Publishing a book is a curious thing. There’s years of work involved, much of which is behind the scenes. But what remains baroque and notoriously vague is how a book gets picked up by a publisher. And it’s baroque and vague because every book and every publisher is different. In order to shed a little light on the process, here’s the current timeline of how STORMBLOOD went from being in my head to being bought by a Big Five publisher.
Early January 2018: I finalize my edits and send STORMBLOOD back to John Jarrold, my agent. In order to hold back the writhing tentacles of insanity, I start a new, unrelated project. I am only partially successful.
February 2, 2018: I’m walking out of a screening of Phantom Thread when I get an email. Gillian Redfearn at Gollancz, who had many good things to say about my previous, rejected novel, is very interested in STORMBLOOD. My book of half-mad dottings has become her reading priority. I ask my agent if this is good news. Yes, he assures me, it is. Commence my blood pressure spiking into the stratosphere. I can’t write a single coherent word.
February 22: I hate the current book I’m writing with the fury of a billion suns. I’m refreshing my emails with all the patience of a cocaine-addled fruit-fly with ADHD. I live for months with the ever-present fear that my book will crushed under the great waraxe of rejection and my body will be dragged twitching and bleeding back to square one.
March 13: Gillian writes in. She’s been busy, as most people working full-time tend to be, but has trudged through the first third of the book and does not hate it. In fact, she doesn’t hate it enough to keep reading. My blood pressure rockets so high it reaches the moon. The world
I don’t get much sleep that night.
April 8: Gillian has finished the book and still doesn’t hate it. “I love this,” may have been included in the email. She’s whirling it away to editorial. Agent says that more than 99% of books don’t get this far. Maybe 6 books a year at this publishing house, and that based on his experience there’s a 60-70% chance of a sale.
By now, the reality has sunk in: I have a real shot at this. I’m zeroing in on the moon. My fingertips are brushing up against the carrot (a metaphor, but not in that way). The book could be purchased by a big Five publisher and unleashed on the world for everyone to read.
I cautiously celebrate with an uncautious amount of booze. All data pertaining to five days are scraped from the memory banks, courteously of Hendricks and tonic.
May 13, 2018: An email arrives from Gollancz. Cue breathless excitement.
It’s a rejection.
The world-building is good, sure. The plot is tight and interesting, certainly. The prose and voice hit the sweet spot for the editorial team, absolutely.
The opening chapter isn’t working. The character isn’t connecting with them the way they’d like. Too much emphasis on emotion in too little space. Not enough room to sink into him naturally and get to know his personality as the story progresses.
The book isn’t right for them.
Would I, one Jeremy Szal, be willing to substantially revise the first chapter and rework how I introduce the characters? Would I be willing to work with Gillian Redfearn in more detail, and then resubmit to Gollancz again for a second look?
Once I’ve stuffed my twitching nervous system back into my body and scraped my dripping brains off the ceiling, I assure Gollancz that the Pope is still Catholic, and yes, I’d be willing to work with them on revising and resubmitting my book to them.
I ask my agent how frequently authors get to work with an editor at a Big Five publisher before signing or purchasing a book. He tells me that not once, in his 35 years of working in publishing, as an editor or an agent, has he seen this happen. It’s totally unprecedented. I’m Sir Francis Drake, machetting my way through the sweltering jungles of publishing to an undiscovered, untouched temple.
Sleep smears into a distant, vague memory. My blood curdles into a spiked cocktail of caffeine and gin. When it clears, I anchor my arse in a chair and get the hell to work.
June 6: The edits notes are extensive and utterly amazing. Detailed notes on the first two chapters, and line edits on the first 100 pages. My head’s spinning, but I see the logic through the fog. What’s been said has merit. My opening chapters are weak. My plotting undermines my characterization. There’s lots of logic gaps. Would I be willing to make necessary changes?
Yes, the Pope is still Catholic.
June 6 – August 12: A family trip to Europe is underway. I take my laptop with me. The apartment we’ve recently purchased in Poland doesn’t have furniture. Between trips to IKEA and beer houses of Krakow, I cobble together a SKARSTA workstation and a JÄRVFJÄLLET office chair and set about refining, polishing, and reworking on every paragraph and sentence of the first 100 pages. Rewriting the first chapter takes two weeks to get right, and another two to polish it to a sheen so startlingly bright a blind walrus would be dazzled.
August 13: It’s done. I’m a caffeine and post-human hybrid, but editing is complete.
August 18: One more pass with my agent before it gets fired off to Gillian Redfearn and Gollancz. I go to London to have a proper meet up with my agent. Alcohol is involved.*
*No animals were harmed during this time. Except for the cows that made our steak.
August 20: I’m faced with the delightful prospect of a 22-hour flight back to the land of Mad Max. Commence biting my fingernails down to the bone once again.
Early October: Gillian likes the edits I made on STORMBLOOD and is taking it to acquisitions. The light is at the end of the tunnel!
Except, that light is an incoming train. The universe has conspired with complete happenstance and the devil to completely screw me over. Complications pile up faster than in a Breaking Bad episode. Gillian gets sick. The Frankfurt Book Fair is on. There’s a strike. There’s a public holiday. One of the other editors is sick.
My nerves are going through a metal shredder a kilometre long.*
*Again, no animals were harmed during this time.
October 19: I check my emails one groggy Thursday morning and sit up.
Gollancz has given Gillian Redfearn the go-ahead to make an offer.
I read the email three times before I fully comprehend what it means. It doesn’t hammer home until the end of the day, trudging back from the pub after celebratory drinks with mates, until it truly sinks in STORMBLOOD will be published by Gollancz as my debut novel
October 21: I get an email. Gollancz is offering me a two-book deal. Which is great! I’m very happy! But I’m a greedy bastard and I always conceived my debut series as a trilogy. I wouldn’t be able to wrap it up with two books. My agent goes back to Gollancz with a counter-offer, pushing back on contractual, corporate jargon that makes zero sense to me. Between meetings and contacting other publishers, he tells me to prepare an outline for Book 3, on top of the outline I submitted for Book 2.
October 22: Sunday night and I’m glued to the computer, pitching a third book in a series when I haven’t even written book two yet. Who the hell in their right mind would pay me to publish this? Is this even real anymore? Is a fugue state, induced by gin and some mutual Australian spider? It doesn’t matter, because the spider demands an answer. And he always gets what he demands.
I hit send.
October 24: My phone thrills at 1:22am. John’s sent me a note via Facebook messenger to check my emails.
Gollancz likes my pitch and has bumped my offer to three books. Words like “Leading Title” and “Hardback Edition” and “Featured book of the month” are thrown around like marbles in the blender that’s become my brain. I want to flatline. My hands shake as I stutter a thank you message back to John before collapsing back into bed and wondering how the hell any of this happened.
October 25: I wake up. I’m not dreaming. My three book deal is real. STORMBLOOD will be a real book. And as of April 2020, it’s coming out in six weeks. Any purchases or pre-orders will be a huge help, especially during these times.
Book Depository (free international shipping): https://www.bookdepository.com/Stormblood-Jeremy-Szal/9781473227415
There. The tale is told, the journey is complete. It was a very weird path, even by publishing standards. I’ll always be grateful Gollancz gave me a second chance in an industry where first chances are as rare as hen’s teeth.