Here are my notes from a panel this evening at Duke Divinity School entitled “I want to publish a book someday. What do I do now?” with participants Mickey Maudlin from HarperOne, Lil Copan from Paraclete Press, Jon Pott from Eerdmans, and Jana Riess from Westminster/John Knox.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009. 7:00 pm
Disclaimer. These are not exact transcription or exact quotes but rather just my rough notes. Still, I know many of you would love the chance to get a glimpse into discussions like these that are happening around Duke Divinity School so I think it is worth posting the notes.
Jana Riess from Westminster/John Knox.
- Don’t write a memoir for your first book.
- You probably won’t get rich.
10 Things You Can Do Now to Help You Get Published Later
- Take a wide variety of classes.
- Don’t be a jerk. Be eager to be edited by your editor.
- Build your platform now.
- Write blog. Write op-eds. Write book reviews. Practice writing for the public.
- Create a social media profile.
- Don’t make your dissertation a narrow topic.
- Study the market very carefully before you write your book proposal. How to Write a Book Proposal. What are the competing books out there?
- Stay up to date on technology.
- Test your ideas on real people outside the ivory tower.
- Read, read, read. Popular fiction to popular nonfiction. Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published.
Lil Copan from Paraclete Press
- Some writers write because they want to get published. It is not about what they need to say. They are disappointing to work with.
- Robert Olen Butler at Florida State—head of writing program: “writing from the white hot center.” Wait for a calling.
- People who write from place of great passion and it is unexplored have passion.
- If they know everything about the topic, then it is a dull topic.
- Sets of homilies do not turn well into books. The spoken word and written text are different. You must rewrite it for readers.
- Anecdote is different from narrative.
- Learn from Ellen Davis [who gave inaugural lecture “The Poetry of Care and Loss” as the Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology earlier this evening].
Jon Pott from Eerdmans
- You don’t have to write in life to be a success. There is an itch among students to write. It is a high calling. Don’t feel too burdened to write. It is advice I believe in. Students today feel more obliged to write than they did 10 years ago. There are good sermons to preach and articles to write.
- The need to know your publisher. We are distinctively different. A lot of what I am involved is in the academic world. Don’t send to Eerdmans a book that should go to John Knox/Westminster. We are eclectic. I’m astounded how many I get that are not apt for us.
- Dissertations. If you are going to write an academic book, one strong piece of advice, know from the start whether it is going to be a publishable subject. You write for your committee. Afterward, you hope to just make cosmetic changes and shorten it. Your committee does you a disservice unless it will finally be publishable book.
- E.g. a comparative study of Barth and Schleiermacher. The constructive third part is of interest but the rest is not.
- Two audiences with two goals. For your committee, you want to demonstrate competence. For your publisher, you want easiest ticket to tenure. But the subject is not suited to the second taskmaster.
- Practice writing. Today’s writing because of email, people stand less behind their words. Expressiveness but not thoughtfulness is a problem.
- Study the markets—who else is out there.
Mickey Maudlin from HarperOne
- In New York, one of the top 5-6 in New York publishers.
- But religion books in San Francisco since 1970’s.
- How are we different? Who do we reach and how do we reach them?
- We are general trade publishing not church and academia.
- We work closely with culture and religion. You probably won’t start with us.
- Colbert, Time, Newsweek, Oprah—national media drives our books.
- Not so much the content but the person has a platform.
- We rarely do first time authors.
- Lauren Winner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jack Spong, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Bart Ehrman, N. T. Wright.
- Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon. Take 10,000 copies. We are going to promote it.
- Our authors are curious people.
- Learn to write in first person but it is not about you.
- You become people who have something to say. You pioneered something. Dyslexic? I will find a way to get them in print if they have something to say.
- People think it is all about content. Content question is: What is this book going to give to the reader after they’ve read it? We have to spell out the takeaway on cover, in title, and how we describe it in marketing copy. E.g. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman.
Questions and Answers:
How do you get published? What is the etiquette?
Riess: People submit manuscripts. See instructions on the website of the publisher and follow them closely. Relate your proposals to books who have done well with that publisher.
Potts: Query letter. Who you are, why you want to do it, market, how does it fit with other books. Who are the intellectual influences?
Riess: Some want proposal mailed and some emailed. I want it emailed because I live in a different city from the publisher.
Maudlin: Be shrewd—who was the editor of previous books. How did the book do? Good proposal shows you are willing to hustle the book too. It is not easy today to get noticed.
Does academic quality matter?
Potts: Yes. The academic factor is important. We like work that breaks new ground, is creative, well done, and adds something to the discussion. Our publishing house is built for some books with few copies (1500 reader books). Print on demand is a help there. We’re finding we do more books digitally. 700 copies—print on demand. 1000 copies we print it the classic way. You can scarcely tell the difference nowadays.
Riess: Explain with academic books where you will be speaking, journals you are on board on, and what classes might use it.
Copan: We expect book to be in a year. Once finished and manuscript in, it is 6-8 months until release date.
Potts: For us it takes a year once we get it.
Maudlin: After finished manuscript, it is 12-14 months to get media ready.
All: Publisher has freedom with regard to design and even title but they try to work with authors.
How early should you contact a publisher?
Maudlin: Sample chapter.
Riess: Have a proposal ready to back up your query.
How do you study the market?
Maudlin: Publisher’s Lunch. Publisher’s Weekly newsletter. http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/subscribe.html
Riess: You need to show that you have done some market research.
Potts: Look at Amazon or bookstores and know what else is out there.
Riess: Depression and African-Americans—a niche there.
What are the advantages of getting into religious publishing?
Riess: You can be a generalist.
What is a proposal?
Maudlin: Sell the book.
Potts: Make it easy for us.
Copan: Many relationships tested by the process.
Maudlin: How do you tell stories? That is another hurdle.
How many proposals come to fruition?
All: The attrition rate is very high because most never do basic research about the publisher and a proper book proposal.
Maudlin: We accept no unsolicited manuscripts.
Copan: 2-3 a year.
Potts: 5% unsolicited.
Maudlin: Don’t despair about the future of the book. Books will be with us. It is the golden age of reading. There is lots of reading being done by kids and youth and new venues for reading.
I thought it was interesting to view this list as a background to what they were saying tonight: Publisher's Weekly Christian Marketplace Bestsellers: November 2009 (H/T Michael Hyatt)
And I thought this article was very humorous about book marketing: The New Yorker Subject: Our Marketing Plan by Ellis Weiner October 19, 2009
I would also bet Michael Hyatt's book Writing a Winning Book Proposal is good. http://michaelhyatt.com/products/ebook-writing-a-winning-book-proposal