Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

It happens all the time and I’ve been guilt of it at times as well. You come up with a terrific creative idea and then can’t get it published. It’s soundly rejected in the market and you don’t understand it.

Some of those times, it has nothing to do with you. It’s because you don’t understand how the publishing world processes information and how you can fit your idea into this process.

Here’s several quick examples. You have an idea for a book. You open a computer file and start hitting the keys. You have no connections to the publishing world or idea about what format they want or expect—yet you are driven to write this book. Day after day you write it and finally you reach the last page. Congratulations are in order because you’ve consistently managed to create a large stack of paper. Now what? Because publishers are barraged with such submissions—many of them completely off the wall and inappropriate—they have closed their doors to new writers. You figure you need a literary agent. These people are also overwhelmed with a lot of “stuff.”  You’ve essentially barked up the wrong tree and written your book backwards. Instead of a book manuscript, you needed to create a book proposal.  This mysterious document contains a lot of information which will never appear in your manuscript but is critical to how publishers make decisions.

OK, you’ve decided to move ahead and publish your book manuscript—which was soundly rejected with form letters when you sent it to publishers and literary agents. Again, from my perspective, you have made a wrong move. Certainly many people will gladly take your money and publish your book. Now selling that book to the individual is another process. You’ve gained the satisfaction of a completed book—yet the majority of the copies sit in your garage. You’ve not done your homework and learned how the process works.

As another example, I’m involved in several online forums. Someone threw out the idea to create a devotional book with her photos to illustrate the book.  I wrote about how she didn’t understand the production costs for a publisher and how she was barking up the wrong tree.

Now as I think about it a bit more, this writer was even further off the mark. The majority of these devotional books are not acquired individually from a submission. Book packagers create these submissions then the packager shops these ideas to various publishers. The publishers make a decision about which ideas they want to produce—then the packager goes off and makes the books. The packager hires the writers (for a fee). The packager hires the designers and makes the book and delivers the materials to the publisher so they are ready to print.

As an editor, I’ve sat in these publishing meetings where the packager presents idea after idea—segmented and targeted to a particular audience with some reasons and marketing ideas attached. The packager has created a concept cover design and maybe a page or two of how the text will appear. On that basis (and the track record and reputation of the packager), the publisher makes a decision.  This process happens in a completely different manner than an individual author pitching a book idea to the publisher.

Packagers work in many different areas of the market but primarily in the gift book areas and in children’s books. They are a cost cutting method for the publisher—sort of a one stop shop to get a bunch of quality product without the publisher investing their own editorial and production resources. There are a number of these types of products on the bestseller list. Probably on the publisher and the packager (along with a few knowing people) will understand how these books have been made.

Yes, there is writing work to be done—but it happens between the writer and the packager—not the writer and the publisher. If you don’t understand this part of the process, you simply collect another rejection slip without learning how the system works. Sadly, this type of situation is happening a lot within the publishing world. 

It’s a simple idea: look before you leap or do your homework and gain understanding before you plunge into an area where finding success will be difficult.

3 Comment:

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Unknown Left a note...

What would we do without you, Terry? This publishing business is such an enigma but I guess with each passing year it gets a little less so.
Thanks for making it a little more clear to many of us.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Violet N. Left a note...

Terry, are there book packagers which specifically target the Christian market?

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Yes, Violet, there are a number of packager companies which target the Christian market. It's not my place to list them here--because if I do, I will leave someone out. Ask around in some online groups or to individuals and you can find these people, introduce yourself and "try out" for them (often write a sample or two from their guidelines), then get an assignment.


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