Great Expectations: Ten expectations of authors on the road to publication

by Lana Wayne Koehler and Gloria G. Adams, authors of Ah-Choo!

Expectation # 1: My first draft will be perfect.

   When we each first began our journey toward becoming professional writers, we assumed that the first draft of our work was also our final product. Boy, were we in for a big surprise! Then, we joined critique groups, attended conferences and workshops, and read books and articles about writing children’s books. We each practiced our craft. We learned that there would be many, many edits and drafts before we felt we had done the best that we could. Then, after we sold our manuscript, our editor for Ah-Choo! made even more changes!

Expectation #2: I should send my manuscript out to every publisher.

   All publishers do not take children’s manuscripts. Many publishers don’t take unsolicited submissions; you must submit through an agent. Some publishers are only interested in young adult or middle grade novels. Some only want non-fiction or picture books. Some only publish religious books. It’s very important to thoroughly research publishers to find out if they accept submissions, in what format you should submit, and what they might be looking for. The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market is a good resource; publisher’s websites and editor and agent interviews are also great sources.

Expectation #3: I will hear back from the editor or agent in a week or two.

   Today, more and more editors never respond; they will tell you that if you haven’t heard from them in three or six months (or often longer) that you should assume they are not interested in your manuscript. Agents usually respond much sooner than editors. Be patient and keep writing.

Expectation #4: My book was picked up by an editor! No more re-writes!

   Ah, foolish Mortal. There will almost always be re-writes! And more re-writes.

Expectation #5: When I sign my book contract, I will get a big advance!

   Unless you are a well-known writer, advances are either small or non-existent. We feel very fortunate to have gotten an advance for Ah-Choo! It was small and we each only got half, but we still got one. It all depends on the publisher. You might consider having a lawyer look over your contract. If you have an agent, he or she may be able to negotiate a better advance for you. The advance will also have to be recovered by your publisher before you will receive any royalties.

Expectation #6: Now that I have an editor, things will go smoothly.

Of course, having an editor who loves your book is exciting, but our editor wanted to put her own mark on our book. We excitedly worked with her and offered us some great suggestions! She mentioned that she liked squirrels so we added squirrels. She said that she had a great picture of a rooster so we added a rooster. However, when a suggestion changed our meter, we rebelled. In a conference call, we asked her to read the book aloud and when she did, she understood our objections and we saved our meter. However when we received our book, two verses were changed! Moral: Get final text approval in your contract!

Expectation #7: Once the editing is done, my book will be published right away.

Our book, Ah-Choo!, was purchased by Sterling Children’s Books in November, 2013. The original publication date was fall, 2015. In the end, our roll out date was March 1, 2016. Enough said.

Expectation #8: My publisher will manage the marketing of my book.

Well, yes and no. Our publisher has been very generous with their support by supplying posters, bookmarks, bookplates, and note cards. They have also marketed it to public libraries, bookstores, and (soon) to zoos. They have paid for us to attend a conference and have submitted our book to state and local book events. However, it is up to us to publicize our book to schools and libraries through interactive programs and presentations. We also make arrangements with local booksellers for book signings. We are hoping to add newspapers, magazines, radio, and local television in the near future. It’s up to us to manage the “who, what, when, where, and how” of marketing our book.

Expectation #9: I will make lots of money with my book!

Maybe—if you’re a New York Times best seller! Here’s the deal on picture books: the average picture book sells about 4,000 books. A run of books is 10,000. Royalties are split between the  illustrator and author (and as co-authors, we split them again). It's easy to see that in order to make a reasonable living as a writer, you need to write and sell MANY books each year.

Expectation #10: Now that I have an editor/publisher, they will always buy what I write.

Good luck on this one! Our editor asked for anything we write. While we submit our manuscripts to her, we have yet to interest the publisher in any new projects. Such is the life of a writer!

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