What You Don’t Know

I was talking with one of my clients who is currently in the midst of a two-book contract with a major CBA house. This is her first book deal and although she’d spent many years networking with authors and publishing types, she’s been shocked by how much she didn’t know about publishing before she signed her contract. I asked her, what were the things she didn’t know? She said:

→ I didn’t know what ARCs were. (Advance Reader Copies, distributed to media prior to publication to try and get reviews in time for pub.)

→ I didn’t know I was supposed to be my own publicist… without stepping on the toes of my publisher’s publicist. (This is a common issue with my writer friends.)

→ I didn’t know that thing about the manuscript being officially “accepted” and what a magical word that is. (Acceptance is a publisher’s term that means the manuscript is complete and has survived the editorial process—and the publisher has deemed it publishable. It’s magical because it means the author gets the next installment of their advance.)

→ I didn’t know about preemptive offers—even multi-published writers had never heard of that. (A preemptive offer is when a publisher makes an offer that’s good for a limited time, say 24 hours, that must be declined or accepted without considering any other offers during that time. It can’t be used to start an auction or drive up the price for the book. It’s a take-it or leave-it offer. If accepted, no other publisher offers will be entertained.)

→ It never occurred to me how weird it would be to get a two-book deal. There is the feeling of cheating, since I poured blood sweat and oh-so-many-tears into getting my first book published, and then poof—in one sentence I have a second book. Crazy. (Of course, my agent had something to do with that.)

→ I didn’t know the different levels of a publishing company and all the hoops that my proposal had to go through. (Editorial, sales, marketing… it’s a lot of people!)

→ I didn’t know how much power sales reps had. (Seems like they pretty much rule the roost these days.)

→ I didn’t know how many words I could go over or under on my final manuscript. (Turned out the publisher expected the word count to be within about 5% of the agreed-upon number.)

→ I still don’t know how much or how little control I will have over the final book. (Different with each house and each author.)

→ I don’t know how much is kosher for me to ask for from my publisher as far as marketing, and who do I ask—my editor or the marketing dept itself? (Usually you’ll work with someone in marketing, and your conversations will indicate how much you might be able to “ask” for. But it will always need to be matched by what you’re doing.)

What about you? Once you got that first publishing contract, what were some things that surprised you?

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Lynette Sowell on October 15, 2008 at 11:36 PM

    >I didn’t know about the juggling. Once my contracted book was written and turned in, I knew I needed to prepare the proposal for book 2 in the series. But then–poof! Here came my content edit on book one! So then I worked, worked, worked on that. Then I went back to the book 2 proposal, sent that off, and OH! Here came the copyedits on book one. Oh, and then came the contract for book 2, which I started writing. And then there were the galleys for book one… you get the picture. I’ve definitely had to get better at time management and learn to devote attention to more than one project at a time.

  2. Marla Taviano on October 15, 2008 at 9:24 AM

    >My biggest “didn’t know” was that I was basically responsible to market my books myself. They sent me a few thousand postcards, a poster, and set up a few radio interviews. The rest was up to me. (I thought I’d just cozy up on the couch and wait for royalty checks. Seriously.)

  3. Jessica on October 14, 2008 at 9:23 PM

    >Now I just learned some new stuff! Thanks Rachelle and debut author.
    🙂 Congrats to you both.

  4. Yvonne on October 14, 2008 at 7:53 PM

    >I echo these other comments. I didn’t know these things either. It makes me feel so small. There is so much to learn! I’m glad I’m not going in alone…it would be like trying to represent yourself in a court of law.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for teaching us, being patient with our silly questions and comments.

  5. Anita Mae on October 14, 2008 at 12:52 PM

    >This post reminds me of my 1st ACFW conference – I thought I knew how to write well until I went to the workshops and discovered I didn’t know much about writing – just about storytelling.

    There’s a big difference there.

    Thank you, Rachelle.

  6. C.J. Darlington on October 14, 2008 at 11:56 AM

    >Thanks for this informative post.

