Stop the Presses—DON’T Publish that Book

Publishing, Tips

By Elizabeth Turnbull

As the Senior Editor for a small publishing company, I see a lot of potential books pass through my hands. To be honest, most of the manuscript submissions we receive have great potential. The themes are creative and timely, the information is engaging, and the characters are colorful. But more often than not, the books are simply not ready yet.

The single biggest mistake I see new authors make is to publish a book too soon. And I understand how it happens: You write the final line, share the manuscript with a few close friends and family, receive adoring reviews, and then proceed to submit the manuscript for publishing because you think there’s nothing more to be done. Then, you wait. And wait. And wait some more. But the call never comes.

Undeterred, you decide that if editors can’t recognize the next bestseller you just submitted, then it’s up to you to proceed. So you self-publish immediately. Your book doesn’t sell more than a handful of copies and you can’t understand what went wrong.

You published too soon. And, most likely, you submitted your book for publication too soon.

Though my official title says “Senior Editor,” I view myself more as a “midwife for books.” I help stories be born, working with authors to coax the best book possible out of the lovely, but incomplete, manuscripts they’ve submitted. Together, the author and I are able to come up with a far stronger book than either of us could have realized on our own. But it takes a lot of editing. And then a little more editing. And then, when we’ve finally sent out the ARCs (Advanced Review Copies), one more round of tweaking before the books hit the shelves. It’s months of effort. But at the end of the day, we have a beautiful book that’s been born for the public to adore.

I am surprised at how many of the manuscripts we receive have been previously self-published. While we do, on occasion, publish books that were once self-published, it makes my job so much harder and messier. Now, not only is the book competing against other books in its genre, it’s also competing against itself. We have to not only fix the errors in the manuscript and make the necessary (sometimes drastic) edits, but we also have to re-educate readers and convince them that this time the author really did get it right. It’s not impossible, but it is harder.

So, if you’re working on a manuscript and have submitted it for publication but haven’t heard anything back, don’t despair. And, above all, DON’T PUBLISH THAT BOOK. Edit, re-edit, and edit some more. Get professional help. Work out the kinks and coax the best possible writing from yourself.

It takes time to bring people to life––whether from the womb or from an author’s imagination.

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