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Publishing a Book

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I realize that this may be jumping the gun a bit, but I have what I think is a great idea for a book. While I've yet to write anything, it's my understanding that it's possible to "shop" the idea around to see if publishers might have any interest. Does anyone know anything about the process?

Thanks!

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I realize that this may be jumping the gun a bit, but I have what I think is a great idea for a book. While I've yet to write anything, it's my understanding that it's possible to "shop" the idea around to see if publishers might have any interest. Does anyone know anything about the process?

From my personal (limited) publishing industry knowledge as well as what I've read over the years, I think it's extremely unlikely that a publisher would even respond to just an idea unless you were already a successfully published author (and probably further, that they'd been the publisher) - or if you were otherwise famous. These days it's also easy to self-publish with POD (print on demand) combined with downloadable paid PDFs. I just bought a programming book today that way (for about $25).

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These days it's also easy to self-publish with POD (print on demand) combined with downloadable paid PDFs.

Dianne Durante, who successfully self-published and was later picked up by a major publishing house, has some useful "been there, done that" advice on the process in her article NOTES ON SELF-PUBLISHING.

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Dianne Durante, who successfully self-published and was later picked up by a major publishing house, has some useful "been there, done that" advice on the process in her article NOTES ON SELF-PUBLISHING.

Thanks Betsy - interesting and worth reading.

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I realize that this may be jumping the gun a bit, but I have what I think is a great idea for a book. While I've yet to write anything, it's my understanding that it's possible to "shop" the idea around to see if publishers might have any interest. Does anyone know anything about the process?

Thanks!

Michael,

That's true of a non-fiction work, though you have to have more than just 'an idea'. You need to have a fully worked out Book Proposal. Google on that and you will find many sites that give detailed advice on how to write one. In essence, you must have a table of contents, a sample chapter, and a few other things depending on the type of book. But, be forewarned. In today's market the idea is a good deal less important than the person writing the book. Non-fiction books are marketed according to the credentials of the author, former media appearances, and other criteria which have little or nothing to do with the book's contents. Unless you are a Nobel Prize winner or a media celebrity, you have a tough road ahead just to get an agent to even take a look, much less represent the book.

With fiction, it's equally tough, but in a different way. You must have a completed manuscript before even sending out a Query Letter. Google on those last two words and, again, you'll find many sites that offer detailed advice on how to write one. That is a business letter used to interest an agent in the book. But fiction is even harder to sell these days than non-fiction unless you have been previously published, know someone, or have won a major writing award. In other words, it's about what an agent can sell to an editor, not whether you can write a good book.

It's certainly not impossible; new writers break in all the time. But the market is even tougher today than it has been in the past, which was not easy. Authors who have been on the NY Times Bestseller's list for years, one publishing 20 books in 20 years are finding it difficult to sell a novel.

Self-publishing has its own special pitfalls, and reading a book or two detailing what's realistically involved is a good idea.

Sorry to sound so negative, but it's a good idea to know what's ahead -- even if you plan to ignore it and try anyway. Which, after all, is not a bad idea. I don't remember who said it -- some famous Hollywood director, I think: "If you're the type of person who can be discouraged by someone else, you should be. If not, good. You might have a chance."

Good luck.

Jeff Perren

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Thanks for the replies. I'm not discouraged, though odds are this idea will never see the light of day (for reasons having nothing to do with the publishing environment or process). I'd like to pursue it at some level, though, perhaps even turning it over to someone who can do it more justice than I could. I do think it's an excellent concept.

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Thanks for the replies. I'm not discouraged, though odds are this idea will never see the light of day (for reasons having nothing to do with the publishing environment or process). I'd like to pursue it at some level, though, perhaps even turning it over to someone who can do it more justice than I could. I do think it's an excellent concept.

All the advice on here has been sound. My only addition would be that once you've committed to the idea you're currently kicking around, and once you've completed the manuscript, you might benefit from also buying the book "The Writer's Market," which thoroughly outlines the publishing process from start to finish. In the book it lists agents, publishers broken down by the genres of work they publish, sample query letters, interviews with editors, publishers, agents, authors, etc.

In the meantime, there is also a writing forum on Craigslist.org that has people of all levels in the writing industry posting advice and help for writers of all types. As a writer, I wish you the best. I've been struggling with the publishing world myself for several years now. And while something is finally about to break, it's still a thankless process...even grueling at times. But it's good for one's constitution.

Aaron

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As a writer, I wish you the best. I've been struggling with the publishing world myself for several years now. And while something is finally about to break, it's still a thankless process...even grueling at times. But it's good for one's constitution.