  7. Catherine L. Osornio on October 14, 2008 at 11:50 AM

    >I second Linnea’s comment. I was very surprised at the packet of information I had to fill out, including the newspaper, TV, and radio stations I had to list in my area.

    Another thing that truly surprised me was when my publisher asked me who I thought would be a good illustrator for my non-fiction picture book! I had always heard it wasn’t my job, but theirs. I came up with a list of 10 illustrators I thought would be a good match and sent them my top 3. The illustrator they chose was my number 5 choice, so I was very happy.

  8. Linnea on October 14, 2008 at 11:00 AM

    >I wasn’t prepared for all the questions I was going to have to answer.
    Whom do you perceive to be your audience? Where would you like your book launch? What advertising do you think would suit your book? Do you have any promotional ideas? What key description do you see as setting your book apart from others of its genre? Why would a bookseller want this in her store? …and on and on and on!

  9. Tiffany Stuart on October 14, 2008 at 9:48 AM

    >As always, valuable to writers. Rachelle, thank you for the constant flow of great posts.

    “I didn’t know” some of these, so see, today I learned something new.


  10. Karen Witemeyer on October 14, 2008 at 9:08 AM

    >Tyhanks, Rosslyn for the book recommendation. I plan to check it out. And thanks, Rachelle, for sharing some of the mysteries we have to look forward to as contracted authors.

    Sometimes it easy to delude ourselves into thinking we know what is to come. I’ve attended enough writers conferences to feel comfortable with much of the lingo, but I’m sure that until I actually live through the process, I won’t truly grasp the details of what goes into fulfilling a publisher’s expectations.

    The more knowledge we can gain ahead of time, though, the less stress we’ll experience when we get there. Knowing what to expect makes living up to those expectations a little easier.

  11. Rosslyn Elliott on October 14, 2008 at 8:12 AM

    >Your client’s comment about sales reps spurs me to pass on this recommendation from Terry Whalin’s blog. A while back, Terry posted a link to the book What Writers Need to Know About Publishing by Jerry Simmons. As soon as I saw that Jerry Simmons is a former sales rep for major publishers, I hopped on his site and ordered the book. (writersreaders.com)

    His book is an amazing resource that will teach you about the “other side” of the publishing industry, why “sell-through” is crucial, how to overcome a bad sales history, and much more. Even if you’re not published yet, the information Simmons provides will give you a much broader view of the industry, as well as sympathy for the sales reps who have to meet ever-increasing goals and sell books in a crazily-competitive market!

  12. Lisa Jordan on October 14, 2008 at 7:32 AM

    >Congratulations to you and your client for her first book deal. I’ve heard of some of the things listed, but that reminds me why having an agent is vital to an author who may not understand the ins and outs of the publishing industry. The agent-writer relationship reminds me of the first day of kindergarten. On that day, the child may be excited, yet a little intimidated walking into that big, colorful classroom by herself. She may cling to Mommy’s hand. New authors are thrilled to finally have landed that publishing contract, but they may need an agent to help guide them through the process. I’m so grateful for blogs like yours that continue to give us inside glimpses that better prepare us for what may be to come. 🙂

  13. Chatty Kelly on October 14, 2008 at 7:08 AM

    >Learning with your friend, so that maybe one day if/when I have a book go to a publisher I will know these things – because of you. Thanks.

  14. Todd Tapochon on October 14, 2008 at 2:55 AM

    >What a great post, Rachelle.

    Like your client, I also didn’t know a single element of the “didn’t know” list. Really makes one wonder, really makes one think. It can be a bit mind-boggling pondering the enormity of the list of things one doesn’t know. I know that I don’t know that, that I do not know, and so on. Guess I’ll just focus on what it is that I do know. As one who is new to the writing business, I know that my work in progress will surely teach me much. So, I’ll just enjoy the ride. I know that the foundation of what I do is that, that I DO know, and that, that I seek to know, you know?