Write a Book, Then Build a House?
It’s a typical conversation. I’ve had it with many authors. They work really hard on a manuscript only to find out that it doesn’t work as a book. The conversation goes something like this:
AUTHOR: [confused, frustrated] I don’t understand why this doesn’t work. I’m an intelligent person. I should be able to do this. Why am I so stupid about this?
ME: First, stop the self-torture. I’m better at it than you are. Your intelligence shows everywhere. You’ve just never done this before.
AUTHOR: [disappointed] But I read. I’ve written two dissertations. I’ve managed policy documents for entire organizations.
ME: Yep. That experience helps, for sure. But think about this. I’ve lived in a house. I wear shoes, drive a car, and have 1.5 million miles on airplanes. I can’t build any of them.
AUTHOR: [cheerfully sardonic] And your point is?
That is the moment at which I get their attention.
12 Cold Truths about Publishing
I understand an author’s feelings of confusion, disappointment, and frustration. Something about using books all of our lives, gives us an intimate relationship with them. Well, we think the relationship is with the book, but really it’s with the content. That’s where the misconceptions start. Here are some cold truths publishers wish every author realized.
- “Great” content doesn’t mean much, if no one reads it. Great content has to be written and presented well. Then it has to sell.
- The value of a book is not in the idea. The value is in the execution.
- If an author doesn’t care enough to prepare a manuscript according to industry standards, a publisher has no reason to think the author would care more after work has really started.
- The content has to fit into a book-size container that can be efficiently manufactured. Manuscript that won’t do this doesn’t stand a chance of getting read.
- Published books are more rigorously organized and more literally consistent than most self-published documents produced for a small, homogenous group.
- Anyone who knows you has no credibility as a critic.
- Placing a book with a publisher is a business deal in which the book is the product/work.
- A book manuscript should be offered to a publisher that is already selling books to the manuscript’s target market.
- Design and editorial choices are made to serve a national or international market. Editors and designers are paid to make such choices.
- People do judge a book by its cover. A great cover and design will sell the first book faster than the most compelling content. Fine writing and solid content gets the repeat sales, evangelists, and loyal fans.
- Don’t leave messages for a publisher who doesn’t know you. Don’t send registered packages. Don’t think a FedEx will impress. All of these are 3-D world spam.
- Publishers dream about authors who do their homework, know the competition for their idea, and come to the process ready to join a working relationship.
Publishing is a business.
The 2 Proofs Every Publisher Wants
So what does it take to get published?
You can overcome these cold truths with two proofs.
- Prove that you can write a professional manuscript readers will want to buy.
- Prove that you’re an author, who is a pleasure to work with and brings value to the process.
Want to get published? Are you willing to prove it?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you’d like Liz to help you make a plan to meet your goals, click on the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.
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Scot Herrick says
This is an interesting list. Most lists, found in most publishing articles, are about the specifics. This list is more about the approach and reasoning behind all those specifics. Rarely seen.
Well thought out. Thanks…
ME Strauss says
Thanks for the comment! I was really going for sharing the publisher’s point of view more than just what they ask for from a writer. It sounds like I might have gotten that across. 🙂
Wendy Piersall says
Wow – I’ve only just had seed thoughts of writing a book – and thanks to this list, I’ve gotten the best info before I ever needed it. What an insightful post – thank you, Dear Liz! 🙂
ME Strauss says
Way cool. I’m feeling lucky if that’s what this post did! 🙂
Kian Ann says
Wow Liz, thanks for the insights – I think every author-wannabe needs to read this!
ME Strauss says
Hi Kian Ann!
They’re yours for the taking. 🙂
This is going to be a very popular article, I can feel it. You just published this yesterday? I got here via StumbleUpon.
So, down to business: where can I learn how to be a good author, one who’s educated in writing a “professional manuscript” and who “brings value to the process”? Basically, where do I start?
ME Strauss says
Welcome! Thank you, for your support. 🙂
Go to my work with Liz page. Email me or call me up. We’ll decide what you need and who might best provide for you. How’s that?
Hey, thanks for putting this all together.
I’ve seen quite a few blogs/websites/writer’s forums who could benefit from this advice. I hope they don’t see this article because the kind of things those writers are doing just create less competition for those who have somewhat of a grip (thanks to blogs like this) about how to get accomplished what really matters to us. 🙂
This is extremely useful (even though I’m not planning to publish quite yet!). It’s romantic to think that the publishing industry is there to nurture writers with a lot of “potential,” but like the world of art galleries and art dealers, the majority are in it for the business. Thanks for reminding us of what it takes to push through all that — it also makes me think harder about alternative publishing options and how quickly they will gain traction.
ME Liz Strauss says
You’ve hit it just right. Long before you publish is the time to think about the market you’ll serve and how you will bring your work to them. Now’s the perfect time to start seeing what it costs to get your ideas to come alive!
Julie Jones says
I have a great manuscript that I would like to publish and need a little help going in the right direction. Could you help me do this? Thanks Julie
This helped me a little it is very informative, unfortunately i write poetry not novels/manuscripts about alot of well “macabre” things, i just wanted to know what are the chances of things of this nature being sold to publishers i do all the art myself and i think it could help out alot of people getting off drugs and things of those nature or even to not start