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.

First, here are the thoughts of MaryAnn McKibben Dana, who blogs at The Blue Room and is the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs.

sabbath in the suburbs

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.  

Most publishers have a section of their website that describes how they want to hear from prospective writers. Some want a letter of inquiry first; some want an entire proposal–and they’ll tell you exactly what that should look like. Some of the big houses will only work through an author’s agent. (That’s a whole ‘nother level to things that I know nothing about.)
 
The big thing to consider is that publishers don’t do nearly as much marketing of the book as they used to. I’m not sure there ever was a mythical time in which writers wrote in a hermit cell and the publishers did the rest, but the fact is that authors are expected to promote their books. Indeed, a big part of the proposal process is selling the publisher on you and your “platform.” Do you have a blog with a decent readership? Do you have an established network of people who will be interested in your book? 
 
The good news is that the RevGalBlogPals provides an incredible resource—here’s a network of people who love to read and to support writers. You’ll also want to play up any denominational ties you have when “selling yourself.” Check out the book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World for some good tips. 
 
One more thing, though this relates more to writing than publishing: get yourself a writing group. I’ve been in one for seven years and it’s the single most important thing I’ve done for my writing vocation. We meet twice a month for two hours, but find a format that works for you. Maybe via Skype or Google Hangout if you’re not all in the same place! We email stuff to one another ahead of time, then spend our meeting time providing critique, accountability and support. I would never have gotten a book written had it not been for the Writing Revs, and if by some miracle I had, it wouldn’t have been as good.
Hope this helps… I wish the writer well.
Next, here are the encouraging words of Rachel Hackenberg, who blogs at her website, RachelHackenberg.com and is the author of Writing to God and Writing to God: Kids’ Edition:

writing to God kids edition coverOooo, 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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
 Good luck! And — published or not — keep writing!
Our third author is Ruth Everhart, whose blog is Work in Progress (aren’t we all), and whose book is Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land. Ruth is one of the Writing Revs mentioned above.

Chasing the Divine

Ruth is also succinct!
My suggestions:
1. Expect to write for 10,000 hours.
2. Find or form a writing group.
3. Blog or find a place to give your words away for free.
4. Enjoy the process. After all, it is all process!
From the world of academic publishing, here is the advice of the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, whose work includes Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel. You may find her sermons and some other writings here. Dr. Gafney writes:
 Daughters of MiriamMy response is as an academic. Publishing is a lot like applying to college or grad school. There is a package to prepare and personal contact can make all the difference. Choosing your publisher should be about more than who will accept or publish your ‘script. You want to know that your book is a good fit for their catalogue. One way to determine that is to look at your own bibliography, resources and inspiration for the project. If you find that many of them come from one or more publishers, begin with them. 
Publishing houses have manuscript submission guidelines on their websites; it is very important that you assemble your package as instructed. You’ll want to set up a pitch interview with an acquisitions editor once you have completed the package. That process will help you clarify your topic, approach, audience, identify other similar works, and you will have a sample chapter or two to show. 
Editors are available at major conferences where there are book sales and exhibits: Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, Academy of Homiletics.  Some have cut back on general church assemblies. Even if you’re not an academic, it’s worth it to get a non-member registration if one of those conferences is in your area – you can also buy books at 20-70% off. Email the editor for an appointment in advance; there are 5000-10,000 members of those societies.
Many academic publishers of religion scholarship also do churchly publishing. Many follow similar procedures. There are many routes to publication. The academic path is only one. Follow your heart and write regularly and revise often.
RevGal board member Teri Peterson is an *almost* published author. Her book, written with Amy Fetterman, is titled, “Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for Busy People.” Teri blogs at Clever Title Here. She offers:

Who's Got TimeAs 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. 

If I were doing it again, I’d also work on the front end to line up some trusted friends who could help with editing, reality-checking, proofreading, etc. We ended up asking for help at the last minute and while our friends were amazing, I suspect they would rather have helped along the way rather than by speed-proofing in three days. The more eyes you can get on your manuscript along the way, the better refined your ideas and language will be, and the more useful the professional editor will be able to be. I know many people have writing groups that serve this and many other purposes–if that’s a format that would work for you, then get thee a group, ASAP! 
 
As you write, and the instant you have a lull between submitting the manuscript and getting edits back, be thinking about what you can use to promote: a website, a podcast, a blog tour, speaking engagements…whatever it might be. Some material may fit better in those venues than in the book itself. Since you don’t want to give the book away for free in your promotional platform, be thinking frequently about related content that you can use to build that platform and its audience. And if you want a website, either hire someone to design it for you or start building it in every moment of free time. The amount of time it takes to get that together is mind-boggling, and you don’t want to be rushing something just to have it up by your launch date. (This falls into the category of: take my advice, I haven’t been using it for the past two years so why would I start now?)
 
Above all: have a good time. Even if it’s midnight the night before the deadline, try to keep some fun in perspective. While not every moment of the writing, editing, or publishing process is a joy (okay, actually not very many individual moments are a joy, but somehow it all comes together as such!), readers can sense a joy vacuum from the first sentence. If you are passionate about your subject, we’ll pick up on that. If you’re not…it might be someone else’s book to write, and that’s okay too. So have some fun!
April Yamasaki is the author of Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. She blogs at April Yamasaki and shares this wisdom:
Sacred PausesFor my first book, I wrote a proposal that included an outline of the book, why I thought it was important, and a sample excerpt. The first publisher I contacted expressed interest in seeing the whole manuscript (responsive readings built on the gospel of Matthew that I called “Where Two are Gathered”), but when it was complete, they declined to publish saying “its novelty is its risk.” I sent the proposal out 8 more times before finding a small publisher that was willing to take that risk. For my most recent book, I again started with a proposal and a sample excerpt. Again a publisher was interested, but wouldn’t make a commitment to publish until the manuscript was complete, but this time I had the benefit of their editorial advice along the way as I wrote “Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal.” For anyone interested in writing and publishing, I suggest choosing a project that you love, making a commitment, persevering, exploring both ‘traditional’ publishing as well as independent and on-line, reading and learning as much as you can, connecting with other writers for mutual encouragement and support. One of the pitfalls is how to deal with rejection, and I find it helps to remember that although it can be painful, it’s all part of the process of writing and praying, sharpening my focus and growing the work. There are also many delights–how a troublesome chapter finally comes together, the satisfaction of being done, hearing from a reader I don’t know–these far outweigh any pitfalls! Thanks for your question, and all the best in your ministry in person and in print. 
Last, we hear from Katherine Willis Pershey, whose blog and book bear the same name, Any Day a Beautiful Change. Katherine writes:

Any Day a Beautiful ChangeI 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!). 

So, that’s my experience. It’s limited, so I hesitate to give “advice.” But my best advice for all writers is to cultivate your community, and thank them profusely for the support they offer. I simply could not have written my book without my writing group. Their responses to early drafts were invaluable. I also received editorial help from my husband, who turned out to be a remarkably talented amateur proofreader. My sisters helped with the cover – one took the beautiful photograph, and the other came up with the design concept. They also helped with DIY marketing events such as the Any May a Beautiful Change blog carnival. I didn’t have to have all that help – I could have relied solely on the capable editorial, design, and marketing staff at Chalice Press. But working with my community and my publisher to make the project be exactly how I wanted it was very meaningful to me. 
*********************************************
Aspiring writer, I hope this helps! Blessings on your efforts.
Our regular panel of Matriarchs will be back on board next week. Send us a question at askthematriarch@gmail.com.

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