Being Published

by Charles S. Weinblatt /
Charles S. Weinblatt's picture
Aug 02, 2009 / 0 comments

By Charles S. Weinblatt (c) 2009

Finding a publisher can be difficult, particularly for children's books.  There is some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is that you may need to send your manuscript to hundreds of publishers before the best offer arrives.  The good news is that almost no publisher wants a paper manuscript any longer.  Publishers today prefer that you send a proposal by electronic mail.  This makes it much easier and less costly to contact publishers.  However, your proposal must be perfect and that takes time.  Also be advised that each publisher prefers his or her own specific way of receiving information.  That means you must research each publisher on the Internet.  Look for something that says, “Submission Guidelines.”  This will tell you precisely what to send, and how to send it.  Read this very carefully.   If they are seeking a manuscript that is very different from yours, forget them and move along.  If your book seems to be a good fit with the publisher’s interests, then create a proposal that will fit their guidelines.

There are two keys to being published.  First is the quality of your writing.  No one, except vanity, POD and self-publishing companies will be interested in a book that is poorly written.  If you are concerned about the quality of your writing, it might be worth your while to pay a professional editor to look it over.  All professional editors understand how to tell you the truth about your writing without being condescending or insensitive.  The second key requirement for being published is having a book that is marketable.  No trade publisher will be interested in a book about how to drink a glass of water.  You must be able to convince a publisher that thousands, of not millions of people will covet your book.  And, it’s not enough to say that they will love it.  You must provide a demographic analysis of your readers, along with a competitive analysis and marketing strategies that will work (and why they will work).  In other words, you must show the publisher exactly who will purchase your book, where and why.  More on this later. 

Know the difference between traditional (trade) publishers and POD or vanity publishers.  Trade publishers are often the best choice, particularly for fiction.  The world of self-publishing (including vanity and POD publishers) is fraught with peril, fraud and swindle-artists.  Check the Internet for organizations that uncover scam-artists in the self-publishing world, such as Writer Beware.  You can also Google the name of any publishing company.  If you see several complaints from ripped-off writers, flee from that publisher.  Contact companies on the fraud lists at your own risk.  Caveat Emptor!

If you write non-fiction and you can sell many of your own books, then self-publishing might be a better choice.  For example, a public speaker can often include the cost of his or her book in the price of an event.  A professional who delivers seminars, or a professor who can use the book as required reading might do better financially with a reputable self-publishing company.

But for most of us emerging authors, trade publishers are best.  Why?  Because they do the heavy lifting that might be difficult or impossible for us.  Trade publishers have the best editors, graphic design artists and marketing staff.  Trade publishers will place your book on the web sites of all of the major retailers (Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Target, etc,).  Trade publishers will contract to have your book distributed with the most reputable distributors (Ingram in the US, Gardners & Bertrams in the UK, etc.).  Trade publishers will create a web site for your book, arrange for book tours, signings, catalog distribution, attend book fairs and market your book electronically to a global audience.  They will stock and restock your book as necessary and on time.  And, trade publishers perform these tasks without charging a fee.  Instead, they pay the author a royalty (typically 12-18%).  Can you accomplish these essential tasks on your own?  If so, maybe you can self-publish.

If you only want a nice book with your name on it for your coffee table, then a vanity publisher is OK.  But, don't expect to see your book at Borders, Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.  And don’t anticipate that it will on the shelf of your local bookstore.  If you want people to read your book and you don’t know how to sell them on your own, you might wish to wait for a trade publisher – for as long as it takes.  If your book is well written and marketable, you have a good chance to be published by a trade publisher.

If you are an unknown author, forget the major publishing houses.  Harper-Collins will not even glance at your proposal.  Instead, focus on smaller publishers that specialize in your genre. I began with historical fiction and then narrowed my search to trade publishers who specialize in Jewish or Holocaust-related books.  If it’s a children’s book, search for those publishers.  If it’s science fiction, search using that term.  You can use the Internet to plan and execute effective publisher searches.  Plan to contact hundreds of trade publishers before moving to self-publishing (again, unless you can sell the books yourself).  The more publishers you contact, the faster you will have a contract.  Be persistent.  Try to send at least 20 proposals to trade publisher per week.  But the most critical piece of the publishing puzzle is the proposal.  We’ll talk about that next.

Step one is developing a terrific book proposal.  Proposals must include very specific information in a very precise format.  Fail to do this and you will likely be rejected immediately.  The proposal must, at the least, include a table of contents, sales attributes, author biography, synopsis, chapter titles, market analysis, competitive analysis, and marketing strategies.  Some publishers require additional information.  Read their submission guidelines very carefully.  Each portion of this proposal is critical.  Take your time and try to use at least one page for each content topic.  The synopsis might require several pages.  Sometimes the publisher will request several chapters, or the first three chapters.  Read their submission requirements very carefully.  Publishers receive hundreds of proposals daily and they will gladly delete yours if you fail to follow directions carefully, or fail to provide all of the information required in the guidelines.

If you currently lack lists of prospective publishers, then acquire them on the Internet.  Some companies will sell you a list of publishers.  I discovered that I could find them easily on my on.  Plan to contact several hundred publishers via the Internet.  That's right a few HUNDRED.  I contacted well over 200 publishers before I found the right offer.  Remember, you may not wish to go with the first publisher that accepts your book, especially if it is a vanity publisher.  Be patient.  Wait until you have several contact offers.  Then make the best decision based upon whether you want a book for your coffee table or a book that produces significant sales and royalties.

