On the cusp of the ACFW Conference coming up later this month, many of you will be clutching those folders of one-sheets, chapter samples, synopses, and notes for your elevator pitch in trembling hands, and the only thing quite as terrifying as the possibility of nobody liking your book is someone getting serious about it. What will that be like? Will the manuscript acceptance and publication process take five months? Two years?
Well, I know that I had many questions about the publication process before I signed my first contract. (And honestly, because the process is a little different with every publisher and every book, I still have questions.) So what I’ve done is presented a survey to a couple of authors who have had books released with a variety of sizes of publishing houses. Hopefully their responses to what I’ve asked will illuminate some of the shadowy corners of the publishing process you might be wondering about.
My deepest thanks to Suzanne Hartmann, author of Peril, and Bryan Davis, author of, well, a LOT of books, for their responses to my neurotically specific questions. Here’s a sampling of what I asked them, and I hope what they’ve had to say is a help to you.
1.) How did you land your first contract?
Bryan Davis’s contracts with both AMG and Zondervan came through connections he made at writer’s conferences. (Yes, one of those was ACFW.) It underscores the point you’ll hear all over writer’s forums and blogs—if you have a manuscript looking for a home, a conference is one of the single best investments you can make in getting published. My own experience is the same. Many of my meaningful connections in the industry have come through conference attendance.
2.) From the point of a publisher expressing interest in your book, approximately how long did it take from that point of interest to a signed contract?
This was an interesting question…the answers ranged from “less than a month” to nearly two years. In the longer instance, there was an agent in the mix, so of course the communication time does stretch a little when it has to pass through multiple in-boxes. In other conversations I’ve had outside of this interview, though, I am beginning to see the process tends to be fairly swift (less than six weeks) for authors to receive a contract from a publisher who has requested a full manuscript. It all depends on how busy the publishing house is at the time they cast a meaningful glance toward your manuscript, and how much manpower they have to spread their projects between.
3.) Did you have to apply substantial changes to your manuscripts at the behest of your editors?
Both Bryan and Suzanne were pleased to report they only had to tweak, really. No major overhauls. I’ve been on both sides of that spectrum, from experiencing very light changes to doing a re-write on the entire first third of a manuscript. Generally speaking though, it seems authors don’t need to fear complete overhauling of their work. If a publisher thinks your work needs overhauling, they likely won’t offer you a contract.
For Suzanne, it’s hearing that people enjoyed her work and can’t wait for more, and for Bryan, it’s seeing the fruit of the process, when that box of books arrives on the doorstep. (Apparently, neither of these ever gets old. I’ve heard many authors echo these sentiments.)
5.) And the biggest challenges?
Once you are multi-published: staying on deadline and being dependable, even when there are tours to juggle, new books to write, family, and “life” to squeeze in. And for everyone: marketing. It’s one of those things no author I’ve met loves, but neither can they skip.
In summary, the publishing process is one that runs in fits and spurts. You submit. You wait. Things run in a flurry of communication as the contract becomes official. The manuscript goes into editing. You wait no fewer than a few months, and then the author applies the edits in a writing binge that might last a few days to a couple of weeks. You bite your nails while the words go through the grinder that makes them into a typeset, cover-wrapped book, and hallelujah! The box arrives on your doorstep. It’s exciting, fun, and nerve wracking all at once. And I hope some of you will come away from this year’s ACFW conference embarking on the road.