As many of you know, I’ve been working on a memoir for, uh, well, a long time. (Actually, it’s been over five years.) In early November I finally declared it finished, and sent it to my literary agent to be shopped around for a publisher. Lucky, lucky me, my editor for The Other End of the Leash, jumped on it, and her “house,” Atria, bought it for release in 2017. I still haven’t heard what the final release date will be, although I do know it will be on their “spring list,” and so, The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir will come out sometime between February and May 2017.
But what takes so long? How could it take a year and almost a half for a book to come to fruition once it’s “done?” Several people have asked me this question, and it’s a reasonable one. I thought some of you might enjoy getting a behind the scenes look at what has to happen between a book being written and published, at least if it’s coming out from a national publishing house.
First, you should know that most books like this go through a multitude of revisions, thanks to every writer’s literary village that reads a number of versions and helps the writer get closer and closer to the best book they could write. That was true for my memoir. Over two years ago I sent a potentially “final” draft to readers (mostly professional writers, who are used to, and cherish, feedback from others). “Really great, said the readers, but….”. I agreed that it still needed a lot of work, and so spent much of the next year revising it. Sent it off again. “Fantastic!” said the readers, we couldn’t put it down. And then, a brilliant reader and literary agent (yes, that’s you, Esmund) whose judgment I trust completely, said “Well, it’s good. But it could be great if you completely revised its structure.” Argh. That was a hard day. I’d been working on the book for 4 years, and felt it was done. But was soon as I read Esmund’s comments I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t take a breath and try again. Back to the drawing board.
I revised all last summer and fall, and finally got to where I could say I truly felt the book was as good as I could make it. Off it went to my agent, the amazing Jennifer Gates, who spent a few weeks making it look pretty, working with me on the cover letter (you have a few paragraphs to get an editor’s attention; they are swamped with book proposals every day of the week), and coming up with a list of editors to consider the manuscript.
This is when an author waits for a couple of weeks, trying not to hold your breath, to see if it will be taken up by a publishing house. First an editor has to love it, but then he or she has to convince the rest of the house to take it on. It’s not uncommon for an editor to love a book, but not be able to convince the house to take it on. But, oh happy day, everyone at Atria wanted my book, and I am thrilled that Leslie and Atria, a Simon and Schuster imprint, will be behind the book from now on.
Ah, whew! Done, right? Nope, not even close. In some ways, it’s just starting. First, after an offer is accepted, the contract has to be negotiated with your agent. As of now I haven’t even seen the contract; it’s at my agency, where they’ll be looking at not just the “advance,” but when it is paid (usually in 4 payments, the last doesn’t come until the paperback comes out), who has the audio rights, the eBook rights, the rights to foreign language versions, etc., etc.
Then the author and editor check in; the editor always has comments about more potential improvements. Chalk that process up to another two months or so. Then it goes to legal, where eagle-eyed attorneys look for potential lawsuits. If they find any, the author needs to make more revisions. (This is not a minor issue, especially in memoirs.) Then it goes to copy editing, where, yes, yet another editor sends you his or her suggestions, this time relating most often to grammar, spelling and fact checking.
While that’s happening, you’ve also been asked to fill out a lengthy questionnaire, which includes requests like “Please write a 250 word summary of your book.” Every author I know finds this harder than writing an entire book. You have 250 words to convince reviewers and booksellers that your book, out of the tens of thousands published every year, is worthy of their attention. You’re also asked to list every media contact you can possibly think of, and who might be approached about writing a blurb for the back of the book. Blurbs (such an awful word!) need to be gathered as soon as possible, so a “pre-pub” version of the book is often sent out to reviewers a good 6 to 8 months before the book is released.
