Category: Publishing

ARCAnd here it is, my book, Where the Air Is Sweet. This version is the ARC, the Advanced Reading Copy (sometimes called a galley).  It is the pre-published book. It is typeset, bound and looks almost exactly as the final will look, minus the flaps and fancy paper. The ARC is created so that we have something to send to booksellers and reviewers months in advance of the publication date.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the cover. I loved it when I saw it on a monitor but I love it even more in print. The colours are muted, elegant, and the image is both inviting and disorienting.

Reading a novel, like writing a novel, is an act of creation. The reader brings herself (her perceptions, experiences, beliefs) to the words on the page, to the story in the book, and in the union of reader and novel something new is created. And that is why a novel is always alive, fluid, rich with potential.

My first real taste of this experience was seeing how the designer interpreted and then expressed my novel. I love what she sees. I couldn’t have imagined it the way she did. But I couldn’t love it more.

I stared at the ARC of my novel for a few days, held it, admired it. I was thrilled, obviously, but I was also afraid. I didn’t want to look too closely. I was afraid if I did I would find mistakes. (A familiar sensation for anyone who works in publishing.)

The thing is, it says, right on the cover “uncorrected proof.”  We can still fix mistakes. This is our last chance to catch them, in fact. So I needed to read it. And I did.

I found a few small typos. I also found some sections I might have, in hindsight, approached differently. The typos can be fixed. The rest will remain as is. Depending on the reading I have a different opinion anyways on how to handle a scene, a line. That’s why we let books go. That’s why we stop editing. I expect, despite this reading, some typos will get through to the final. This is the nature of books, of writing, of human beings: imperfection.

There is a tradition in Islamic art, in intricate rugs, portraits, mosaics to leave a deliberate flaw. This is a statement by the artist, a testament to the imperfection of human beings as compared to the perfection of God. I didn’t worry about adding a deliberate error. I’m 100 per cent positive one (or more) will get through without any effort on my part. :)

But this tradition reminds me that flaws are not only okay, they speak to what we are.

And on that note, I will quote a line from the magnificent Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

In yesterday’s Guardian, children’s author Terry Deary declares that libraries have had their day.

“Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.”

Deary makes some valid points. Authors do need to make a living.

But in my experience, public libraries create lovers of books — the very people who habitually purchase books, which then supports authors, booksellers, publishers.

When I was a child, my parents didn’t read to me. Books weren’t a part of their experience. Newspapers, newsmagazines, on the other hand, were always around, planting the seeds of my lifelong habit as a news junkie.

Books? Not so much. I remember reading a Harold Robbins paperback once, and learning far more about sexual deviancy than a child should know. :) But that was the book that was lying around in the house and I wanted to read.

My parents are intelligent people but they did not grow up in a culture of literacy. Both my grandmothers were illiterate.

When I was six years old, something called a bookmobile used to magically appear down the street from my house. Every two weeks, this big white trailer with the words Kitchener Public Library on its side would remain parked for a few hours. I would wander over and sit in that little trailer and read. And the librarian was there to help me choose what to read. Then I would take a few books home.

I developed a love of reading and of literature through public libraries. This love of reading led me to journalism school and to do a master’s in English literature. Not only do I write books now, I own many, many books by many, many authors.

I hate that authors make so little money. I hate that I have to struggle to pay bills so that I can have the privilege to write fiction while someone skilled in biology or in mathematics has the potential to make a good living doing what he or she loves.

But do libraries contribute to this? I don’t think so. Very much the opposite. Libraries handed me, someone who does not come from a legacy of literature, the gift of books. A gift that I continue to share both by writing and devouring books.

What do you think? Do libraries diminish the value of books by offering them for free?


Book publishing is slow
I was lucky. The first agent I submitted to agreed to represent me. But I waited almost six months for a response. The book sold quickly, in an exclusive to HarperCollins Canada within a month of signing with the agent. But that deal was in March 2011. My launch date is early 2014.

Publishers are gamblers
Publishers cannot predict how a book will sell (Londonstani anyone?) They have to guess. Obviously it’s an educated guess, but it’s a guess. They have to make a call and be willing to swallow the losses if they are wrong. They make a decision how much to invest (advance, marketing etc.) based on what they think the book will earn in sales. The writer does not have to pay back the advance to the publisher (regardless of how the book fares) and the publisher won’t get back what they paid out in production costs, marketing costs, office overhead, billing expenses and distribution expense. Oh, and if a vendor (i.e. Indigo, Barnes & Noble) fails to sell any books, they can return them to the publisher.

Writers need agents
Apart from the fact that agents provide access to major publishing houses, match up writers and editors, negotiate the best deals and scour through those complex contracts, they generally love to talk and “network” and are not shy about telling people what they think is good about themselves. The latter personality traits are usually poorly developed or outright absent in fiction writers.

Advance is short for something
This: advance against future royalties. This means if you earn royalties that equal the advance your publisher agreed to pay, you have done what is called earning out your advance (a good thing) and not lost your publisher any money. If you earn royalties beyond that figure, you’ve made your publisher money (a very very good thing) and then you get paid royalties.

Writers are paid very very slowly
In my case, and this is the norm, I received one-third of the advance upon signing, one-third upon manuscript completion and one-third at publication. So, basically, I get paid over two to three years. Even with a really good advance, this is not something you can bank on to support a family. Royalties (see above) come even more slowly, if they come at all.

Editors are on your team
I have worked as a journalist. I know editors are vital. But I viewed them as overly critical, cruel, knife-wielding pedants (when I was the writer; when I was editing, I was just usually right. :)). An editor is a writer’s greatest gift. She wants to see your book succeed. Editors and writers are on the same team, and realizing this will make the editing process a pleasure and likely far more successful.

A well-written book does not mean it is a marketable book; just as badly written books often sell spectacularly well
The Da Vinci Code, Fifty Shades of Grey. Need I say more?

Big publishing houses do care about quality literature
There is a narrative out there that only indie or boutique publishing houses are interested in quality books and the big publishing houses are all about slapping books together and making deals with celebrities. Obviously, these are profit-driven machines and the bottom line is vital. And, yes, celebrities often get headline-grabbing deals. But in my experience, HarperCollins has invested a great deal of time and two excellent editors in my book, despite it being literary fiction and despite me being an unknown writer.

Those bestsellers I mocked above? They are a boon to the book industry
The profits from blockbusters allow publishers to take on books that don’t have the potential of selling very well but have the potential to enrich our culture.

Everyone working in book publishing loves books
This is a risky business. If you’re in it you love the craft.

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