What do I Do After I Sign the Publishing Contract?

That’s a question I get quite a bit from authors—what do I do now that I’ve signed the contract?  One answer is obvious: keep writing—we need a manuscript in six months. However, I believe that the best thing an author can do right after signing the contract is to arrange for a meeting with his or her new editor.

It just so happens that an author we are about to sign, based in Texas, wants to meet with me for a day and requested said meeting. He is writing a book on a well known mogul (we have not announced the deal yet, so I can’t reveal the name). The author, Ben Johnson, is a seasoned reporter, editor and publisher, and the current director of American Airlines Publishing.

I asked Ben what he wanted to get out of the meeting with me, and here is how he responded: 

1. He wanted to meet me in person

2. Verify that his outline is on target

3. Based on my experience, pick my brain about the book writing process (what works/what doesn’t)

Now, those might seem like obvious things that can be discussed on a phone call. Can we? Of course. Will it be as fruitful as a one-on-one discussion where we sit down, compare notes, and answer all of these questions and more? Of course not. An in-person meeting is also a great time for us to discuss the prologue of the book, which is so critical to a book’s success. After all, how many times have you picked up a book, looked at the first page, and then either bought it or rejected it? While that may be true in fiction, it is also true with business books.  

And Ben identified only a few of the key issues: this is not really a full-blown biography of this media mogul, it’s more of a memoir or profile. This means that we will, for example, need to keep the subject’s earliest years to a minimum (unless there are really cool stories from his childhood/college years). A first-time author may tend to overwrite those formative years, thinking that he needs to include the kitchen sink. The key is to make the book a fantastic read. That will require a meeting of the minds between author and editor on any number of anecdotes, etc. And what about interviews with the subject? How many does the author meed to do? What if the subject says “I will give you the interviews and full access, but I need to review the manuscript before it is published?” Is that appropriate, or a devil’s bargain?

Much of this can all be worked out in that one important sit-down, face-to-face meeting. Yet so many business books are written in which the author never meets the editor. Don’t let that happen to you. It is up to the author to make that meeting happen.  Editors have many authors, and are often too busy to think of it or place it high on their “to-do” list.  It’s your book and you owe it to yourself to do everything and anything (within reason) to make your book a success.

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