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How To Publish Your Book

Advice for writers interested in publishing their work.

The very biggest publishers won't look at much of a manuscript unless you have an agent, but even they will have a quick glance at non-fiction work. And most of the medium sized to small publishers (which often are much better choices for a first-time author) are happy to look at manuscripts "cold." So don't think you need to shop for an agent just yet. (On the other hand, you might want one, since an agent would do for you all of the arduous work I am about to describe - for a fee, of course.) Without an agent, you first need to do research on presses. You then prepare a package to submit (about which more later) and then make follow-up calls. After that, it's a question of the book's merit and luck.

Oh! Buy a notebook and keep records of all your interactions (what days you send a package to whom, who you talk to, etc. If you submit to 30 publishers and have four interactions with each, you're not going to remember when so and so's secretary asks when you sent this, that or the next thing.

A. Finding Appropriate Publishers

I'm afraid I can't shorten your work for your by suggesting the obvious publishers for your book. But here's how to go about finding probable publishers:

  1. Visit a good bookstore and a very commercial bookstore (I'd go to Borders and to Atlantic) and scour the section that shelves books the most like yours. You should find as many as you can that are comparable to the book you're writing/written. Look on the spine for the name of the publisher. These, obviously, are the publishers most likely to be interested in your work, since they know the market to whom they can sell it. These publishers should form part of the list of publishers you will contact. You can get their addresses and phone numbers by...
  2. Visit a library (any university library) and look through both of the following reference books, in their most current editions. First, Writers Market, which lists all the publishers in the country and the sorts of books they put out, as well as gives advice about how to submit. It gives phone numbers and addresses. It's divided into topics, so you can go right to the sections you thinks your book fits (Women's? Health?) and skip over shit like Agriculture. The second book is Literary Market Place (LMP), which is more or less the same thing, but a little less user-friendly, since it's organized from the publisher's rather than the writer's point of view.

From these two sources you friend should be able to compile a fairly good list of publishers likely to be interested in their work.

B: Finding Out Who to Send To

Call each of the presses on this list and speak to the secretary in order to get the name of the appropriate acquisitions editor (even if it's listed in the LMP or the Writer's Market, your friend should call again. These things change quickly) for the subject you're writing about (again, I'm not sure. Women's Health? Fashion?). Ask if there are any special protocols for a submission from an unpublished author (sometimes there are weird things, like only send to this PO Box, or only mail by UPS, or only proposals, no finished manuscripts, or something else. Usually not, but if so, the receptionist will surely tell you). Ask, as well, how they like to handle follow up inquiries.

C. What to Send

Obviously, if anyone gives your friend explicit instructions or advice, you should follow it. Otherwise, a package should include:

  • A cover letter. or proposal, describing the book, what your friend thinks is good about it, what strengths it has and so on.
  • A good sample chapter/section or the entire manuscript if it's in good shape.

If you want materials returned, you should include postage etc. It's a little tacky, however, so unless you're sending really expensive photographs or something, your friend should be prepared to lose the materials you submit.

D. Send a Package to Everyone on the List

E. Follow Up

The point of a follow up call is simple: to make sure that the editor who will decide on your book, or pass it along to the person who decides, takes a look at it and gives it some consideration. Your friend cannot persuade someone to publish your book if they don't like it, or don't think it fits in with their line; the follow up call is not, in that sense, a sales call. But you should find out if they've looked at the manuscript. If no, you describe the book (make it sound interesting, but be succinct) and convinces them to take a look. If yes, you can, maybe, ask why they decided to pass. And you may get some valuable feedback this way.

Follow up even if the secretary told you when you called that you shouldn't follow up. You have nothing to lose, so long as you're polite.

F. If All Else Fails

If your friend is getting bad feedback, you should start thinking about getting some editorial assistance (people who help with writing, or packaging a book) or perhaps even consider joining a writers group. If it gets to that, let me know. I know some good editors here and in New York.

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