In my 35+ years as an independent journalist, I've heard two sentences again and again. "I want to write a book" is one of them. The other is, "I've written a book and am trying to sell it." Unfortunately, I rarely hear stories about making the sale. Instead, I hear stories of disappointment and frustration.
Wanna-be authors need to be smart, persistent, and patient. Many are turning to print on demand publishers or the new mentoring publishers that offer ghost-writing, coaching, and marketing services. If you have written a book, I congratulate you on your hard work and on finishing it. These tips will help you break into one of the toughest businesses in the world.
1. Download the Submission Guidelines and follow them. Some publishers have very detailed guidelines, so make sure there is enough paper in the printer before you start to download.
2. Learn how to write a book proposal. Templates for fiction and nonfiction books are available on the Internet. You'll also find sample book proposals. Keep in mind, however, that acquisitions editors are busy people and may be put off by a lengthy proposal.
3. Include all of the elements. Your book proposal should have:
A short description of the book
Features and benefits comparison
List of chapter titles
Two paragraphs about you. (No hype, no lies.)
Two sample chapters or more, depending on the publisher
Your target market or markets
Description of how you will help with sales (networking, website, talks, etc.)
Information about competing books
What makes your book unique?
Estimated page count and completion date
4. Write a good query letter. Query letters are hard to write, so allow lots of time. Prepare yourself for several revisions. I think one-page query letters are best, but yours may be longer.
5. Format your manuscript properly, with a title page, contents page, headers, page numbers, and a reliable font. Most manuscripts are submitted in Times New Roman or Courier.
6. Always be professional. Learn how to write a business letter and write professional emails, too. Avoid textspeak abbreviations.
7. Before you contact a publisher, learn as much as you can about it. Submit your manuscript to publishers that are a match for your book.
8. Understand editors. Susan Mary Malone describes editing changes in her article, "Making Sense of Editing in Today's Market," published in the Worldwide Freelance Newsletter. According to Malone, editors aren't doing much editing, but focusing on acquisitions and sales. "Manuscripts these days must pretty much be camera-ready when reaching an editor's desk," she explains.
Before you submit a manuscript, it may be wise to hire a manuscript editor to check for language errors and a copy editor to look for typos, spacing, and formatting errors. The publisher may accept your manuscript electronically, on a CD, ask for a printout, or ask for an electronic version and a printout. Keep all records, such as business letters, emails, post office receipts, in a special file. Note the date of submission on a calendar.
Now you have to wait and that's hard. But the writing was also hard. If you can do that, you can wait, hope, and believe in yourself.
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