by Jane Ryder

When I was a kid, my mom — an impressively self-educated poor Tennessean with a high-school education and a fondness for annoying axioms — would say, in a sing-song voice, “Patience is a virtue, and it will never hurt you.” Keeping my mouth shut in the face of such an obvious untruth wasn’t easy, but it was the 70s and mouthing off to adults was still decades away from being acceptable behavior for children, so I refrained.

Inside, though, I was thinking Is she kidding? I’m not impatient, I’m IMPORTANT. I really NEED her to pay attention to me RIGHT NOW! Seriously. I could DIE before she answers my question.

Now, of course, the vicissitudes of life have forced me to conclude that my mom was right about this, along with 85% of everything else she ever told me, and after all the years I’ve been with The Editorial Department I’ve developed my own version of my mom’s wise saying:

Hurrying is bad for books.

Consider this: It typically takes 1-2 years for a book to be traditionally published, and that’s just from the time the agent makes the initial sale to the publisher. Before that it can take months (or years) to sign with the agent in the first place, and before that it usually takes at least a couple of years of writing, editing, and revision to make a manuscript worthy of an agent’s attention to begin with.

In the last few years, there’s been a huge jump in the number of authors who choose to self-publish, and while there are many factors that can go into this decision, one of the most frequently cited is a desire to circumvent all that waiting. We get that, we really do, but what we fear a lot of authors don’t understand is that not only does self-publishing not equate to instant publishing, it shouldn’t. There are good reasons to slow down, consider options, weigh variables, and make careful, well-thought-out decisions without unnecessary, avoidable pressure.

I often think what appears to us at TED as hurry is really only the author’s lack of familiarity with the process (they may ask for copy editing when they first need line editing, for instance, or expect to be able to “hire” an agent), and that’s on us. We’ve been talking about this a lot behind the scenes lately, and you can expect to see us changing our approach to include more guidance and author education in future.

But for now let me keep it simple and say that whether we’re talking about developmental editing, book design, agent outreach, or virtually any other aspect of the writing and publication process, it takes longer than you think and if you’re prepared for that, you’ll be a lot less frustrated.

Whether you want to go indie or seek traditional publication, slow down. Ponder. Plan. We know the thought of releasing your beautiful book into the world is exciting — we’re excited for you! — but you’re up against a whole lot of competition no matter which path to publication you’re pursuing, and if you want to stand a chance of rising above everybody else, it’s better to expend your time and resources on producing something good rather than something fast.

What does this mean in practical terms?

  • On the manuscript development side, expect multiple rounds of feedback and revision spanning months or even years, depending on how quickly you and your editor work.
  • Don’t rush to line editing. Your editor will tell you when you’re ready.
  • Don’t skimp on the polish: Regardless of your publication goals, have the line-edited manuscript copy edited; proofreading may be optional for pursuing an agent or small press if you’ve had a good line and copy edit. (You can think of line editing, copy editing, and proofreading as successively finer grades of sandpaper.)
  • On the agent outreach side, put real time, thought, care, and effort into your pitch materials. It doesn’t matter how good your manuscript is if the agent doesn’t read any of it, so your first impression is critical. (We can help with pitch materials, too.)
  • Don’t freak out when you start getting rejections or give up too soon. Celebrate! You’re a real writer now!
  • Don’t take every comment too much to heart. File each one away, and if several people make the same observation, maybe consider further revision. But sleep on it, mull it over, and don’t make any knee-jerk decisions. (Remember the 1-2-year span between signing with a publisher and actually seeing your book in print? Yeah. There’s no rush.)
  • On the self-pubbing side, plan ahead. There’s a lot to do when you become your own publisher. Make sure you understand what that work entails and how long it will take. We can provide you with recommendations and guidance, but you’re the boss and the decision-making is up to you. Make sure you’re prepared for that before you start.
  • If you think you’re ready to self-pub, ask yourself: Do I have an author pic and bio? Do I have a jacket blurb? Do I want a dedication page? Do I have an acknowledgements page? Do I have a name for my imprint? Do I have/want a logo? Has my manuscript been copy edited? How much should my book cost? What color should the paper be? Do I have a trim size? Do I know what a trim size is? These and at least a dozen more questions you’ll need to answer before you can even start the design process.
  • Whether you’re looking for an agent, self-publishing, or in search of a small press, I’m going to give it to you straight: it’s highly unlikely that whatever special event you think would make the perfect release date is going to be absolutely the only possible date you can send your book out in the world without losing sales. I know that’s hard to hear and your first instinct is probably to argue that in your case I’m wrong, but I’m not. Make sure the release date you have in mind allows you (and your editors, book designers, etc.) plenty of time to make good, thoughtful decisions and execute them well.

And finally, whatever path to publication you’re taking, start thinking about marketing now. Don’t brush it aside as something you can take care of when everything else is finished, because then it will be crunch time and you’ll have to do everything in a hurry again (which in case you missed it we’re saying is a bad idea). Do you have a platform? How are your social networking skills? (We know: writers don’t like to chit chat, but guess what? Without readers you don’t have a job. They deserve your time.) Do you have a website? Do you blog? Do you know any relevant people with appropriate credentials who could read advance copies and write blurbs for your book? Even if you asked really, really nicely?

Publishing, whether traditional or self, is a business, and successful businesses aren’t created overnight. (Even if your goal is to be picked up by a big-time publisher, these days they ask a lot more of their authors so this applies to you, too.) While planning, organizing, strategizing, and researching may not sound like the “fun” parts, they can speed up the time it takes you to develop and maintain a loyal following of avid readers. If you jump in without planning, you’ll wind up doing a lot of backtracking and reinventing the wheel instead of gaining forward momentum, which is even less fun.

And listen to your mother. If she’s anything like mine, she gave you some really good advice.

author avatar
Editorial Department