Everyone knows the rules. There are thousands of books and website, blogs and tweets about how to get your first book published. All of the rules are the same:
- Research the Agents who work in your genre
- Formulate a Query Letter and an Intro. The Query must be no more than 500 words, and it must contain 3 paragraphs:
- Encapsulation of the book
- A description of the market
- Who are you to write it?
- Send these 2 items via email (no formatting allowed) using 12 point Times New Roman font to each of the Agents on your list.
- Receive rejection letter.
- If by chance the Agent is interested, they send you a contract, then the road to finding a publisher begins.
This process is unvarying throughout the industry. It happens in that order, it does not vary from that order. If you think you can side-step the process, your stuff will immediately get tossed into the circular file because Agents are too busy and they receive too many manuscripts to have to deal with someone who steps outside these extremely well-established lines. Period.
This process is so daunting and frustrating that so many writers give up trying. However today, writers can self-publish like never before. And so many do.
The problem with self-publishing that you have to be a full-time marketing genius and PR promoter in order to sell your books. A common myth is that if I publish, they will come. I remember back in the early days of the internet, that same myth held strong: if I build a website, they will come. Unfortunately, so many entrepreneurs fell into hard times because building a website does nothing at all. Nobody knows it is out there. So you must tell them. Loudly. Often. And what an expensive undertaking that is.
The same goes for books: just because you wrote it, and put it on Amazon, nobody knows it is there. When someone types in ‘cookbook’ into the Amazon search box, please believe me that if you haven’t paid Amazon a really shiny penny (or Schimmelpfennig, as the Germans say), your wonderful literary masterpiece will probably be listed in position number 42,616, with 42,615 books being listed before yours. So this is where you absolutely must be a great marketeer in order to sell your self-published book.
Going back to the strict ‘Rules’ of publishing, I realized the same thing that I had learned over and over again during my lifetime: when everyone is going in a particular direction, take a different route. (This also holds true on the San Diego Freeway!)
In August 2013, I undertook the mammoth project of writing my first book. I did everything everyone asked of me, with zero results. So I decided to (blindly, I must admit) take a different route to publishing.
- Went to Florence Italy for nearly 3 months
- Walked the city, took numerous tours, climbed high.
- Took photos, everywhere.
- Kept a journal of my jaunts.
- Came home Nov 1, 2013
- Began organizing my photos.
- Began writing a book, a photo book.
- Began playing with different formats.
- Began plugging in some Renaissance stories and photos.
- By now, I had decided on a format that I could use repeatedly.
- The Renaissance stories that I learned from my trip kept creating more questions in my head.
- Questions led to research to find the answers.
- Research, Research, Research.
- It felt like the book was nearly finished. I just needed to fill in a few little editing gaps.
- I went to Northern Peru for a couple of weeks with UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.
- Still editing.
- Went to the Galapagos with the UCLA Alumni group
- Still editing.
- Researched how to get a book published.
- Went to Arizona for a week.
- More editing.
- Continued researching how to get a book published.
- Went to Travel Show in Long Beach to feel out the Travel market
- Continued editing.
- Continued researching how to get a book published
- Visited with Sandy Abrams and Patti Hawn for advice.
- Finished editing.
- Added some final touches.
- Continued researching how to get a book published.
- Went to the LA Times Book Fair. Met a ton of publishers. Showed the book around, and got a ton of support and praise, but no publisher.
- Sent out query letters to Agents, got my first rejections. (See previous Blog)
- Finished the book.
- Began Editing.
- Gave to Roger to edit. He was the first person to actually read the whole book from cover to cover.
- Sent a couple more query letters to Agents.
- Began research on how to self-publish
- Flew to NYC to the BEA Publisher’s Conference. Showed the book around, and got a ton of support, praise and congratulations from publishers. Had a great visit to NYC, and came home with a handful of potential Publishers, including Nat Geo.
- Went to Arizona for a week.
- Started a complete remodel of our house.
- Began communications with Publishers.
- Moved out of the house and onto the boat because of the remodel.
- Continued communications with Publishers; began crossing some of them off the list.
- Heard from Fadel that Dr. Zahi Hawass was coming to town on the 10th to speak at LACMA on the 30th. I agreed to write a press release for Hawass if he agreed to introduce me to his publisher.
- Continued researching how to self-publish
- Continued managing the remodel.
- 1st: I sent out Hawass’ Press Release.
- Moved back into our house, in the upstairs suite. Continued managing the remodel.
- 10th: Zahi Hawass came to town to speak at LACMA on the 30th.
- 11th: Met with him and Fadel in Fadel’s office in Culver City. Went to Star Bucks where Hawass looked at the book and immediately began texting 3 publishers: one in Italiy, one in France and his friend at National Geograhic.
- 12th: I contacted each of the 3 publishers and sent them a pdf of the whole book.
- 13th: Italy contacted me. They are interested in the Italian language rights, and want to talk further.
- 14th: National Geograhic contacted me. He liked my book, and would hand-carry it to the Publications department and highly recommend the book.
- 15th: I cried because I was feeling that my poor book wasn’t going anywhere.
- 18th: Roger & I targeted 6 Agents in L.A. to visit without appointments. We devised a pitch: “Help! I wrote a book, and now 3 publishers want it and I don’t know how to negotiate a deal. Can you help me?” We called one agent who asked us to come to see him that same afternoon. Meanwhile, we went to the another LA-based agency. This very nice woman spent an hour with us and asked for a pdf. We went to 2 more Agencies, but alas, no one was in. Made the afternoon meeting with the agent I spoke with that morning. He said he liked the book and the tv show possibilities and would send me a contract right away.
