November 2010 Archives

Your best bet to avoid writing a book is to call me and ask my advice about writing a book.

In fact, I think this just happened: guy called me up and asked me for advice, and by the end of the conversation you could hear his enthusiasm for the project waning. This is in fact a good thing, not because his project is unworthy (because I honestly couldn't tell from what he said about it) but because if there's anything less fun than writing a book it's writing the proposal to *sell* a book (for which you do all the hard thinking work with no idea if it will ever pay off), and if you can't stay the course through a simple phone conversation outlining how much work you're going to have to do you should probably start a blog instead. :)

Here's what I told him, should you be likewise inclined:

- Basic stuff, like how publishing works, how to approach a publisher, what should be in a book proposal, etc. is very well covered in such industry standards as The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook (UK) and The Writer's Handbook (US). These are readily available on Amazon and other fine electronic retailers as well as at many, if not most, bookstores. There are also many pages/blogs/etc. online written by smart people that explain how to write books/book proposals/approach publishers/approach agents, etc. (And when I find them again I'll update this blog entry.)

- To approach a publisher, agent, or prospective co-author you need *at the very least* an outline. A fully developed book proposal (non-fiction) will have a general introduction, a chapter listing, a details chapter-by-chapter outline, a section explaining your background and why you're the person to write it, and a marketing section explaining why your book is a new/different/important addition to the books already out there on the same topic. If you're completely inexperienced and you don't have an easy selling point ("Hi. I'm a former US President...") and you want to talk to people about your prospective project at least get down on paper a 1-2 page explanation of what your book's about.

- The big question you have to answer, because almost any prospective publisher's marketing department (or perhaps Amazon's/Barnes & Noble's/Waterstone's marketing department) will ask it is: why should anyone put down £10 to £20 of money they've worked hard for and that they could spend on many other things to buy this book? So my suggestion to him was to sit down and write four paragraphs outlining the book and answering that question.

- We hear a lot about successful authors, but the fact is that most people who write books make very little money from them, certainly when compared to the time and effort writing them takes. In most cases, the effort is repaid in other ways, such as advancement in an academic career, increased marketability/authority for magazine and newspaper writing, increased marketability for paid public speaking, or furthering a political cause. Or even the satisfaction of having done it.

It's fascinating to me, though, that publishing is still such a mysterious world to people, given how incredibly easy it is now to find out about it compared to before-the-Net. When I started writing, books like the ones mentioned above were your *only* source of information. Now,...

- David Hewson blogs about the mechanics of writing is detective fiction.

- Charlie Stross blogs about the future and economics of publishing as well as his life as a science fiction writer.

This literary agent blogs about publishing and agenting, even analyzing royalty statements in detail.

I'll add more links as I think of them. But by following this advice I've managed to not write at least 10 books in the last 10 years. Not bad, eh?


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