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The First Sale: Expectation vs Reality (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the expectations and hopes writers sometimes have before and during the first book sale. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

The reality is . . . pie.
Part two of this look at the expectations vs. reality of the first book sale discusses what really happens once authors get word about that thrilling new contract. Is it everything we'd imagined it would be? What surprises, good and bad, are in store? Do the realities go beyond our wildest dreams, or are they laced with disappointment?

I was in New York when I found out about my book's offer. After a long day, I was meeting my agent for drinks. Early on in the conversation, she smiled and pulled an email from her bag and passed it to me. It was the offer email from my editor-to-be. I cried. In the middle of a jazzy, New York speakeasy, I burst into tears. It was that amazing. Truly, beyond my wildest expectations.

The blissful news buoyed me for a long time while my agent negotiated terms. It still does! But publishing, unlike writing itself, is a business. I was at Harper, a dream house!, but were they really known for their contemporary, or do they do genre best? And it turns out sales wanted by book to come out in trade paperback. But . . . hardcover meant I was a "serious" writer, no? And January??? Who buys books in January???? Selling a book never means you're flying high, with no sobering realities to consider. I talked with my agent about my concerns, was pacified (in a positive way), pushed aside some of my former expectations, and got to work. Eventually.

When an author gets their contract to sign can vary greatly. I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't take long for mine, compared to others I know who might have waited months and months. But I wasn't surprised when my first revision letter came later than promised--also standard procedure. As wonderful as my editor sounded before the revision letter, it was that moment that I realized how lucky I'd gotten. I hadn't given a lot of thought before my sale to who my editor would be, but after more than a year working with her, I now know it will always be one of the most important considerations for me.

The worst reality for me? Even though I can now "legit" tell people I'm an author, that privilege doesn't cancel out the awkwardness of having to say my book doesn't come out for almost two years (six months, now!). I'm looking forward to fully traversing that bridge.

The same lovely Lucky 13 debut authors who told me about their expectations also gave some insight into their realities:

