Dear Aspiring Author: On Setting Your Expectations

I typically write blogs about women’s issues pertaining to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. But today, I’d like to take a detour from my regular content and talk to you about my other passion: writing.

I am an agented author. I have a book deal with HCI, the publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series and many other best-selling books. My book emphasizes the importance of effective self-care in a consumeristic culture that consistently tells women all the wrong things about what self-care really is. It is due to release next fall.

I am thrilled about this and can’t wait to share my first book with the world! The entire process has been a dream—one that I never thought I’d see become a reality. But as fun and exciting as the process has been, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had the proper expectations going in. As aspiring authors, we often hear about the Cinderella stories. The authors who were discovered by a literary agent out of the blue and offered representation without even querying. Authors getting sight-unseen book deals from publishers who found them on Twitter. Authors’ book proposals going into auction with multiple offers from ravenous publishers eager to represent their work. If we’re not careful, we’ll go into the publication process expecting the same thing to happen to us. And we’ll likely be disappointed.

I’ve written previously about things authors should know about finding representation with a literary agent. Today, I’d like to discuss the things I’ve learned so far about the process of being out on submission to publishers, signing a book deal, and working through the editorial process.

So, in no particular order:

#1. Prepare for A LOT of rejection letters.

Oof. This part of the process is the literal worst. When my agent sent my book proposal out on submission, it went out to thirteen publishers. Within two weeks, I already had seven rejection letters. Friends, I don’t think I have strong enough words for how much I did not enjoy that process. My agent assured me that this part and parcel of the process, and we’d just need to have thick skin.

#2. Rejection letters do not necessarily reflect on your book or your writing.

It’s so difficult to not take rejection letters personally. After all, this book is your baby. You don’t just go calling someone’s baby ugly! But something I learned through the process is that, often, rejections have more to do with the editor’s personal taste, interest, and availability. They may even come down to something as simple as your book having too much overlap with another book the editor is currently working on. It is important to keep an open mind to any constructive feedback given in the rejection letter. However, it’s also important to remember that rejections are nothing more than a reflection of the editor’s own opinions that may not reflect the opinions of your target demographic.

#3. It’s about finding the right editor for your project.

Related to point number two, it’s important to remember that editors must put a ton of energy and effort into your manuscript. It is natural that they would reject a book that they don’t have a personal interest in—one that makes them excited to work on. You don’t want an offer from an editor who isn’t exuberantly interested in your book. It might take multiple rounds of submissions to find that perfect editor, the one who sees your vision and wants to help you polish and refine it into something incredible. Be prepared to be patient, and try not to get discouraged.

#4. Having an agent is incredibly beneficial during the negotiation process with editors.

I guess I thought that an agent’s primary job was to secure a deal for an author’s book. Once an offer is made, their job is done. What I didn’t realize is that a significant part of an agent’s role is to handle negotiations between you and the publisher. When I accepted my book deal, my agent told me to sit tight for a few weeks while she worked with the editor to negotiate the best deal possible. When negotiations were complete, I had a deal that was much better than the first offer without ever having to get into the weeds with my editor. I really appreciate that I can enter my relationship with my editor untainted by the sometimes high-conflict nature of negotiation. So, if you’re on the fence about whether you should get a literary agent, let this be just one of the many things to consider.

#5. Timelines in the publishing world are aspirational at best.

I say this lightheartedly because I’m learning it’s kind of a running joke among authors. I made the mistake of thinking that because things were given specific dates and timelines in my contract with my publisher, that meant that those dates would be definitively adhered to. At the beginning of my publication journey, I think I made a bigger nuisance of myself than strictly necessary because I assumed that deadlines were set in stone. I became anxious and insecure when things were happening more slowly than I thought they would, and found myself constantly seeking assurance from my agent and then my editor. I’m learning that things in the publishing industry just take time—often longer than anticipated—and it’s not a reflection of anyone’s enthusiasm or excitement about my book.

#6. There may be creative conflicts between you and your editor.

I have not yet experienced this, as my book is still in the queue to begin the editorial process. That said, my agent spent a lot of time setting my expectations regarding the creative process with my editor, and I’d like to pass that along to you. Among creative differences I was asked to prepare myself for were: changes to the title, changes to the formatting and organization of the content, whole chapters possibly falling to the cutting room floor, and disagreements over the cover art. As authors, we must find balance between sticking to our vision and listening to the well-honed advice and experience of our editor. I am deeply attached to my book exactly as I’ve written it. Like I said earlier, it’s my baby. But as much as I love that baby unconditionally, I also want her to be successful. My editor will have insights and knowledge that she has gained through years of testing what works and what doesn’t. I’m committing myself to trusting her—to understanding that her insights are important and necessary. As authors, we need to temper our egos and allow editors to do what they do best.

I’m only at the beginning of my journey into the publishing industry, so I’m sure there are many things I’ve missed. But to those of you who are even earlier in your journey than I am now, I hope this helps to set your expectations as you get started. Publishing is a wonderful, exciting, and sometimes confusing journey. Try your best to have proper expectations and to enjoy the ride.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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