October 10, 2011
So you want to be a published author? What you need to know
If there's one good thing that's come out of this rotten economy, it's that Americans have gotten more creative -- and not just in how far they can stretch a dollar. Having finally realized that corporate America is no longer the ticket to financial stability, many displaced workers have taken to writing about their newfound thrifty, bootstrapping ways. Others are using their spare time to polish off that memoir or great American novel they've always wanted to write.
[Kerry Colburn and Jennifer Worick | Photo by Gregg Snodgrass]
But writing the book is only half the battle. Selling your baby to publishers (and readers) takes almost as much work as birthing it. For those unsure where to begin, Seattle authors and book publishing veterans Jennifer Worick and Kerry Colburn are offering a three-part lecture series this month. The first talk in the series -- Prepare to Get Published -- takes place this Wednesday, October 12, at 7 p.m. at Seattle's Hotel 1000. Tickets and details here.
Because I can't wait till Wednesday night to hear what these former publishing executives have to say, I asked Worick to answer a few questions about navigating today's book business. Her responses follow.
Q. What are the biggest misconceptions people have about getting published?
A. I think the biggest one is that it's impossible. It's not! But when pitching a book to a publishing house or agent, it's imperative to create a proposal that lays out the business plan for the book. It's not enough to write like a dream; you have to include your marketing plan, knowledge of the competition, and your author platform and reach. If you can think through all the business angles of your book proposal, you have exponentially increased your odds of publication. This is what our Business of Books talks are all about -- thinking about your book and publishing as a business, not just a work of art/clever concept/esoteric idea.
Q. What is the number one mistake hopeful authors make when crafting their book proposal?
A. Prospective authors often make the rookie mistake of sending in an entire manuscript and overloading their proposal with way too much material. Less is more. It's important to be thorough, but picking out your best, most representative sample text is always preferred. Just think about it from an acquiring editor's point of view: publishers and agents get scores of manuscripts and proposals each week to review, and they don't have the capacity to read an entire manuscript. If they like what they see, they WILL ask for more.
Q. Is a blog necessary to get a book published? How about a Facebook page or Twitter account?
A. There's no one thing that's an absolute. However, it is critical to develop an author platform and build your contact list of potential readers, book buyers, and media. A blog is a great way to make connections, and Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are excellent ways to build your digital footprint. In addition, look for opportunities to speak out on your subject and establish yourself as a content expert. As the author, you are a key ingredient in any marketing and publicity strategy and whatever you can bring to the table will improve your odds considerably.
Q. Is an agent necessary? How about hiring a freelance editor before sending your book to publishers and agents?
A. While an agent isn't necessary, representation can provide access to publishing houses and acquiring editors. Be advised, however, that they generally take 15 percent of your take. And using a freelance editor is a great way to polish your proposal and sample text before submitting it. Seattle has a great community of editors who can help with a developmental or copyedit. Check with the Northwest Independent Editors Guild or contact Kerry and me; we do two-on-one consultations when you have a draft of your proposal ready.
Q. Are there any types of books you hear agents and editors saying they need more or less of these days?
A. There are definitely more viable markets than others, and it's best to research your idea thoroughly and think about what sections of the bookstore it could fit into. For example, my agent suggested that I rework a current proposal as a Young Adult book, as that is currently a popular genre for the kind of coming-of-age memoir I'm developing.
Q. What kind of an advance can a first-time author hope to get?
A. It's all over the map. The advance can sometimes be very modest (a few thousand dollars); the important thing to do in the face of a low advance is to fight for a decent royalty rate.
Q. Why write a book at all? Isn't the industry imploding?
A. The industry is certainly changing, evolving, but it's far from dead. In fact, there are more avenues than ever to publication. Depending on the factors most important to you (keeping control, having the greatest reach, securing the biggest financial share), you might find that self-publishing -- using one of the many online resources such as CreateSpace or Lulu -- is preferable to pursuing a traditional publishing route.
Want to know more? See more details on Worick and Colburn's October book proposal series here.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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