Monday, June 27, 2011

The Birth of a Novel, Query to Publication

I've self-published two novels and will bring out two more this year. I've been asked how it differs from publishing via a conventional publisher. The answer: in almost every way. As former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said of his decision to self-pub his book, "When you hand your book over to a publisher, you don't know what's going to happen."

My most recent blogs have focused on my experiences in conventional publishing. It's brought back memories, both pleasant and unpleasant--but the most unforgettable experience any author can have is the sale and publication of their first novel. 

I queried Maria Carvainis, who became my agent, in May 1984, and received her response, asking to see the manuscript, in June. She signed me as a client in September. In late March, after extensive revisions, it was sent out to twelve publishers. Eight made offers. On April 26, 1985, it was sold to Damaris Rowland at Berkley for a $25,000 advance, paid in three installments. I got a congratulatory telegram from Maria and roses from Damaris!

Damaris' enthusiasm was such that she went on to buy two more manuscripts from me within six months, for a $100,000 advance. Berkley was making quite an investment in my career! And more roses!

What followed was a lot of work. Finally, Dance of the Gods was on the schedule for publication in May 1988 as a lead title. A few months before the pub date, bound galleys were sent out to reviewers. On a trip to New York, I got my first look at the book's cover, which was beautiful...but I'll admit I had hoped for something that revealed a bit more about the story.

But then, the book that was published bore little resemblance to the novel I'd set out to write. 

I love bold, vivid colors--the more vivid the better--so needless to say, I was disappointed that the midnight blue cover Damaris showed me in New York would end up being black on the printed books. I did get the blue cover for Angels at Midnight, and requested--and got--red for A Time for Legends. 

As the May 1st pub date approached, I'd already delivered the manuscript for Angels at Midnight.  Press releases went out; interviews were being scheduled, mostly with local media.  It's not easy to get any media attention when you're an author nobody's ever heard of.

Rarely does a publisher throw a launch party for a first novel. Again, who's going to come out to meet a new, untested author no one has ever heard of? I did get a launch party, however, held by friends and fellow St. Louis authors, and attended mostly by other local authors and their spouses/significant others. It was great--my favorite foods, prepared by authors who had better things to do than cook, but they did it anyway. There was a toast and a lovely handmade centerpiece featuring copies of the book. 

Though most of my current circle of writing buddies live too far away for me to throw them a launch party, I will toast each of them in turn and look forward to being able to throw a party for those who are local when their time comes. Carole, Nicole, Cathy, Kyle--I'm talking about you. And unless he forbids me to do so, I will make the trip to Canada to celebrate with my partner in crime, William, whether his first published novel turns out to be Heaven & Hell or our collaborative effort, Same Time, Tomorrow!    

Next time: Judging a Book by its Cover. And please check out my guest blog at good friend Donna Yates' blog, Believe in Yourself. And for more photos, including pics from writers conferences and booksellers conventions, check out my albums at Facebook.


  1. Wow! It all sounds so glamorous until you know the truth about it. Not getting what you want (for example, your covers) and even changing the text, making it seem less your own. I'm so glad to know you and I'm especially glad that you've been there for me in everything I've done. And, if I ever make it there, or you make it here, we'll be friends forever. I congratulate you on a well-built career and our lasting friendship. Here, here!

  2. The publishing side of the industry can be a work by committee; there are good things about that, of course... and others that can be aggravating. It's terrific that you had some good people around back then, particularly Damaris.

    Very well put!

  3. I'll share this with my critique partners.

  4. wow... although there were many changes, you still made it and I am sure you are very proud. Thank you for renewing my hope.


  5. Norma,
    Thank you for the thoughtful post.
    My husband just finished reading A Time For Legends and loved it! I think I'll be reading it soon.
    You are wonderful and I am very happy to consider you a friend.
    Don't rule out all the distant launch parties just yet...please?

  6. Y'know, Eve, maybe we should all get together and celebrate all of us!

  7. That would be fun. I feel fortunate to have so many wonderful online friends. It would be amazing to be able to get together.

  8. Then maybe we should do something about it!

  9. Like Beth said, it all seems glamorous. But it also seems like you become an object, owned by them. I like the independence of self-publishing.

  10. I'm with Norma....One big party for all of us...for us...just for us!!!

  11. We could do a video conference launch party. There is always a way. Awesome blog Norma.

  12. I'm crossing my fingers hoping that my novel will be ready to start sending to agents at the end of summer. But then again, I've never been great with staying on track with a goal like that…

  13. I loved reading these post about publishing. All the committees I know all about that !
    I worked for several card companies and it was always art by committee !

    cheers, parsnip

  14. That's so incredible different from my experience, a quarter of a century later. Granted that mine is a small publisher, but having no launch party, congratulatory note -- or advance -- says a lot about how the industry has changed.

  15. Wow, what a journey - amazing, Norma! Thanks for much for sharing so many details.


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