Courtney Maum Explains What to Do Before And After The Book Deal

By on Friday, January 10th, 2020 at 4:07 pm

Courtney Maum, author of Before and After the Book Deal, and panelists Jenn Baker, Hannah Tinti, and Monica Odom at Powerhouse Books in Brooklyn

Courtney Maum was at Brooklyn’s Powerhouse bookstore to celebrate the launch of her fourth book, Before And After The Book Deal, a guide helping writers navigate the perils and challenges of the publishing process. Maum is the author of the novels I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, Touch, and Costalegre. She was joined by Ryan Chapman, Monica Odom, Jenn Baker, and Hannah Tinti as well as the non-profit organization Girls Write Now, an organization dedicated to helping mentor underserved young women find their voices through the power of writing and community.

Before And After The Book Deal provides an overview explanation about the process of publishing a book. It is not about how to write a novel but it does begin at the early stages of a writer’s career, looking at the process from submitting to journals and querying agents through the process of publishing a book and the weeks and months after publication day, like tackling book tours and signing copies at events. Although Maum has gone through this process three times with both big and small presses, she gathered anecdotes and advice fromauthors, editors, and agents to augment Before And After The Book Deal. Not only does this mean there is a broad spectrum of views, but also shows the importance and power of literary community, another element of writing Maum discusses in the book.

Neophytes to the book publishing industrial complex will find the book especially useful as Maum covers concepts like how to find literary community, basics like submissions and queries, and how to decide on an agent. But even more seasoned members of the literary community may find the book useful, especially as it progresses into discussions on the process that follows singing a book contract, bringing a book to life, and the period that follows publication. Even published authors may find this latter section of the book comforting and reassuring as it reveals how many peers and colleagues feel about the process.

The evening at Powerhouse began with Maum and Ryan Chapman performing a skit illustrating the pitfalls of the agenting process. The main takeaway here was writers shouldn’t settle on the first agent that comes along and give consideration to the person who is going to represent their manuscript. Agents have a longer term relationship with writers today rather than editors do, and finding the right fit is important.

Courtney Maum and Ryan Chapman perform a skit play acting an author and agent conversation

Following the skit, the panel took the stage. Joining Maum was editor and writer Jennifer Baker, agent Monica Odom, and OneStory co-founder, author, and editor Hannah Tinti for a panel discussion. Maum begins by explaining why she wrote the book: writers dream about publishing a book, she says, but after she published her book, she felt like she was left on a precipice. The whole process was challenging and there weren’t any resources to turn to. Writing this book was about making the process of publishing a book less opaque.

Maum posed to the panel a discussion of why manuscripts appeal to or end up rejected by publishers. Monica Odom offers that authorial voice is often a critical element saying that as readers, we need to trust in a writer’s voice to carry us through on the journey. Hannah Tinti says that reading slush submissions is like panning for gold. When you find it though, its always because the story is pulling her in. Its important for writers to have control over the story they are telling. First pages matter so much because magazines often only read the first page, and editors and publishers often only have the opportunity to read early parts of books. Jenn Baker says that as someone who works in production–literally putting a book together–her experience is often in discussing how a book will sell. Books, and their authors, are often treated as products.All that means is writers should focus on the writing and not worry about selling the book component because there are many reasons why a book doesn’t sell that have nothing to do with the art.

Along those lines, Maum turns the question towards finding an agent who wants to sell the book the author has written rather than remaking the book into something the agent wants to sell. Maum and Baker have both gone through more than one agent. Knowing your own book is essential, Odom explains. When she needs to challenge an editor or publisher on behalf of a client, it helps if the writer knows what they want to say. Familiarity and the ability to talk about their book is essential for a writer to maintain their vision. She suggests writers read the transaction blurbs in Publishers Marketplace to envision how to talk about their own books.

Tinti says its important to think about long term projects and goals, not just the immediate manuscripts. Agents and writers have a long term relationship. Signing with the first agent that comes along feels like marrying the first person to swipe right. While traditionally writers had relationships with editors, those editors now need to be mobile within the industry, changing jobs frequently and its harder to maintain long relationships with editors as they move around publishing houses. Baker followed up by describing how she had to break up with her first agent over a number of issues.

Researching an agent is important, everyone agrees, and that includes knowing who they represent and their style. Knowing whether an agent provides editorial notes is important too. Not all agents provide that kind of feedback, but not all writers want it either.

The panel was also joined by Girls Write Now volunteers including mentor Hannah Sheldon-Dean and mentee Kenya Torres. Sheldon-Dean and Torres discussed their participation in the program. Sheldon-Dean is a researcher and writer mentoring Torres, a high school student. They were paired through the program. During the last two years they have met weekly, usually at a public library, where they discussed and workshopped their writing. They have provided each other prompts, as well as feedback, and both have been working on writing novels during the time. Muam asked event attendees to donate to the program to help support the mission, and donations can be made online here.

Thursday, January 9, 2020
Courtney Maum with Ryan Chapman, Monica Odom, Jenn Baker, and Hannah Tinti.
Powerhouse Books


We previously covered Courtney Maum’s appearance at the H.I.P. Lit event Très Brooklyn.

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English Kills Review is an online magazine covering books, authors, and writing with an emphasis on New York City. Founded in 2012, English Kills Review engages the literary community while highlighting noteworthy books and authors