7 steps to become an author illustrator – Step 5: How to get the best publishing deal

Today I’m sharing how to get ‘the best’ publishing deal(s)

What is ‘the best’ publishing deal?

  • The deal that works for you and your short and long term requirements and goals
  • For me it was a mix of highest possible advance (as we have to make a living!), publisher’s size/reputation & experience, real interest in and understanding of my work, their planned marketing activity, similar working styles and personal connection, ideally with the whole team you’ll be working with

When and how should you submit?

  • When you’ve had your work looked over (e.g. by a course tutor, suitable freelance editor or an agent) and got it into its best possible shape
  • Your work doesn’t have to be perfect and completely polished (the publisher still wants to have their input too!) but it should be good and interesting enough to spark their interest
  • With some publishers you can submit following instructions on their website, or try and get personal and email the right commissioning editor directly (this actually can work really well if you’re professional throughout the whole process), or you can show and promote your work like I did at book fairs and other events, and of course through your agent if you have one
  • If you have an agent, normally they will work with you for some time before submitting to publishers. But in my case, as I had all this interest from going to Bologna already, including a pre-emptive offer from one of my top choice publishers, my agent and I simply picked what we believed my 4 strongest picture book dummies to be and improved the wording a little over the phone. Then off they went to all the major publishers in the UK. It wasn’t long that more offers came in and we sorted meetings with a staggering 8 major UK publishers!

Meetings with publishers

  • Try and meet the whole team, as you’ll be working with your editor, designers, sales & foreign right teams and marketing, and you want to make sure they’re all enthusiastic about your work
  • Ask them to give you an idea of things they’d want to work on or change about your book
  • Listen carefully to ALL the feedback the various publishers give you in these meetings because it will come in super handy when you’re actually working on your book later on (more on that in tomorrow’s post)
  • Do you feel like they ‘get’ you and your book?
  • Do you have a personal connection?
  • Can you see yourself working with them for long intense periods as there will be times when it gets tough
  • Ask when they would publish your book
  • Would they publish it in hardback and paperback, and at the same time or staggered?
  • Let them show you examples of their existing books
  • Ask how many co-editions (other languages in which your book will be printed at the same time) of your book they envision to sell
  • Ask how they would market you and your book
  • Use this opportunity to ask them whatever you want to ask them!

Red and the City standee from meeting with publisher

  • The whole team of one publisher absolutely blew me away with their enthusiasm and everything they’d done in the meeting. They’d decorated the whole room in my Red and the City artwork (the photo shows just one of the many different standees I took home), had red themed drinks and cakes, made a custom PPT presentation using my artwork, and had even knitted one of my characters!

The commissioning editor of one publisher had even knitted one of my characters

  • That little fella is still sitting on my desk to this day talking to me regularly and using his scarf as a whip to get me working even faster. I clicked with that whole team so much that I was sure I’d go with them. Sadly though they couldn’t offer the advance amount I needed to make a living.

Offers and possible blind auction

Not long after the meetings, we had a whole range of offers from a variety of publishers I could all imagine working with, so my agent arranged a ‘blind auction’, in which my agent communicated a day and time by which the publishers had to submit their best offers.

In the end I went with the two publishers (for 3 picture books with each one) who offered the best combination of amount of advance, their experience & reputation, interest and understanding in my work, personal connection and a similar working style.

When will you get paid?

  • You will get about a third of your total advance across all the books in the deal with the signing of the contract
  • It can take a long time before those contracts are sorted so make sure you have a buffer to tide you over until then
  • You will generally get about another third of one book’s advance upon completion of its manuscript and roughs and another third with delivery of final artwork for that book
  • You will only receive potential royalties when your advance has earned out through foreign right and retail sales, why each book should also be accounted for separately within a multiple book deal. But even so, it can take a very long time, if ever, before you see more money coming in from a book

Join Red, Woody and me tomorrow on the topic of working with your editor and wider team to create the best possible book, and how the final version of ‘Red and the City’ came to be …