Can you talk about what you've been writing?

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All the advice on here has been sound. My only addition would be that once you've committed to the idea you're currently kicking around, and once you've completed the manuscript, you might benefit from also buying the book "The Writer's Market," which thoroughly outlines the publishing process from start to finish. In the book it lists agents, publishers broken down by the genres of work they publish, sample query letters, interviews with editors, publishers, agents, authors, etc.

Aaron

Aaron provides a good suggestion, but I would modify it in one respect. I would no longer buy the book, but use their website instead. The data is more up to date and you can use the search facility to make your efforts more efficient. It's nice to have at least once copy of the book sitting on the shelf, but you'll quickly find that the site is more useful.

Aaron, is your project fiction or non-fiction?

Jeff

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As a writer, I wish you the best. I've been struggling with the publishing world myself for several years now. And while something is finally about to break, it's still a thankless process...even grueling at times. But it's good for one's constitution.

Can you talk about what you've been writing?

I've recently completed a novel, titled Drowning Tucson, which is basically a series of linked portraits (such as Last Exit to Brooklyn, or Trainspotting) set in a barrio in Tucson in the mid-'80s. It features a predominantly Latino community, impoverished, prone to violence, etc. The book has been excerpted and picked up for publication as a "chapbook," by Momotombo Press (out of Notre Dame), and will come out early next year. The excerpted chapbook is titled From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert. Here is a review of From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert, as well as two reviews of other chapters in the novel that I've had published elsewhere.

http://labloga.blogspot.com/2007/07/from-h...see-end-of.html

http://storykiller.blogspot.com/ (Here you'll want to scroll down to where he talks about the story "El Camino.")

http://newpages.com/magazinestand/litmags/.../octlitmags.htm (Here you'll want to scroll down to where they are reviewing MAKE Magazine.)

So that's the first novel. My agent is working on shopping it around, as we tweak the ending a bit. Next, I'm putting the finishing touches on a volume for the "Understanding Contemporary American Literature" series, out of U of South Carolina, on a Native American writer named Leslie Marmon Silko. I teach her works regularly in my classes and was recently granted a contract to do a volume on her. Of course, you'll find that academic writing is far easier to get published. I floated this same publisher an idea for a textbook that is sorely lacking in the English Rhetoric and Composition field, and they went for it right away. But that's a project that will have to come later because now I'm feverishly finishing those first two books, and working on a second novel titled Eat Your Children, which is set in Indiana, where I now live, and focuses on the effects of a region inundated by crystal methamphetamine. It too is a bit dreary. But it merely seeks to document something that is---well, not exactly overlooked--so commonly heard we have become desensitized to the ramifications of this drug on the community, the children, the economy, the justice system, quality of life, etc. The title is, of course, a thinly-veiled allusion to Swift's "A Modest Proposal," as this is pretty much the message of the novel. Just less satirical. More blunt. More relevant to our times.

Hope that helps. As things get published, I'll announce them here.

P.S. One thing I failed to mention is that attending writers conferences/retreats, once you have a finished product, is a wonderful way to meet people who have the power and influence to move your career along, provided you have confidence as a writer, and you believe in your work.

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On self-publishing: I agree with the text that Betsy suggested, and I have a suggestion of my own as well. As many writers know, there has always been a stigma attached to self-publishing, one of the reasons, admittedly, that I have also avoided it since I'm in academia and have to have "legitmate" publications for tenure. Nevertheless, there have been a number of success stories of writer's who've self-published and garnered enough fame and an impressive enough fanbase to catch the eye of NY presses who pick them up. But, those cases are few and far between. Usually, to self-publish is to permanently remove yourself from ever being taken as a serious writer. Think about it, how many self-published books have you purchased? If I were to come up to you with a stack of self-published novels, would you not take my skill as a writer less seriously than if I had a major, or even small-time, press vouching for me? This has been the case for a very long time.

Enter: www.lulu.com. It's safe to say that in the last few years, this website has started what can only be called a self-publishing Renaissance. Not only is the website a brilliant business model, with step-by-step instructions for both writers and buyers, but they have had a number of success stories beyond the run-of-the-mill self-publishing Cinderella story. For anyone who has reached the point where they are about to throw in the towel, after being rejected time and time again (it took me over three years of constant querying, submissions, etc. to finally get a bite), I highly recommend checking out this site. It's a godsend. And, with the new ATM-model book machines that are taking off like hotcakes (coming soon to an airport, train depot, or bus station near you), this will surely increase the possibilities for a writer's success if he has a strong enough work ethic and good enough writing. So, be of good cheer! There's hope on the horizon. Maybe NY won't have the ability to dictate the nation's reading for too many more years.

