Christine Kohler

Children's Book Author, Editor, Writing Instructor

Double Knot Photography

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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

CHANGES IN 30 YEARS OF BOOK PUBLISHING

June 8, 2013

Tags: authors, book publishing, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Merit Press, No Surrender Soldier

Even though technically I am a debut novelist (NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, tbr Jan. 18, 2014, Merit Press), my first four fiction picture storybooks for ages 5-9 were published in 1985. After a long sidestep into journalism and teaching, when I came back to children’s lit I published in nonfiction books. For those who grew up on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys--for me it was Trixie Belden and THUNDERHEAD, great horse stories!—instead of Harry Potter, you’ll know I’m talking about traditional publishing pre-internet. Recently I mentioned how much publishing has changed for the author, and I’m noticing the changes mostly with this novel. The next day a writer messaged me via facebook—another change—and urged me to write an article about what has changed for authors in book publishing. “I want to read that article!” she wrote. So, here’s the inside scoop from the voice of nearly 30 years experience as an author.

Antiquated, slower than molasses, and maybe “a cloak of secrecy” for everyone except the editors and their publishers--this is the best I can describe the book publishing business pre-internet. I’ve been telling my husband forever, “The book biz is like no other business.”

We used the Writer’s Market as our Bible. I read The Writer magazine, which I bought in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. When I was in high school my best friend’s mother, Norma Atkins, a former reporter who became a radio advertising writer, took me to a writers’ guild and writers’ conferences at the local college. But beyond that, after high school and moving out of state, I worked in a vacuum. No writer’s groups. No critique partners. No conferences or workshops. Just my manual typewriter with its broken correct-a-tape, envelopes and stamps, and the annual Writer’s Market.

Oh, sorry. You didn’t want me to reminisce back that far? Fast-forward to when I reentered children's literature in the 21st century. I remember one year when it seemed postage jumped 2 times in less than a year. The second time postage increased, the next day I received two emails from editors and one from an agent. I knew then that the U.S. Postal Service single-handedly had dragged the book publishing industry into the 21st century. Let's look at how this affected my selling this novel, and the publishing process for me.

One, I learned about the creation of the new YA imprint, Merit Press, by Adams Media/F+W Media, and the publisher hiring author Jacquelyn Mitchard as the editor through a web announcement. By the way, Writer’s Market is owned by F+W Media. I emailed a query and my manuscript of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER to Jacquelyn Mitchard on October 17, 2012. We emailed a couple of chatty notes back and forth. Then Jackie called me a couple of times when we got to the nitty-gritty of discussing the novel before she went to committee. But none of this would've happened before the Internet. Instead, I used to get a mailed letter from an editor at the point of interest and before going to committee. I usually did not get a phone call from an editor until the editor was offering a contract.

In this case, Jackie asked me both by phone and email for information to present to the committee. As soon as the committee decided, she emailed, "We have a yes!" This was on December 19, 2012. So you can see that in the 21st century age of Internet, the manuscript was received by the editor, read, discussed, and decided by the committee to acquire within two months. In the age before Internet, I used to advise writers to wait 5 to 7 months before checking the status of a manuscript. (Although most of my deals did happen faster than that. But figure how long mail takes, how long it took to get sorted through the mailroom, and how long it took the editor to get through the slush pile to read your manuscript.)

Another difference was contract negotiations. It used to be at the time of the offer the editor would discuss broad contract terms with me over the telephone. I would tell the editor that I needed to think about it and get back to her. Then I called back a day or so later and negotiated. However, with this novel my contract negotiations were done through email. The advantage of this was being able to see the terms in print.

My experience with this novel has been a higher level of participation and consultation in the publishing process than my books published at the beginning of my career. It used to be once I signed the contract, and I received my revision letter, then sent my revised manuscript back to the editor, I never saw the book again until I received my galley. I looked over the galley, then either called or mailed the changes back. Then one day – voilà! – a box of copies of my published book arrived in the mail. That would also be the first day I got to see the cover!

However, with NO SURRENDER SOLDIER my editors not only kept me informed during the process, but I was allowed to do two rounds of copy editing in addition to going over the galley. Since I used to be a copy editor for a Hearst publication I hope this was helpful to them to have another set of eyes before publication.

All of this may seem obvious to you that the process either is sped up or feels sped up because of more instant information. And being able to receive documents at the click of Send. However, another big change is the social aspect of the process. Because of blogs, Facebook, and other social media, authors are able to post updates to friends. The whole marketing machine gears up at the moment the contract is signed. Huge deals are made out of getting the ISBN number and revealing the cover months prior to publication.

Authors often compare publishing a book to birthing a baby. So just as my nieces post every detail, even their sonograms, every baby item purchase and baby shower, in the same way an author posts the progress of his or her novel, including pictures. Only authors call it "creating buzz." So, if you are tired of reading about book updates, do what you would do to the ninth picture of junior spitting peas out—be polite and scroll past. Nothing will be gained by being snarky or upset at the proud parent.

What brought this home for me is the last aspect I want to discuss concerning how the process of book publishing has changed for authors. I'll never forget my first four fiction books that were published in 1985. The box of books arrived at my five-plex on Oahu. Obviously, I was excited. But it was the middle of the day, my husband was at work, and my children were at school. I had no one to share my new books with. I remember taking them out of the box, one of each, and walking outside. I wondered if any of my neighbors were outside. I wondered if they would think I was bragging. I wasn't sure how to show my books without appearing to show off. I still remember that feeling today. One by one, three women came outside. One by one they shared in my joy. Then that was it and we all went back into our houses.

Now, with NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, my neighborhood is larger. On Facebook it includes two of my brothers in Ohio, my nieces and nephews scattered throughout the United States, and even author friends from overseas. I really felt that sense of community when on May 14, 2013, my book showed up for pre-sales first on Amazon. Truthfully, I'd been having a pretty rough day. I couldn't even tell you what all had gone wrong. Because by evening I realized that I was in the midst of a party on my Facebook personal page and Facebook fan page. People were posting that they had ordered my book. This was unheard of pre-internet. Everybody, including my brothers, were excited for me. This brought me such joy to have them share in this milestone.

How marketing has changed for authors in this 21st century techno age is a whole other blog topic, so I'll end here. Except to say, I'd love to have you join me on my Facebook fan page and watch the process unfold.

Comments

  1. June 27, 2013 8:04 AM EDT
    Thanks for sharing your story on the changing book publishing industry. Sometimes I wish it would slow down a bit, but not all the way back to 1985! Congratulations on your upcoming release. Sounds like you are jumping right into the whirlwind of promotion and fun! Best wishes..
    - J.Q. Rose
  2. June 28, 2013 4:20 PM EDT
    Thank you, J.Q.! I don't want to turn back the calendar to 1985 either. But I can't begin to count how many times I say to myself, "If I were younger and starting over..." then remark on something I would do. The problem is, like most things in life, is that it is the wisdom of hindsight which makes us reflect how we would do things differently. And no one singly has that hindsight. That's why I advise people to join organizations such as SCBWI and listen to voices of experience of older authors.
    - Christine Kohler

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