I seriously don't even know how to begin. Dan Wells was just as smart and funny as everyone said. He spoke for a little over an hour on how the publication process works. I've heard many writers explain the publication process before, but never so succinctly. I want to share my notes with you all, but I'm not even going to try to convey his humor.
1. Author wants to be published. Dan said, "You write your book and expect it to sell immediately so you can move into your mansion next to Stephenie Meyer." This obviously isn't the case besides a few select authors (for example, J.K. Rowling).
2. Keep writing. Again. And Again. And Again. Dan explained that when he was at BYU, a writer came to speak with his class (I can't remember the writer's name and I didn't write it down quickly enough). He said, "You can make a living as an artist...it's just hard. If you spend as much time on your writing career as a med student spends in school, you will be successful. Keep trying." I thought that was such a great way to look at it. I think people get all mixed up with the arts because there is this belief that it's about raw talent. I think that obviously talent is involved, but you also learn by doing. And the more you do, the better you become. Dan said it took him 10 years before he made money as a writer. And he said that's actually pretty fast.
3. Try to sell your manuscript. You can either go straight to editors or go through an agent. Dan mostly talked about selling to the editors because that was the process he used. He said that it doesn't really matter that much which way you go (even though people have strong opinions on each). If you are looking for an editor, the best way to approach them is to go to conventions and meet them in person. Or, you can go to libraries and book stores, find books that are similar to yours, and send your manuscripts to those specific editors/publishers. He quoted an editor at Tor (once again I don't have the name), "With your very first book, you aren't selling your book. You are selling yourself. And you can do that better than an agent can."
If you or your agent submits your manuscript and an editor likes it, they will take it to the publisher where a group reviews manuscripts and decides which ones to publish. If your manuscript is chosen, they will give you an offer. (If you don't have an agent at this point, get one to help you with the offer.) That offer is essentially for the rights to publish your manuscript in a specific market. Your agent then tries to sell your manuscript to other markets. (Interestingly, Germany is the second largest reading market after the United States.) There are other rights you can sell as well, such as merchandising and movie rights.
4. Editing. This is the stage I was the most familiar with. First an editor reviews the manuscript for bigger issues, such as plot development, characterization, etc. Then a copy editor basically goes through and makes sure that everything is correct and polished. The copy editor will provide a List of Elements/Characters. This list includes all the places, characters, and other details of the book with their descriptions. This makes it so the editor can ensure that everything throughout the book is cohesive. At this point a proof is created and sent to the proofreaders. After the proofreaders review it, the typesetters make it look good by designing the page numbers, layout, page breaks, etc. And just so you know, this isn't a linear process. It can go back and forth through all of these steps multiple times. Also, the author is approving changes throughout this entire process.
5. Press. The publisher puts out an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) to critics, stores, libraries, etc.Then several months later (usually) the book is published and available for purchase.
Long process, huh? I thought he did a really good job of giving an overview of everything. He included a lot of little anecdotes, but this was the overall idea. He also spoke about a few other topics that didn't really fit into the steps of the publishing process.
How authors are paid
When a publisher buys a manuscript, they give the author an advance which is a set amount for the book. The author then receives royalties for their book. (Some ballpark figures he gave were 4% for mass market, 8% for trade paperback, and 12% for hardback.) The author doesn't receive any royalties until they earn out their advance, which basically means that the royalties they earn equal more than the original advance. Many books never earn out their advance. In fact, publishers know that only about 10% of books will earn out their advance and those 10% of books pay for the other 90% of books published.
Concept vs. Craft
Ideas are cheap. The idea is the easy part; the difficult part is executing it into a story that people will enjoy. (I think I particularly liked this because I always struggle to come up with the original idea, but hardly ever with the actual writing. I guess I don't need to worry about that as much as I do.)
Book bombs are a marketing strategy. You get everyone to buy your book at a certain time so it moves your book up on popular lists. Dan said it's almost impossible to get your book anywhere near the top of a list at Amazon. However, the most successful book bomb he had heard of was Machine of Death. Evidently a publisher told them they would never be able to publish the book. So, they shared that story with the public and everyone wanted to stick it to the publisher basically. Result: Machine of Death made it to #2 on Amazon's overall most popular book list. That's crazy!
The author has very little to do with cover art. It is the marketers job because the role of cover art is to get people to pick the book up off the shelf. Sometimes the cover art doesn't have anything to do with the actual story, but it grabs readers' attention so it does its job. (I've noticed that often when a book gets more popular, the book is re-released with new cover art that is more specific to the book. I wonder if this is because at that point the book can sell itself?)
Why e-books will not destroy the publishing field
E-books don't have to go through the same editorial process so there are so many more of them out there. This makes it even harder to find good reading material because of the sheer volume. Also, it's easy to self publish, but difficult to be successful. Many people are comparing the e-book evolution to the music industry. However, there is a distinct difference in the physical experience of reading a book and reading an e-book. There isn't as big of a difference in the music experience based on how you are playing it. (Although, people who listen to records might disagree with that.)
Dan said the publishing industry isn't dying; it's just changing. I completely agree. And I agree that in some ways it will be easier to publish and in some ways it will be more difficult. I think it will come down to having a really good story and being able to get it out there.
Publishing has actually never been a huge goal of mine. I know it probably should be, but sometimes I wonder if it will take away some of the joy I find in writing. That being said, last night inspired me to be more open to publication. And to keep working on my writing.
Tonight is the YA Panel with Kristen Chandler, Lisa Mangum, and Robison Wells (Dan's brother).