The Road to Publication

The Road to Publication

The last time I wrote for Pipeline, I discussed how I crossed over from screenwriting to writing my middle-grade novel, While I Was Away, which resulted in my finding an agent and then my work being sold at auction to Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins.  

So, what happened next?

I had been in the screenwriting trenches for so long during which I’d had some phone calls with agents and producers. I had heard about the “water bottle” tour, but never actually been part of one. The year before, I went through the process of putting a short film together, from script to casting, to meetings with the music composer to its first showing. As a debut author, though, I really didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully the following description of the road leading up to publication will help readers who are on a similar journey, or who will be soon.  

Almost immediately after our deal was finalized, my editor at Quill Tree approached me with questions about … the cover. Although this makes sense since art takes time and a cover that stands out and encourages people to pick up the book is of utmost importance, I was very surprised. The truth is, I’d been so focused on the words on the page, I hadn’t even thought of what my dream cover would be!

I had already followed a couple of artists on Instagram, and from there, I forwarded some examples of art that spoke to me. In addition, I looked through a bunch of book covers and sent them over to my editor as well, with notes about what I liked about each one. Once we settled on an illustrator, we had several back-and-forths with her in terms of ideas, execution, and tweaks. By the time the cover was finalized months later, I understood why it had to be one of our first items of business! It’s beautiful and unique and I’ve heard more than a few people let me know that they picked the book up because of the cover.

After a couple months, I then received my editor’s edit letter, as well as the draft we had originally submitted, with in-line edits. The letter itself was about 11 pages (single-spaced), and I was asked to have a second draft incorporating these edits in about 4–5 weeks. Naturally, the first reaction was to hyperventilate and say, “I can’t do it!” But the thing is, I agreed with almost all her edits (further highlighting the importance of working with an editor you see eye-to-eye with). There were some larger sections that required more thought, but I used the same process I used when I was screenwriting—if it’s something you heard someone else say before, you absolutely need to work on it. I divided my manuscript into sections and created a to-do list and schedule. I got it done.

Incidentally, while this was all happening, I still wasn’t able to talk about my book deal. That’s another aspect of publishing I hadn’t been aware of—that even when you have news, you have to sit on it for a long time! This seems to be a time-honored publishing tradition, as well as variations to the tradition which involve tweets saying, “I have news, but can’t say anything,” and/or telling JUST A FEW people and making them swear they won’t tell another soul. While the deal was made at the beginning of October, it was mid-January before I was finally able to publicly announce that I had one!

Although I have only worked with one editor in my fledgling novel-writing career, I get the sense that I’ve been supremely lucky with her insights and organization. Within a month, I had her edits on my second draft, and I had about three weeks of turnaround time for draft #3. At that time, I also began to put together my dedication, acknowledgments, and author letter that I planned to include with the final published product.

Then, I received a copyedited version of my pages, which I then looked through again, and again found places that I wanted to reword. We had discussions about author headshots, audiobook narrators, jacket copy, feedback on the cover illustration, and marketing. Reviews started coming in, and I attended whatever virtual events I could to create buzz. At about the one-year post-deal mark, I had a bound ARC (advance reader copy) in my hands. While many people believe publishing moves slowly, I found that I was always busy with something. There weren’t any occasions where I was sitting around wishing, “Boy, I wish I had more to do …”

Then, on January 26, 2021, my first book was published! I had a launch event that my husband strong-armed a bunch of people into attending. I had a cake with my book cover on it. I’ve heard talk of the strangeness of debuting during a pandemic, but it’s not like I’ve ever launched a book during “normal times” (whatever that means!), so I don’t have anything to compare it to. It was a cold and icy winter night—having a virtual launch actually allowed more people to attend, from all over the U.S., and from different times of my life. A bundle of nerves already, the virtual format was a relief for me in many ways.

And that, my friends, was my road to publication! I’m sure there are other authors with similar stories and others with vastly different ones. I hope the above was helpful for you, though, in terms of what you might expect when you are on your own path to publication.

Next up will be an account of the roller-coaster year after publication—we’re talking moving goalposts, staying away from your Goodreads reviews, and also finding joy in unexpected ways.

While I Was Away is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats. Paperback versions are available as of Dec. 21, 2021, and are available for pre-order. Waka’s second book Dream, Annie, Dream will be published on Jan. 25, 2022, and is also available for pre-order.

*Feature Photo: Book Cover of While I Was Away (in cake form ... )

Waka T. Brown is a middle grade novelist and screenwriter. Her debut memoir While I Was Away (2021) and her second novel Dream, Annie, Dream (2022) are through HarperCollins / Quill Tree Books.
More posts by Waka Brown.
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