I’m always surprised when authors ask few questions when we offer a contract. It’s nice that they feel grateful, but they have to understand that the contract isn’t offered because I’m “giving them the chance they deserve.” I leave that dogma to others. When I offer a contract it’s because I see a viable project that’s well written and I believe I can sell. That’s how I keep the beagle awash in vodka and designer chewie bones.
I try very hard to cover all the bases with the author and agent before I make the offer – but there are times when it simply falls through the cracks, and I get around to it after the ink is dry.
Vision: I consider this to be one of the most important aspects to deciding whether a publisher and author are a good fit. There have been times when I had a particular agenda for a book and found out later that it wasn’t what the author had in mind. I may have been looking for a medical biography, and the author may have been looking for a metaphysical journey. Ooo. Misfire. You gotta be on the same page or the editing process will be a nightmare where no one is satisfied. Be sure to discuss the vision of your book with your editor before you put your John or Jane Hancock at the bottom of the contract.
Personality: Oil and vinegar or chocolate and vodka? The relationship you have with your editor is almost like a marriage; you’re stuck with each other through the good and bad times. Angst runs high in authors; will my book be good? Will the cover art look great? Will the book sell? Will my edits be good enough? Our jobs as editors are one of supportive spouse, cheerleader, den mother, and whipping girl/boy, so it’s vital that the personalities mesh well. If you don’t like your editor, no amount of soothing or support will make a hill of beans; you won’t trust them. Take the time to talk to the editor. Get to know them. Ask them a lot of questions. You’re looking for chocolate and vodka.
Marketing/Promotion/Reviews: This is so important. I have a friend who is with a good, solid publisher – an imprint of a major house – and she found out all too late that not only will her book not be sent to any reviewers, but that they didn’t even print up any ARCs. If they aren’t doing this bare minimum, then chances are very strong that they aren’t doing any promotion or marketing for the book either. Make sure you ask about his up front.
Print Run: It’s tough to know at the time of signing a contract what the print run will be because a lot depends on how strong the pre-sales are. But the editor does have a general idea of the run, so ask. Obviously the higher the number, the more faith they have in your project.
Editing: This may seem like a no-brainer because editing is pretty standard. Your editor reads your work, makes line by line suggestions and includes about a three page critique of what things need work. Everything is done electronically using Microsoft Word and the Track Changes feature turned on. Bada bing, bada boom. So where’s the disconnect?
I had an author (no longer with us) who, come to find out, didn’t own Microsoft Word and couldn’t see our Track Changes feature. Instead, she wanted us to print out a hard copy, mark it up and send it to her. She would do the rewrites, send us the file, and we would print it out again, and mark up any further changes.
After I got finished wiring my jaw shut, I asked her how it was possible that she didn’t have Word installed on her computer. Word, just so everyone knows, is considered as vital to writing as tequila is to the beagle.
Obviously, we refused to print out numerous hard copies because the waste and time factor alone made this arrangement untenable. She accused us of contract infringement because we hadn’t told her she needed to have Word, nor did we put it into the contract. Um. These aren’t the types of things that normally go into a contract because it’s assumed the writer already has the accepted tools of the trade. If they don’t, they buy it. That was the sticking point. She didn’t want to buy it. We dumped the project.
So it’s important to ask, how does the editing process work and the projected time being alotted for editing. And please, folks, make sure you have Word.
Distribution: Hopefully you knew this before you or your agent ever queried the publisher. You should always know whether the publisher has distribution and whether their books get national exposure. If they say that their books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Brodart, etc, then you need to do some more digging because these entities are warehouse distributors. They don’t have sales teams selling the publisher’s catalog to genre buyers, chains, indies, and libraries.
Support: This is Personality’s big sister. You want to know that you can count on your editor’s support if you have questions or concerns about anything. There are any number of times when our authors will email or ringy dingy me to talk about a promo idea. My first question is always, “how can I help?”
You must feel that your editor won’t abandon you after your book is released. If you meet some hoo ha media mogul who is dying to see your book before putting you on his national TV show, you want to feel comfortable calling your editor to ask them if she can send out a media packet and book. It’s our job to do everything possible to ensure our authors’ success, and support is the crux behind that success. Don’t be afraid to ask, “can I count on you for support?”