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  • [Reality Check] - The Unglamorous Road to Publication by Sheana Ochoa
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[Reality Check] - The Unglamorous Road to Publication by Sheana Ochoa
Contributor
Written by
Zetta Brown
September 2018
Contributor
Written by
Zetta Brown
September 2018

The easiest way to make quick money is to write a book and get it published. All you have to do is write a book, turn it in to a publisher, and sit back and wait for the royalty checks to arrive.

Well, in case you haven't noticed, the name of this blog is [REALITY CHECK], and what I said above is anything but reality. If you don't believe me, then let me tell you about this bridge I own in Brooklyn and will sell to you--cheap.

Sheana Ochoa's post below is an eloquent shower of cold water upon would-be authors who still wear rose-colored (sun)glasses to protect their eyes from the bright lights of fame they think awaits them in their sit-back-and-let-the-royalty-checks-happen world.

Sheana's reality check is inspiring because most (if not all) of us have experienced the same on our journey to publication, so we are not alone. If anything, we are survivors who have persevered to see our work published. We have reached the mountain top!

But getting published is just the beginning. There's still a lot of promotion to be done.

And so the journey begins again...

 

The Unglamorous Road to Publication
By Sheana Ochoa

©2014

Despite appearances, publishing a book is not glamorous. It is a disruptive departure from a writer’s life, from the creative process of writing and editing to becoming a flack. Seasoned authors tell you this. They warn that you need a platform, but the novice author doesn’t necessarily know what that entails. I naively thought it meant being widely published and having an audience, but even veteran authors can have bylines galore and tens of thousands of followers on Twitter without necessarily having the platform for their specific book.

Unless you’re a genre writer along the lines of romance or mystery, you most likely don’t have your audience in place. You may have written a “literary” novel, a self-help book for a specific target audience, or in my case, a biography, which means your readers are very specific to your book’s subject and all the social media fans and previous publications won’t amount to much as you trudge up the road to publishing and promoting your book.

After working on a biography for over a decade on the legendary theatre actor and acting teacher Stella Adler, I spent over a year trying to place the book. Initially, I had an agent shop the book around to the major houses and their imprints because, well, doesn’t everyone know the contribution Stella made to acting and this is her first biography? And everyone watches television and film, don’t they? Any of the big houses would want to publish it, right? I mean, she was Marlon Brando’s teacher for god’s sake.

As each house passed the book up and my agent and I parted ways, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of submitting the book myself to small publishing houses and university presses, and still the book proposal was turned down. I began researching self-publishing when I finally got interest from one university, quickly realizing the ordeal that route would take (it’s a long process with committees involved). Then one happy day I pitched a publisher my agent had already approached to discover they wanted to publish my book. My agent hadn’t pursued it because the advance was so meager, he wouldn’t have made any money. While I didn’t care much about the money—I had spent thousands of dollars in research, travel, etc., over the past decade writing the book—it was disappointing to not even be offered enough to afford a part-time assistant to begin the next mysterious step of building the platform for my book while I honed the manuscript into shape for publication.

The thrill of having found a publisher was quickly eclipsed with the epiphany that I didn’t even know who my audience was. Yes, I had turned in a proposal convincing enough to make it look like I knew what I was doing and whom I would market the book to, but in reality, I hadn’t the foggiest. One day I was having a conversation with a woman in the theatrical world who said how much actors would love the book. Actors? Of course! But in my world of dusty archives, LexisNexis, sleuthing and tracking down Stella’s colleagues and family members, the last thing I had been thinking about were that actors were my primary readers. 

Then came the real work: becoming a social media influencer for actors and theatre folk, and, as I soon learned, cinephiles. My blog posts became less about Stella and more about the acting craft she refined. Facebook, where I had inconsistently spent a couple hours a week to keep up with friends and family, was replaced by educating myself about Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+ where I could engage my target audience. The learning curve was slow, not to mention the time it took to find provocative content to tweet and pin and post. I realized I needed to supplement my previous publications mostly made up of book reviews and feminist-slanted pieces to pitch new outlets with theatre reviews and profiles of celebrities I had interviewed. All this while jumping through the publisher’s editorial process hoops that came at me like a professional knife thrower’s blades.

A pamphlet of the publisher’s Author’s Guidelines came in the mail. I had to learn quickly about front matter, back matter, type-coding, and the various types of proofs. Each proof was returned in a PDF file with instructions for editing. What? No MS Word track changes? I couldn’t even see what I was editing as text boxes covered the page with corrections.

