Traditional Publishing — Blog Post #2
It wasn’t long before I heard from the publisher. The person that had run the meeting at Sybase was an Acquisitions Editor and he emailed me. He told me that my sample chapter was good and now, he wanted six hundred pages more. I was excited, but also scared. It sounded like a huge number of pages. I had my list of chapters, and I knew what I wanted to say.
I started writing and one chapter led to the next. I got a contract from the publisher. It wasn’t very long, only a few pages. I didn’t understand most of it, but, I wanted to be published way more than I was worried about what the contract might or might not say. I signed it and that was that. The Acquisitions Editor asked if I wanted an advance. I thought about it, and, if I understood it correctly, any advance I got would reduce the profits I got paid as my book sold. In effect, and advance was just that, an advance on what I was going to get in the future anyway, assuming my book sold. It was possible that my book would not sell enough copies to generate enough profits to cover the advance, but, I assumed the publisher knew what they were doing and my book would sell at least enough to cover the advance.
It may not make sense to you, but I didn’t want an advance. I didn’t want to take money that didn’t come from book sales, until those sales had actually happened. Don’t misunderstand, the advance I was offered was all of $1500.00 so it wasn’t like the advances you hear about for celebrity tell-alls. I wasn’t an experienced author, but I did understand that technical books didn’t make a lot of money, so I wasn’t expecting a big advance or to make a lot of money from my book. The main reason I wanted to write a book was to gain the credibility of being a published author.
I forget how many months it took me to have enough material written to really call it a manuscript, I think it was about six months. I was using MS Word on my PC at home to write, but, when it was time to send the manuscript to the publisher, I had to print out the whole thing. I seems nuts today, but that was the way it was done, back then, in the days of traditional publishing.
As I was writing, I wondered, what happened to all those other people, all the technical writers that had been in that small meeting room months ago. I asked my Acquisitions Editor. His answer was simple. I as the only one that had sent anything. I was stunned. A room full of technical writers, all of them claiming to be more qualified than myself and none of them sent anything? I realize you will think I should have been upset, that this meant that the publisher was working with me only because no one else was available. I wasn’t upset because I knew this wasn’t the case. Before I knew I was the only one that responded, my writing had been reviewed by the publisher’s own technical reviewers and they had made suggestions and changes. I was confident that what I had to say was relevant to other DBAs and I knew my writing was competent.
I tell you this, that I was the only one that replied, because I think it was a very important event in my becoming published. I had never written a technical book, and I had never been published. I didn’t have any proven ability to write a book, I wasn’t a technical writer. Based on this, I shouldn’t have even gone to the meeting with the publisher. Based on what I saw at the meeting, a room full of more qualified writers, I shouldn’t have wasted my time, or the publisher’s, by writing anything let alone sending it in. But I did. This is the important message in all of this, and it is no less important now, in the brave new world of publishing options. No matter what has changed in the world, you still have to write and you still have to try to get it published.
I think many authors pine for the days of traditional publishing, convinced that they would be famous by now if only the old ways were still in place. I think this can become an excuse. You don’t have to like modern publishing, but you still have to have something to say, and you still have to write it and get it in front of someone. Moreover, despite all that has changed, what matters hasn’t. As an author, you still have to get your work seen, whether you like doing that through you own website in the current publishing world or not. In the traditional publishing world, you had to be seen by an agent or some other gatekeeper of the publishing world. Was that really so different from what happens now?
I remember being very sure I would never get published, that no one would ever see my writing. What I felt didn’t really matter, what mattered was that I did write and I did send my writing to the publisher. Whatever your goal is, you have to show up and you have to perform. I wonder how many of the technical writers that had been in that meeting had written anything at all. Did they not believe their own bullshit? They said they were qualified and they said they wanted to be published, but they didn’t take the next step. No matter what era you are in, you can’t get published if you don’t try.
I continued writing, adding chapters to my manuscript, which was becoming book length. I wasn’t sure if I was done or not, but it was time to have what I had written reviewed by a copy editor. The copy editor wasn’t looking at my writing for technical accuracy or for cleverness or even originality, only for spelling and grammar. To start this process, I had to print out my manuscript, which was hundreds of pages. It looked like a phone book, for those of you old enough to remember what a phone book was, back in the days of traditional phone books. Fortunately, one of the benefits of working with a publisher was that they paid all the FedEx expenses. I sent my manuscript off and waited. I wasn’t sure what would come back.