Thursday, July 13, 2017

Memoir Book Report: Process, Production, Path to Publication – Part I: Sign, Wait, Hope, Think, Revise

Perhaps you already know that my memoir is under contract with University of Nevada Press for a late spring 2018 publication date. I thought it might be interesting—and could possibly help preserve my sanity—if every so often, I post a Book Report, sharing what's happening as I make my way from manuscript to published book.

Today, I'll backtrack a bit for a glimpse into the early process of working with a university-affiliated publisher.  

With a university press (in many, though not all cases), you sign a contract and then—you wait, and you hope. Yes, they want to publish your book, but it's not a completely sure thing, not just yet. I signed my contract on April 11. The next step is feedback from "peer reviewers"—respected professionals in the genre (in my case, memoir), who the press asks to read the manuscript and offer substantial feedback—pro and con.

The period of time when my book was out with the peer reviewers? Let's just say I had few fingernails left of any appreciable length. Fortunately for me, this element was fast-tracked, so it was only a month of waiting and wondering, a month of plunging and soaring emotions: They'll hate it…They might love it…I hope they at least like it. (I tried not to think about author friends whose books were dropped because of poor peer reviews; when I did think of that, I reminded myself that those books were eventually published elsewhere.)

Alas, the reviews were overall positive, and I was relieved that many of the suggested revisions aligned with my own instincts. Those weeks when I knew others were reading and judging my work? They were a chance for me to—as much as it's possible—cast a new, critical eye to my polished manuscript…and notice the places where the polish wasn't quite as bright and shiny as I'd like. I wanted to get to those revisions.

But first, the publisher's editorial board had to officially approve the project, and while it's never a rubber stamp, I was buoyed by the faith and confidence of the director of the press, who'd initially acquired my book. In advance of the board meeting, I needed to prepare a response note, referencing the reviewers' recommendations and outlining a plan for tackling revisions. I was lucky that the reviewers had given the manuscript such careful thought and made many smart suggestions, and that I had wonderful support from the press director—making the drafting of the response note into a creatively enriching endeavor for me. 

It became my revision roadmap.

Once the board said YES (on May 22), I had five weeks to revise. What followed was—except for back in early 2016 when I transformed the original linked essay collection into linear narrative—the most demanding, as well as the most gratifying part of the manuscript process.

But first I had to clear time and mental space.

I'm usually managing too much – teaching, editing, coaching, freelance assignments. I craved fewer demands, time to think clearly and creatively without the calendar as enemy. Fortunately, the academic semester had ended. I did ask some private clients to wait until I'd finished my revisions to begin working with me; fortunately they agreed. For a few others whose schedules weren't malleable, I matched them with amazing editors/coaches I know (I'm thankful for a superb literary community to call upon). Except for two small projects and some non-academic teaching, I wound up with about four weeks practically to myself.

This gave me the luxury to slow down, to think only about my book, to work when my brain was in best form instead of when I had to squeeze it in—and to do some extra research and supplemental reading I had long suspected would help enrich certain passages. I was able to "live inside the book" so to speak, to stay inside that world, deeper and longer, but without sequestering myself away. (Which led me to a new respect and desire for the benefits of artist retreats and residencies; alas, maybe next book.)

One day ahead of schedule, I hit SEND—tremendously relieved but also a bit wistful. In some small way, I wanted that concentrated deep-dive time back, more time to live inside the pages that, until then, had been mine alone. Now, those pages are moving along the production line to a time when others will enter that world—editors, art and production experts, eventually reviewers and readers. That's exciting. And a bit nerve-wracking, an odd sort of feeling.

Stay tuned for future Books Reports about: the actual revision process (I loved it, it drove me a little nuts, I made mistakes, I learned); a look back at how I found my publisher; what key things I changed in my query before that; how I landed my agent; choosing photographs (yes, there will be pics!); permissions; and the thing that's occupying me right now: finding some fabulous titles to suggest to the publisher (did I say: publishing is collaborative?).

If there's anything you're wondering about, shoot me a question in comments and I'll try to cover in a future post.



Gershon Ben-Avraham said...

Lisa, thanks for sharing this. I found it very informative. Best wishes on the rest of your journey.

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

This is amazing! Different from my own path, though. (Once the contract was signed, the book was a go in my situation.) Good luck on the rest of the journey. Looking forward to reading about it!

Lisa Romeo said...

Thanks Gershonbenavraham! Diane Tolley - thanks for the good wishes, and also for pointing out that the process is different at different presses (and have edited the post to indicate this).

Andrea said...

Wow, that's interesting. I had no idea there was a process like that in the university press world. And so great that you were able to dive in deep for a few weeks. It seems like such a hard thing to dive deeply into anything—with lives so fractured into pieces by work and kids and other obligations and the never-ending political nightmare apocalypse. Can't wait to hear more about the process and, of course, see The Book!

Lisa Romeo said...

Andrea, you are exactly right. I made a deliberate decision to stop watching/listening/reading the awful national news in order to concentrate, and protect myself from all that anxiety.

Unknown said...

This is a very helpful post. Thank you for sharing it. I've been a bit confused by my process with a prospective university press. I am not under contract, but my manuscript is being sent out for review, which implies to me that external reviewers might have a say as to whether or not I am even offered a contract. I should probably just ask more questions of the acquisitions editor.

Lisa Romeo said...

I've also heard of things being done in that order, too. Good luck to you! said...

Pure Gold: that's what I call good criticism. Sounds like the university press vetting process can tap into some valuable ore. The only university press books I'm really familiar with [via my husband and daughter] are histories with lots of end notes. I didn't realize a memoir could come under university-press purview. You must cover some pretty interesting ground to pique their interest.
thanks for sharing the pre-pub details, especially about the vetting process.

Lisa Romeo said...

Actually,, I was pleased to find that many university presses do publish memoir, essay collections, novels, and short story collections, though usually fewer of these than academic books. I also learned that many presses often have very strictly defined areas of interest for these kinds of books, and you want to be sure yours fits into that when submitting a query. Good luck!