people are doing and thus feel like you are wrong.

      So much I still don’t know. I’m probably very sophomoric in all this, but at least I’m no longer a freshman.

    • Kathy Altman says:

      Me too, Tina! Obviously with your second book coming out in June you managed to shake off that paralysis. 🙂 Yay, you!

      • I have no doubt Superromance will snap up your next book as well, Kathy! Your debut is coming out in July, right? I love the community over at too! It’s a great place to party whenever there’s a sale.

  3. Kat Cantrell says:

    Sigh. I would so love the opportunity to show an editor I can be a team player. Thanks for this look at “post call” Liz. One day, I will be looking back at it for tips. 🙂 Can’t wait for your next book to hit the shelves.

    • Liz talley says:

      Sounds like you already have the right outlook. Being positive throughout the submission and editorial process is important. I have no doubt you will get there one day 🙂

      And my next book will come out in May. Seems so far off but I know I will blink and it will be here.

  4. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is helpful (and scary!!), Liz!

    So you wait months to get your revisions, and then you get just six days to do the revisions??? Yikes!

    How is that arranged in your contract? The editor will get it to you whenever she can, and whatever time that happens to be, you need to do the revisions in six days, regardless of what’s going on in your life, no prior warning? Wow, crazy!!

    • Liz talley says:

      It usually doesn’t happen that way. I’m sure there’s something in the contract but I try and treat my relationship with my editor like a partnership. Things got crazy for her and it took her longer than she expected, so I luckily had the time to devote to putting my wip aside and tackling them. They were also very light revisions so I think she knew they were very doable. But you are right. That’s lightning turnaround. Usually, that won’t happen. So exhale, but also know that nothing about putting a book together goes smoothly. This was a bump:)

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      At Sourcebooks, I typically get six weeks to turn around what my editor Deb Werksman calls ‘developmental revisions’.

  5. Thanks for sharing your publishing experience, Amy. That quick editing turnaround makes me gulp! And eight books–big congrats.

  6. Kathy Altman says:

    Thank you so much for the timely tips, Liz! Your post is reassuring and will probably help to thwart some future and unnecessary angst. 🙂 Hear, hear on your comments about the Harlequin community forums–don’t know what I’d do without them. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Liz talley says:

      It’s a great place to meet readers and other writers, isn’t it? So proud of your accomplishment – makes it more special when you’ve taken the journey together.

  7. I loved hearing your perspective, Liz. And things are so different for everyone. I just got my contract for Book 2 in my series and haven’t even returned it yet…but received my edits last Friday. LOL Guess I should get that thing in the mail!

  8. Rita Henuber says:

    Thanks for this Liz. It’s really important to know that things don’t happen the same way for everyone. Hearing different stories helps people understand this. Can’t wait your next book series.

    • Liz talley says:

      Thanks, and, yeah, I dies help to know that there is no right way to be published. Well, not sure that made sense but I bet you know what I mean. 🙂

  9. Vivi Andrews says:

    Great info, Liz – and congrats on kicking out those revisions! I’ve also found the waiting doesn’t feel like waiting if you’re working. Writing’s the best way to stay sane as you’re waiting… waiting… waiting…

  10. I am always amazed to hear how different houses, even different editors within the same house, do the publishing two-step. Each have different styles and traditions.

    And you could not be more right about that learning curve. ZOMG. So, so much, and so much to keep up with. I have yet to have a bad experience with anyone at SMP. I love everyone, from my editor and publisher to my publicist and my audiobook producer. So many people I’m in contact with daily, and let me tell you, they are AWESOME!

    Liz is right. They WANT you to sell well. They are not against you. Treating each person on your team with the utmost respect is essential in building your relationship with your house.

    Great post, Liz!

    • Liz talley says:

      Exactly right, D. I’m a firm believer in what goes around comes around and you never want to be that pain in the ass author who complained about every little detail.

      I can always sense through your posts how much respect you have for the team at SMP. That’s awesome.

  11. laurie kellogg says:

    Great post, Liz. You’ve almost made me glad I’m not under contract. ALMOST. 🙂

    • Liz talley says:

      I think it’s important to savor each step, and there are pros and cons to each one. I liked being in the unpubbed category because it was a sorority of positive, determined sisters. Im not sure its like that in PAN. Very business-like there.

  12. Hope Ramsay says:


    My experiences are similar. Sometimes it’s hurry up and wait and sometimes it’s just hurry.

    My editor got behind on my first book (due to circumstances beyond our collective control). So when my second book needed extensive revisions and the publication date of my third on got moved up by 2 months and then they wanted a short story with a 2 week turn around …I got way way behind.

    But everyone at GCP was understanding and helpful. They gave me extra time allowed me to be late on deadlines and have really moved my career forward.

    One other reality I would add is the surprising amount of time I have to spend on marketing. — on top of the killer deadlines.


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