Aaron

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Maybe NY won't have the ability to dictate the nation's reading for too many more years.

Because of all the publishing consolidations and acquisitions in the last few years, today "New York" is only the place where some of the work gets done. The final decision-making power over American publishing belongs to Australians, French and Germans.

HarperCollins is owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (the firm moved from Adelaide to NYC a few years ago, but it's an old Australian company). Imprints include Avon, William Morrow and Zondervan.

Hachette Livre is a French company. Imprints include Warner (now Grand Central) and Little, Brown.

Bertelsmann is the German company that bought Random House. Imprints include Crown, Knopf, Doubleday and Bantam Dell.

Few major, non-university, independent American publishers are left in the market. Kensington and Dorchester come to mind.

I'm interested in popular fiction, specifically romance, and not literary fiction, so I'm not quite current with the lit fiction market. Romance is booming at more than a third of all fiction titles sold annually, and new, small publishers are springing up, most of them e-book publishers, many centering on women's erotica. Despite the active market (or maybe because of it), some of the writing being published is not quite... hmm, how shall I put it... of professional quality. That's the major problem with a lot of unpublished fiction. There's a reason why it isn't picked up by agents and publishers. It isn't good. And, when self-published, it's exorbitantly expensive.

Some self-published work has gone on to success, though most seems to have been nonfiction. A friend's self-published, first edition book of poetry was selling for $90+ on e-Bay, but that doesn't quite count.

BTW, since Harlequin (owned by Torstar), one of the major publishers of American romance, is based in Toronto, we can add Canada to the list of countries in charge of what's on our bookshelves.

Cheers,

Sally

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Maybe NY won't have the ability to dictate the nation's reading for too many more years.

Because of all the publishing consolidations and acquisitions in the last few years, today "New York" is only the place where some of the work gets done. The final decision-making power over American publishing belongs to Australians, French and Germans.

Sally,

You are, of course, absolutely correct in your observation that NY doesn't solely dictate what gets published. Of all U.S. cities (with the exception of the Twin Cities, which are slowly beginning to emerge on the publishing scene as a literary force to be reckoned with), NY is still the big boss in publishing. And yet, through a flurry of mergers in the late '90s through '05, a number of massive European media conglomerates have acquired the vast majority of the U.S. major publishers. There is an outline in this month's Poets & Writers magazine (featuring Helena Maria Viramontes on the cover), that I will cite sometime later, which outlines the "Big Six" publishing conglomerates, the major players at each house, their imprints, number of awards (National Book and Pulitzer) earned, and primary authors. It's a great tool to understanding the state of the publishing world right now.

Indeed, the Romance genre has always been a best-selling genre, but it too is experiencing a major boom right now. I wonder if there are statistics that show the correlation between spikes in Romance and Fantasy in times of global strife or economic downturn?The other genre experiencing a major boom is the Young Adult Fiction. If you are a writer of any of those three genres, now is your golden moment to hit the scene. :)

Best to all of you,

Aaron

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I've recently completed a novel, titled Drowning Tucson....

Kudos to you, Aaron, if you can write and teach at the same time. For two years, I taught rhetoric and expository writing at the university level. I was good at it, but all that talk-talk-talk made it impossible to write fiction. I found a different job.

A new rhetoric and composition text is badly needed. I had to use the required text, of course, but relied mostly on materials on induction and deduction that I created so the students would be exposed to more than just dumbed-down commandments: "thou shalt write the essay in five paragraphs...." BTW, I used "A Modest Proposal" in my classes--what a wonderful piece.

Good luck with all your projects!

Cheers,

Sally

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A new rhetoric and composition text is badly needed. I had to use the required text, of course, but relied mostly on materials on induction and deduction that I created so the students would be exposed to more than just dumbed-down commandments: "thou shalt write the essay in five paragraphs...." BTW, I used "A Modest Proposal" in my classes--what a wonderful piece.

Sally,

Luckily I no longer have to teach Rhetoric and Composition. I "did my time" as an adjunct at five separate colleges in Chicago and Indiana before I finally landed a job teaching what I love--Fiction Writing and Literature. When I was teaching Composition classes, I was so overwhelmed by the constant grading and having to also come up with outside sources because of the painfully outdated texts that are available, that I too had a very difficult time finding the freedom to write. I kept at it, but it was often a matter of locating a 24 hour coffee shop to stay up writing until two or three in the morning.

