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A First Time Author's Journey

Learning How Book Publishing Works (Jan. 15, 2014)

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Learning How Book Publishing Works (Jan. 15, 2014)
Mike and I found some time to chat about the book today. My starting question was "how does this work?" He told me to buckle in for a few minutes while he walked through the whole experience. Here is what I caught from the fire hose of information that followed through the phone. (1) The process starts with a literary agent. There are a relatively small set (maybe a dozen or so) of literary agents in this niche of the business book world that hold the keys to the publishing kingdom. They have become experts at knowing what the publishers are looking for and being able to quickly tell if they see it. Because they have built a reputation for doing just that, publishers rely on them as gatekeepers between them and aspiring authors. If you can't get an agent interested in your concept, it will never even get in front of a publisher. For that service, agents typically take 15% of the money an author gets. (2) The pitch to publishers comes in the form of a Proposal, which has several parts. (3) First is the Precis, a word so new to me I can't even figure out how to type the foreign symbol on one of its letters. The Precis is a fancy name for a very short summary (one page) of the core concept of the book and why it is useful. The next part is a description of the author and the platform they can use to market the book once it does get printed. Could the author prove to readers that they know what they are writing about? And can the author advertise the book to a lot of people to help drive sales? Basically, their way of saying ?I need to know that you can both chop down the tree and there will be people there to hear it fall before I give your lumberjack-wannabe butt a lift to the forest.? (4) The next part is the chapter outline. You number and title each chapter and write a brief description of what they contain. This is the bulk of the work because you not only have to have your concept fully developed but you have to get the flow of the story right too in smaller pieces. (5) Finally, the last part is the writing sample. This is typically one full chapter of the book to show that you can actually write well. (6) Once your literary agent has a complete proposal, they present it around to the publishing houses they know are most likely interested in your topic. In the ideal world, one or more come back with an offer to pick it up that includes an advance on royalties, deadlines and other financial terms. (7) Financial terms center on royalty rates, which are set on wholesale, not list, price and are typically tiered based on volume. The first 5000 copies earn the author 15% of wholesale price, the next 5000 copies 17% and runs above that pay out 20%. You should note that your agent?s 15% cut comes out of all of those, so author?s net take is 12.75%, 14.45%, and 17%, respectively. And remember that the advance you get, maybe $10-20K or so is called an advance because it is just pre-payment of royalties you earn. If you don?t sell enough books, you won?t see any more. To sum up ? don?t quit your day job. (8) Once you sign an agreement, the real writing work actually begins and you will be on deadline. A whole new slew of people will be ripping apart your work ? the acquiring editor, the copy editor and at least one other type of editor whose label I cant read from my notes because Mike was talking so fast. This whole process took about 14 months for Mike with his book, which is pretty fast, and he signed with an elite publishing house. It took me a moment to notice that the fire hose of information had finally stopped. My hand was cramped from writing and my head was spinning. What exactly am I signing up for? Am I really up for this? Do you have to be crazy to do this? "Hello. You still there?" Mike's voice on the other end of the phone snapped me out of my stupor. I hesitated a moment and replied, "Well, we better get started."
Posted on March 13, 2015