For this week’s question, we turned to a panel of RevGals with special knowledge. They are the ring and Facebook group members who are published authors. Here is the question posed to them:
This is more a writerly question than a pastorly question, but I would be curious to hear from some RevGals who have published books about their experience. What was the process of approaching the publisher? And suggestions for would-be published writers? Pitfalls? Unexpected delights? Thanks!
We have some wonderful answers from a range of authors. I am grateful to each of them for taking the time.
I don’t have a lot of info comparing different publishers to one another. I knew I wanted to go with Chalice Press because of their relationship with the Young Clergy Women Project. (In fact, if the letter-writer fits that demographic, I’d encourage her to work with TYCWP.) In choosing a publisher, it’s a good idea to see who publishes the books you love to read and/or books that are similar to the one you want to write, and contact those.
Oooo, I do enjoy conversations about publishing as well as opportunities to encourage others in their publishing ventures! There are multiple paths to publication — blogging and tweeting are forms of publishing! — but naturally I can only speak to the path I’ve experienced. My first book was published after successfully connecting my unsolicited manuscript to a publisher that needed a book like mine in its line-up. Several tips and observations based on my experiences:
- Read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published or a comparable guide book. Seriously. Although the death of printed material is widely predicted, until then old-fashioned books are still around as are old-fashioned publishers! A guide book to publishing provides helpful insights into the hows & whys of the publishing industry, including that most essential perspective: that your writing, while intrinsically valuable because you wrote it, has to be financially valuable to a publisher in order to print & sell it.
- Sit in a bookstore for a few hours in the section where you envision your book could be shelved. This is one of my favorite parts of publishing: researching the publishers! Pull up a chair, grab some floor space, and take a close look at the already-published books in your hopefully-published book’s genre. Which books grab your attention, and why, and who publishes those books? Which companies demonstrate a willingness to include artwork, to print an author’s sarcasm, to add a study guide, to put a new author in print, etc.? Return home with your bookstore list of publishers; then find — and follow — the online submission guidelines for those publishers that seem best-suited to your book.
- Recruit an editing eye. There are plenty of editors-for-hire, but at this stage I recommend an unpaid editing eye: a trusted friend whose communication skills you admire, someone who will give you candid feedback about your book proposal before you send it off via mail or email.
- Accept ideas from the publisher. Once you have a publisher, prepare for the possibility that an editor may present new ideas for your book (and, depending on your contract, the editor/publisher may have the final authority to make those changes). Far from a horror story, however, my experience with the publisher falls into the “unexpected delights” category.
- Make a marketing plan and follow through on it. Not many publishers throw mega marketing bucks behind a new or small-time author; authors often are asked to do some (or all) of the legwork to get books in front of target audiences. I don’t naturally market myself, so for me this task is a challenge … yet I can see the evidence of my efforts so clearly: when I’m marketing well, I have plenty of workshops, book-signings, guest preaching commitments, etc. on my calendar; when I’m not marketing well, I don’t.
As an almost-published author (book due out at the end of September!), I wish I’d thought to ask more questions along the way! Talk not only to other published authors, but also once you have a proposal accepted (most publishers have proposal outlines on their website–be sure you tailor your proposal to their guidelines!) and before you sign a contract, ask a lot of questions of the publisher. What can you expect from them, and what do they expect from you? Can they outline the process and a proposed timeline for you? Perhaps even see if you can get a timeline written into the contract–not just a deadline for you to submit a manuscript, but then for the publisher to work on it. What is the editing process going to be like? How much time do they usually give authors to address the editors’ work? Be sure that the timeline is realistic on your end–if they anticipate returning you an edited manuscript, and you have a week or two to rework, and that week or two is anticipated to be around Easter, or a family wedding, for instance–it’s okay to be upfront about your schedule and needs. So: ask questions.
I fear that my experience isn’t standard – but I think that might be the new standard in publishing, that there really is no one normative way to get a book published. My first book, Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family was published by Chalice Press in 2012 as part of a collaboration with The Young Clergy Women Project. Members of the project anonymously vetted my proposal (which I had prepared very carefully, according to the proposal guidelines). Once it had received a green light from that team, it was sent along to the folks at Chalice Press. Many, many months passed from the time that I first submitted the proposal to when I received word from the publisher that it had been accepted. The contract was negotiated (not much, because publishers don’t have a lot of wiggle room these days) and signed, and then I started the really hard part: actually writing the book. (Another rarity is that I don’t believe most memoirs by first time authors are written under contract; narrative nonfiction and fiction manuscripts usually have to be completed before acceptance.)
I submitted my manuscript by my deadline, nearly eighteen months after the book was accepted. Many, many months passed again as the book went through the publication process; in fact, it wasn’t actually available to the public for more than a year after I turned it in! That was a surprise to me. By the time I actually held a copy in my hands, I felt like I had been living with the project for a very long time. But the author’s work is definitely not done at that point; much of the marketing these days is the responsibility of the author. Although I had guidance and support from the marketing team at Chalice, I did spent an unexpectedly large amount of time trying to get the word out about my book.
I have written a couple relevant blog posts about particularly vivid experiences along the way. I wrote about my ambivalence about marketing on my own blog, and I wrote a guest post for Andi Cumbo about the experience of receiving a bad review (to date, it’s the only one!).