Then it came time for permissions. I hadn’t anticipated needing permission to quote from books when the word count exceeds a certain number. The process of counting words and identifying sources from my admittedly unorganized endnotes became a two-month ordeal, when what I really needed to be doing was edit the book, smooth out transitions, excise repetition, replace passive verbs with active ones, and so on. If there’s any advice I can give to writers, make sure your publishing contract allows you enough time to build your audience and edit your book.

There were two major problems: One, after all the years writing this book I needed a solid six months to polish it, and I only had three months to go through the copyediting process (This was an unpleasant surprise as I assumed I would have a developmental editor, not just a copyeditor). And two, I needed to launch this labor of love properly or what was the point of having written something no one would know about?

Ultimately I had nine months from the day I signed the contract to the book’s release date to get it all done from editing to marketing. (The publisher didn’t tell me when the book was being released. I actually found out by Googling the book!) And so began the marketing mayhem in which I had to maintain a presence online through my blog, social media, and publishing. Meanwhile, VHS recordings needed to be digitized to use on my blog. A book trailer needed to be created and edited. I had to start pitching proposals for events for the book tour, only to discover some venues were booked a year in advance and I was already too late for my book’s release date.

At some point in the middle of this chaos, I was sent the book cover. I actually thought it was a mock up until the real thing was designed, but soon learned otherwise. I didn’t know much about book publishing, but I knew a cover is a crucial selling point. Whether you see it on the shelves or on Amazon, it should attract the eye. To my publisher’s credit, they allowed me to have someone else redesign it. But that isn’t standard, and most writers don’t have any recourse if they dislike their publisher’s cover art. Are you getting the picture?

A writer is thrown into an industry that has nothing to do with her work. Decisions are made for you, even, as I mentioned, how you edit your book. Deadlines are made for you. The editor is given more time to get the next proof back to you with questions than you are given to turn in your corrections. Your book, the research and language and love that is your work, is thrown into an assembly line and you’re only one hack on one end of it.

I actually got my degree in writing. Had there been classes called “Organizing Your Book instead of Writing a Novel,” “Writing Your Book Proposal instead of Memoir Writing,” and “Working with an Editor instead of The Heroes’ Journey,” I would have been better prepared for the publishing world. Alas, that’s not how writing programs are designed. Writers learn their craft by writing (and reading), not studying. Unfortunately, we also learn how to publish a book by diving into an industry that is as foreign to us as web design or accounting.

So what’s a newbie author to do? Ask questions. Interview published writers. Find out exactly what the publisher expects of you including when and how before signing a book contract. Know your target audience intimately—that goes from which social media sites they visit to venues they frequent to content they’re craving. Expect to put your regular life on hold. Prepare your family for your temporary absence. Get used to unwashed laundry and dishes. And when it becomes too much to handle, give yourself a break, a treat, a massage, before you return to your post on the assembly line.

I’ve painted a pretty grim picture, I know. Is it worth it? Of course, because while publishing a book is not glamorous, being an author feels dazzling.

 

Sheana Ochoa received a Masters in Professional Writing at the University of Southern California. She has published widely in such outlets as Salon, CNN.com and the Los Angeles Review of Book’s affiliate, The Levantine Review.

Ms. Ochoa inaugurated the One-Act Play festival at the Stella Adler Academy where she directed her one-act play, The Masterpiece. In 2012, she became a founding member of Freedom Theater West, co-producing their premier production. Ms.Ochoa is the author of Stella! Mother of Modern Acting, the first biography on legendary actor and acting teacher Stella Adler.

View the Book Trailer for Stella Adler's Biography: https://www.yowatch?v=FAGN3LazM0outube.com
Subscribe to Sheana’s blog on Stella Adler http://stellaadleralifeinart.wordpress.com
Join Sheana on Twitter https://twitter.com/SheanaOchoa

 

Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk.

 

* This post was originally published in May 2014.

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Comments
  • Wow! I really identified with her struggles, and I'm "self (or assisted)-published." I guess it's just not easy, but maybe simply having the book out there is worth it. If you're in it for the money, you should probably stay out of writing.

  • Patricia, it's nice to know we're not in it alone.

  • RUTH K HUTCHINGS

    Thank you Sheana for clarifying what reality is in this world of writing. This piece is just what every writer's group should have as part of its' discussion.  I guess we can always throw our works of art in the kitchen drawer and never worry if anyone else will read it, otherwise it is work.  I look forward to having to keep on learning and cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer.

  • I can relate to the struggles with social media and marketing. I'm currently "faking it until I make it." The learning curve is steep and taking me out of my comfort zone, but I'm learning!