The larger publishing houses send out books with the final cover for reviews, so the cover has to be finalized, six to eight months in advance of publication. I probably don’t need to tell you that the cover is huge–it can make or break a book. I went through a rough time with the cover of The Other End of the Leash, because the first version was, uh, not very good. I called my editor and said that I wasn’t thrilled with the cover. (Actually, what I said was a tad stronger, but we’ll leave it at “not thrilled.”) “Okay,” I was told, “but we’re on deadline. You have 48 hours to find a better cover idea.” Thank heavens, my editor at Ballantine saved the day, by finding the amazing photograph by Elliot Erwit that now graces the cover. In one day the cover went from “uh, not so good” to “great,” and the rest is history. OEL has sold over a quarter million print copies, and that’s just the English version. I’d like to think that the content played a role, but I would bet the farm that the cover has helped substantially. I guarantee you that the cover of The Education of Will (yes, the title is indeed referring to Willie) will go through many revisions.
After the cover is set, the book is sent out to potential reviewers for blurbs, put on lists for book sellers, the PR department gets busy contacting book stores and reviewers for magazines like Publisher’s Weekly (everyone wants their book mentioned in PW, even if briefly). The authors are charged with setting up a website just for the book, gearing up social media, and eventually book tours and speeches get scheduled.
Then you cross your fingers that some apocalyptic news story doesn’t break the day before your book comes out and ride the river of whatever happens. So… you can see, there’s a lot to keep me busy on the book until next year. I’ll let you know when we have a release date, it’ll be awfully nice just to know.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Lovely to be home for a few days after Florida before leaving for Arizona and the Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior in Phoenix. Two and a half days of listening and talking with colleagues with similar interests–I so look forward to it. I always learn a lot, not to mention enjoying being with a group of smart, funny people with similar interests. As usual (and as suggested by the event’s title) the talks are eclectic–from the validity of using fake dogs to assess dog-dog aggression (Pamela Reid from the ASPCA), to the neurocognitive overlap between physical and social Pain (Frank McMillan from Best Friends), I’ll return with lots to share with you. I’ll be talking about comparative trauma in people and dogs and look forward to lots of good feedback.
I’m not quite sure I’m ready for the Arizona weather, however. Weather predictions are for highs in the mid to upper 80’s. That doesn’t sound like a refreshing break from winter weather, it just sounds horribly hot. But then, it’s been in the 50’s here, so perhaps the 80’s won’t feel so ridiculously out of season.
The warmth here has a downside: The melting ice and snow often refreezes at night, so many areas are super slippery. I’m always worried about the dogs slipping and badly injuring themselves on the ice. That’s how Willie first injured his shoulder, and he still uses his body as if it were a motorcycle in a motocross race, so I can’t help but worry about him. But if it stays this warm the ice will disappear soon and we’ll just have mud to deal with. And what would March be without mud? (It’s my version of “March madness.”)
Ever since coming back from Florida I’ve been cooking like crazy. I made “Bone Broth,” which tastes like food from the gods to me, and savored the beautiful colors of all that goes into it. (I used the recipe from Marco Canora’s A Good Food Day, which requires 4 lbs of chicken drumsticks and 2 lbs of chicken bones, which I just save in the freezer every time I roast one of our local, organic chickens.) A great benefit of this recipe is that one is supposed to ‘discard’ the chicken and vegetables once the broth is done. Ha! Apparently the author does not have pets. The dogs and cats have been feasting on the chicken meat and vegetables for days. Note of caution: I must have spent an hour picking out the onions and the chicken bones before packing the meat and veggies in containers. If you do this be crazy careful to do it too, because some of those tiny bones could cause serious injury.)
I love all the colors that go into the broth:
I also slow -cooked a pork roast for dinner Saturday night. Made some homemade bread, added a salad of yummy greens. Yum. Made a strawberry/rhubarb pie with fruit from the freezer. More yum.
I’ve been doing lots of training too… coming back from NEI causes one to want to train inanimate objects, but no photos of that now. I’ll talk about it a lot more in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, time to get some training in before I leave for Arizona. Hope you enjoy your week. Happy training! (And eating…)