Once you have created a terrific book-publishing proposal, it’s time to create a cover page for your e-mail submission.  The Subject line of your e-mail page should typically say, “Submission,” followed by the title of your book.  Begin with a generic salutation.  Instead of, “Dear Sir or Madam,” you can use something like “Greetings.”  If research produces the name of the publishing agent, even better.  The balance of your e-mail cover page must get the reader (publisher) hooked on your book.  This cannot be a lengthy narrative.  Publishers receive dozens of submissions daily.  If your cover letter will take five minutes to read, it will be discarded.  Focus on three to four paragraphs at most.  Explain why the publisher is a good fit with your book (yes, you will have to research the publisher in order to do this).  This is a great place to include your most positive reviews.  Quote reviewers from the most important organizations.  For example, my Holocaust book cover page included portions of reviews from Jewish Book World and the Association of Jewish Libraries.

The e-mail cover letter is also a good place to list (link) interviews about your book.  For example, I embedded a hyperlink to an interview that I gave with Jewish Literary Review.  Whatever positive information you can push into a few paragraphs the better.  Don’t forget to include your contact information.  If requested, attach your proposal.  If the publisher will not accept attachments, then you'll need to use the e-mail cover page for all of it.  As an alternative, you can create a book-publishing proposal as an Internet web site.  Then, you only need to list the web site’s address, or embed it as a hyperlink in your e-mail cover page.  The next paragraph shows you how to create your own web site.

Many publishers accept e-mail proposals, but not always with attachments.  Let’s face it, all of us will open a hyperlink or e-mail address sent to us by a stranger.  But, no one wants to risk a virus or worse by open a stranger’s attachment.  However, you can create a web page for your book (use any free service, like Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, Word press, Geocities, etc.).  Create a one-page synopsis of your book, packed with features and reasons why people will purchase it.  Then, embed the link for that web site into your e-mail letter.  Here is one example, although it is for book marketing, not a publishing proposal.  One could just as easily replace the marketing information with a standard publishing proposal.  Remember, you only need to customize the e-mail cover letter.  The publishing proposal can remain the same, unless a specific publisher requires additional information.

Do not be discouraged.  Being published is a numbers game.  You might need to send out 100 proposals to get one acceptance and you might need to get three acceptances before you are satisfied with a publishing offer.  I had five publishing offers for Jacob’s Courage before I was satisfied that I had the best offer.  That means you might need to send out 300 proposals to receive just the right offer.  You will want a publishing company well suited to your book and with the right financial arrangements.

I used a traditional publisher and within a month Jacob's Courage was up on Amazon.  It also rapidly appeared at Target, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell’s, Wal-Mart and it was soon on the Amazon sites in France and Japan.  Never discount the potential for international sales.  POD, vanity and self-publishing companies might or might not perform the same services.  My traditional publisher also swiftly negotiated contracts for distribution with Ingram in the US and Gardners and Bertrams distribute Jacob's Courage in the United Kingdom.  Vanity publishers don’t do this.  If you have no distributor, your book will not be on the shelves of bookstores and it will not appear on the Internet web sites of popular stores.

When you have a publishing offer that you like, have a lawyer look it over, preferably a lawyer with publishing litigation experience.  Research publishing contracts on the Internet for comparison purposes.  Look it over carefully.  Be prepared to negotiate over portions of the contract.  Some people fear angering their publisher and simply accept the offer on the table.  I refused to sign the original publishing proposal because I desired additional, specific marketing criteria in the contract.  My publisher agreed.  We also negotiated editing.  My publisher wanted some portions of the manuscript removed that were too graphic.  When I realized that it would make the book more marketable, I agreed.  My publisher said the book was too long (524 pages is somewhat long for a novel).  I held my ground.  My publisher reduced the font and relented.  This is a process of give and take.  My royalty is higher than the average royalty is.  In many areas, there will be no need to negotiate.  But, you must be prepared to negotiate over the fine points of the contract, if necessary.

My publisher also was able to have Jacob’s Courage listed on Amazon as a Kindle Book.  Royalties for Kindle books are the same percentage as hardcover and paperback sales, but the cost is much lower.  This is not always possible with self-publishing.  Nothing is more important for sales than marketing and distribution.  Focus on those aspects in your contract negotiations.

Some authors prefer to use a publishing agent.  Unless your name is James Michener, good luck.  Agents rarely take a chance on an unknown author, even if your book is already in print.  A good agent can vastly increase sales.  From that perspective it’s a useful concept.  Of course, they will take a percentage of your royalties in return.  In general, an agent, it will only help your objective become reality.  However, beware of spending too much time trying to find an agent, instead of a publisher.  Once published, you can always search for an agent.
Finally, after you have obtained a publishing contract, be prepared to help market the book yourself.  That means contacting bookstores and other retail outlets where your book can be sold.  Request book signings at local stores.  Obtain newspaper articles about your book.  Conduct public speaking events about the book.  Be prepared for marketing tours and signings.  Marketing is time consuming and often frustrating.  But do not count on your publisher to do everything, particularly if you are a new author.  Expect your publisher to contract with distributors and place your book on Amazon.  But, unless your name is Stephen King, expect to do a lot of your own sales work.  Be willing to conduct viral, electronic and web page marketing on your own.  Use social networking sites.  Create Blogs and write on other people’s Blogs.  The harder your effort, the larger your royalty checks will be.

Charles S. Weinblatt

Author, Jacob’s Courage