For the aspiring writer and the more experienced writer as well, this
updated and expanded edition of a classic author's guide gives all the
details one should know to get a book published. Practical, proven
techniques are given for everything from preparing a book proposal to
finding the right publisher, from negotiating a contract to helping
publicize the book.
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an excerpt from The Author's Handbook:
Chapter One - A Publishing Primer
A mutual friend sent Mike to us. He sat with us on our front porch and
said, “I’ve written seven novels before this, but they’re so bad I
wouldn’t waste your time even showing them to you. This one is good. I
know it’s good. I can feel it’s almost there.”
Mike left his 400-page
manuscript. We read it. He was right; it was a good novel, but not quite
ready to be published. We recommended changes in plot, took apart
chapters, suggested new characters, scrapped page after page as one change
led to another. Sometimes Mike got pretty discouraged as the wastebasket
overflowed. He argued with some of our suggestions and sometimes he was
righter than we were. But he never stopped listening and rewriting and
testing out ideas . . . until one day we finally said, “Okay. Let’s send
Mike’s novel wasn’t another Gone With the Wind, but it was
equal to the hundreds of potboilers that keep publishers and writers alive
between Nobel Prizes. It made the rounds of publishing houses and several
editors passed it along for second reading. And while he was revising
this, his eighth novel, he was plotting and writing a ninth and tenth. “I
had to do something while you were tearing apart the other book,” he
Years later, two books of Mike’s were finally published (a ghosted
autobiography and then a novel)—but that was after he found fame and
fortune writing in the comic book industry. His compulsion to write, which
drove him to complete as many as three well-structured novels in less than
a year, is the compulsion that drives half the writers we know. (The other
half suffer from chronic writer’s block until the month before a
Phil attended one of the writing classes we taught through
the years. He turned in a few short stories that might have earned an A or
B in most undergraduate creative writing courses. But they fell far short
of the professional mark that Phil was shooting for. We directed him
toward rewrites, but we never saw any. Instead, he tried parts of novels.
Again we steered him to rewrites, but what we saw next was a magazine
article idea. Each new effort was unfinished, unpolished,
off-the-top-of-the-head writing. And every time we suggested possible
improvements, we’d get not a rewrite but an impassioned or bitter defense
of his unpolished work.
Eventually Phil hit on a promising idea; it was
in a subject area in which he had some expertise, so the concept was
doubly viable. To help Phil shape it into a book that stood a chance of
selling, we sent him off to research other published books in that field.
Instead, he appeared at our next class with a thin sheaf of papers. “This
is my book,” he announced. “It’s finished.”
The class read photocopies
of Phil’s project and they echoed our evaluation. So again we carefully
went over the steps that have to be taken before a book can be marketed
with any degree of hope that others will buy it. Seeing no immediate
follow-up, we assumed that Phil had dropped this undertaking the way he’d
dropped the others. We’ve learned long ago that you can’t push anybody
into working hard to become a writer, so we didn’t push Phil. But we do
try to be candid, so when Phil told us he was quitting his job to write
full-time, we suggested that it wasn’t a good idea.
listening, since we still weren’t saying what he wanted to hear. About six
months later the mail brought a somewhat reworked version of his book with
its basic problems uncorrected. We shipped the manuscript back with a
two-page note detailing the problems and again suggesting, more forcefully
this time, that maybe writing wasn’t for him.
Phil is a nice guy, so we
worried that we’d been too hard on him. But a week later he showed up at
our office, waving that familiar sheaf of papers and insisting that the
book was marketable—extremely marketable. He was sure that any publisher
would pay a $15,000 advance for it and that we were crazy for not acting
as his agent. He tried to badger us into taking on his project. We
literally had to shove him out the door.
We doubt that you’ll ever see a
book with Phil’s name on it. Phil, you see, has fallen for that fairy tale
that plagues so many beginners: that publishers read all their mail,
combing for new writers to discover and turn into overnight millionaires.
Last we heard, he was making plans for giving seminars on how to achieve
Writing is easy. Anyone who can talk, spell and hit a
keyboard can write. What makes a writer into an author is having been
published—and the world’s definition of being published is having at least
several strangers put down money to read what you have to say. If you want
to be an author (and you must if you’re reading this book) we can do for
you what we did for Mike and tried to do for Phil. We can tell you what
the publishing industry is really like and how you can tell what it won’t
publish. We can tell you how to go about preparing your books so that
publishers will consider them for publication. We can warn you of dangers
and pitfalls and suggest alternative ways to get your book in print,
depending on whether your goal is to be recognized or to be read. We can
tell you of others’ experiences so you won’t be surprised at the hard work
and frustrations that may lie ahead.
We can’t tell you what to write—and
we wouldn’t want to—though we can tell you how to prepare your books for
publication. We’ve also left out the inspirational truisms and pep-talks
that fill some books on writing. But if, like Mike, you’re receptive, we
can hold out the realistic promise that—after trial and error, after
learning your craft, after the frustration and dejection that come with
any totally new endeavor—you’re going to publish a book.
credentials? We’ve been writing books since 1972. We’ve shared what we
learned about the publishing industry by teaching in classes and at
writers’ conferences, and our students have published both nonfiction
books and novels. Our view of the publishers is an author’s view, similar
to the poet Byron’s, who once gave his publisher a Bible with the word
“robber” describing Barabbas in John 18:40 crossed out and the word
“publisher” written in. But our facts are as accurate as we can make them.
Let’s begin by exploding some myths about the publishing industry. It’s as
important for a writer to understand publishing as for a stockbroker to
understand how the market operates.
Traditional Publishing Houses
According to R.R. Bowker, the official agency that monitors the United
States book industry, in 2002 there were 52,847 U.S. book publishers who
published 150,000 new book titles or editions. Most were one- or two-book
publishers (see Chapter Five)—here today, gone tomorrow. The rest range in
size from vest-pocket operations that bring out one new title every couple
of years, on up to Random House, a conglomerate that integrates under one
corporate umbrella Bantam Dell Publishing Group, the Crown Publishing
Group, the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, the Knopf Publishing Group
and more, each Group consisting of several “publishers”—and Random House
itself a division of Bertelsmann, a Germany-based company that also, at
this writing, owns BMG and RCA’s music recording division.
regards its books as treasures or considers each manuscript just one more
property, every profit-seeking publisher tries to purchase book
manuscripts cheaply and sell finished books at maximum markup.
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