What an Author Needs to Know (from the Editor’s Perspective)

Written by A Guest Author

By Colin Newton

It’s perfectly understandable. An author, hot on the high of getting their work published and their online presence in shape, might start to keep a tally of how many clicks to affiliate links they’re registering. And while their click count goes up, their sales do not, at least not as much.

“I’m perplexed,” this theoretical author might say to their theoretical editor, using a very literary word. “I have tons of people clicking my link on social media X to visit purchasing site Y, but my sales aren’t skyrocketing. What’s going on?”

What’s going on is that there is a list of things editors and publishers wished authors knew. Some of them have to do with composition, some of them have to do with sales, but all of them are the kinds of boring things that can get forgotten in the excitement of writing, editing and publishing a new book. Think of these less as critiques and more as a cheat sheet of things to remember when you’re working on your book and getting it to press.

Regarding clicks and buys, while it can be a nice ego boost to watch clicks, they don’t necessarily translate into buys (think about everything you’ve clicked on but didn’t buy, or everything right now that’s parked, unpurchased, on your Amazon wish list).

And not to destroy anyone’s faith in humankind, but just because someone says they’re going to buy your book doesn’t mean they’re actually going to buy it. All those people who told you they are going to order your book as soon as it’s available—whether they said it in-person, online or via messenger pigeon—might not follow through. In other words, don’t trust their words. Trust the actual number of books sold.

Be careful about numbers though. A single purchase can dramatically improve your rank on a best seller list. Two purchases of a book will make it jump ahead of books that only had one purchase—and books with no purchases too.

This might sound obvious, but books cost money. They cost money to print and they cost money to ship. Before an author gets their cut of the sale of a book, the distributor and the publisher get theirs to cover those costs. And remember, authors get a percentage of the publishing house’s percentage, so don’t be surprised if your royalties aren’t quite as fat as you think they should be.

Also, those royalties take time. The book that sells today is the book you’ll get paid for later this year.

It’s important to keep in mind that, no matter how unique your book is, there is another book that is similar to it. That doesn’t mean your concept is unoriginal. It means that people who like to read certain books might like to read yours too. When an editor asks you for an example of a similar book, they’re not trying to diminish or pigeonhole your work. All right, they are trying to pigeonhole it a little, but just enough to help sell a few copies to the right readers.

Advertising isn’t a dirty word. You’re an author, not an adman, and you don’t have to show up with a three-step plan to launch the book. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be informed. If you learn a little about how a book in your genre is typically promoted and sold, that gives you an idea of how the publisher will be working on promotion and how you might be expected to help out.

If you’re still working on the manuscript, remember that character names are important. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Tom, Dick and Harry. Do a little research—research is another word that’s not dirty—especially if you’re writing a character from a particular era or culture. Names and voices go a long way toward defining characters, so don’t be afraid to take time and have fun creating them.

On the other hand, don’t have too much fun. Your character’s name should not look like you’ve slammed your head against your keyboard. You might be writing a dark fantasy epic, and your elven twilight archer might be a member of the coveted Council of the Daughters of Thorn. But if her name takes longer to figure out than her resume, she’s going to end up being called “Debbie.”

And finally, before you send any house a copy of your manuscript, double-check the submission format guidelines. That helps the novel not appear in an editor’s inbox looking like a screenplay, a high school essay or a dinner menu. It usually takes two minutes to read the guidelines, and if you’ve been composing your manuscript in an industry standard format, it won’t take much longer than that to make sure it’s in ideal shape when you submit it to any editorial team.

If you can remember all that and put up with an editor’s constant tweaking, then editors in return swear to always get back to you on time, to never ignore your questions in the hope they will fix themselves, and to never give you vague or offbeat editorial feedback like “can you make this smoother” or “is this spelled right?” or “just give me more.” Speaking as an erstwhile editor, that’s a promise. Probably.


Bio: Colin Newton is a writer (and sometimes editor) from Los Angeles whose short fiction has appeared in the Ignatian Literary Magazine, Red Planet Magazine and The Fabulist Words & Art. He is an upcoming Rose Library fellow at Emory University. He currently blogs about media, monsters and metaphysics at IdolsAndRealities.wordpress.com.

 

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