The reality of the publishing deal

Get ready for part 2 of Polly Courtney's literary journey! 


Hello again Movellians! I hope you enjoyed my first post, Getting the Publishing Deal. Thanks so much for all the comments. It’s great to share my story and hear what you think.


Last time I described how my self-publishing success got me a deal with HarperCollins. Now I’m back with Part 2: The reality of the publishing deal. This is where it gets interesting!


I had already had a few conversations with the editors at HarperCollins before I signed the deal. In these meetings, we’d discussed possible subjects for my next novel. I was very keen to keep writing page-turners based loosely on real life, having covered subjects like City sexism (based on my own experiences) and the life of a Polish migrant (based on a friend’s) in previous books.


‘What about homelessness from a young person’s perspective?’ I remember suggesting.

‘Hmm, how about something with a magical, mystical feel?’ they replied. ‘Maybe a fairy godmother theme?’


For a while it felt as though we were speaking different languages, but eventually we settled on the idea of a woman who regains consciousness after a bomb blast with amnesia (the ‘mystical’ part), piecing together a new life at a youth charity (the ‘real’ part) whilst recalling fragments of her old life.


The timelines were tight because the publication ‘slot’ had already been agreed and we’d spent a long time agreeing a theme, so I had three months to write the novel. During this period, I was keen to collaborate with the publisher over the title and cover design. I remember going along to one editorial meeting with sketches and word clouds that had come out of brainstorming sessions with readers. My offerings were met with blank looks.


‘Don’t worry about that,’ my editors told me. ‘The in-house team will come up with plenty of good ideas – just you wait.’


So I waited. Eventually, a few weeks ahead of publication, I received an email with the proposedtitle and cover design for my first HarperCollins book. As you can see, it features a woman in a long nightie, slipping quietly through a door amid much faded green wallpaper.


I wasn’t convinced that this ‘package’ (title and cover) accurately represented the modern-day, fast-paced style of the book. I didn’t want to rely on gut instinct, however, so I polled some readers and asked them for their first impressions, based on title and cover alone. I got thirty responses and without fail, each had misinterpreted the type of book based on what they saw. I fed this back to the publishers, who replied:


‘Thank you so much for the feedback, however we think this is a compelling package that has real stand-out qualities.’


So I went with it. The book sold reasonably well but I could see from some of the Amazon reviews that readers had expected one thing and got another. But alas, it was time to write the next book.


This time I wrote about a young singer-songwriter navigating her way through today’s music industry and discovering that all her creative control had been yanked away by the major label to which she had signed. (Yep, it was based on my own experiences with the big publishing house!)


To my surprise, the book came out looking like an X-Factor romp, peppered with silver stars and swooshes. Again, I gathered feedback that told me it didn’t fit – and, more importantly, it had a very different vibe from all my other books – but again, I was told to pipe down. This book didn’t sell well.


For my third HarperCollins novel, guess what? The title and cover were different in style again, andthis time the publishers had gone straight down the ‘chick lit’ route, despite the book’s hard-hitting take on lads’ mag culture.


At this point, I was pretty frustrated. I decided to do something rash – and you can find out what in my next blog post: Beyond the publishing deal.


Please do ask me questions about anything I’ve written – I realise it sounds pretty crazy to bad-mouth a deal that so many authors would chew their right arm off to get, so fire away!


Polly Courtney’s latest novel, Feral Youth, comes out 26th June and we’ll be running a writing activity around this in a few weeks’ time with a very exciting prize... Keep an eye out!

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