As I turned my new book over to Lisa, I've found myself thinking back to my first published book, Pig in a Park, and my first steps into the publishing pond. I published my first novel in 1998 (ouch!) and the learning curve was...interesting. There is a lot of misinformation out there...and a LOT of opinions with very little basis in fact.
I was lucky to stumble onto EPIC and get a lot of help taking my baby steps into this business. Only way to thank them, is to pass on some of what I've learned (hopefully!) eight books later.
So here goes, and I hope it helps. :-)
When submitting to a publishing company:
ALWAYS make sure you know what they publish and that your book will actually fit into their publishing list. My daughter worked for a small press that did new age health books and regularly got novel submissions. You waste your time submitting to the wrong places.
NEVER beg in a query letter. Especially don't beg in capitals. Yeah, my daughter got some of those, too.
ALWAYS be PROFESSIONAL. Keep emotion for your books. When dealing with editors or agents, stay calm, don't be abusive, don't lash out if you don't like what they say and again, don't BEG. Publishing is a pretty small world. Even if you write a great book, if it becomes clear you're going to be difficult to work with, a publisher/editor/agent WILL move on. They don't have the time to deal difficult people. It's not fair that you have to be perfect and they don't, but LIFE'S NOT FAIR.
If you get accepted:
Learn about the process. Education is your friend and your protection. The process and order can vary a bit, but usually your manuscript will go through a first edit. This is the time to make changes. Some publishers will also give you a look post copy edit, but not all.
When you are given galleys, even electronic galleys, THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO MAKE SUBSTANTIAL EDITS. Some publishers will charge you for changes at this stage. One of my publishers allowed me to make THREE changes at this stage. If it was their mistake, then they will SOMETIMES make the change. Every change you make at this point takes time and money. Publishers, especially smaller presses don't have a lot of either. For a larger publisher, a galley is made from plates. To change anything requires the plates to be redone.
You WILL be blamed for all mistakes, even those that aren't your fault. Most readers don't understand how little input authors have in the final process. Again, not fair but LIFE'S NOT FAIR.
A lot of what a publisher will...and won't...do for you is spelled out in your contract. They are a pain to read, but you need to understand them. There are tons of articles on the internet about contracts, that explain the various clauses and how they can impact you as an author. If you're tapped into writers' groups, you'll also hear when new clauses pop up and again, you'll find out how they can impact you.
Because I publish with small presses, I consider my association with them to be a business partnership. Our success is intertwinned. I try not to do anything that will hurt my publisher because that will hurt the partnership. I had one publisher (not mine) tell me, he offered an author a contract and she seemed happy with it. Then he happened onto her blog, where she'd posted all sorts of complaints about the contract. Needless to say, he withdrew his offer to publish. The sad part, he would have been perfectly willing to discuss the contract with her, but she didn't ask.
So, DON'T POST ANYTHING ON A BLOG OR GROUP LIST YOU DON'T WANT YOUR PUBLISHER TO READ.
If you have questions about a contract, the time to ask them is BEFORE you sign. Once you've agreed to the terms, that ship has sailed. Again, this is a surprisingly tight knit community. Word gets around about who is hard to work with and who is not. It's not a blacklist, it's just a small world.
Publishers don't have to DO anything NOT in the contract. When they do more, it's great. It's better not to EXPECT a lot, because that leads to disappointment. It's like any relationship, if you expect something that can't happen, you get disappointed.
Recognize you aren't the only author a publisher is working with.
This doesn't mean you have to lay down and be a carpet to be walked on. I am NOT an advocate of abject fear or taking it on the chin. If a publisher does NOT fulfill their contractual obligations (like paying you), then you have every right to complain and seek redress.
Being angry or complaining about non-contractual perks is a waste of time. AND THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU AGREED TO.
If you have expectations that aren't spelled out in your contract, you should address them BEFORE you sign. You have no right to anything that isn't in writing. Again, that's why it is important for you to understand what the various clauses actually say, not what you think they say.
My last piece of advice and I'll shut up.
BE NICE. Be nice to reviewers, even the ones who slam you. Be nice to your editor/s. Be nice to other writers. Be nice to READERS. YOU are your business's biggest asset. Unless you're a one book wonder, the end game is to brand you, brand your name, as you continue to produce books and to build a reputation for delivering a great story. You can undo that with one rude comment. Trust me, I've seen it on lists.
Okay, I'll shut up now. Hope some of this helps someone!