The vast majority of composition textbooks seem to take one of two approaches: Assuming college freshman possess a background comprised of 100% proper training and a mastery of English after twelve years of education (including remembering the parts of speech, grammar rules beyond the basics, and the terminology used by linguists). The other approach assumes students' language/writing skills are so remedial that the books tend to offend both the instructors and students far more than they help. Of course, there are also all the gimicky ones that are about writing directed toward a certain theme or audience. I was unable to find a single textbook that addresses modern-day language and writing deficiencies in college writers, nor do any address what I have found to be many of the causes behind these shortcomings in modern college composition classrooms. That is what my textbook (which I hope to complete within a year or two) will ultimately address. It will also provide more realistic and engaging writing prompts/ideas, when teaching students the various modes of essay writing.

But, to bring all this back around to the original post, there IS a huge lack of quality textbooks out there, so if anyone has good ideas for textbooks, now is a golden moment to approach academic textbook publishers. Most of the textbooks out there are many, many editions into print, and rarely does anything of significance change within the texts. The updated editions are more for making money than for actually revisiting the methods used in the textbook and adjusting them to the present-day college student.

Aaron

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Mr. Morales, would you have a few minutes to spare to share some data about your experience getting published?

For example, how many agents did you query before getting one to read the manuscript? Of those that read the manuscript, how many offered representation? You mentioned 3 years of submitting. How many queries did you submit per month? Did you find any difference in response based on whether they were email queries vs snail mail? Did you do both and what percentage of each?

Thanks.

Jeff Perren

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Mr. Morales, would you have a few minutes to spare to share some data about your experience getting published?

For example, how many agents did you query before getting one to read the manuscript? Of those that read the manuscript, how many offered representation? You mentioned 3 years of submitting. How many queries did you submit per month? Did you find any difference in response based on whether they were email queries vs snail mail? Did you do both and what percentage of each?

Thanks.

Jeff Perren

Mr. Perren,

I'll gladly share. When I finished grad school I had an almost complete novel on my hands. It was roughly 200 of what later became a 400 page novel. And--as a side note--the novel itself is a sort of brutal psychological portrait of impoverished people who either don't act, which results in tragedy or stagnation; or those characters who do act do so with clouded and flawed logic, the result being tragic. Inaction and improper action. Those are the main concerns of the novel. Scott Adams, who has read portions of it, could probably do better justice to my writing as far as an explanation, but I would never bother to ask him to take the time. Perhaps one day he'll meander over to this part of the board and give us a review.

So, on with your question. The novel finished, I set out to publish the entire thing. Along the way, I submitted chapters and a few short stories to literary journals, and contests. I won two contests (the result of one is one of my favorite stories, "Mother of Sorrows," which can be found on www.writingsite.com), and published four chapters of the novel as stand-alone stories (in Another Chicago Magazine, MAKE Magazine, Passages North, and Indiana English). I purposely wrote the book so that every chapter could stand alone for the sole reason that I knew how hard it would be to get an agent, and, having published pieces from the entire work I was shopping around, my chances of being taken seriously would increase because literary journals publishing sections of it gave the novel "credibility"--not to mention a wider potential audience.

Along the way I sent out, roughly every six months, upwards of 40 queries. Usually 25 would go to agents, and 15 would go to publishers directly. Of course, I heard back from very few publishers. The odds of getting noticed out of the slush pile at any major publisher are overwhelmingly slim. Usually one or two agents bit. In the queries, which I always sent snail mail unless they specified otherwise (get it into their hands physically to improve your chances of someone actually reading it, since it's far too easy to simply delete or ignore email) . In the packets I included the following: a two-page query letter explaining the basic premise of the novel and its potential audience/market, a synopsis, a chapter-by-chapter summary, a longer explanation of the novel's marketability, sample reviews, a CV, a brief note on my writing style, and two sample chapters. It was very detailed and very much a work-in-progress. The final version I have now runs 14 pages without the chapters. But it sought to answer questions agents/publishers might have, plus showed that I was aware of what I was writing, its implications, and my stylistic decisions (for one, occasionally, during very intense scenes, I will use excessively long sentences). So, that's the essence of the query packet. I did use The Writer's Market to find agents, as well as to see what to do and what not to do in query letters. The book was a profound help. However, I'd recommend not even looking at it until your project is completed. It can be daunting if you don't know exactly what you've written and how it should be marketed.

