Last month I wrote about my first feeble attempt at publishing a book. Now I'm interviewing other writers on their SUCCESSFUL pathways to publication--from self-published to traditional, debut writers to a writer who's published 130 books, and everything in between.
YA novelist Jennifer R. Hubbard on doing research and working with an agent
Jody: You wrote a book that you felt was worthy of publication, what were your next steps?
Jennifer: I was already publishing short stories, but that’s a simpler process—less of a commitment. You don’t need an agent; you don’t get royalties. I knew I had to do some research before taking the plunge to novels. When I realized I wanted to write YA, I took a course in children’s writing. (Young-adult has traditionally been under the umbrella of children’s publishing.) That led me to children’s writing conferences, the Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference, and the SCBWI. They helped me understand the process and the market.
Jody: How long did it take from finished book to publication? Was all this wrinkle free? Or were there setbacks along the way?
Jennifer: For the manuscript I wrote right before my first published book, I had gone back and forth for a few months with an editor I met at a conference. He made helpful suggestions and I revised, but ultimately he passed. I found some interest in that book from other editors and agents, but they all agreed it needed something to push it that last step to the publishable level. Unfortunately, they didn’t agree on what that something was, and I didn’t know myself, so I set that book aside and focused on The Secret Year.
I showed TSY to one editor whom I’d met at a conference, and even though the book wasn’t right for his publisher, he gave me some helpful feedback. I then went back and polished the manuscript for a few more months (and worked on short stories and other book ideas) before submitting it to the agent who ended up signing me.
Once I found my agent, it took another few months to get an offer on the book. After the book was under contract, it took two more years until publication. Those two years included revision on my part under editorial guidance, and then a lot of behind-the-scenes work by my publisher: book design and formatting, getting reviews, preparing publicity, marketing, etc.
Jody: Tell me a bit more about your agent--how you found him and what he does for you.
Jennifer: I learned about agents via SCBWI, writers’ conferences, looking at the acknowledgments sections of published books, and reading publishing blogs. My first agent was a newer agent at a well-established agency, and he was actively building his list. I queried him, then sent the manuscript on request. After he read the manuscript, we had a discussion, and then agreed to work together. It was a very “textbook” how-I-found-my-agent story. We worked well together for three years, but then he decided to change careers, and I transferred to another agent at the same agency.
The first thing I noticed about working with an agent was that my manuscripts got read faster than when I was submitting on my own. But submitting to editors is only a small part of what agents do.
Jody: That's true. There's the whole business side to writing and publishing. Walk me through some of the details of your first book deal.
Jennifer: When I got my first look at my publication contract, I was very glad I had an agent. It takes skill and experience to negotiate that kind of contract. There are all sorts of factors involved in a publication contract aside from just the size of the advance and royalties: foreign rights; electronic and audio and film rights; option clauses; non-compete clauses; reversion of rights; and so on.
Jody: And then, I'm assuming there is revision work that is expected...
Jennifer: Yes. The editorial process worked like this: my editor gave me thorough, detailed comments, and I reworked the manuscript accordingly. I didn’t have to take all her suggestions, but I took about 95% of them—they made the book better! I think we did 2-3 rounds of edits.
Book designers created a jacket and designed the interior—picking the fonts and so forth. My editor wrote jacket copy and catalog copy with input from me. Meanwhile, the sales team was learning the season’s books and pitching them to libraries and booksellers. The publisher also submits books to major professional reviewers and award committees.
Jody: Now you're talking marketing and publicity. What things did your publisher do and what were you expected to handle?
Jennifer: My publisher’s publicist set up things like magazine and newspaper interviews, and a signing at NCTE. I set up my own local signings, for which I’ve teamed up with two local authors’ groups (the Kidlit Authors Club and the New Jersey Authors Network). I set up my own launch party and guest blogs, and got my own bookmarks designed and printed.
Jody: And I know you are active on social media too. Any thoughts on the future of publishing or what's going in the industry, as far as mergers, e-books, bookstore closings, etc., go?
Jennifer: I think it’s going to become more common for writers to do a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing, to write for a variety of media, and to interact with readers online. At the moment I’m typing this, the print market is still huge, and traditional publishers still provide some big advantages in terms of bookstore and library distribution, advance money, and editorial and design support.
But I think digital publishing and self-publishing will continue to grow. It’s of benefit for both readers and authors to have stories available in as many media as possible: print, electronic text, audio, etc.
Jennifer R. Hubbard is a writer of contemporary novels for young adults. School Library Journal called The Secret Year a "provocative debut novel." Her second novel Try Not to Breathe received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly.
You can learn more about Jennifer by visiting her website Jenniferrhubbard or her blog jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com