- 19th: I sent a pdf to both agents for review. I called a few other agencies from the “Top 50 Agents” list and used our “Help!” pitch. A SoCal-based agency said they had a woman in the area that specialized in foreign book rights & negotiations. No phone number. I researched and found out that she had a little side business selling children’s goods. That site had her number listed. So I called it. She answered and said, “How did you get my private number?” I said that it only proved that I was a good researcher. We talked later that day and I sent her a pdf.
- 21st: The latter agent contacted me and told me that she loved the book. But she wasn’t sure who in her firm might be willing to take it on. She’d let me know when she found out. She emailed later that day saying that a history specialist might be willing to take it on, but she needed to read it first.
- France contacted me; they are interested in the French language rights for the book.
- 23rd: Hawass and company came to our unfinished house for a cocktail party, DuffyBoat ride, and dinner at the LBYC.
- 27th: The third agency wrote to me saying that everything sounded ‘really interesting.’ Could we talk tomorrow? Went sailing with Charlie Steinmetz and Claire Lyons from the Getty.
- 28th: I spoke with the history specialist from the third agency for the first time, for about 45 minutes. At the end of the conversation, she said that she would like to represent me and my book, and that she would send a contract over by the end of the day. Then she wrote saying that her contract person was gone for the weekend, they’d send it the beginning of the week. Continued managing the remodel. Went to a fund raiser to support Larry Curtis and the Orchestra.
- 29th: Went to a party thrown in honor of Hawass. Talked with Hawass about joining us in Egypt.
- 30th: Hawass spoke at LACMA to a completely sold out house! The line that wanted to buy his book and to get it signed was really long! Congratulations to Fadel and Hawass on a super successful event.
- 31st: Signed with the third agency.
Yay! A mere 24 months after my trip to Florence, I found an Agent.
Now all we have left to do is to find a publisher. Or so I thought…
Months have passed since signing with my agent. Nothing has happened. Nothing at all. Literally.
I became quite disillusioned with my agent. There was no help there, the project did not move forward, at all. My book was merely taken off the market for nine months. She had originally asked me to submit a book proposal, which I did without knowing what the heck I was doing. She offered no assistance, no advice as to the ways to write a proper proposal. I made dozens of attempts to contact her throughout the months, but her preference would be to communicate via email. Not real personal. During those nine months, she never initiated a single dialog with me. I had to initiate every single conversation. I am not feeling adequately represented. I realize that I am new to this world of publishing. But having been in marketing and sales all of my adult life, I know that it was always up to me to make my clients feel supported and represented. Constant communication was a must. Working with the client to find new ways and angles to represent and ultimately sell their product/service was an on-going process that did not end until their product sold. My approach to representation was clearly not synchronous with my agent’s.
I made dozens of attempts to contact her throughout the months, but her preference would be to communicate via email. Not real personal. During those nine months, she never initiated a single dialog with me. I had to initiate every single conversation. I am not feeling adequately represented. I realize that I am new to this world of publishing. But having been in marketing and sales all of my adult life, I know that it was always up to me to make my clients feel supported and represented. Constant communication was a must. Working with the client to find new ways and angles to represent and ultimately sell their product/service was an on-going process that did not end until their product sold. My approach to representation was clearly not synchronous with my agent’s.
I realize that I am new to this world of publishing. But having been in marketing and sales all of my adult life, I know that it was always up to me to make my clients feel supported and represented. Constant communication was a must. Working with the client to find new ways and angles to represent and ultimately sell their product/service was an on-going process that did not end until their product sold. Sometimes it could take a long time to close a deal, but success depended partially upon my ability to keep my client enthusiastic and involved. But clearly my approach to representation was not synchronous with my agent’s.
I decided to discontinue the relationship with my agent.
I signed with another agent. This feels different. This time, I was asked for a proposal. And this time, he coached me on how to write the proposal, properly. He and his wife came to dinner with my husband and me, and we spent the evening probing angles and perspectives about how to sell the book, how to improve our position, etc.
It took nearly a month to write it, but I feel so much better about this proposal. It is 26 pages long and very complete. To say that I threw in the kitchen sink would be an understatement.
Upon submitting the proposal to my agent and posting it on my website, he relayed that I had represented the book quite well in the proposal, but that I have nothing that sells me. He asked me to create a video about me. He did not want a professionally produced video because he did not want publishers to see a rehearsed or scripted me. He wanted to show a real home-grown version of me. So I set out to produce a video of just me talking about my book. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a video extolling the virtues of yourself without sounding like a completely self-centered gas can? Yikes!!
I finished the video and posted it on my website. It is now in the good company of my book proposal, and a downloadable pdf version of my book.
Still no word or progress.
I am a bit concerned about the old salesman’s adage that the sales materials shouldn’t ever be so complete that they negate the need for the salesperson. I feel it is always necessary for a good representative to maintain control of every sales dialog, rather than simply to submit the materials and wait for an answer. But then hey, that’s just me.
I decided to pass the time by creating a matching app to compliment the book, one which could enhance book sales. I spent 200 hours creating an app that not only accomplished that but the book and the app seem to compliment each other quite nicely. This is very cool!
I submitted an App Proposal to my agent, and also posted it on my website as well.
It just occurred to me that I could have completed another book by now. But I have been advised to hold off, because depending on which publisher picks up the book, they may wish for me to write a different book to compliment their own distribution channels.
Well, fine. But there is still a need to pass the time. So I set about to prep my book for ebook publication. I understood that since my book is extremely visual, and the images and the text need to stay intact, it probably would not be available to the text-only digital ebook readers. Once I realized that, I began thinking about the interactive possibilities of the new readers, and how my book cloud be a great representation of this new technology. And of how the new features might help to make my book even more useful to the Florence traveler.
The first things I needed were hyperlinks and cross-references. Lots of them. Thousands of them. This will probably take me a month to complete, but hey, I have nothing but time on my hands.