Falling – and Staying – in Love with Your Publisher
Your manuscript has been rejected so many times there must be a rubber band attached to your mailbox. What now? What about a publishing party? Poets do it in droves, assembling their tiny, beautifully crafted chapbooks together, joking about paper cuts, and awl-stabbings. How long does it take to print and bind a 300 page novel anyway?
And then it happens. The email lands in your inbox: a publisher wants your novel. Not only that, they praise your writing for its integrity, its beauty of language, its breadth of vision.
After a quick web-search you establish that this publisher is not only strong and handsome, but comes fully-loaded with a reputable publishing track record. You’ve found your publishing Bugatti. You sign a contract. A contract!
And then, there comes the email asking for revisions. It’s like your new sweetie honing in on your personal hygiene. Honey? You need a different mouthwash.
A deep breath, okay, several deep breaths, and you can deal with it. You follow the instructions carefully. You edit ruthlessly, you tie up unexplained ends in fairy bows. You re-order or even delete a few chapters. You send off your rewrite, feeling bruised but good and virtuous.
Silence for a week. Doubt. Should you have pruned more? You develop severe plot anxiety. Was it clear that Esmé was dating Lyle before she shot Marcy? Did you tidy up that business about the disused well?
You send off an email: Just checking to see if you received the …
A cheery reply: They’ve been busy but they’ll get right back to you.
Three more nail-biting weeks later, another email arrives. They love what you’ve done. It’s clear now that Esmé was dating Lyle before old Marcy got hers (sad she had to go that way, but amazing tension). And such a wise move to remove that disused well cliché.
And then there’s white space and a new paragraph: So some of the following comments are just to finalize a few things…
Don’t tear your hair out. Don’t burn the contract. Don’t say you’ll never write anything again. Or, do say that, as you pour yourself a large glass of whatever makes you feel less inclined to throw the laptop through the window. And breathe. Big gulps of oxygen. A second glass of whatever, etc.
Many new novelists—and I feature prominently on that honor roll—think that, once the manuscript is accepted by a publisher, they’re done. Hands in the air, break out the champagne, prepare for instant fame or at least a lot more hits on the Facebook page.
Revision is what editors do. It is the celery stick they poke into their Bloody Marys to stir up whatever lurks at the bottom of Bloody Marys. They know their markets, and they also know that the critics are waiting to chew up your novel like a fresh Krispy Kreme.
Okay, mixed food metaphors aside, publishing editors have vested interests. They have their reputations to consider. But they’re also doing you a favor by insisting on the rewrite. You may be a dab hand at short stories but, as far as the market is concerned, you’re a brand new novelist. You get one shot at establishing yourself and your publisher wants to make sure it’s your best.
Swallow. Breathe. Gird up your loins or whatever you like to gird, and accept that signing the contract is just the next step in the entire process. Because after publishing comes selling the book!
And if a publisher accepts your novel and doesn’t ask for a rewrite? You’re either a genius, or you should be really, really nervous!
My novel, Losing Touch, will be out in 2013 – after many rewrites! The publisher, OneWorld Publications, is based in the UK. And my editor, Juliet Mabey, is wonderful!
The novel follows Arjun, a South Indian immigrant adapting to 1960s London. An excerpt can be found here: http://www.ninetymeetingsinninetydays.com/Hunger_and_Thirst.html
Online short fiction can be found here: http://www.vagabondagepress.com/10301/10301.html (page 137).
Sandra Hunter’s fiction has appeared in a number of literary magazines. In 2011, she won the Arthur Edelstein Short Fiction Prize, and received finalist awards from Black Warrior Review and Zoetrope All-Story. In 2012 she won the Cobalt Fiction Prize.