Rejections came plentifully. But, having submitted to journals for a while, I had developed thick skin. The rejections varied from detailed explanations why I wasn't a good match, to the occasional rude or condescending letter. One even took the time to simply write, "No Thanks," across the front of my query letter, stuffed it in my SASE, and sent it back to me. However, some agents were kind. I had a total of eight or nine ask me directly for the entire manuscript. All of them wrote back to tell me they thought my writing was "powerful," but that they didn't see how they could market it. At the time, I was slightly downtrodden, as I had poured my absolute best writing and all my energies (outside of parenting and teaching) into the book. Looking back, I can tell you that I'm glad none of them said yes if they truly thought that. Nothing is more horrible than an agent who doesn't believe passionately in your work. I know this from several friends of mine who are very successful writers. I chose to never ask for their help. They never offered. I was fine with that. It's been much more fulfilling doing this of my own accord, rather than getting a handout.

Two things made a huge difference. The first was that one of the well over one hundred publishers I'd "cold queried" asked to see the manuscript. The Senior Editor and Vice-President at Simon & Schuster somehow got ahold of my query. It made it through the slush pile! This was nothing short of miraculous. Furthermore, it not only made it through the pile, but onto the desk of the main man. I was stoked, to say the least. He asked for the novel, and then I never heard back (this was roughly a year ago). Upon emailing him, his secretary told me that it must have been amazing writing if he personally had asked for it, that I should be patient, and that--in all honesty--a quick reply was probably not to be expected since I had no agent representation. The result: I threw myself into the agent-finding process with renewed vigor. Now I had a bite, at a major publisher no less, which spoke volumes about the work--I thought--and would surely aid in my search.

The second thing that happened was I went to a writing conference. Because I'm a professor, my school reimburses me for attending two conferences a year. I generally dislike them, but the one I went to in March was perfect. Very small. Several well-known writers, some agents, a few publishers, and around 50 attendees. I came prepared. I had copies of my query packet. I had one copy of the entire novel. And sure enough, I finally met an agent who, after I told her everything I've written here and made my pitch, jumped at the idea. She was just as excited as me. She took my packet, emailed me the next week and asked for the manuscript, emailed me two weeks later and told me it was "paramount," which is the best thing you can ever hope to hear. To say I'm elated, vindicated, overwhelmed, hopeful, and relieved would be an understatement. That's about as close as I can come though. Also at the same conference is where I met a man who runs Momotombo Press out of University of Notre Dame. He and I hit it off, hung out for most of the conference, and he finally asked for the book as well. When he got home the next week he called me up, extremely excited, and said he wanted to publish part of the novel as a chapbook. And so, From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert comes out in the spring. That's the Momotombo chapbook. It's three chapters from the novel. The entire book is currently being shopped by the agent--after a brutal rewrite of the end at her request. She thinks it will be a great success. She's got high hopes for our relationship, as do I. I cant express the value of writing conferences enough. The problem is there are a lot of them. The AWP Conference is the most popular, but I'd avoid it unless you teach or already have a book published that you want to push. There are roughly 10,000 people at it every year. However, there are a number of smaller regional conferences, often publicized in Poets & Writers and The Writer's Chronicle, which is the publication of AWP out of George Mason University. AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writng Programs. Anyway, many of these conferences advertise in these publications, and they generally don't cost too much. The most expensive one I've heard of, but also with the most high-profile visitors, is the Taos Writers Confernce. It's held in July. In New Mexico. There are many though. Look for the ones who advertise agents and publishers, especially if they set aside time for one-on-one meetings.

I know this is probably far more than you were expecting, but if someone had ever told me something similar to this, so I would have known what to expect, it might have been a little less painful. Then again, the reward wouldn't have been as great.

One final note: sending to literary journals is a wonderful way to get your toes wet, and it will prepare you for both the inevitable rejections and the type of persistence necessary when you're ready to move on to an agent and sell a completed project. As you can tell, I've gotten a lot of milage out of my book. This was also my intent, as I knew I'd have to play the ridiculous tenure game and amass a lot of publications. So, how do you know which journals to submit to in order to save yourself from wasting money and energy on journals/magazines that don't publish the type of work you write? Here are a few of my favorite resources:

New Pages: http://www.newpages.com

Duotrope's Digest: http://www.duotrope.com

Project MUSE: http://muse.jhu.edu/

These sites basically do the work for you. They catagorize journals, review them, outline their submissions guidelines, sort them by genre, etc. This is where I send all of my friends, fellow writers, students. There are simply too many out there to know who publishes what.

I hope this helped. Apologies for the length.

Aaron

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