Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Things I used to think about publishing - Jess Vallance

Next week my first book, Birdy, will be published. 

It’s been almost exactly a year since I signed my contract and nearly two years since I started submitting to agents. There’s still a LOT I don’t know about publishing but there are some things I know now that I didn’t know two years ago, and so definitely some of my assumptions have shifted. 

These are the main ones that come to mind:

I used to think: Time, as a concept, is basically the same for all of us on this planet.

Now I think: Publishing exists in its own special time dimension (along with conveyancing).

Publishing is S L O W.

There’s a LOT of waiting. I’ve written whole books while waiting for a reply to one email. (You can see my own artistic interpretation of this waiting here).

It doesn’t help that the other area I work in is digital media where things bounce along quite quickly. Right now for example, in publishing, I’m in the later stages of a project due to be released in 12 months. Meanwhile, in digital media, I’m just finalising a project that’s due out in 12 minutes.

I’m getting used to this now though. It’s not any one publisher, not any one person. It’s just how it is.  

I used to think: Publishers will shut down any factual inaccuracies in my book pretty quickly.

Now I think: I can check my facts now or I can check my facts later but I will have to check them.

Sometimes when I’m writing, I come to small details where I need to check the facts. I’m not writing heavily researched historical fiction or sci fi or anything like that, so the kinds of things I’m talking about are more like bits of police procedure or the flammability of a specific material. (That’s a little insight into Birdy there, by the way.)

Before, whenever these areas came up, I assumed that if I’d got anything wrong, somewhere in the publishing process, someone would pick me up on it. 

Of course the reality is that editors do not carry around in their heads an in-depth knowledge of every imaginable subject. They might question something that doesn’t sound quite right, but ultimately, I’m writing it so getting the facts right is my responsibility.  

I used to think: Someone will tell me to change my story – and how to change it.

Now I think: There’s advice and there are questions but it’s still my story.

I think I used to think that an editor would edit my book – as in, they'd take it away and change it into what they wanted it to be. Or at least, they would tell me quite specifically what to edit – what to remove, what to add in, where the story should go. But actually the editing process isn’t really like that. 

Questions are asked and suggestions are made and usually these are good questions and good suggestions, so I take them on board and make changes accordingly. But at no point has anyone ever specifically said that I must change something (even the swearing, which I’d assumed would be whipped out straight away). 

There have been times when I’ve said I’d rather leave something as it is, and so far, this doesn’t seem to have been a problem. All in all, I feel quite happy that the book is still mine, and still exactly as I’d want it.

I used to think: “Publishing” likes/doesn’t like/wants/thinks…

Now I think: There isn’t really any “publishing”, just people who work in publishing.

When you’re on the outside of something it’s easy to think of everyone on the inside as one group, with shared knowledge and opinions and personalities. Kind of like this:

Now I still feel more on the outside than the inside, but this feeling has change a bit now, so it’s more like:

I used to think: “All best“ is a weird way to sign off an email.

Now I think: I still think this to be honest, but it doesn’t stop me using it with gusto.

I swear I’d never even heard of ‘all best’ as an acceptable email sign-off before I started querying agents and they all included it in their replies, but it’s much better than my usual ‘thanks’ so now I drop it in all over the place.

I put it in a work email the other day and my colleague (and friend) replied:

“All best? You what, mate? Is that like ‘All THE best’ or what?”

Well, I thought. Quite.

Web: www.jessvallance.com
Twitter: @jessvallance1


Stroppy Author said...

Love the pseudo-Venn diagrams! I'm sure you wrote this to show those outside publishing how different it is from what they might expect, but it's also a great reminder to those totally mired in the industry of what people outside think of it! :-)

Sue Purkiss said...

With you on the use of 'All best'! I use it all the time now - I'm so used to it that it never occurred to me other people might find it odd.

Nick Green said...

I used to think: write a good enough book and someone will eventually take it.
I now think: #%!wibble#

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Loved that Nick! A really insightful post for not just new writers but people who've been 'around the block' a few times... pun intended! Perhaps it was a post esp for me because I'm waiting... waiting... waiting... Does it give anyone hope to know that some of my picture books written in the early 90's have only recently come out. No! I suppose not!
Good luck with Birdy and congratalations. All best!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Congratulations... see I can spell... its just that my typeface has worn off my keyboard and I don't touch type!

Richard said...

Fascinating article, thanks.

I've got most of those topics yet to come, but I agree with the research bit. I've found myself looking up the strangest things. My NaNoWriMo novel was science fiction, set 30 light-years from Earth. I expected the lost first day working out journey times and dates of birth, but I hadn't expected to have to research the healing rates of bullet wounds. My WIP is non-fiction about computers. I've still been researching Hebrew mysticism, the love life of Lord Byron and Czech vocabulary. And that was only for chapter two.

Tamsyn Murray said...

You need my editor, Jess - she's a stickler for the details :)

I love using All best...it's the goodbye version of a Masonic handshake but with fewer fingers and no actual shaking.