The good . . . the internet. Since I sold my book I've met other authors online. Really cool other authors. I didn't expect to. It's pretty great. Also, being able to tell people I'm bona fide. The internet [is also the bad]. I always dug the recluses, like Salinger and the Brontes--I never wanted to know too much about my favorite authors. I wanted them to be unreal. Removed. Magical. I wanted them to live in far off cottages by the sea with no electricity and no tedious everyday problems. Perhaps it's wrong to feel this way, I don't know. But yeah, sometimes I wish the internet didn't exist and I could fully embrace the secretive, mysterious, recluse author thing. I had no idea how many times I would have to revise my book. I can chant parts of BETWEEN THE DEVIL to myself like a prayer, I've read it so many times.
Rachele Alpine, CANARY
The reality of my book sale was that the worrying I had as a writer didn't end, it shifted. Selling my book didn't magically make my life as an author easy. Before I sold my book I worried about finding an agent, going on submission, selling...after, I worry about my edits, my cover, my sales, my reviews. However, the best part of selling my book is definitely the community...both fellow writers and readers. I never expected such an outpouring of support from both groups. It's amazing to be able to connect to people who love YA literature as much as I do.  
My book got picked up by HarperCollins, a publisher I still can't think about without getting a bit fluttery in the chest! Like I said before, it was hard to keep my expectations high, because I was so afraid of being disappointed, but getting picked up by one of the Big Six was definitely a highlight! Also, my agent and editor are amazing! [But . . .] all of the waiting! I had to deal with a lot of waiting while searching for agents, querying, going on submission, etc. I guess for some reason I didn't think it would be worse on the other side of the deal. But it is. There are an abundance of crickets in the publishing world, since reading books generally takes a long time. As does whipping them into perfect shape! I have read LUMINANCE HOUR so many times that my eyes go cross-eyed! I love the story and the characters, but after three years of constant revisions (from the first typed word until the last), it can get a little exhausting.
Lydia Kang, CONTROL
The reality was unbelievable, like a fairy tale. Lots of fluttering heart muscle, lots of jumping around, and a lot of relief, too. I'd heard that there's a lot of waiting involved from the time of the deal to getting the book actually out there. That part has been very true, and yet I'm still curiously enjoying every step of the way. One of the best parts has been working with a great agent and a dream editor. I've loved meeting some incredibly talented authors that I now call my friends. One of the worst things has been anticipating the scariness of bad reviews some day. There is also the fear that during the editing process, you won't live up to the expectations that your book is as good as it can be.
It was all very strange! We got an offer for my book after a couple of days, but it was such a small offer that the idea of having to accept it worried me a little. I had returned to my dad's house to finish the book, and was completely skint. If I didn't get some money for the book I was going to be a bit stuck. I'd pretty much backed myself into a corner. So a surprising side of my book receiving an offer was the high level of anxiety it brought. At the end of the week more offers came in, and I was invited to meet publishers and then the book went to auction, which was incredibly exciting, and good in a way I hadn't allowed myself to imagine. Running from publisher to publisher in London was one of the best experiences of my life so far. Something I didn't expect was the long bouts of total silence in between flurries of activity. My book sold relatively fast, within two weeks, and the waiting still felt unbearable. The best thing about the process was working with my agent. She was so great, and I was happy to finally have my book out there doing what she had hoped it would. Also I'm really glad I was at my dad's house for this important moment. He was so behind me, getting enraged at small offers, getting excited as the advance got slowly pushed up, it was a great time. And like the other Luckies, I had no idea how much revision there would be. INFINITE SKY is scarred onto my retinas, I don't even have to open the document to read it. It's running through my head right now!
Justina Ireland, VENGEANCE BOUND
Reality is a cruel, cruel thing. Obviously, unicorns are not real and I never got my parade. I got a decent advance that let me pay off some bills. And buy some killer shoes. I will also one day get to see my word document as a real life book, and that's ridiculously awesome. I still have that moment of panic whenever I write anything. You know that feeling, when you go back over a draft and think to yourself "OHMIGOD THIS IS CRAP AND NO ONE WILL EVER WANT TO READ IT!" I thought that would disappear once I got published. Yeah, it didn't. I still work the day job, so I got that going for me. And I still don't have a pool boy. Or a pool.
 Elsie Chapman, DUALED
I have to say that I had no clue how incredibly in-depth the publishing process is. From all the stages of editing, to author pic, and cover reveals...your book becomes a part of this immense machine. It's really humbling, and somewhat overwhelming, that so much care goes into your work! I also never expected to still be so worried about so many things so much of the time, such as the next idea, the next draft, the next book. But what's most surprising, in the best of ways, is how I've met so many amazing authors and bloggers!

Have a great rest of the week!
~ Kristin Halbrook 
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Insights from a grizzled veteran: I love a January release. Lots of teens get bookstore gift certificates and e-readers, and being comfortable with grassroots marketing, it gives me a full year for my book to have this year's date on it (thus seeming new and shiny for as long as possible).

    1. Cynthia, that first part of your comment about the gift cards is one that I've thought about quite a bit and makes a January release amazing. But I'd never thought of the second part, that the book feels new for a whole year. What a great way to think about a January release!! Thanks for commenting. :D

  2. Great two-part post. (I just went back to read part one.) I have to say, I'm just as befuddled on my second sale as I was on my first one. I had NO idea what to expect the first time around, and I was also unagented at the time, so I had no one to guide me (coddle me, calm me down, etc). Selling the second book was perhaps an even greater thrill (since I now knew how ridiculously lucky I was to fall into the first one) -- but it was also more terrifying (because I knew better what to worry about). I have *some* idea about what to expect in the months before my release, but it's a new editor and a new publisher, and what I really know most of all is how little I know.


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Item Reviewed: The First Sale: Expectation vs Reality (Part 2) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook