Love Me, Love My Book (part two)

'I tend to scribble a lot' by Unhindered By Talent (Nic McPhee) on Flickr, used under a CC by-sa 2.0 licence

'I tend to scribble a lot' by Unhindered By Talent (Nic McPhee) on Flickr, used under a CC by-sa 2.0 licence

Part 1 – featuring advice on using The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook; traditional publishing for unknown writers; and my search for Publishers 1, 2 and 3 via Google – is HERE.

Saturday speculation

One weekend, I took a break from my usual intense viewing of Saturday Kitchen and undertook an intense session of sending enquiries to the six publishers I found in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. It was time to find out if they'd be interested in my work.

Some asked for a brief outline of proposed books. Others offered no idea of what information they expected to receive, so I asked for their guidelines. The catalogues of two companies weren’t available to view online, but I’d convinced myself as far as possible that A Tour of the Indies would be a fit with them all.

To my great surprise Publishers 4 and 5 replied within hours, rather than the weeks I expected. Both companies wanted more detail, so in the midst of composing initial enquiries I put together a more comprehensive description of the book’s contents.

The two quick responses gave me an idea of the information that publishers valued. Publisher 5 wanted to know why the word count was short (relative to their preferences), so in enquiries to other companies I tried to pre-empt further questions about length by getting my defence in from the start (a similar tactic I have employed throughout my dating history, har har har).

After the darkness, light

Later that day, Publisher 5 replied again and I had my first official rejection. (This was before Publisher 2 had read the full manuscript and declined to make an offer). Unfortunately, they only wanted academic books, leaving me to apologise for getting the wrong impression from their Yearbook entry.

Happily, the submission to Publisher 4 appeared to have better prospects. They still hadn’t read any of the actual book, but they were interested enough by the description to send their submission guidelines – a series of seven questions, the answers to which would make up a detailed proposal.

A really detailed proposal.

What are the contents of the book? Why would I be the best author? What is my background? What is the competition for the book? How could the book be promoted? Who is the target audience and what would the marketing strategy be?

Not in the script

Continuing to labour naively under the misapprehension that the quality of the writing was all that mattered, I hadn’t at all banked on such a cross-examination! The questions were not difficult to answer, but they were difficult to answer well. Time consuming too. In my quest to balance writing with the day job, it was time I wanted to spend … well, writing. So I set about getting it done quickly.

The conventional wisdom with non-fiction books is to propose the book you want to write. The idea should be fully formed, and its acceptance by a publisher is the green light to go forth, research and write. In searching for someone to publish A Tour of the Indies, I was going against that grain. The story is not one I could have conceived in advance, and I wrote the book for the pleasure of writing it.

Yes, I had occasionally imagined a finished book for sale, but never had I given any thought to how I might achieve it. Who would want to stock it? How would the audience that I craved actually find the book? Answering those questions made me think about the work in a way I hadn’t previously considered.

In other words, it wasn’t just a matter of providing information that the publisher valued. It was a matter of thinking like a publisher myself.

Further on down the road

Two weeks I spent researching and detailing my answers. I wanted to get the proposal sent away. I wanted to find out Publisher 4’s answer! Call it excitement, call it not fully understanding the scale of the opportunity in front of me, but the judicious intervention of a friend stopped me from rushing in too soon.

He encouraged me to think about my answers further. He asked more questions that made me consider whether I was doing everything I could to show the publisher I was offering a potentially successful book. It was my only shot at a publishing deal, for all I knew – why not improve my chances while I had the power to?

I finally sent my reply after a month and, as I write this post several weeks later, I have heard nothing more. I like to think that’s a good sign; that it’s giving them something to think about. They might simply be busy, of course, and not have looked at it all.

Five sample chapters and plenty of idealism doesn’t sound like much to go on, but it is a thoughtful, coherent story. Witty as well, Publisher 2 said.

Which means that if Publisher 4 doesn’t accept it – and if Publishers 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 or 9 don’t accept it either – then maybe self-publishing will be the answer. And if it is, then at least I will understand my work, its intended market, and how I might promote it, a lot better than I did before I pursued the traditional publishing route.

That’s why I believe, especially for inexperienced book writers, traditional is worth a try. I will, of course, let you know how things progress…