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The Author's Handbook

 

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.

What the reviewers said:

"Crammed with information and illustrations of principles the authors themselves have used successfully, the book is not only instructive and informative; it's entertaining, too."
Authorship, publication of the National Writers Club

"Whether you have finished your book or are just about to embark on a literary journey, this book will be a helpful guide."
The Catholic Journalist

"Terrific!  A vital tool for both professional and beginning writer."
Mary Higgins Clark, author of A Cry in the Night, A Cradle Will Fall, and many other mysteries

Find out what our readers said

Click here to order this book from Amazon.com

Click here to order this book from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Click here to order an autographed copy.

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 it out.”

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 explained.
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 deadline.)

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.

Phil wasn’t 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 career success.

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.

Our 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.

Whether it 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.

This excerpt is copyrighted. Readers may print one copy for their own use. If you want to print more than one copy of any excerpt, or would like an article on another topic written for publication, email the authors by clicking here.

 

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 Judi K-Turkel, Franklynn Peterson, P/K Associates, Inc. 
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